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that now, with its inhabitants trebled, it is not only enabled so to do, but to export at least ten millions of bushels, as well as six times the amount in cattle (perhaps about thrice as many head), as at the former period; and could he be brought to understand and believe that population there had advanced more rapidly than food; that, if things were suffered to go on thus, universal distress and ruin must inevitably ensue, in a word, that the principle of human increase operates in that island as an evil? And what would it avail, were it told him that the cultivators were, in the mean time, faring most wretchedly themselves, and actually suffering for want of sufficient support. He would instantly rejoin, why then do they not retain some part of these immense exports, to satisfy their own necessities? And, if he were an English cultivator, he would be the readier to recommend such a measure. But, that he must, in compliment to the principle of population, see present suffering and future starvation awaiting a people, merely on the score of increasing numbers, while he is shown that such increase has actually produced a far larger measure of superfluous provision, which has to find a vent elsewhere, in quantities which actually inundate other markets; would be rather too much to demand from a man of common sense. Place such a man on the committee, and he would think about preventing the undue emigration of corn, and cattle, and pigs, rather than promoting that of the people.
If then it be conceded, (and can it be denied?) that the evils which now afflict that country cannot possibly be attributed to a large population, existing as
they did, and at least in an equal degree when the country was notoriously underpeopled; and if, furthermore, it be admitted (and I again defy the fact to be controverted) that the produce of the country has far more than kept pace with the increase in its inhabitants, till, in point of fact, it has augmented into an immense superflux which has to be disposed of elsewhere, the argument which I oppose is finally settled as it regards Ireland; and might here very properly close. But it is not less the purpose of the work of which this forms a part, to demolish to its very foundation the false and pernicious theory which now unhappily prevails, than to substitute another founded upon truth, and consistent with the principles of justice and mercy. After having established its certainty as a law of nature, the next design has been to show that it has always operated to the advantage and not to the detriment of the human race, and that the natural increase of mankind has therefore been the signal, nay the very means, of their advancement in all that constitutes human superiority. But though the facts, and more especially the calculations on which it is founded, have never yet been submitted to a single individual during the progress of the work, who has not instantly acceded to the conclusion as inevitable, I must confess, that all such have, on recollection as it were, pointed to the condition of Ireland, as disturbing their otherwise entire acquiescence with the principle disclosed: hence, on a matter regarded as so eșsential to the argument, and especially one which is so present to the mind of Britons, and so deeply touches their feelings, it is necessary to be explicit. To me the
situation of Ireland, circumstanced as she is, corroborates, rather than confronts, whatever I have advanced on the law of population throughout. In pursuing the melancholy subject, though I have witnessed the sufferings of that country often, and meditated upon them more frequently, still I shall state nothing on my own authority. Those who may accompany me into the remaining details, may find some little novelty in seeing the sufferings of that unhappy people attributed to other causes than either to potatoes, or to propagation: causes which I advert to with unfeigned reluctance, but on which, adverting to them at all, I shall deliver myself with the utmost plainness. I am aware of the treatment of those
"Who truths invidious, to the great, reveal,"
for it is on them, and not, as is now the fashion, upou defenceless and persecuted poverty that I shall fix the wrongs of Ireland, aye, and her outrages; those convulsions at which the nation stands aghast, and feels ever and anon as a mighty earthquake shaking the very foundations of the empire, while the voice of distant thunders is still heard threatening from the cloud that gathers in the west, where the angry elements seem in perpetual war.
(4.) But before I proceed to these considerations, I maintain that Ireland, peculiarly circumstanced as she is, has nevertheless participated, though in a humble degree, in the advantages naturally resulting from increasing numbers. That she does not furnish a more triumphant argument in favour of the principle of benevolence, is not chargeable upon the laws of nature and of God.
We have seen the great increase in the population of Ireland during the last century; we proceed then to inquire, whether the condition of the people proportionably deteriorated, which the principle I am opposing means to imply, if it mean anything; or, on the contrary, whether such increase was a benefit to the community. Let competent witnesses be heard on this matter, and the dispute be decided accordingly. "Can those who now hear me, deny," said the celebrated Mr. Foster to a sufficient number of competent judges, the representatives of Ireland, “that, since the period of 1782, Ireland has risen in civilization, in wealth, in manufactures, in a greater proportion, and with a more rapid progress, than any other country of Europe'." Again, Lord Sheffield, the pursuits of whose life seem to have been almost exclusively directed to subjects of public and national economy especially relating to this country, says, "the improvement of Ireland is as rapid as any country ever experienced"." But, not to multiply authorities on this point, I shall lastly quote Major Newenham, to whose researches respecting this subject the public is so much indebted. Presenting many most important facts relative to the population and condition of the country, in a series of Tables, he finally observes upon them: "They evince, beyond the possibility of a doubt, a most rapid increase of people in Ireland; and at the same time exhibit in a clear light this interesting fact, that, within these last five-and-twenty years, or thereabout, the food in that country has not been merely
Speech in the House of Commons, 17 Feb. 1800.
2 Lord Sheffield, Observations on the Trade, &c. of Ireland, p. 6.
commensurate with, but has greatly surpassed the rapid and well-authenticated increase of its population'."
§ V. (1.) Yet notwithstanding these cheering testimonies in favour of the progress of population, it must be admitted that much suffering and great national degradation exist in this interesting portion of the British empire, which, I am not without a painful apprehension, may have been latterly increased, owing to their real cause having been aggravated rather than diminished'; while they are still further heightened, at least rendered more conspicuous, by being contrasted with the rapid advancement of the other grand divisions of the kingdom.
In fixing upon this cause, I have not far to seek nor long to deliberate. It has been deeply felt, and powerfully pointed out, ever since the state of Ireland has excited the consideration of the empire. One which every writer of any note, or patriot of any principle or feeling, on either side the water, who has given attention to its affairs, has designated the prime curse of the country; compared with which every other momentary topic of declamation has sunk into insignificance: one indeed which the modern school of political theorists stoutly denies as an evil, and consequently labours to prevent the application of that remedy, without which Ireland will always be pushed to the utmost verge of destitution, and consequently of endurance. I trust I need hardly explain that I mean ABSENTEESHIP.
'Newenham, Statistical Inquiry, &c. p. 197.
* See an account of the increase of absenteeism since 1797, in Drs. Baker and Cheyne's work, vol. i. p. 12; see likewise the Lords' Report on the Disturbances in Ireland, p. 207, &c.