15 AUGUST 1846, Page 13


THE condition of Ireland has impressed. the Morning Chronicle with the most singular and conflicting feelings. According to our contemporary, that condition "begins to excite serious doubts whether the Government may not have done more harm than good" by interfering to supply the people with food. That which seems to have awakened the fears of the writer is the necessity for further aid. The nature of his alarm is altogether strange, and, as it appears to us, groundless.

The doubter fully recognizes the emergency under which Government acted : speaking of the disease in the potato crop, which "bore all the character of a sad and fatal disaster in Ire- land," he says-

" In England the potato bore but a small proportion to the whole food of the people; and good tradel with full wages, promised abundance of means to pur- chase the other necessaries of life: bat in Ireland 'each man's own plot of potatoes constituted the sole dependence of cake districts; and these gone, the last hope of subsistence fled with them. helm], moreover, was unfortunately circum- stanced: the plot of potatoes was not alone the sole source of food, it was the sole field of employment." " To such a country it might even have been doubted if the temptations which such a threatened scarcity would usually hold out would tempt commercial enterprise and capital to its aid. The merchant speculates not only on the demand, but also on the means of payment. Altogether, therefore, it out of its usual course, and making an extraordinary effort to save a whole nee would be difficult to conceive so strong a c:ase to justify a Government in stew; from starvation. Indian corn was imported with the capital of the Exchequer.

This aid it is which begins to excite doubts-

" The extent to which public money has been expended in Ireland during the last year, not really in employing the people, but literally in feeding them, is but little known, we apprehend, in this country. But just in proportion as means have been furnished gratuitously, independent exertion has been relinquished. • • * h is the most remarkable fact connected with the history of Ireland during the past year, that even the railways which have there been in the course of construction have ex 'enced the greatest difficulty in procuring sufficient continuous and steady la ur. It is no less singular, that in a year of so much domestic dearth, there has been less emigration to England than in any former season; and it is a still more startling fact, that in this year of suffering in Ire- land, when such extraordinary efforts have been made by the Executive to save perishing people' neither haymakers nor reapers have come from Ireland. • • • Nor is it, alas! that the Irish have better prospects low, independently of their casual labour, than they had last year. On the contrary, they are infinitely worse. Last year the potato crop failed: this year it is one universal blank; it is anni- hilated. • * At a moment when the Irish should be making the greatest exertion, they seem to be making none. What, then will be the value of the aid doled out to them by the Government during the hut year, if it have deprived them of the motive to personal and independent exertion for the future? But, moreover, the policy of the late Government is showing itself in other ways to have been equally mischievous. The small provision-dealers in Ireland could not withstand the powerful competition of the Government granaries. • • * The little and constant dealers who purvey for the public were ruined, and left the Government, in many instances, in the undisputed possession of the market. But will the Government keep the market? Can they keep it? It is the beginning of a system at once degrading to the people to endure and impossible for the Go- vernment to sustain."

Are we to infer from these gloomy forebodings that "the late Government" ought not to have interfered, but ought to have left the remedy to the working of pure political economy We fear that pure political economy would have done very little to aid in supplying the food to relieve starvation. - Political economy, like tonic medicine or dietetics, is of no undoubted virtue for a sudden emergency. The case described in the first extract above forbade all hesitation; it demanded instant action ; and we must regard the evil consequences, if there have been such, as things not to have been avoided—not now to repine at, but manfully to encounter with correctives. The censor appears to think that there was a needless fright ; that it would have been best to leave the Irishman to the slower but surer and healthier means of bet- tering his condition by independent industry.. But no plan of- independent industry could have brought food to the multitude, where the customary article of food was wholly wanting and there was no money to buy others. It was not the food for next year that was in question, but the food from day to day. It is a burlesque on political economy to preach independent exertion to a man actually sinking under the pangs of hunger, England herself would have been injured most seriously by neglect of Ireland. The Morning Chronicle tells us that double the number of reapers was expected over this year : so, had Ireland been left to starve, a double allowance of that half pauper class enfeebled by want of food, therefore doubly helpless and uncertain in their industry, would have been thrown upon the rural districts of Great Britain, or would have thronged the ports of migration. What would the En- glish labourer have said to it? Oh! pure political economy would say, he must have been content to meet the wholesome exposure to competition. We doubt the advantage of any such contest, of any such migration as that of the Irish reapers to this country. What would be the effect of its absence on England ? Why, on the one hand, its effect would be to raise agricultural wages, on the other, to set the agricultural employers on finding better means of economizing labour by the help a machinery. The incursions of the unsettled Irish labourers have helped to beat down the level of wages in this country, without bringing the slightest improve- ment to our modes of agriculture. Ireland herself can derive no permanent and fructifying benefit from so irregular, a draught upon the labour-market. She has harvests of her own to reap. The migration is a sign of the very worst state of society—that in which the means of subsistence actually fall short even of ab- solute necessity. It is because the Irish are already reduced to the "coarsest kind of food "—because they cannot fall upon any- thing easier and cheaper to obtain than potatoes, and because they have not enough even of those—that they must perforce leave home and contend with the English labourer for part of his scanty means. To do so, the Irishman yearly does that which must powerfully contribute to keep his habits unsettled and irregular. The failure of the potato crop obliged Government to interfere : of course it would not have been decent to keep down the supply of food to the verge of starvation; there was enough; and as there was food on the spot, the Irish labourer was not obliged to go to Eng- land to seek it.

The reluctance to work upon railways is to be regretted.- But is it true ? At what wages was the employment offered ? at such rates as to secure a better scale of subsistence than that furnished by the bounty of Government ? If not, there is nothing to won- der at, but merely to observe as the legitimate result of circum- stances; for it is a truism to say that the common herd of men do not act upon principle, but are acted upon by their circumstances; and you could not expect an Irish labourer to work on a railway for rotten potatoes when he could get maize for doing nothing, because the desired course was "independent," or calculated to advance the enduring interests of his race. Butrassuming that the reluctance to work was acculpahle-as ft could be, we cannot regard it as worse than an inevitable conse- quence of an inevitable resort to eleemosynary aid. Last year Government had to meet the difficulty of providing food for the people : when the time comes for withdrawing that aid, Govern- ment will as certainly have to encounter the difficulty of weaning the people from such reliance ; but what then ? One difficulty follows another ex necessitate rei. In countries troubled with drought, rain is apt to be attended by floods; but the foreknow- ledge that water will become "a drug" and " a nuisance" does not diminish the fervour of the prayers for that rain which is the prime necessity. Each day's difficulty must be met at the time.

As to the future, it is crowded with further difficulties, but not with causes for despair. This second failure of the potato crop is, no doubt, a formidable visitation ; yet is it most salutary. Had it not happened, we might have grown reconciled to the potato as a national food ; which the root is evidently unfitted to be. The second failure ought to teach us that the use of the plant as a staple of national subsistence should be absolutely abolished. The food of Ireland must be changed. Well, we have half done it. If more help be needed, more help will undoubtedly be forthcoming. If the process of change be attended with col- lateral difficulties, with unsettlement to industry, it is no more than might be expected : we must anticipate such attendant evils, and mitigate them as best we can. But these smaller troubles should not distract our attention from the one enormous evil out of which we are bound to rescue the neighbour country—the "annihilation" of her food ; nor from the glorious task which other circumstances combine to make possible—the endowing her with a better and a more trustworthy food, and also with the habits and energies that wait upon a better-fed condition. There is no more cause for alarm in all this than there is in the fluttering of the sails when the ship is in stays ; but there is every cause for persevering exertion and undaunted firmness.