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resources of subsistence; and colonization, abstractedly considered, possesses this advantage in a superior degree.
That I have any system to propose which would effectually accomplish this object, I by no means venture confidently to profess; but my suggestions will not be without their value if they only succeed in leading your mind, or that of any others, better judges than myself, to reflect and enquire concerning a subject which has not hitherto been sufficiently attended to.
But while I profess myself open to candid correction or fair refutation, I must at the same time deprecate that spirit of indiscriminate objection, that eagerness to find fault with every thing proposed, by which so many endeavour to establish their reputation for acuteness. To assent readily is with them a mark of puerile credulity; but to hold out against the strongest arguments, none: to overlook an imperfection (and imperfections every work of man must have) is an unpardonable weakness; but there is none, in overlooking even an overbalance of merits. To conclude at once that if there was any thing good in what is proposed, we should have been the first to think of it, is gratifying to the vanity of human nature: and it is more agreeable to its laziness to condemn in the mass with careless haste, than to take the trouble of examining and distinguishing. Some who are too lazy even to seek for an objection, are content to suppose one: and hence it is that we so continually hear the answer, "this certainly never could succeed, or it would have been tried long ago:" an answer, that would, if admitted, create an eternal barrier to all improvement, but which the experience of even a few years back sufficiently refutes.
Trusting however to you, Sir, at least for a candid hearing, I will only premise (in order to obviate the premature influence, in the outset, of some objections which will be afterwards considered) that I propose to begin with a bare and general statement of the plan proposed; then to point out some of the advantages, and meet some of the objections, which present themselves on that general view; and lastly, to offer a few suggestions as to the means and manner of carrying the plan into execution.
My proposal is to colonize Ireland; that is, such parts of it as are, at present, the farthest from being productive or populous, and the least likely (as things now stand) to become so.
It is calculated that that island contains little if at all less (probably more) than 1,500,000 acres of peat-bog;' (though my reasonings would not be affected, should that estimate turn out to be considerably too high). Although some small part of this is useful in furnishing fuel, yet the far greater part (as you are doubtless well aware) is utterly unproductive; and is indeed, in many instances, a very heavy evil to the country, by the shelter, and still more perhaps, the hope of shelter, which it affords, occasionally to rebels, generally to robbers, and constantly to vast numbers of illegal distillers. It is supposed that a very small proportion only of the spirits distilled in Ireland pays duty; to the great loss of government and the far greater detriment to the morals and welfare of the people.
These bogs, though in their natural state perfectly sterile, are by no means in the predicament of some rocky or sandy soils which no culture can render permanently productive: on the contrary it appears from numerous experiments that peat-bogs, when drained, may be brought into a state of more than average fertility, by various processes, but especially by burning the peat itself, and manuring with its ashes and with lime. Most of the bogs being intersected by large ridges of limestone, this manure is easily procurable in some situations, sea-sand and gravel (which have been found to answer extremely well) may be employed with advantage. And as the peat frequently extends to the depth of 30 to 50 feet, it would furnish an almost inexhaustible supply of manure, by being dug up and burnt. Thus a reclaimed bog would furnish permanent dressing for itself, besides that produced by the stock kept upon it. Most of the bogs, being on a moderate eleva
A very interesting account of the Irish bogs may be seen in the reports laid before Parliament some years ago. In that enquiry, however, no hogs were taken into the account, which were of less than 500 acres in extent; of which last description there is an immense amount, probably not less altogether than that of the large ones.
2 This prodigious depth of peat would admit, as in the case of coal, of its being dug for fuel at the lower stratum (which is ever the best) while the surface was cultivated: but indeed the quantity is altogether so immerse, that it would not be exhausted for centuries, if the united empire was to burn nothing clse: so that all apprehensions on that head are perfectly
tion, offer great facility for draining; though they do not in general (like those of Scotland) lie so high as to be exposed to a cold atmosphere, and the remarkable salubrity of the air in their neighbourhood, occasioned by the extraordinary antiseptic quality . of peat, offers a great encouragement to settlers. A contrary notion indeed is entertained by some persons from confounding peat-bog with marsh-land, which is of quite a different nature; but enquiry will convince them that the above statement is
Yet with the exception of some places in England, and a very few in Ireland, the draining of peat-land has not been considered as a desirable speculation for individuals; and as things are at present, it does not seem probable that, even in many centuries, any considerable improvement of these vast wastes will be effected by private exertion.
