Зображення сторінки
PDF

of its pressure. The plan of public works proposed by them received the sanction of Parliament. It is scarcely necessary to remark on this mode of relief, which now seems universally condemned ; though no one has pointed out a substitute which would not have been liable to many objections. Perhaps it was not, under any circumstances, the plan best calculated to meet the difficulty; but if the destitution had been less severe, it might have answered. As it was, it failed chiefly through the same difficulty which impedes every mode of relief, whether public or private, namely, the want of machinery to work it. It was impossible suddenly to procure an efficient staff of officers for an undertaking of such enormous magnitude—the employment of a whole people. The overseers were necessarily selected in haste; many of them were corrupt, and encouraged the misconduct of the labourers. In many cases, the relief committees, unable to prevent maladministration, yielded to the torrent of corruption,” and individual members only sought to benefit their own dependants. The people every where flocked to the public works, labourers, cottiers, artisans, fishermen, farmers,

* A respectable clergyman being asked how he came to lend himself to such doings, replied, “At first I strove against it as much as I could, “but I could effect nothing; and then I thought I was not doing justice “to my own people not to take care of them.”

men, women, children, all, whether destitute or not, sought for a share of the public money. In such a crowd it was almost impossible to discriminate properly. They congregated in masses on the roads, idling under the name of work, the really destitute often unheeded and unrelieved, because they had no friend to recommend them. All ordinary employments were neglected ; there was no fishing, no gathering of sea-weed, no collecting of manure. The men who had employment feared to lose it, by absenting themselves for any other object; those unemployed passed their time in seeking to obtain it. The whole industry of the country appeared to be engaged in road-making. It became absolutely necessary to put an end to it, or the ordinary business of the country—the cultivation of the land, would have been neglected.

The effects of such a system are now evident. Works undertaken on the spur of the moment, not because they were needful, but merely to employ the people, were in many cases ill-chosen, and the execution equally defective. The labourers, desirous to protract their employment, were only anxious to give as little labour as possible, in which their overlookers in many cases heartily agreed. The favouritism, the intimidation, the wholesale jobbing which was practised in many places, were shockingly demoralizing. Still we

must not too hastily condemn this mode of relief, as if it had effected no good. The difficulties of our position were great beyond all precedent. The employment given secured the peace of the community, and protected society from that greatest of dangers, a starving mob of able-bodied men. In many places the roads made will eventually be very useful, in opening extensive districts and facilitating communication. A very large amount of money was poured into the country, which, though it may not in all cases have reached the poorest, yet afforded the means of subsistence to many who would otherwise have starved ; and even in cases of abuse, it probably kept from destitution many small farmers and others, who without this assistance would have become absolute paupers. The problem was : in a time of great dearth, to support 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 of destitute persons; and this was in great measure effected, though at an enormous cost to the empire. But it was not expected that these public works would support all the destitute. The local relief committees were to raise subscriptions, which the Government offered to double; and in some cases of peculiar poverty, even a larger proportion was given. This appeal was in very many cases responded to with marked liberality. The Irish gentry had already contributed liberally in the spring of 1846, before the blight of that year appeared ; they now subscribed again, many as largely as their means warranted, The intelligence that Ireland's most important crop was lost, and her people starving, went through every country, and every where excited one universal feeling of pity. The subscriptions in England were on the largest scale, worthy of the occasion, and consistent with that liberality which Ireland has so often experienced. Money was sent from France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of western Europe, whose inhabitants were themselves suffering from the same cause. Our fellow-subjects in the West and in the farthest East heard of our distress, and joined in the effort to relieve us. The citizens of the United States evinced their feeling for our sufferings, by subscriptions on a scale such as never before were sent by one nation for the relief of another, worthy of a great and benevolent people, and calculated to cement the ties which should ever unite two nations of kindred institutions and similar origin.” Difference of creed, and clime, and colour were disregarded. The Sultan of Turkey sent his aid ; the people of India offered their assistance; the enfranchised Negroes of the West Indies, and the red men of the far West of America added their mites; and even enslaved Negroes in the United States contributed from their poverty, for the relief of those whose condition was, in this respect, one of greater distress than their own. Never before had any civilized people experienced such suffering, never had there existed such a feeling of universal sympathy, accompanied by exertions for their relief on so gigantic a scale. The aggregate voluntary collections of the several local committees, in the years 1846 and 1847, exceeded £300,000.* The subscriptions confided to the British Association and the principal central relief committees in London and Dublin, altogether amounted to about £800,000.f

* The first authentic accounts of the actual evidence of famine in Ireland, awakened a deep feeling of commiseration throughout the States, and a movement surprizing in its extent, and in the magnitude of its results, forthwith commenced. Meetings were convened in many of the principal cities, and committees were formed, who laboured with indefatigable zeal to collect and forward supplies in money and food. Large sums of money were speedily remitted, and cargo after cargo of provisions followed in quick succession. These generous efforts were greatly aided and encouraged by the liberality of the British Government, in undertaking to pay the freight of all donations of food from America. * The precise amount of the local subscriptions officially reported, appears to have been £104,689 18s. 1d. in 1846, and £199,569 4s. 5d. in 1847. The latter sum may contain some grants from charitable associations, and some subscriptions not strictly local, but it is believed that these do not constitute any large portion of the amount. f It is not practicable to give the exact amount received by the various central relief committees. The whole sum probably exceeds £800,000. It is evident that the valuation of the food consigned to their care is to

some extent arbitrary. G

« НазадПродовжити »