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FOR JANUARY, 1828.
Art. I. The History of Ireland. By John O'Driscol. 2 vols. 8vo.
Price ll. 4s. London. 1827. WHEN the Spaniards undertook to subdue and appropriate
America to themselves, they went out fortified with a bull of the pope, to reduce and retain all the countries they could conquer, and bring the benighted inhabitants under the spiritual authority of the Holy Church. Armed with this power, they entered the country, and proceeded with the sword of the flesh to carry into execution the spiritual commission of his Holiness. Under the pretext of meliorating the condition of the natives, hosts of needy adventurers, abandoned to the worst passions, spread themselves over the face of the country, led on by chiefs who had attained that rank, only by the more fierce and unrelenting atrocity of their character. Pizarro, Almagro, Padreria, Cortes, and a succession of others, not only made no attempt to restrain their followers, but themselves set the examples of cruelty and cupidity : eagerness for the accumulation of wealth was the great stimulus that goaded them on, and a thirst for gold and blood seemed to increase as it was gratified. They had found a numerous people, claiming a high antiquity, having among them existing proofs that their claims were well founded, and distinguished among the contemporary natives of their continent by early civilization and refinement. Their laws were mild, suited to the humane and gentle temper of the inhabitants, whose dispositions were docile and tractable, admiring what they thought was good, and willing on all occasions to adopt it. Instead of conciliating the good-will, and improving the condition of this people, by the lights they had brought with them, the strangers pursued and persecuted them every where with the most unrelenting barbarity: there was no perfidy which they did not practise on their confidence, no cruelty which they did not perpetrate on their persons. They Vol. XXIX. N.S.
held, that killing a mere Indian was no greater offence than depriving a noxious animal of life, and that they were only executing the Divine commands in destroying them. They attempted to force Christianity upon them, and the Indians were willing to adopt it; but the conduct of the strangers was so infernal, that the natives at length shrunk with horror from the religion which they professed. When the miserable sufferers, put to the torture, were urged to renounce their idolatry, and go to heaven with the true believers, they only clung to their errors the more tenaciously, as exempting them, they said, from the chance of again meeting in any place their persecutors. A very few benevolent ecclesiastics interfered from time to time in behalf of this suffering people; and among the rest, the venerable Las Casas, bishop of Chiapa; but his voice was not heard among the fierce clamours of his countrymen. In vain were commissions appointed, and commissioners sent abroad, to inquire into the state and treatment of the natives; they were disregarded or corrupted; and no effectual means were taken to arrest the horrors that were practised, till nearly the whole race was extirpated, and their lands, tenements, and property seized by the perpetrators. To justify their conduct, they did not fail to represent the natives as a barbarous, brutal, incorrigible race, immersed in the most gross and abominable su- , perstitions, a race which they had a Divine commission to destroy. These stories obtained belief in Europe at the time; among the ignorant and prejudiced, and were eagerly propagated by those who had an interest in having them credited. But the time is come, when they are known and treated as the fictions or exaggerations of men who sought some excuse for their own horrid acts; and the people of Earope in general, and of England in particular, have visited them with their just reprobation.
