Australia and the Empire/Australia and Irish Home Rule

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It may be remembered that at a political banquet in London on St. Patrick's Day, Mr. Parnell, with characteristic boldness, declared that Australia, as well as America, had become "solid" in favour of Irish Home Rule. After this it was hardly to be wondered at that two of his Parliamentary followers who had never seen Australia were deputed to respond on behalf of my unhappy section of the British Empire. This banquet, which, but for the unwonted intrusion of Australia into its post-prandial oratory, was in no wise remarkable, took place only a few months ago, but already a wonderful transformation in Mr. Parnell's political creed seems to have been effected. When, at the Café Royal, he asserted that we Australians were "solid on his side," I, in common with the rest of my fellow-colonists, understood him to mean that we favoured Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. But since then Mr. Parnell, to judge by his published correspondence with a South African politician, has become—(O shade of William Edward Forster!)—an Imperial Federationist. It is idle, if not mischievous, to inquire too closely into the motives of public men, but certainly this entire volte-face on the part of a man so tenaciously immovable as Mr. Parnell has hitherto shown himself to be, is in itself a more remarkable circumstance than the conversion of Mr. Gladstone to Irish Home Rule, or to any other political or religious creed under the face of the sun.

With regard to Australia and Irish Home Rule let me then say that the great bulk of the Australian colonists saw, from the very first introduction of Mr. Gladstone's bill, that its fatal defect was that it set up what Mr. Parnell now terms a "dualism." On this account it seemed to us, from an Imperial point of view, the most retrograde and most destructive of measures. But we further judged from Mr. Parnell's actions and speeches that what to us was a detestable blot, was to him an unblemished beauty. In other words, we were of opinion that his ultimate aim, which he was too cynical even to conceal, was the dismemberment of the Empire. Certainly—and Mr. Parnell would now appear to agree with us rather than with his most distinguished follower—no readier means for such dismemberment could have been devised than what we may now fairly enough consider the defunct Home Rule Bill of Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Parnell tells us that he is now opposed to the "dualism" of Mr. Gladstone's abortive measure. At the same time, I do not think that many wealthy Australians will be prepared to follow the example of Mr. Rhodes, of South Africa, in contributing handsomely to the funds of the Irish Parliamentary party, under the conviction that it may become an agency for the "closer union of the Empire." When Mr. Parnell declared that we Australians were "solid on his side," he meant on the side of what he now discards as "dualism." Moreover, it has always been in this light that his revolutionary countrymen, both in Ireland and America, have regarded what was to them at best merely a tentative and half-way measure. Now, as it were by the magician's wand, all is to be changed. Ireland is to have her local or national Parliament, but there are to be Irish representatives in some freshly-constructed Parliamentary body at Westminster. Let me give the rest of the picture in Mr. Parnell's reported words:—

"After Ireland has had some experience of Home Rule, the Scotch people will probably require to have their Parliament at Holyrood, but they will certainly insist upon their continued representation at Westminster. This may have, as its ultimate development, the establishment of a Federal Parliament, in which England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Colonies will be represented. It would seem likely, therefore, that the House of Commons will become a purely English assembly, while the Imperial Parliament will be a new body that will take the place of the House of Lords, and will become possessed of representatives from all the self-governing countries and colonies which make up the British Empire." "This, of course," adds Mr. Parnell, with characteristic caution, "is a long way off."

