Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE EFFECT OF THE CRUELTY AND LAWLESSNESS OF IRELAND ON THE ENGLISH TEMPER

A severe critic of the English treatment of Ireland, Gustave de Beaumont, writing in 1839, gave a terrible picture of the Irish peasant. "Violent and vindictive, the Irishman displays the most ferocious cruelty in his acts of vengeance. . . . The punishments he invents in his savage fury cannot be contemplated without horror." To understand the cruelty of the agrarian war in Ireland it is necessary to consider its causes; to understand the failure of England in Ireland it is necessary to take into account its effects. For in a sense it may be said that the virtues of the English combined with their vices to disable them from finding the remedies for Irish suffering and injustice. They contrasted the orderly and restrained character of English political and social conflict with the murders and mutilations that made the struggle of the Irish peasant so grim and savage.

De Beaumont said of this cruelty that it was due mainly to Irish history. Unhappily few people knew less of that history than the English. The English, having even in the worst of the problems of the industrial revolution no other cause for conflict than a division of class and of interests, were little able to enter into the difficulties of a people divided bitterly by race, religion, and history. Nobody saw this more clearly than de Beaumont. He pointed out that it often happens that conquerors, after the first convulsions of conquest are over, endeavour to efface its cruel memories. "Ireland presents exactly the opposite case of conquerors who, instead of arresting the violent outrages of conquest, lend all their efforts to perpetuate them."

The student of this painful subject will note that though

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