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IN the Northern legend we learn how the great god Thor, anxious to display his strength to Utgard Loki and his giants, essayed to lift from the ground the king's grey cat. Straining with all his might, he only succeeded in raising a single paw from the ground. But when the glamour of magic was removed, he knew the true nature of the task he had undertaken. The grey cat of King Loki was no other than the great Midgard Serpent which circled the foundations of the solid earth; not even the mighty strength of the immortal could unclinch its tremendous folds. And the Scandinavian story is not without its moral in these matter-of-fact days. A good many people there are in this country who at one time or another have made mistakes no less serious than that into which the redbearded hero of Asgard allowed himself to fall.

Among the number of those who have so erred are assuredly to be found the authors of the three Irish Land Acts of 1870, 1882, and 1887. These well-meaning politicians have all worked conscientiously, they have worked terribly hard, they have put an unparalleled amount of energy into their operations, they have even shaken the political world not a little; but the great coils at which they were straining and tugging have not budged. There they were, and there they remain. The Irish land difficulty is untouched. The times are altered, but the eternal verities remain the same. Politicians tug and strain, and hope to see the great monster come up. If they knew that it was made fast by indissoluble links to the unshakable foundations of the universe of law and reason, they would perhaps stop tugging, and set about some more useful business better adapted to their strength.

When Mr. Gladstone talked about banishing political economy to Jupiter and Saturn, there were not wanting adorers who recognised in the saying a brilliant and original quality, and who argued success for a project which could be defended by such wise and witty phrases. But the laws of political economy have not really gone to Jupiter or Saturn; on the contrary, they have remained exactly where they were, as indeed we are beginning to find out to our cost.

Both Mr. Gladstone's Land Acts were, of course, like most of his

other healing measures, absolutely final, conclusive, and all-sufficing at the time they were passed. This year, following a bad example, we have seen a Conservative Government passing a third Land Act on the old lines. To do the present Administration justice, it must be said that there is not a single member of it who pretends that this last piece of tinkering is likely to be permanent or satisfactory. It is only making the best of a bad job.

Everybody is pretty well agreed by this time that if the Irish land difficulty is to be got rid of at all, it must be by measures very different indeed from previous Land Acts. What is to be the nature of the new remedy? That is a question which it is worth trying to answer. It is always easier to say what a scheme should not be than what it should be. I would therefore begin by saying that the new bill, if bill there is to be, should not be anything that in the remotest degree resembles, or that in any way recalls, its predecessors. The principles upon which all three Land Acts were based were radically bad, and by no possible manipulation can be made good or fruitful. Therefore to found any new scheme upon these principles is to condemn it to certain failure. It may seem somewhat bold to speak in such decided terms of the Acts of 1870, 1882, and 1887; but this is not a matter upon which there is room for two opinions, or upon which, now that we have had time to look at the matter coolly, two opinions are really entertained. We go to school and learn that twice two are four, and believe it, and when we go out of school into the great world we do not call the multiplication table a piece of doctrinaire research which has no application to the facts of life. Still less do we attempt to conduct our own worldly operations upon the theory that twice two are five, or nine million and forty-two, or the square of x, or some equally odd and fortuitous quantity. If only we carried this arithmetical consistency into our politics, we should not have inflicted the last three Land Acts upon Ireland.

Year after year we pay all our professors to teach us that the price of commodities cannot be fixed by Act of Parliament. We acknowledge the fact, we are convinced of its correctness, we write books about it, and in our turn we teach it to those who have not our opportunities. Then, having done this, we proceed with infinite elaboration to enact a series of laws, the whole aim and object of which is to fix by statute the price of the most important comInodity in the country we hope to benefit. Some sluggish intellect fails to see the wisdom of the step, and its possessor asks why twice two are going to make five now any more than they did at school. How can you deal with such a man as this? There are only two ways of suppressing him. Either you may assert that he is selfish, interested, tyrannical, retrograde, and only wishes to prevent your doing any good to a suffering country; or else

you can put him off with some smart remarks about Jupiter and Saturn which all the world will recognise as conclusive. Then of course you have nothing to do but to sing the praises of your own magnanimity, and to prophesy the certain success of your measures, until their absolute and disastrous failure makes it time to set about another beneficent reform of the same nature.

Or again, we write or read, as the case may be, some millions of leading articles, pamphlets, treatises, reports of speeches, &c., all tending to show that we are a brilliantly practical people, full of common sense, and with a thorough knowledge of business. No doubt we possess all these high qualities, and accordingly there is no doubt whatever that we are perfectly well aware that the result of making a man a rent-charger on his own estate, with no sort of power over or interest in it beyond what is involved in the periodical collection of a statutory rent, is to paralyse all enterprise on the part of either landlord or tenant, to prohibit the expenditure of capital, to embitter the relations between two men who have no common ground except in the sheriff's court, and to render irksome the bonds which we forbid one of the parties to the contract to break. All these things, we know perfectly well, are and must be the results of the course described. Provided there be no special application made, no one would take the trouble to deny the proposition. But propose by elaborate legislative process to inflict this miserable condition upon a people, call it a remedial measure, and pledge the credit of a popular politician for its efficacy, and presto! the absurdity of the classroom and the study becomes the mature wisdom of the Cabinet, the House of Commons, and the platform.

