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Title: Irish Books and Irish People
Author: Gwynn, Stephen Lucius, 1864-1950
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Irish Books and Irish People" ***

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 IRISH BOOKS
 AND IRISH PEOPLE

 By

 STEPHEN GWYNN.


 DUBLIN
 The Talbot Press Ltd.
 89 Talbot Street

 LONDON
 T. Fisher Unwin Ltd.
 1 Adelphi Terrace



 CONTENTS

                                                                     Page
 INTRODUCTION                                                           1

 NOVELS OF IRISH LIFE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY                         7

 A CENTURY OF IRISH HUMOUR                                             23

 LITERATURE AMONG THE ILLITERATES:

   I.--THE SHANACHY                                                    44

   II.--THE LIFE OF A SONG                                             51

 IRISH EDUCATION AND IRISH CHARACTER                                   65

 THE IRISH GENTRY                                                      83

 YESTERDAY IN IRELAND                                                  97



INTRODUCTION.


My publisher must take at least some of the responsibility for reviving
these essays. All bear the marks of the period at which they were
written; and some of them deal with the beginnings of movements which
have since grown to much greater strength, and in growing have developed
new characteristics at the expense of what was originally more
prominent. Other pages, again, take no account of facts which to-day
must be present to the mind of every Irish reader, and so are, perhaps
significantly, out of date. Nobody for instance, could now complain that
Irish humour is lacking in seriousness. Synge disposed of that
criticism--and, indeed, the Abbey Theatre in its tone as a whole may be
accused of neglecting Ireland's gift for simple fun. Yet Lady Gregory
made the most of it in her "Spreading the News," and Mr. Yeats in his
"Pot of Broth."--How beautifully W. G. Fay interpreted an Irish laughter
which had no bitterness in it.

But the strong intellectual movement which has swept over Ireland has
been both embittering and embittered. These last five and twenty years
have been the most formative in the country's history of any since
Ireland became the composite nation that she now is, or, perhaps, has
yet to become. At the back of it all lies the great social change
involved in the transfer of ownership from the landlord to the
cultivators of the soil--a change which has literally disenserfed
three-fourths of Ireland's people. Yet the relations are obscure,
indefinite, and intangible, which unite that material result to the
outcome of two forces, allied but distinct, which have operated solely
on men's minds and spirits. These are, of course, the Gaelic revival and
the whole literary movement which has had its most concrete expression
in the Irish theatre, and its most potent inspiration in the personality
of Mr. Yeats.

Of these two forces, one can show by far the more tangible effects, for
the Gaelic League has issued in action. Setting out to revive and save
the Irish language as a living speech, the instrument of a nation's
intercourse, it has failed of its purpose; but it has revived and
rendered potent the principle of separation. Nationalist, it will have
nothing to do with a nationality that is not as plainly marked off from
other nationalities as a red lamp from a green lamp; and the essential
symbol of separate nationality is for orthodox Gaelic Leaguers a
separate language. America, said an able exponent of this doctrine the
other day in a public debate, will never and never can be a nation till
its language is no longer recognisable as English--till its English
differs as much from the language of England as German differs from
Dutch. An inevitable corollary to this view is the necessity for
complete political separation from Great Britain--if only to provide the
machinery for this complete differentiation by daily speech.

I cannot pretend to assess impartially the value of this movement. It
asserted itself in passionate deeds at a moment when many thousands of
us Nationalists were taking equally vigorous action in pursuit of a
less tribal ideal. Thousands of us lost our lives, all of us risked our
lives, with the hope of achieving a national unity which could never be
built on the basis of regarding no man as an Irishman who did not speak,
or at least desire to speak, Gaelic for his mother tongue. The action of
Irish soldiers was thwarted and frustrated by the action of a very few
separatists, with a very small expense to themselves in bloodshed. But
the tribute to the work of the Gaelic League is that Ireland accepted
them and rejected us. None can deny that it has been a potent stimulus
to national education; and it only lacks official prohibition by the
British Government to become more powerful still.

