Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 37


That a political and commercial union of Great Britain and Ireland would be mutually advantageous, I have endeavoured to shew. England, like an old merchant, by admitting a young one into partnership, would not only increase her capital, but would be eased of much labour, to which she is become unequal; and Ireland, as the new one, would not only get customers, but knowledge and ability to apply her capital to the best advantage.

Yet the objections against the measure are full as numerous in the meridian of Dublin, as in that of London. If a candidate for any county were supposed capable of favouring such a destructive scheme, it would be sufficient to defeat his election. It is hung up to the fearful multitude, as a bugbear, by ambitious men, who solemnly promise to use all their eloquence and interest against it. One would, however, think there could be nothing so formidable to


Ireland, in being invested with all the privileges of old England.

The people are industriously misled in their opinions on this subject. Every corporate town in the kingdom has the ruling and interested party to sound the alarm; for as they would all lose the right of returning members to parliament, and of course their consequence, they represent every plan of incorporation as pregnant with dishonour and ruin. The first magistrate, aldermen, and burgesses, who share the emoluments of the borough every eighth year, declaim loudly against it, at their city feasts, and corporation dinners.

The capital in all countries takes the lead in fashions of every sort; and that it should be the fashion to talk against a union in Dublin, is not unnatural. Dublin is not like Cork, as you might suppose, a city supported entirely by commerce; it is very much upheld by being the winter's residence of people of fashion, especially during the sessions of parliament. It would therefore be as popular to decry the waters at Bath, to recommend a union in Dublin. The


subject is, however, so little understood, that I should not be amazed, if the whole body of woollen weavers,— the very persons who would be the first and greatest gainers by the scheme,— were to take up arms against the promoters of it. The newspapers are generally stuffed with inflammatory declamation against it; they lead the cry, and the rest of the kingdom hark in, without looking farther, and thus confound the interest of Dublin with the interests of Ireland.

People accustomed to the pomp and pageantry of state begin to value them, and become unwilling to part with them. There will be always some particularly fond of magnificence, parade, and show; castle levees, castle balls, and battle-ax-guards. When the Lord Lieutenant goes to give the royal assent to their bills, the streets are lined with foot soldiers from the Castle to the Parliament-house, and a squadron of horse escorts him, with all the other insignia of royalty. A lady with whom I was sitting in a window, to view the last of these exhibitions, could not help asking me in a sort of exultation, — raised perhaps by the


trumpet and the drum, — Whether we had any thing like that in London?

But the Irish are not singular in their attachment to such matters. It was provided by a clause, added to the articles of the union of Scotland, that their crown and other regalia should remain at Holyrood-house. And such was the popular prejudice against the union, that while the treaty was in negociation at Edinburgh, it became necessary to call in the army to protect the houses and persons of those who were supposed to favour the measure. Yet every body knows that Scotland was the principal gainer by the bargain. Every prejudice, except that of religion, prevails here that did there, but upon a worse foundation.

Let us, however, endeavour to answer the most weighty of those objections raised by the Irish. They assert, that Ireland is already taxed higher than England, in proportion to her trade: one half of the national income being carried off by pensioners and absentees. And that, as she could not reap any immediate advantages


from a free trade, she would not be able to bear any additional tax at present. By way of reply to the first of these objections, we must observe that Ireland is rather unequally, than heavily taxed; for resident gentlemen pay but little, and absentees pay nothing towards the expences of government. An equitable taxation, therefore, can only be expected from an incorporation with England.

To the second objection it may be answered, that no tax, except upon land, should be levied, till Ireland shall have felt the commercial advantages of a union. It should be considered that the Irish parliament may at any time impose a land-tax, without stipulating for any compensation, by enlargement of trade; and that the burden may be made to fall on the tenant alone; whereas, if the tax were laid by the British parliament, care would be taken that it should fall on the landlord, as in England.

The drain from absentees is the only plausible argument that an Irishman, who means well to this country, can urge


against a union. Yet the additional expenditure from thence would not be so great as is apprehended. At present, almost all the great incomes are spent in England; men of small estates must live where the comforts of life are attainable at a rate suitable to their rent-rolls. Absenteeship would no otherwise affect Ireland, than it does the distant parts of England; which are now pretty much deserted for the town residence. But if commerce should once get footing, it would be here as in England; the absence of the gentry would not be so much regretted.

In a country so poor as this, the employment given to labourers by resident gentlemen, is a grand object; but if the country had the benefits of tillage and manufacture, it would scarcely be deemed an object at all. For suppose that a gentleman's park of five hundred, or a thousand acres, were possessed by fifty, or a hundred families of industrious spinners and weavers, would not the community be profited? In one case ten or twenty idle servants are supported, in the other several hundreds of useful mechanicks. A gentleman of two


or three thousand pounds a year, will probably not spend half his income in his country residence; and of what is spent there, how small a proportion is laid out on the products of Ireland? The butler wears English cloth, as well as the master and his sons; and it is well if the lady of the house content herself with English manufactures; she and her daughters are probably dressed in French silks. It is perfectly indifferent whether English woollen, or Irish linen, is worn in England or Ireland; so that in the article of dress, Ireland only avails itself of the liveries; and as to the table, she only furnishes the necessaries of life; all the rest are foreign luxuries, tea, sugar, spices, wines, &. &c. From the necessaries of life, no great advantage is received by the neighbourhood; the ground, however, which produces them might, as I have shewn, be very usefully employed. It is not here as in England, where they depend on the next market for their meat; here are no flesh markets, except in their best towns; every resident gentleman is obliged to kill his own beef and mutton.


