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The New Year-Letters and Speeches on the State of Ireland-The Opening of

Parliament The Debate on the Address-Protracted Discussion in the

House of Commons.

THE general feeling of contentment and security which pervaded

public opinion at the opening of the New Year seemed hardly

justified by the condition of affairs at home or abroad. Whether

this optimism was due to general confidence in the Ministry, to

the marked increase of national prosperity, or to general indiffer-

ence to home, foreign, and colonial politics, it is difficult to deter-

mine. It might have been thought that the year opened under

circumstances so inauspicious as to justify the most gloomy pre-

dictions. In Ireland the state of affairs showed that the power of

maintaining order had, for a time at least, slipped from the hands

of the Executive; and if the social war which had been formally

proclaimed against the dominant class by the mass of the people

had not broken out into civil war, it was rather because the Irish

leaders hoped to obtain more from passive resistance than from

active rebellion. The news from the Cape of Good Hope which

arrived on New Year's Day pointed to a general sympathy of the

Dutch population with their fellow-countrymen in the Transvaal

who had declared against the British rule; the Orange Free State

taking the lead in the display of fellow-feeling. The rising in the

Transvaal served to furnish an occasion, for which the Dutch had

long been waiting, to make a trial of strength with the British

Government. From Eastern Europe, news arrived at the same


time, that neither Turkey nor Greece was disposed to accept the Arbitration Scheme offered by the Powers, as an escape from the appeal to arms towards which both disputants seemed drifting. The Turkish Government, emboldened by the apparent paralysis of Europe, announced its intention of taking its stand on the basis laid down in the Porte's Note of October 3, whilst the Greeks refused to enter upon any negotiations which did not accept as their starting point the frontier suggested in the Berlin Treaty.

The appointment of Mr. L. Courtney as Under-Secretary for the Home Department, which was announced on New Year's Day, was much canvassed by his political friends and opponents. The former attributed his acceptance of office, at this juncture, to an almost Quixotic desire to support an Administration which, in the management of its Irish and Cape policy, had turned a deaf ear to his warnings, but which now seemed to call upon every section of the Liberal party to help it to carry through its measures of reform. On the other hand, Mr. Courtney's appointment was interpreted as evidence on the part of the Government of the desire to relieve itself of an independent critic, who, in the previous session, and during the recess, had condemned the annexation of the Transvaal, asserted the need for strong, if not for coercive, legislation in Ireland, and on other points had expressed dissent from the policy of the party, in a fearless manner and with uncompromising logic. His admission to office after a comparatively brief Parliamentary career, coupled with the well-known fact that, on the formation of his Government, Mr. Gladstone had offered a post to Mr. Courtney, was accepted as further evidence that the Gladstone Administration had once more broken with the traditions of the Whig party, and was recruiting its strength by men rather of political importance than of social influence.

The condition of Ireland continued to attract both criticism and suggestion from numerous irresponsible statesmen. Foremost amongst these were Earls Grey and Dufferin. The former, in two long letters to the Times, explained at length his objections to the Land Act of 1870, and the principles on which agitation for its repeal ought to have been founded. He complained that the Act, "instead of allowing the owners and occupiers of land to settle for themselves upon what terms it should be held, took away altogether freedom of contract with regard to small holdings, and by a sweeping enactment all proprietors of land were made liable to claims from their tenants which largely diminished its value." The sort of divided ownership between the landlords and tenants created by the Act, was, he held, unfavourable to enterprise and improvements by either, and that to remove the effects of the deadly blow given to security, without which prosperity was impossible, a bill should be passed speedily restoring freedom of contract to those who desired it, and at the same time giving facilities for making voluntary agreements as to the occupation of the land, as afforded by Mr. Hamilton's bill.

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