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A CONQUERING race can retain its peculiar characteristics, unaffected by the local influences and tendencies of the people by which it is surrounded, as long only as it preserves the most intimate relations with its kindred elsewhere. Unless strengthened by a continuous stream of importation the pure
blood of the conquerors declines. They recruit themselves by intermarriages with the natives. They form alliances and friendships; they find the work of government more easy by humouring the customs and imitating the manners which they see round them; and when human beings are thrown together, especially if there is no difference of religion to keep them apart, it is at once inevitable that kindly associations shall rise between them, and the character of both will tend to assume a colouring in which the points of agreement will be more visible than the points of difference. Were the English in India cut off by any sudden convulsion from their native country, they would still probably, if they so wished, be able to maintain their sovereignty, but it would be at the expense of becoming themselves Orientalised. Were there nothing else to produce a change, their children would inevitably catch a tone from their servants and nurses. Native wives and mistresses would work alteration in the blood; and, in spite of Christianity, six or seven generations would find them half transmuted into an Asiatic type. The Normans in England, though many of them retained their estates in
France, and went and came, and French continued for centuries the language of the court, and, for a time, it seemed as if England might become a mere appanage of the Plantagenets' continental dominions, yet in each generation approached closer to the Saxons, till at length the distinction disappeared. Their Irish kindred, filtered many of them first through Wales, and in the process already partially Celticized, were exposed to trials infinitely more
Those to whom Ireland was distasteful refused to make their homes there, and forsook it not to return. Those who remained were left for the most part to themselves. The Irish Sea, thrice the breadth of the Straits of Dover, cut them off from their old connections. Surrounded by swarms of enemies, they had to stand by such strength as they could rally to them on the spot, and made the most of such of the Irish as they could persuade into loyalty. In the Irish character too they came in contact with elements peculiarly fitted to work upon them. From a combination of causes—some creditable to them, some other than creditable—the Irish Celts possess on their own soil a power greater than any other known family of mankind of assimilating those who venture among them to their own image. Lighthearted, humorous, imaginative, susceptible through the entire range of feeling, from the profoundest pathos to the most playful jest, if they possess some real virtues they possess the counterfeits of a hundred more. Passionate in everything—passionate in their patriotism, passionate in their religion, passionately courageous, passionately loyal and affectionate—they are without the manliness which will give strength and solidity to the sentimental part of their disposi
BOOK tions; while the surface and show is so seductive
and so winning that only experience of its instability can resist the charm.
The incompleteness of character is conspicuous in all that they do and have done; in their history, in their practical habits, in their arts and in their literature. Their lyrical melodies are exquisite, their epic poetry is ridiculous bombast. In the lives of their saints there is a wild if fantastic splendour; but they have no secular history, for as a nation they have done nothing which posterity will not be anxious to forget; and if they have never produced a tolerable drama, it is because imagination cannot outstrip reality. In the annals of ten centuries there is not a character, male or female, to be found belonging to them with sufficient hardness of texture to be carved into dramatic outline. Their temperaments are singularly impressionable, yet the impression is incapable of taking shape. They have little architecture of their own, and the forms introduced from England have been robbed of their grace. Their houses, from cabin to castle, are the most hideous in the world. No lines of beauty soften anywhere the forbidding harshness of their provincial towns; no climbing rose or creeper dresses the naked walls of farmhouse or cottage. The sun never shone on a lovelier country as nature made it. They have pared its forests to the stump, till it shivers in damp and desolation. The perceptions of taste which belong to the higher orders of understanding, are as completely absent as truthfulness of spirit is absent, or cleanliness of person and habit. The Irish are the spendthrift sister of the Arian race. Yet there is notwithstanding a fascination about them in their old land and in the sad and strange associations of their
singular destiny. They have a power of attraction which no one who has felt it can withstand. Brave to rashness, yet so infirm of purpose, that unless they are led by others their bravery is useless to them; patriots, yet with a history which they must trick with falsehood to render it tolerable even to themselves; imaginative and poetical, yet unable to boast of one single national work of art; attached ardently to their country, yet so cultivating it that they are the byeword of Europe ; they appeal to sympathy in their very weakness ; and they possess and have always possessed some qualities the moral worth of which it is impossible to over-estimate, and which are rare in the choicest races of mankind.
Amidst their weaknesses, their confident boastings and imperfect performances, the Irish have shown themselves at all times, and in all places, capable of the most loyal devotion to anyone who will lead and command them. They have not been specially attached to chiefs of their own race. Wherever and in whomsoever they have found courage and capacity, they have been ready with heart and hand to give their services ; and whether at home in sacrificing their lives for their chiefs, or as soldiers in the French or English armies, or as we now know them in the form of the modern police, there is no duty, however dangerous and difficult, from which they have been found to flinch, no temptation however cruel which tempts them into unfaithfulness. Loyalty of this kind, though called contemptuously a virtue of barbarism, is a virtue which, if civilization attempts to dispense with it, may cause in its absence the ruin of civilization. Of all men the most likely to appreciate it were the Norman barons; for personal fidelity
of man to man lay at the heart of the feudal organization. But nevertheless in Ireland it was their temptation as well as their strength. To the Irish kern it mattered little whether his chief was a Geraldine or an O'Connor ; it mattered much whether he was to be ruled under the imported laws of the stranger, or by the customs and traditions of his own people; whether when he had found a chief who would lead him to annual victory he was to be allowed to enjoy the fruits of victory in the old fashion, or was forced to be content with barren honour and the praise of his master. He would have accepted the new conditions had it been possible to enforce them for a few generations while habits of order could grow. But the times were pressing ; the barons had much work to do and few men of their own to do it with. Money was scarce with them, and rewards of other kinds were equally scarce; while plunder was easy and satisfactory, and was the time-honoured mode by which services in war were paid for. The baron and his Irish retainers found the relations between them grow easy when the customs of the country were allowed to stand; and when a Butler or a Lacy, not contented with leading his people to spoil and victory, adopted their language and their dress, and became as one of themselves, the affection of which they were the objects among the people grew at once into adoration. Then old Celtic names were dropped. The fighting men of Galway became the De Burgh's men and called themselves Burkes. In Kerry and Limerick half the inhabitants became Geraldines. The Ormond or the Desmond of the day became a kind of sovereign. He forgot more and more that he was come to Ireland to introduce English order and manners ; and to