What Shall We Do for Ireland?

  • John Maloney


Lowe had shown his anti-relativist leanings early in his career, when in 1853 he turned in a minority report on Indian law reform. The majority of the parliamentary commission (set up under the 1853 India Act) had insisted on tailoring Indian laws to the specific needs and traditions of the different states. Unnecessary, said Lowe: English law was already in force across much of India, and the commission should save its time by bringing the remaining districts into line. But Lowe’s best-known assault on relativism was incidental to the Irish question.


Political Economy Irish People Natural Justice Minority Report Parliamentary Commission 
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  1. 1.
    R.D. Collison Black, Economic Thought and the Irish Question, Cambridge, 1960, p. 31.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The sharpest contrast came when both Lowe and Mill used the Lakeland, the largest concentration of peasant proprietors in England, as an augury for Ireland. Whereas Mill’s Principles of Political Economy featured a long poetic extract from Wordsworth praising their way of life, Lowe could only see ‘drunken, improvident, lazy, wretched cultivators … very immoral and disappearing very fast … from their own vices … If these things happen on the green tree what will they do on the dry?’ (Mill, Principles, ed. W.J. Ashley, London, 1909, p. 257n.; E.D. Steele, Irish Land and British Politics, Cambridge University Press, 1974, p. 93).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    R. Lowe, ‘What Shall We Do for Ireland?’, Quarterly Review, 124, 1868, p. 271.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Mill, ‘England and Ireland’ in J.M. Robson (ed.), Collected Works, Toronto, 1982, vol. 6, p. 528.Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    Martin denies this, identifying the 1867 Reform Act as the catalyst. However, his dismissal of the Fenians rests on Lowe’s words (to a friend in Australia) ‘all mankind have abandoned themselves to a foolish terror of these wretched Fenians, whom I regard with great contempt …’ (Arthur Patchett Martin, Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, London, 1893, vol. 2, p. 340). Contempt for Fenianism, and for those letting it dominate their lives, is not the same as regarding it as unimportant. In Martin’s own words, it was to Lowe ‘a plague that must be stamped out’ (Ibid., p. 345). As for the Reform Bill, Martin attributes to Lowe a justified fear that it would swamp the loyalist ascendancy with nationalist voters. It would be surprising had Lowe not had some such fears, but Martin does not show him expressing them, still less revising his views on the Irish question on their basis.Google Scholar
  6. 31.
    Lady Burghclere (ed.), A Great Lady’s Friendships: Letters to Mary, Marchioness of Salisbury and Countess of Derby, 1862–90, London, 1933, p. 232.Google Scholar
  7. 37.
    J.S. Mill, ‘Leslie and the Land Question’ 1870, reprinted in J.M. Robson (ed.), The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1967, vol. 5, p. 671.Google Scholar

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© John Maloney 2005

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  • John Maloney

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