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pendence. Scotland was united under one head, and presented her poverty and her mountains as barriers of defence: yet she was subject to eternal attack; and while she maintained her independence, she lost a fourth part of her population by the sword. Portugal, surrounded by her impenetrable mountains, and supported by an English fleet, has borne up hitherto against the force of Spain; and Switzerland, resting on her republican governments, on the top of her eternal hills, has sustained her independence in the centre of hostile Europe.
But Ireland, originally divided into small dynasties like all the rest of Europe, was conquered, before, in the progress of civilisation, these dynasties had united into one ; and a thousand other causes of disunion having occurred, these have been kept up as a means of keeping her under, according to the universal maxims of political power. The ruling faction that governs Ireland under the English minister, was justly alarmed at the profound system that was to form a universal union, on a new basis of natural right, upon which its oblique institutions could not have rested for a moment; and the exertions it makes to dissolve this union are the strong and desperate efforts of self-preservation.
Are we to conclude that the Irish rulers are wicked in this conduct? Certainly, in the code of pure morality; but it is deeply to be lamented that they act on the same principles that have, almost without a single exception, governed all combinations of men in possession of power. Ireland is kept under by the sword, and by the sword only can her bonds be cut asunder; and I repeat it again, that in the present aspect of affairs I see little chance that the attempt will be made, and none at all that, if made, it will be successful. It is not by its single efforts that the fate of Ireland will be decided; it is in the dreadful contest which is commencing between England and France that its history and fortunes are involved. Ireland is an open and a fruitful country. It is in possession of England ; and all that is leading and powerful in it, all that has been accustomed to independent action, is leagued with England to keep it down. Who shall cry,
“ To your tents, O Israel ?” Where are the arms, the fastnesses, the impenetrable mountains — where the united and unconquerable will — that stand in the place of system, discipline, and skill? Where is the wilderness in which the young lion shall feed on manna, and range unmolested till his limbs expand and his strength invigorates, and he bursts on his enemies in the fulness of his powers ?
You do me injustice, when you doubt my sympathy in the sufferings of Ireland. « Am not I a man, and a brother ?” Besides, I have always contended that, through all the haze of perverted education, the Irish character was of the finest materials; and always contended, too, that Ireland has, from the earliest periods of modern history, had fouler play than any nation on earth. I maintained these points the other day in a large company, against an Irishman and an officer, with a vehemence that alarmed my friends, and with a success that surprised myself. But it is safe to contend with an Irishman in favour of Ireland.
But what to wish or hope for Ireland I know not; I cannot wish success to France, in the new contest she is commencing with England. Miserable as our councils have been, I must be on the side of my country. The present government of France is decidedly a usurpation, and is returning on us the injustice which, in 1793, the French nation received.
It is my opinion that we shall suffer great calamities. Prosperity has made us hard-hearted: adversity will teach us sympathy; and at some happy moment a federal union between the two islands may be formed on the basis of justice, and give to the “ queen of the waves” the full
scope of her genius, and the free enjoyment of her blessings.
But I see this through the mist of time, and far remote in the vale of years.
At the present moment, the times become more and more serious — the hours, as they fleet away, assume a melancholy hue. If the still and stagnating atmosphere portend a hurricane — if the dark and gathering clouds are to burst upon us ---may indulgent Providence bear us up under the whirlwind, and conduct us in safety through the storm!
Accept these few hurried remarks as a token of my respect for Miss Greg, and of my regard for
you. I enclose you a subscription-paper for the widow and children of Burns. I shall correct the proofs, and write the biography ; which will be a great amusement, and will divert me from more serious things. I am ashamed to ask
you to subscribe : yet I do ask you; and I desire you to ask any other person that you think would subscribe willingly. Adieu, my dear friend!
Liverpool, March 27. 1800.
To the latter part of your letter, first
I see no injury you can do yourself by publishing — no injury, I mean, to the reputation of your understanding; and certainly you can receive none, but the contrary, to your character for benevolence.*
In respect to your prefatory matter, be as short and as clear as you can. Do not deprecate or apologise too much: for the world into which you are going, will not enter much into your feelings; and much prefatory matter, which in you would spring from mere timidity, might to the million appear like self-import
you to write
Let me request of
your own preface. Do not hesitate in your first composition : let your pen move glibly over the paper; and when you have said all that you mean to say, try
* This passage relates to a little publication, by Mrs. Greg, which first appeared under the title of “ A Collection of Proverbs, Maxims, Observations, &c.," but in the second Edition was called, “ The Moralist."