If we are to believe the statements of Mr. O'Driscol's book, there is a strong similarity between the case of the Peruvians and that of the Irish. The Anglo-Normans obtained from the pope, a bull to enter the kingdom of Ireland, in order to reduce the people to obedience and the jurisdiction of the see of Rome; and, like the Spaniards, they proceeded with the sword of the flesh to execute the spiritual commission. Hosts of needy adventurers crowded into the country, whose only object was plunder, and whose predominant passions were cruelty and avarice. They were generally led on by men of similar character, but pre-eminent in the ferocity which distinguished their followers; and the deeds of Mountjoy, Grey, Carew, and Cromwell, even cast into shade the daring atrocities of Almagro and Cortes. The strangers had found, on their landing in the
country, a numerous population, formerly distinguished among the nations of Europe, by the eminence they had attained in the arts of civilized-life, and by their claims to antiquity; and at that time, a people of quick, ingenious fancy, living under a mild code of laws suitable to their own humane dispositions, and in a country of extraordinary fertility and beauty; they were doeile, apt to discern what was good, and ready on all occasions to adopt it. But, instead of studying to • form such a people 6 to virtuous manners' by the lights they professed to bring with them, according to the terms of their ball, there was no wickedness of which they did not themselves set them the first example. Their sole object was, to seize upon their lands and possessions; and they proceeded by endeavouring in every possible way to exterminate the possessors. They established the principle, that the natives were altogether out of the pale of humanity; and they acted on it as a legal maxim, that to take the life of a mere Irishman was no murder. They represented them as incapable of the moral obligations which bind man to man; and therefore, there was no perfidy which they did not think themselves justifiable in practising towards them. The natives, naturally docile and tractable, submitted at first to the laws, and adopted the religious creed, of the strangers : 'ho professed to teach them better things; but, when they found their practice so at variance with their precepts, the Irish, like the Indians; at length shrunk from a religion proposed to them by men who seemed themselves restrained by no religious tie. Occasionally, a good and upright ecclesiastic of the new faith obtained a powerful influence over the minds of the people; and the Protestant bishop Bedel, like the Catholic bishop Las Casas, was an object of the most affectionate respect and attachment. Various representations and memorials were at different times transmitted to England on the cruelty and injustice practised on the natives; and commissioners were appointed to inquire into the facts, and to redress them; but either they were disregarded, or became themselves infected with the lust of property which had seized on their countrymen. Spoliation and destruction pursued their course, till the whole property of the country was wrested from the hands of the native proprietors, and transferred to the strangers; and the whole native population became twice nearly extirpated. In the words of a contemporary bistorian, they were brayed in the mortar of war and
famine,' till the fruits of the earth were destroyed, the cattle exterminated, their arable land converted into woods and bogs; and by the way-side might be found the dead and the dying, their mouths smeared with weeds, the only things left to satisfy
the cravings of hunger. To justify this conduct, the adverse writers, from Giraldus down to Twiss, have not failed to represent the Irish as a barbarous, intractable race; and some, even so late as the seventeenth century, have gone so far as to speak of them as Idolaters and Canaanites whom the people of God (meaning themselves) were commissioned to destroy *. These tales of Irish brutality and degradation, were circulated with such assiduity by those who had an interest in causing them to be believed, that they were generally credited at the time, and assented to even by those who were very incredulous and sceptical on other points. Hume has embodied them in his history, and Voltaire was so struck with the moral inferiority of the race, as to assert, that the Irish seemed created to be slaves to ' the English, as the blacks to the whites.' But the time is come, when the prejudices against this people have passed away from every reasonable mind. The misrepresentations of interested parties have been sifted; statements are now received with caution, which were formerly swallowed with avidity; and as knowledge expands, the candour and good sense of the people of England are at length beginning to do that justice to the character and history of the Irish, which has so long been denied them.
Such is the sum and substance of Mr. O'Driscol's history, and such are the impressions left upon the mind by the details of his work. The first question which suggests itself, is, What credit does he deserve as a faithful historian, and how far are his details to be relied on? His history contains few notices of any authority for his statements, no marginal references to passages in other writers, and no quotations at the bottom of the page, to enable the reader to judge of the authenticity of the source whence he has drawn his information, or the fidelity with which he has applied it. With the exception of one or two documents at the end of the volumes, it is a naked detail
* Twice, in the course of the Irish wars, has this argument been resorted to, in the times of Cromwell and William.— They quoted the examples of the Israelites, and the fate of the Canaanites, as the Cromwellians had done. They contended against the imputation of cruelty, that they had the same warrant from heaven as the patriarchs of old, and were bound by the same obligation to purge the land which had been bestowed upon them, from the abominations of superstition and idolatry ....: Dr. Dopping, bishop of Meath, preached before the lords-justices at Christ's Church, in Dublin, on their return from Limerick:-he reproached them bitterly for the treaty they had made, and argued, that Protestants were not bound to keep faith with Papists.' O'Driscol, Vol. II. pp. 363, 4.