Nevertheless, with miserable and disappointing persistency, two and two still make four, and so indeed I believe they will continue to do to the end of the chapter. But what I wish to call attention to is the strange and unfortunate belief that has evidently grown up in the minds of many, that if we only go pretending long enough that two and two make five, or nine million and forty-two, the old result will in the end be altogether altered.

We have witnessed, as I have endeavoured to point out, the most aggravated symptoms of this delusion in the dealings of our politicians with Ireland during the past twenty years. We know that it is impossible to fix prices by Act of Parliament, and we enact three statutes to fix them. We know that to make a man a mere rent-charger on his own land is to drive all spirit out of both landlord and tenant; and we make this arrangement the normal condition of Irish land tenure. We know that to allow and encourage the breaking of laws, because they are unpopular with those who break them, is to return to barbarism and anarchy; and we make heroes out of a set of men who earn their daily bread by bragging of their intention to violate the law, or by inciting others to do so.

We know that the one thing which alone can save Irish agriculture is the investment of capital in the land; and half our politicians help to maintain a state of things in which any man who invests sixpence in Irish land must be considered a lunatic if the money be his own, and a scoundrel if it be any one else's.

Such is a summary of the remedies which we have been content to apply to Ireland, and such are some of the reasons why they have not had the success which their authors undoubtedly hoped for them. Is it not possible that, after all, some plan, based upon the old superstitions of the multiplication table, of political economy, and of the ten commandments, might succeed, even though the brilliant experiments of the past have failed?

Almost the only thing that can be said in favour of past land legislation is, that it has been full of good intentions, and has frankly recognised the real source of the Irish difficulty.

Everybody who knows anything about Ireland is well aware that the proportion of space which the land question occupies in the popular mind, in comparison with that occupied by Home Rule, is as about a hundred to one. Some people, indeed, would put the difference even higher, and would hold that, while the permanent solution of the land question was a matter of deep and pressing personal interest to some millions of the population of Ireland, the real enthusiasm for Home Rule was confined to a knot of noisy and impecunious agitators, who would like nothing less than the solution of the agrarian problem which has provided them for so long with a competence not earned in any other trade than that in which they are now engaged.

I am not concerned to inquire whether I have understated this matter, but I am content to take the moderate estimate of the situation which I have given above.

From that statement it appears that, in order to restore any sort of civilisation in Ireland, it is necessary to deal comprehensively and finally with the land question. I know that the use of the word 'finally' in such a connection is to invite a crushing reply. I know that every Irish measure which Mr. Gladstone has brought in has produced an eloquent peroration in which the absolutely final, conclusive, and never-to-be-amended character of the new remedy was dwelt upon with an unction which in the earlier cases must have carried conviction to many. But when I use the word 'final' I am under no illusion. I do not for one moment pretend that the economical difficulty in Ireland will be solved, or that the Irish tenant will be made either rich or happy, by the passing of any Act of Parliament. Such a consummation, if it ever happily arrive, must be conditional on a rise in the value of agricultural produce, coupled with the growth of some sort of respect for the Ten Commandments on the part of the Irish cultivators.

At present there seems little enough likelihood that either of these preliminary conditions will be fulfilled. But what I do assert is that a solution is possible, by which we may relieve this country from all responsibility, real or imaginary, for the misfortunes of the Irish tenant-farmers, and may make it clear to all the world that the decay of agriculture in Ireland has as little to do with the action of the British Government as the Goodwin Sands have to do with Tenterden steeple.

I have already pointed out that no solution whatever can have the remotest chance of success which does not differ in every essential particular from the ordinary run of Irish Land Acts as we have hitherto known them. By merely avoiding every principle and every detail embodied in previous legislation, we cannot, indeed, make success certain, but we may, at any rate, make it possible. We cannot recall political economy from Jupiter and Saturn, because it has never left this terrestrial globe; but we can recall our legislators from the distant fields they have been rambling in, and in which they have managed to forget the science in which they were once capable of passing a satisfactory examination. The mountain will not go to Mahomet.' That is the strongest possible reason why the false prophet should be conducted to the mountain.

A scheme which eschews every feature of the previous Land Acts may make success possible; something more is required to make it probable. The required measure must not only be right in itself, but it must be so obviously right and reasonable as to carry with it the approval and to strike the imagination of the general public. Not one Englishman in ten thousand has even a general idea of the provisions of the Irish Land Acts. Not one in a million has any really accurate knowledge of the various clauses and their effect. Even in Ireland the persons who are best acquainted with the acts. are those who have studied them with the object of seeing how far and how completely they can be set aside, or turned into the convenient instruments of fraud.

It is absolutely certain that, before another session is over, we are destined to have one more Irish Land Bill, and possibly one more Irish Land Act. Can such a Bill or such an Act be produced which shall be capable of meeting the requirements which I have laid down as essential? I believe such a Bill can be framed, and in laying an outline of its provisions before the public I ask for a fair and deliberate consideration of a proposal which has never yet been seriously discussed.

It will save time if I state as briefly as possible the outline of the measure which I desire to see introduced. The tenor of the Bill should be somewhat as follows:

1. On and after a date specified in the Act the whole of the agricultural land of Ireland held on lease or otherwise than in fee VOL. XXII.-No. 129.

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