Do not be surprised when I tell you there are so few markets; for where there are few buyers, there will be but few sellers; nor suppose that if the gentry did reside here there would be markets; there might be a butcher who would undertake to supply three or four gentlemen in a neighbourhood, but this would no more make a market, than the consumption of their liveries would create the weaving of wool. Nothing but wealth diffused by manufactures, agriculture, and commerce, can produce a regular supply of provisions in country towns. The demesnes of the lords and squires, well peopled with industrious mechanicks, subsisting by free trade, would more contribute to the markets, and other good national purposes, than the residence of them and all the absentees ten times told.

It should be considered that a mere circulation of cash can scarcely be reckoned beneficial to a country, but such a circulation as produces industry. Money, if it generates idleness, is an evil, not a good. The silver of Peru, and the gold of Mexico, have not made Spain rich, because they


did not make her industrious. An influx of money, from the residence of gentry, is seldom of important use; nay, I should imagine that it frequently does harm; for it creates a certain number of retainers and publicans, who depend on that alone for their support, which being withdrawn, they are reduced to helpless indigence. Accordingly, we in general find more beggary near the habitations of the great than elsewhere.

No town was ever enriched by a barrack; the money spent does not at all compensate for the idleness and debauchery it produces among the lower people. A town may subsist, but can never grow wealthy by letting of lodgings. If the springs were to dry up, Bath would return to its original nothingness. It would not be so with Dublin, upon the event of a union, because she has other resources than mere letting of lodgings: she would continue to be a considerable trading city; and the seat of government, and of the courts of justice. At present the centre of national amusements, it would still take the lead, in all the politer arts. Other towns would improve,


but it would not decline. I argue thus:
A free and unrestrained exportation would so increase the demands for Dublin manufactures, that it would be the first place in the kingdom to feel the advantages of an open sea. The interests of the comber, the spinner, the weaver, the dyer, the presser, the clothier, would more than counterbalance the losses of the milliner, the taylor, and the hair-dresser. The very trade of poplins, which are so universally prized, would become prodigious. Besides, the silk manufacture, which is solely confined to Dublin, would soon flourish; and the city would become a school, to which they would flock, from all other parts of the kingdom, for instruction in the principles of the mechanick and commercial arts. And there would be no danger of overstocking the several branches with artisans as at present.

There is one objection still behind, which being the only one common both to the English and the Irish, deserves particular notice. They generally agree, that as the linen manufacture meets with sufficient encouragement,


it might suffice to employ all the idle hands in the kingdom. But this objection, though plausible, can have but little weight with those who understand the state of the country. That business can never get footing, but where there is a plentiful supply of fuel; and though Ireland does in some places superabound with peat, yet I am told that about half the kingdom is destitute of it. So that however disagreeable the bogs of Ireland may appear, they are the prime sources of its wealth, for without them the linen manufacture could not so much as exist.

The linen trade, though in a condition so thriving, as to export two millions value yearly, is by no means co-extended with its turf-bogs; and farther, it never can be carried, except where coal is in great abundance. It must be observed, that there are other requisites beside fuel, and flax, and spinners, and weavers; the last hand is to be put to it by the bleacher. The bleacher cannot work without water, and falls of water, which are rarely to be met with, except in hilly countries: near the one half of Ireland said to be levels consequently,


the linen manufacture can never be thoroughly established in above one half the kingdom: and therefore, without the freedom of working up her own wool, she must remain, as it were, paralytic on one side.

But it would be well if one half were employed; for in districts susceptible of the business, it is still in its infancy. Mr. Dobbs, a writer of this country, computes, that in the year 1731, not above five counties were embarked in making linens. Let us suppose that there are now eight, and even then it will be established but over one-fourth of the whole.

From this view, one can scarce help upbraiding these people for their tardy progress in this trade. I have frequently done so from the impulse of feeling, but now correct myself by considering how much has been done, and how difficult it is to eradicate old habits, and acquire new ones.

At the conclusion of last war, this kingdom was in a more flourishing condition than at present. The high rents raised such a spirit of discontent, that ever since the


peace, so advantageous to America, they have been migrating thither, in such numbers, that the price of lands is said to have fallen near a third. The exports of linen too have decreased in the same proportion, the emigrants being mostly weavers. For the two last years, indeed, the disturbances in America having checked this roving disposition, the trade has revived, and the rents have risen. But how must both for ever languish, if upon the resettlement of affairs, America should improve her civil constitution?

This, and every other consideration, should make us think betimes of putting this country upon such a footing, that it may turn out to our greatest advantage, by letting every quarter of it exercise a trade best suited to its local circumstances, and by preventing it from wasting its days in the sombrous gloom of unjoyous indolence, and under all the pressures of hopeless and unpitied poverty. And it should be the policy of every Irish patriot, instead of opposing, to use his utmost endeavours to effect an incorporation of the two kingdoms.


It seems indeed rather a matter of surprise, that government has not long ago interposed to make it palatable to both nations. For, however prejudices may prevail on both sides, right reason and self-interest should direct all parties to bring it about as soon as possible; that so valuable a part of the empire may become as famous for arts and industry, as it is now infamous for the want of them; and that thus losing its evil habits, and its very name, it be no more Ireland, but West England or Little Britain, and that the stile of our Sovereign be Britanniarum Rex.