The Diaries of John Bright

By John Bright; R. A. J. Walling | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI IRELAND IN THE HUNGRY 'FORTIES

I speak as a representative from a county which suffers extremely from the condition of Ireland. Lancashire is periodically overrun by the pauperism of Ireland; for a year past it has suffered most seriously from the pestilence imported from Ireland; and many of the evils which in times past have been attributed to the extension of manufactures in that county have arisen from the enormous immigration of a suffering and pauperized people driven for a sustenance from their own country. As a Lancashire representative I protest most solemnly against a system which drives the Irish population to seek work and wages in this country and in other countries, when both might be afforded them at home. Parliament is bound to remedy this state of things.

-- John Bright, Dec. 13, 1847.


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THE more or less continuous series of diaries begins with Bright's painstaking records of a visit he paid to Ireland in the autumn of 1849 in search of first-hand information about the effects of the Famine and the Rebellion.

His position in the Irish controversies which, from the days of O'Connell to those of De Valera, agitated British politics more fiercely than any other domestic question, has been coloured for recent generations by his difference with Gladstone in the crisis of the 'eighties. The separation made sombre the last two years of his life. But nobody had cause to be surprised or hurt by Bright's conduct in that crisis. He was a Unionist by absolute and lifelong conviction, and "Honour Bright" would not palter with his conscience--even if it meant that, when at last his sorrowful silence was forced by the dissolution of 1886, he had to deal so faithfully if ruthlessly with his old ally and chief and to come down with the hammer-blow that finally ruined Gladstone's slender chance of success at the polls and smashed the Liberal Party for twenty years.

When he told Chamberlain, after the rejection of the first Home Rule Bill, that he was against anything that took the shape or the name

-95-

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