I do not propose to discuss the Irish leader's shadowy scheme of Imperial Federation. But as I have asserted that he was absurdly wrong in claiming that the Australian colonists are in favour of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill, so I venture to think it may be of benefit, both to him and to the ordinary British politician, to realise what the prevailing colonial sentiment is on the so-called Irish Question. Roughly speaking, it may be declared that by origin the Australians are three-fourths British and one-fourth Irish. Among that fourth, however strong may be the sympathy with the Constitutional agitation in favour of Irish Home Rule, it is absolutely true that no trace exists of a section analogous to the Irish-American dynamite party, Australia has never nurtured a bloodthirsty braggart such as O'Donovan Rossa, or a journalistic firebrand like Patrick Ford, nor from her shores have ever emerged any of those subsidised assassins and murderers who have from time to time crossed the Atlantic on their barbaric crusade. Generally speaking, the Irish element in Australia, though many of its members may support the Land League and secretly sympathise with boycotting—13,000 miles away—is avowedly faithful to the British Crown and connection. In a sketch, by a Roman Catholic writer, of the late Sir John O'Shanassy (Melbourne Review July 1883), admittedly the greatest of Irish-Australian politicians, appears the following suggestive statement:—

"While he (O'Shanassy) was ill, he was waited upon with a view of inducing him to take the chair for the Brothers Redmond. He refused to have anything to do with them. He had not invited them. He would not receive them. He was not satisfied as to where the League money went to. He was grieved to hear the clergy were likely to countenance them, and believed that evil would result therefrom."

Mr. Parnell can easily find out whether this was the treatment actually accorded to his two emissaries in Melbourne. For my part, I can assure him that he would have met with no greater courtesy from Sir John O'Shanassy, even had he waited upon him personally. I admit that the sudden conversion of Mr. Gladstone, to what was hitherto simply termed "Parnellism," was not without its demoralising effect on the Australian public mind. Colonial Irishmen, who had previously been restrained, began to give vent to their racial antagonisms, and, of course, there was the usual percentage of flabby-minded and hysterical persons who were quite prepared to accept the new creed of Mr. Gladstone in lieu of what, for a better term, I must call their own convictions. But these latter were inconsiderable both in numbers and in influence. It is undeniably true that the great bulk of the Australian colonists are now, as they were from the first, steadily opposed to any scheme of Irish Home Rule that has yet been formulated.

A few years ago a very remarkable discussion was originated in the pages of an Australian magazine by a Victorian gentleman, Mr. A. M. Topp, whose essay (Melbourne Review, January 1881), entitled "English Institutions and the Irish Race," excited very general interest throughout the colonies. If Mr. Gladstone and Sir William Harcourt will be good enough to endeavour to recall the scenes in the House of Commons that led to the expulsion of Mr. Parnell and thirty-six of his followers, they may perhaps understand why we colonists, about that time, were so eagerly discussing the Irish Question.

It was doubtless the earlier achievements of the Irish Parliamentary Party, emphasised by boycotting in Ireland and dynamite from America, that led Mr. Topp, who is no party politician, but a thoughtful historical student, first to turn his acute mind to this subject. The Irish Question is, according to Mr. Topp, primarily one of race. He sees in the dynamite, the boycotting, the Land League, and the Irish obstruction in the House of Commons (and would continue to see in the "plan of campaign"), only varying phases of the same Celtic revolt against Teutonic institutions. Having resolved the Anglo-Irish problem into one of race, Mr. Topp is at considerable pains to distinguish between the Irish Celt, or the aboriginal Irishman, and the Anglo-Irishman, who, though a native of Ireland, is of English or Scotch extraction. Like Mr. Froude, he will not for a moment admit that the Duke of Wellington and Daniel O'Connell, or Lord Wolseley and Mr. T. P. O'Connor, though all natives of Ireland, are racially of the same stock. Mr. Topp has a very handy crook wherewith to divide the sheep from the goats, the real aboriginal Irish, whom he alleges to be very generally in a state of open or suppressed revolt against English institutions, and the acclimatised Anglo-Irish, who, though they may have furnished a certain number of leaders of the revolutionary party, are, in the main, English in race, religion, and in feeling. According to him, the test is one of creed; the Irish Celt is a Roman Catholic, the Anglo-Irishman a Protestant. On this point I think Mr. Topp's words require some explanation. I should warn the English reader that it would be very rash to bring any hasty charge of religious bigotry against this able Australian writer. Mr. Topp is, from conviction, based on historical research, a decided anti-Romanist, but in his mind there is no silly prejudice against the greatest and most remarkable of all ecclesiastical organisations. "Every student of history," he observes, "will readily admit that the Church of Rome has conferred great benefits on mankind in times past, and was once, perhaps, the greatest civilising agent in Europe." He pays a passing tribute, which is not undeserved, to the old Roman Catholic families in England; for, despite isolated acts of treason which brought a swift punishment in the troubled times of the Tudors and of James I., the small remnant of the English gentry who tenaciously clung to Rome as their spiritual guide have often shown a brave fidelity to their Sovereign and their race.[1] But Mr. Topp's excuse for not dwelling on this point is that the handful of Roman Catholic gentry count for very little one way or the other in the solution of the Irish Question; and in proof of this he could point to the recent attitude of Cardinal Manning, who, immediately before the Papal Rescript, made no secret of his sympathy with the Home Rule views and methods of the Archbishop of Dublin. Despite the neo-Catholic fashions of the hour, Mr. Topp stoutly maintains that the essential inferiority of the Celt to the Teuton is historically shown by the fact that the English and the Germans " broke with " Rome three centuries ago, while the French and the Irish did not. For my part, I hold that racial distinctions are much deeper than religious differences. Mr. Gee and some of the Welsh Protestant anti-tithe agitators would soon assimilate their methods to those of Mr. Davitt and the Irish Land League. Blood is thicker than water, even when the water is from the font. Still I freely admit that credal differences always intensify, and may perpetuate, racial distinctions.

