Sunday, October 19, 2008

This Week's Blinding Thought (II)

The following is from History of Europe (Vol. II) by Sir Archibald Alison, first published in 1842. I've broken the text up into small paragraphs for easier digestion. Alison's 10-volume history is described here: "The general style is prolix, involved and vicious; mistakes of fact and false deductions are to be found in almost every page; and the constant repetition of trite moral reflections and egotistical references seriously detracts from its dignity. A more grave defect resulted from the author's strong political partisanship [he was a Tory], which entirely unfitted him for dealing with the problems of history in a philosophical spirit." Bear in mind that the edition I have (the ninth) was published in 1853, just after the Famine.)
Perhaps no two nations ever exhibited a more striking contrast in national qualities than the inhabitants of Great Britain and those of the genuine Hibernian race in the south and west of Ireland. Unlike their countrymen in Ulster, who are laborious, active, and steady as their progenitors of the Norman or Anglo-Saxon blood, their character is the very reverse of that of the British, and much more closely resembles that of the French, though with some important distinctions from them also.
Brave, both individually and collectively; kind, charitable, light-hearted, and grateful, they possess many virtues which, in private life, must command esteem or win affection. But they appear to be almost entirely destitute of those more commanding qualities which are necessary to success in the world, and which, for good or for evil, stamp a great destiny on nations.
Ever vehement, often impassioned, they yet want the regulated ardour which sustains great undertakings. Indolent and excitable, they seek gratification rather in taking vengeance on their enemies than in improving themselves. They are too short-sighted to see what is necessary to durable success - too volatile and inconsiderate to make the sacrifices necessary to attain it.
Ever since their conquest early in the twelfth century by Henry II, they have never ceased to nourish a feeling of hatred for the Saxons, which has frequently burst forth in frightful acts of violence; but they have never seen that it was only by adopting the arts and imitating the industry of the stranger, that they would be enabled to contend with him. Though possessing more than double the population, and quadruple the physical resources, of the northern neighbours of England, they were conquered with ease by eleven hundred English men-at-arms and two thousand archers, who followed the Plantagenet standard; while eighty thousand English soldiers have been repeatedly hurled back from the comparatively desolate and ill-peopled realm of Scotland.
They were for long after retained in subjection by so small a force, that even in the time of Elizabeth it only amounted to one thousand, and on emergencies to two thousand men. So true in every age has been the character given of them by Agricola: "I have often heard from [Agricola] that by a single legion and a few auxilaries Ireland might be conquered and retained in subjection." (Tacitus, Agricola, c. 24)
They have proved themselves as incapable of rivalling the British in peace as they were of resisting them in war. They have neither imitated their husbandry nor adopted their manufactures. Their noble natural harbours are desolate, their maginificent fisheries untouched, their rich mineral fields unexplored. Nay, so far has their animosity gone, that, like the American Indians, they repel or shun the approach of civilisation. If an English manufacturer, bringing bread to thousands, settles in their country, they burn down his factory; if a Scotch farmer appears, capable of quadrupling the produce of the soil, they shoot him through the head.
To maintain an idle and barbarous independence is their idea of freedom; to repel the first advances of industry their principle of patriotism. They have gained their object. Capital shuns their fertile and peopled shores; and the overflowing wealth of England seeks rather the risk of South American insolvency, or North American repudiation, than the certainty of Irish violence.
Equal, perhaps superior, to the English in genius, they have seldom directed it to any useful purpose; this want of steadiness in pursuit, this absence of a practical turn, has been their perpetual bane. Constantly complaining of evils, they have never suggested any efficient remedy for them; ever exclaiming against misgovernment, they have never given the remotest indication of a capacity to govern themselves. With the exception of numerous brave recruits which they have ever furnished for our armies, they have scarcely at any time contributed anything to the general support of the empire. Though treated with extraordinary, perhaps unmerited, indulgence in taxation, their national resources are hardly drawn forth; and the most fertile part of the British dominions is disgraced by two millions of paupers, in a land which might with ease maintain three times its present number.
A note on the above, which follows the comment on taxation, states in part: "In the famine of 1847, produced by the failure of the potato crop, ten millions sterling [author's italics] was given from the British treasury to relieve the distress in Ireland, with scarcely any prospect of repayment; while Scotland, albeit afflicted by a similar calamity, got nothing."

No comments: