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to a state of hopeless dependence. The lords had neither the intelligence, nor the generosity, to give liberal institutions; and the Brehon Code, minute in its decisions between vassal and vassal, had not ventured to restrain their licentious mis-rule. Ireland had no towns, except a few seaports, which were still in the hands of the Danish enemy; there were, therefore, no corporations to diversify the bleak uniformity of feudal barbarism, to plead a chartered exemption from servitude, or to reflect the dangerous image of plebeian rights.*
* These are the more palpable and prominent facts, as they are presented by history; yet we must not forget, that, in a very great degree, things are as they are felt. A family man would say, that such a state of society could afford no fireside comforts; a statesman, that it was equally adverse to national greatness : both would say truly ; but not the whole truth. It had its own attractions for a people, as the Irish were, as they are at this day, of few and simple wants ; strangers to the spirit of trade; castle-builders without forethought ; convivial with their equals; aspiring to familiarity with their superiors; reckless of danger; Stoics in endurance; Cynics in their whimsical contempt of appearances ; Epicureans in their relish of the passing hour; and full of airy and buoyant spirits, which shoot up, as some trees are said to do, the more vigorously, for the pressure of some incumbent weight. By the law of Tanistry, every man of noble blood was eligible to the chiefrie of his tribe. The law of Gavel-kind was equally liberal of fair promises to every vassal ; it gave him the chance of the great object of an Irishman's ambition, a bit of land: to be sure, it could be only for his own life, but his sons could not hope to be better men than their father, or look for better prospects than he enjoyed. In fine, in our Irish world, life was all a lottery, an adventure, a spirit-stirring uncertainty, in which a sanguine and elastic temper found enjoyment by snatches, and excitement al. ways. The cup of expectation went round to every lip, and the visions, which it conjured up, were to be realized by the exercise of a smooth tongue and a sturdy arm ; gifts, in which the Irish were seldom deficient, and which were, in themselves, as much sources of self-complacency, as the good things to which they ministered, were objects of desire. Besides, it must be remembered, that the vassals were the constituents of their chief and landlord; a connection not the less intimate, from this circumstance, that the hustings of those days were, for the most part, literally fields of battle. Thus, if harshly treated by the actual great man, they were sure to receive from the aspirant all the blandishments of a canvass ; and, whenever they could muster a majority of battle-axes, they might proceed, without further ceremony, to a new election. This mutual clientship and interdependence, between sovereign and subject, lord and serf, though a powerful element of commotion in the social chaos, must have greatly assuaged the sense, if not the reality, of oppression. In particular, it gave rise to two domestic relations, which united, without confounding, the upper and lower classes ; the noble gave out his children to be nursed by his retainers, and in return, became baptismal sponsor for theirs. These two very innocent and very interesting customs of fosterage and gossiprod have been described by Sir John Davis in terms of rather absurd reprobation : at all events, however alarming to a politician, they would afford exquisite materials for a novelist.
Sich was the system of the Irish chieftains whom Henry the Second found here; and thenceforward, until the reign of James the First, by whom their power was finally broken, it continued rather to degenerate than improve. Through the whole of that interval, they submitted to an English monarch as they had done before to one of the Milesian line, with the same readiness, the same inconstancy, and the same reservations. They acknowledged him, as the centre of their federal union; a theoretic union, which their petty hostilities were constantly violating: as a superior, whose pre-eminence they attested, by a slight tribute or occasional military service; and whose reciprocal good offices they looked for, in their difficulties and disputes. This was the amount of his sovereignty : it could not, or would not, be understood by those sturdy lords, that he was to invade their precious right of mutual slaughter, or to mitigate the internal anarchy of their dominions.
We ought to have a writer of national tales. The Munster Tariner,
Si quà fata aspera rumpat,
Hic Marcellus it. But he is better employed.
The great English lords were no less resolute than the Irish, in their opposition to the sovereign, and their oppression of the people. Adventurers, of reckless and ferocious habits; distinguished from the worst of the native chiefs, by nothing but their superior skill in the arts of predatory warfare; they had conquered without the aid of the king, and were determined to govern without his interference. The honorary title of lord of Ireland excited neither their ambition nor their jealousy: perhaps they were pleased with the existence of a claimant, whose rank, while it placed him above competition, extinguished all pretensions to supremacy among themselves, and whose residence in another country left their movements uncontrolled. These dutiful subjects claimed only to be the irresponsible deputies of their master, to enjoy the fulness of sovereign
were seized by the lords, and parcelled out among the conquered Irish, to be held on Irish tenures: many others surrendered a part of their property, in the hope of being allowed the quiet possession of the remainder ; but this grace was refused, and they were, gradually, broken in spirit and circum. stances, to the villanage of the native population.
This was the state of things, in the aboriginal clans, in the revolted septs of Anglo-Irish, and, except within a few garrison towns, in the coun. ties palatinate, from Henry the Second, until James the First. Whether English lords or Irish chieftains obtained a temporary triumph, the mass of the people suffered equally; their tyrants might change, but the tyranny was the same ; the domestic and almost indigenous tyranny of their own primitive customs. A level district round the capital, containing the small shires of Louth, Meath, Kildare, and Dublin, limited the range of the English law, the jurisdiction of the viceroy, and, except on some rare occasions, the ambition of the crown. Far from indulging schemes of more extended authority, the conscious weakness of royalty took refuge in a ludicrous, but humiliating fiction ; all beyond this pomærium was presumed not to be in existence, and in court language the land of Ireland was synonymous with the Pale. Of the Pale itself, an ample stripe, comprehending a third, and some. times half of each county, was border land ; in which, a mixed code of English, Brehon, and martial law, and of such points of honour as are