This question of race is, according to other authorities besides Mr. Topp, of vital importance. Mr. Michael Davitt, who has suffered and run personal risks in this melancholy cause, made some suggestive remarks recently on the "Mission of the Celts." According to him, the Irish Celt is "in the vanguard of the glorious struggle of labour against systems, and laws which condemn the cottier of Connemara and the crofter of Scotland to live in miserable hovels, while idle and loafing aristocrats could revel upon the result of others' labours and live in sumptuous mansions." The grand mission of his race was, he explained, to lead the coming social and political revolution which is to sweep away these gross anomalies, but he fails to see that this would, were it successful, also overwhelm the long-matured system of law and social order, of culture, science, and religion, which mark this country out as the home of an ancient, progressive, and civilised nation. But let it be observed that Mr. Davitt agrees with Mr. Topp that the Irish Question is au fond a question of race. Mr. Topp supports this view by a reference to the inimitable description by the great historian Mommsen of the character of the Celts of Gaul, who "on the eve of their conquest by Cæsar resembled the modern Irish." This racial view of the Celts, I may add, has impressed itself on the mind of the greatest maker, as well as of the greatest writer, of history of our times.

"'The Teutonic or Germanic race,' said Bismarck,[2] with his customary point and pungency, 'is, so to speak, the masculine element which goes all over Europe and fructifies it. The Celtic and Slav peoples represent the female sex. The former element extends up to the North Sea and across it to England.'

"'I venture to say,' interrupted Dr. Busch, 'even to America; to the Western States of the Union, where men of our race are the best part of the population, and influence the morale of the rest.'

"'Yes; they are its children, its fruits,' responded Bismarck. ' We have already seen in France what the Franks are worth; the Revolution of 1789 meant the overthrow of the German element by the Celtic; and what is the result?'"

This will probably be a new, enlarged, and most enlivening view of the "mission of the Celts" to Mr. Davitt. It is at least suggestive that the great German Chancellor, the colonial publicist, and the Irish revolutionary, are in substantial agreement on this vital point.

It will readily be believed that Mr. Topp's essay on "English Institutions and the Irish Race" created no little stir among a population one-fourth of which is of Irish origin. The Melbourne Review was conducted on what are known as eclectic principles, and its conductors welcomed the champions of all phases of opinion. Among the literary contributors to the Review were one or two well-known Roman Catholic priests, but they preserved a discreet silence. There came instead a really able reply by Mr. Joseph O'Brien, an Irish gentleman then resident at Sandhurst, Victoria, who, proud of the fact that he was of Celtic race, declared, with hardly less pride, that he had "broken with Rome." Although this was the only reply that reached the conductors of the Melbourne Review, it was not through an avowed agnostic like Mr. O'Brien that the Irish Celts in the colony delivered their retort. The priests, as I have said, though contributors to the periodical, chose not to reply in the usual way, but there was a considerable pother throughout the land, and even threats of personal violence were made towards the opener of this instructive controversy.

After this brief summary of an interesting symposium, I will now explain my own views—which, I believe, are the views of the majority of Australian colonists—on the subject. While feeling bound to follow such, authorities as Prince Bismarck, Mr. Davitt, and Mr. Topp, who, it would seem, all hold that race is the crux of the problem, I do not think, in dealing with such a question as Irish Home Rule, that the pessimistic attitude of such writers as Mr. Froude is a wise one. Mr. Topp, too, I fear, is touched by the same spirit of despair, for he even laments, if I understand him rightly, the granting of "Catholic emancipation," regarding that act apparently as putting the most effective weapon—viz., a vote—into the hands of a people racially hostile to English law. But, after all, practical politics are only a choice of evils, and the Irish Roman Catholics must have been enfranchised or reconquered. Still, I admit that it does not lighten the task to have thus "armed" a race whom we must assimilate, or who may otherwise weaken, if not destroy, the fabric of our Empire.

Let us, however, never forget that the British Empire is based on a blending of races and nationalities originally fiercely antagonistic. Both Lord Hartington and Mr. Balfour, in addressing Scotch audiences recently, have felicitously emphasised the fact that Scotland offers the most perfect illustration of the possibility of welding the Celt and the Teuton into a common nationality; and, furthermore, of subsequently making that blended nationality the most loyal, intelligent, and enterprising portion of a world-wide Empire. The present Unionists are those men who believe that what has been accomplished in Scotland can be accomplished in the wider area of Great Britain and Ireland, and that the Irish may yet become as thoroughly fused with the British as the Highlanders have become with the Lowlanders of Scotland. It is at least a noble ideal, and one well worth working and even fighting for. The undue oratorical development of our Parliamentary system is an obstacle in the way; for all this talk, even when clever, is a mere frittering of human energies. It is also as well for us to bear steadily in mind that if the Celtic races have grave national defects of character, so too have the Teutons. I cannot do better than quote Prince Bismarck's inimitable criticism on the German national character, which is quite equal to his analysis of the French, and which is, word for word, as applicable to the English and the Lowland Scotch as his estimate of the French is to the Irish.

The great Chancellor begins[3] by showing what a dominant part the Germans have played outside their own country in establishing nations and dynasties:—

"In Spain, too, the Gothic blood long preponderated; and the same in Italy, where the Germans had also taken the lead in the northern provinces; when that died away, farewell to order. It was much the same in Russia where the German Waräger, the Ruriks, first gathered. If the national party were to overcome the Germans who have settled there, or those who cross over from the Baltic provinces, the people would not remain capable of an orderly constitution."

But he goes on to show that within their own territories the "pure-blooded Germans" had a fatal tendency to split up into what are called "parties" in politics and "sects" in religion.

"In our South and West, for example, when they were left to themselves, there was nothing but Knights of the Empire, Towns of the Empire, and Villages of the Empire; each for itself, so that the whole thing went to pieces. The Germans are all right when they are united by compulsion or by anger, then they are excellent, irresistible, invincible,—otherwise, every man 'gangs his ain gait.'"

It is suggestive that he should thus emphasise his meaning by a Lowland Scotch proverb!

On another occasion he pithily contrasts this racial distinction in a manner which we Anglo-Saxons would do well to ponder:—

"The French are a mass easily brought under the influence of one leader, and are then very powerful. With us every one has his own opinion; and with Germans it is a great step gained when any considerable number of them hold the same opinion—if they all did so, they would be omnipotent."

Have we not here in a sentence the whole history of the relations between England and Ireland? Certainly, one would not like to hear of Englishmen blindly following a leader, as the Irish have followed Mr. Parnell. Still less of their abjectly submitting to the boycotting commands of some village tyrant with his Plan of Campaign. But in the face of recent developments of national character in Ireland, we, with our party divisions and academic differences, have not presented at all an ennobling national spectacle. Perhaps this is what Mr. Balfour means when he talks of the Irish possessing characteristics which the English lack, and which are essential to our Imperial greatness and unity. Without doubt, if the instinct of "sticking together," which the Irish have exhibited only too often in criminal causes and for destructive ends, could be turned to account for truly Imperial aims, and for our general well-being as a people, we should wellnigh be, as Bismarck says, "omnipotent."

What, after all, in the fewest words, is the Irish problem of practical politics? Writers like Mr. Froude and Mr. Topp seem to be of opinion that we have been travelling on the wrong road, and must retrace our steps. This is, unless as the result of revolution, impossible, for "there is no coming back on the impetuous stream of Life, and we must all set our pocket-watches by the clock of Fate." It is from this point of view I hold that the Liberal-Unionists have already won a distinct place in our Parliamentary annals, and deserve the plaudits of every loyal man in the Empire. They have remained true to Liberalism, and at the same time loyal to the great English system of law, out of which Liberalism has sprung. By their political patriotism they have preserved us from that "dualism" which Mr. Parnell now sees would be a catastrophe to the Empire. All thoughtful persons in the great self-governing colonies who are assisting to work out the English system of Parliamentary Government must await the present issue with bated breath. No one will accuse Mr. Froude of want of patriotism, but it would appear that he has resigned himself to a general "smash up." The Parliamentary machine, he believes, will not work while Ireland clogs the wheels. Above all, the conduct of Mr. Gladstone, and of his great following in the country and in Parliament, are, to men like Mr. Froude, portents of coming evil. But I think, perhaps, that Mr. Gladstone's opponents, as well as his disciples, overrate his lasting influence, by which I mean the effect his career will produce on the coming generations. We colonists hold—and Mr. Parnell now seems to have come to the same opinion—that Mr. Gladstone has fallen into grievous ways towards the close of his remarkable career. We have recognised from the first that his great error consists in thinking that the long struggle between what he now calls "the two nations" would end if his statutory Parliament were established in Dublin. Rightly considered, it would then only begin in real earnest. Mr. Froude and his colonial disciple, Mr. Topp, seeing all this plainly enough, overrate while they attack the personality of Mr. Gladstone, and under-estimate the vigour and the vitality of the English race. They should take heart from the instinctive conduct of that other great Liberal leader, John Bright, a man to whom all mere grandiose Imperial views are foreign—a Liberal of Liberals, but who yet, when a blow is aimed even by Mr. Gladstone at a vital part of the body politic, strikes back with giant force. Let us then recognise that to Lord Hartington and the distinguished men who have faithfully followed him, and who have remained firm in the hour of weak tergiversation and dark misgiving, we owe it that the "dualism" which Mr. Parnell now discards is not already in the way of fulfilment. Let us hold with them that by patient patriotism and the healing virtues of time, it is possible to solve the Irish Question, which must be solved by us at the extremity, as by you in the centre, of this complex Empire. What would be thought of the British in Australia if they seriously proposed to give the Irish minority a separate Parliament and distinct Executive? The future is still dark. But difficult and unpleasant as the task may be, the British people must assimilate, and, as it were, work the Irish into the ground-plan of the Empire, and not, as Mr. Gladstone would bid us do, relinquish the task in a spirit of panic-stricken despair.

  1. See Appendix D, "Religion and Irish Home Rule."
  2. Bismarck in the Franco-German War, by Dr. Busch, vol. ii. p. 285.
  3. Bismarck in the Franco-German War, by Dr. Busch, vol. ii. p. 280.