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HISTORY OF IRELAND
WILLIAM EDWARD HARTPOLE LECKY
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
All rights reserved
A. L. CROSS
I Stated in the concluding volume of the English portion of this history that the outbreak of the great French War in 1793 appeared to me the best and most natural termination of a History of England in the eighteenth century, and that it was not my intention to carry my narrative beyond this limit. For the Irish portion, however, a different limit must be assigned, and in order to give it any completeness or unity, it is necessary to describe the rebellion of 1798, the legislative Union of 1800, and the defeat or abandonment of the great measures of Catholic conciliation which Pitt had intended to be the immediate sequel of the Union. In consequence of the addition of these eventful years my Irish narrative has assumed a somewhat disproportionate length, and I have often been obliged to treat Irish affairs with a fulness of detail which was not required in other parts of my work. I have had to deal with a history which has been very imperfectly written, and usually under the influence of the most furious partisanship. There is hardly a page of it which is not darkened by the most violently contradictory statements. It is marked by obscure agrarian and social changes, by sudden, and sometimes very perplexing, alterations in the popular sentiment, which can only be elucidated and proved by copious illustration. It comprises also periods of great crimes and of great horrors, and the task of tracing their true causes, and measuring with accuracy and impartiality the different degrees of provocation, aggravation, palliation, and comparative guilt, is an extremely difficult one.
In order to accomplish it with any success^ it is necessary to bring together a much larger array of original evidence, drawn from the opposite camps, than would be required in dealing with a history of which the outlines, at least, were well established and generally admitted. This is especially necessary, as our judgments must be, in a great degree, formed from manuscript materials which are not easily accessible, and as many of these manuscripts are the letters of men who, though they have all the authority of eyewitnesses, often wrote under the influence of panic or strong party passion. It is only by collecting and comparing many letters, written by men of different opinions and scattered over wide areas, that it is possible to form a true estimate of the condition of the country, and to pronounce with real confidence between opposing statements. Such a method of inquiry tends greatly to lengthen a book and to impair its symmetry and its artistic charm; but it is here, I believe, the one method of arriving at truth; it brings the reader in direct contact with the original materials of Irish history, and it enables him to draw his own conclusions very independently of the historian.
In these volumes I have made much use of the correspondence between the English and Irish Governments that exists in the Record Office in London, and I have derived some side-lights from the papers in the French Foreign Office, which have been kindly opened to my inspection. Several other manuscript sources have been of use to me. Both the Irish Record Office and the Irish State Paper Office are rich in documents illustrating the condition of Ireland in the earlier years of the eighteenth century, and Dublin Castle also contains a vast collection of papers ranging from 1795 to 1805, which, through the kindness of Sir Bernard Burke, I have been enabled to spend many weeks in exploring. For more than sixty years these papers were deposited in two very large cases in the Birmingham Tower, carefully fastened down with the Government seal, and with the inscription, 'Secret and confidential; not to be opened.' They remained in this state until after the passing of the Records (Ireland) Act, in 1867, when it was thought desirable to open these cases, and to classify their contents. The work occupied some years, but it was at last accomplished, and the whole collection is now excellently arranged, in no less than sixty-eight boxes. A great proportion of it is of little or no historical value, but it contains, among other things, numerous letters from informers, written during the progress of the United Irish conspiracy, and during and after the rebellion, and also a large and exceedingly interesting series of letters from magistrates and Government officials in different parts of Ireland, describing in detail the state of the country. These