It does not however follow from this that it may not be worthy the attention of the public. Government has thought fit (whether wisely or no, it is not for me to decide) to colonize New Holland, where not a settler could be fixed, not an acre brought into cultivation, but at an expense about treble that, which would be incurred in the plan I am proposing.
Yet how much more desirable is an increase of population and of productive territory in our own islands at home, than at the Antipodes! This is sufficient to shew at least that there are some reasonable grounds for the plan, and that it is not to be rejected as prima facie absurd.
But it may be urged, on the principles of Doctor Smith, that to withdraw a portion of our capital from a more to a less productive employment, is to injure the public by diminishing the national wealth; and that if other speculations were not more productive than the improvement of the Irish bogs, capital would soon find its way thither in the ordinary course of things, without any dread of public interference.
These two principles (on which jointly the objection rests) I will consider separately: I will first offer a few reasons which will lead us to doubt whether it be quite certain, in this case, that capital will necessarily flow of itself, to the most profitable employment; and I will then endeavour to shew that, even if that point was
granted, still the plan in question would possess advantages of higher importance, even than the increase of national wealth.
The first branch of the argument that I am to consider, is, that if the scheme proposed was a profitable employment of capital it would be taken up by individuals, without any need of public support. To this I answer, 1st. that it is notorious how great a want there is in Ireland of persons possessing sufficient capital, and sufficient spirit and industry, to undertake and carry on speculations of improvement on a large scale. Of English capitalists, on the other hand, very few possess any accurate knowledge of the state of things in Ireland; and those few naturally prefer laying out their capital either in the improvement of the very estates they reside upon, or at least in some concern near home, which they can manage or oversee in person, without quitting their friends and country, and which perhaps furnishes employment to the poor of their own neighbourhood. Surely it is not difficult to conceive that a moderate profit thus obtained would generally be preferred by the individual, even to the chance of a greater, purchased at the expense of the difficulties and inconveniencies attending either a concern managed by agents at a distance, or a removal from his home and connec tions; especially when the continually-disturbed state of Ireland is considered, and the actual danger to which a few unprotected settlers would be exposed from the jealousy of the natives. And let it be remembered, that all I have here said concerning English capitalists applies, in nearly its full force, to the greater part of the principal Irish proprietors,
2dly, There is a great deal of weight in the circumstance I have already mentioned, viz. that bog-land when once brought into cultivation would probably supply itself with an almost inexhaustible store of manure, over and above what other land commonly produces; so that it would be never likely to lose its fertility, or require any heavy fresh expense. This gives to the improvement in question, a character of great permanence; which to the public is a very important point, but does not equally influence individuals: for it is to be remarked that it is not only the greatness, but the speediness of profit that usually attracts capital. Though men are not altogether careless about their posterity, yet they certainly
have a great preference for such speculations as are likely to bring in the greatest return during their own life time, and during the largest portion of that life time.
Hence, though there are probably many cases in which planting would be in the long run the most profitable improvement of certain spots of land, yet we seldom find it carried on with so much spirit as those exertions which promise a speedier (though, in the end, perhaps, smaller) return: except indeed by those who find amusement by adorning their grounds, or who are actuated by public-spirited motives. The generality of those, who act from mere ordinary self-interest, would prefer to such an improvement as planting trees, "seris factura nepotibus umbram," any speculation which would afford a considerable return at once, even though that return should cease altogether at the end of 20 or 30 years. To the public on the contrary, the permanence of an improvement is a point of the greatest importance, and would be regarded as of more weight than the speediness of the return. For this reason then among others it appears possible that the speculation I propose may actually answer, in a national point of view, though it is not preferred by individuals.
3d, Lastly it should be remembered that such a scheme as the draining and fertilizing of bog-land would probably answer much better on a large than on a contracted scale: the machinery and labor would go much further in proportion; while the superintendants would acquire experience, and the workmen, superior skill. Now it is for the public to consider what will answer best on a large scale; but the private speculator of course considers in what manner the limited sum which constitutes his capital may be laid out to the best advantage.
These arguments do not indeed directly prove that the improvement of the Irish bogs would actually prove a profitable speculation to the public; but they are sufficient, I trust, to do away in great measure the force of the opposite argument; which rests on the presumption that if the speculation had been profitable it would have been undertaken by individuals.
As for the real state of the case, that will probably be found to vary according to particular circumstances: the nature of the