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PORTRAITS On Steel.
BENJAMIN HARRISON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
PORTRAITS in the TexT.
DRAWN BY JACQUES REICH.
ABSENTEE. This term, with its natural derivatives, absenteeism, absenteeship, etc., has become somewhat conspicuous in contemporary literature, and is generally regarded as of recent origin. But it has a very respectable antiquity, dating back at least to 1537, when the so-called Absentee Parliament was held at Dublin, Ireland (Act of Absentees 28 Henry VIII, chapter 3). Of Henry VIII, Camden says (1605), that he "enriched himselfe by the spoyles of Abbays . . . and absenties in Ireland." Swift, in the "Argument against Bishops" (1761), says, "The farmer would be screwed up to the utmost penny by the agents and stewards of absentees." In the present century the term is used so commonly that citations are unnecessary, and those that have been given are quoted merely to show that the original meaning has survived the changes of centuries. Absenteeism is not peculiar to Ireland. History abounds with "absentee kings" as well as landlords. "The Norwegians," says the historian Freeman, in his "Norman Conquest," "preferred a foreign and absentee king," and Wallace ("Russia ") refers to the "prevailing absenteeism among the landlords." In general the term carries with it an intimation of reproach. Its simple meaning is -one who habitually or systematically stays away from home; the attainder of reproach is derived from the assumption that any one who derives his income from investments on property in one country, and spends it in another, necessarily impoverishes the land from which his income is derived. The case of Ireland is the most noteworthy of any for the consideration of American readers, inasmuch as absenteeism is more general there than among any other English-speaking people, and to it has been ascribed a great part of the ills to which the Irish peasantry have fallen heir. In any argument in favor of home residence, however, it is necessary to assume that the personal presence, influence, and example of the landlords would be upon the whole beneficial. In
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point of fact, Ireland is probably quite as well off with a considerable fraction of her landed gentry beyond the seas as she would be if they remained persistently at home.
In 1672 Sir William Petty estimated that one fourth of the personal property in Ireland belonged to absentees, and Prior in his list published in 1729 reckoned their income at £350,000. In 1769 the estimated income of the absentees was £581,700, and Swift in his time declared that one third of the rental of Ireland was spent in England. Absenteeism, according to the best authorities, continued to increase until the peace of 1816, when it began to diminish. Returns presented to Parliament in 1872 showed that 25.5 per cent. of Irish soil was owned by absentee proprietors, and 26 per cent. by proprietors who, though resident in Ireland, did not live upon their own premises. Prior to these returns a large number of estates had been impoverished by idle and extravagant squireens, and in 1848 and 1849 laws were passed facilitating the sale of encumbered estates, which has continued up to the present time, and has upon the whole reduced the average of absenteeism by subdividing the large estates and combining the small ones so that the present tendency is toward properties of moderate size.
Many historians, however, hold that while Ireland had her own Parliament the local nobility and gentry lived largely on their estates in summer but passed the winter in Dublin, thus spending their incomes among their own tenantry, or at least favoring the local circulation of ready money. With the union of Ireland with Great Britain (1801) London naturally became the political metropolis common to both countries. Moreover, the agrarian disturbances rendered residences so uncomfortable and dangerous that a large number of landed proprietors removed their families to the Continent and rarely visited Ireland.
The absentees have not lacked defenders, who hold that absence has no injurious effect