Allegories of Union in Irish and English Writing, 1790-1870: Politics, History, and the Family from Edgeworth and to Arnold

By Mary Jean Corbett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Public affections and familial politics: Burke, Edgeworth,
and Ireland in the 1790s

Just after William Fitzwilliam arrived in Dublin in January 1795 to take up his short-lived post as Lord Lieutenant, Edmund Burke wrote a letter to a member of the Irish Parliament in which he posed his fundamental concern of that revolutionary decade: “My whole politicks, at present, center in one point; and to this the merit or demerit of every measure, (with me) is referable: that is, what will most promote or depress the Cause of Jacobinism?” 1 In Burke's view, as in Fitzwilliam's, it was the redress of catholic grievances that would stave off revolution in Ireland: as he wrote further on in that same letter, “I am the more serious on the positive encouragement to be given to [catholicism], (always however as secondary [to the Church of Ireland]) because the serious and earnest belief and practice of it by its professors forms, as things stand, the most effectual Barrier, if not the sole Barrier, against Jacobinism” (Writings and Speeches 663).

Tolerating catholicism would have strategic political advantages for the emergent empire: as Burke had written in the Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), all right-minded Englishmen of whatever creed would “reverently and affectionately protect all religions because they love and venerate the great principle upon which they all agree, and the great object to which they are all directed. They begin more and more plainly to discern that we all have a common cause, as against a common enemy. ” 2 Successfully enlisting catholic Irishmen in that “common cause” would require viewing their religious practice as no disability, but as a mark of their fitness for imperial citizenship in the struggle against France. In his holy war against Jacobinism, Burke thus sought to redraw the lines so as to bring dissenting elements in Ireland within the pale of English liberties from which they had been excluded.

On another front, from the ideological position most closely associated with Burke's radical antagonist Thomas Paine, unmet Irish demands ranging in nature from parliamentary reform to catholic

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