Whatever the outcome, I take back nothing of what is written in these
papers concerning the Gaelic revival. In a country governed against the
will of its people, forces that, under normal and healthy conditions,
would be purely beneficent, may easily grow explosive and disruptive.
Yet I have not changed my mind on a critical question which led me to
sever my connection with the work of the Gaelic League. When that body
decided to rely on compulsion rather than persuasion, it took the wrong
road, if its object was to endear the Irish language to all Ireland, and
to induce all Irishmen to cherish it as part of the common national
heritage. As a result Ulstermen have a perfect right to say that if they
accepted Home Rule, one of the first steps of an Irish government formed
under the present auspices would be to demand a knowledge of Gaelic as
the necessary qualification for holding any public office.

I do not believe that this tribal idealism which is now so potent will
endure. It is out of harmony with the world's development--a world which
in order to preserve the very principle of small nationalities, is
growing more and more international. America is not only a nation, but
is the type of the modern nation--bound together less by what it
inherits from the past, than by what it hopes from the future.

The other force which has been operating through these years is, in a
sense, obliged to give the lie to the pretensions of the Gaelic League.
Yeats and Synge have showed how completely it is possible to be Irish
while using the English language. They have accepted the fact that
Ireland to-day thinks in English, but they have endeavoured to give to
Ireland a distinctively Irish thought, coloured by the whole racial
tradition and temperament. With them has been allied a personality not
less Irish, yet less obviously Irish--"A.E.," George Russell. Between
them, these writers and thinkers have profoundly influenced the mind of
the generation younger than themselves. It is not possible to deny that
Ireland's literary output during those last twenty years is far more
important and serious than that of the whole preceding century. The only
part of it exempt from these influences is the work of Edith Somerville
and Martin Ross; and even that is based on a closer study of
distinctively Irish speech than had ever been attempted in earlier days.
The propagandist work of Pearse and Arthur Griffiths--equal in merit to
that of their forerunners, Davis and Mitchel--was Irish only in
substance and spirit, not in form or accent--a thing the less
surprising, since both men were only half Irish by parentage. But the
whole group of writers, of whom it may be said that their writings are
almost as unmistakably Irish as the work of Burns is Scotch, have
followed Mr. Yeats and Synge in this, that in writing they assume an
Irish public, not an English one; they make no explanations, they speak
as to those who share their own inheritance. In this group has been
fostered a spirit of the freedom which belongs properly to art. Thus the
school, for it may justly be called a school, has created its own
tradition, and it has been a tradition of freedom, not asserted but
exercised: a freedom, not as against England, but as against all the
world. Everywhere, but especially in countries undergoing revolutionary
change, there is a tyranny of the crowd. When the Gaelic League decided
to make the learning of Irish compulsory, it attorned to this tyranny.
On the other hand, Mr. Yeats, at a moment when the Abbey Theatre seemed
about to become popular, was threatened by a fiat of this
mob-dictatorship; he was told that his theatre must become unpopular
unless he would throw overboard most of Synge's work. By the stand which
he then made he did a greater service to freedom of the mind in Ireland
than has yet been at all recognised; he helped to make his country
fearless and strong. Thanks mainly to him and to those who worked with
him, Ireland's thought is freer and more outspoken; there is more
thought in Ireland than there used to be. This does not make the country
easier to govern, and just now, Ireland, if given the opportunity, would
have a hard task to govern itself. But Ireland would not be the only
country in the world in that predicament. The schoolmaster has been
abroad, and where you have education without liberty there is bound to
be trouble. The only cure is, not to suppress education, but to give the
responsibility of freedom.

I have left these papers in order as they were written, with dates
annexed. One of them, _Literature among the Illiterates_, was published
in an earlier volume, _To-day and To-morrow in Ireland_ which is now out
of print. I include it here, because it completes the companion essay,
called _The Life of a Song_.

My acknowledgments are due to the various publications in which they
have all, except the last, previously appeared.

Dublin, _March_, 1919.



NOVELS OF IRISH LIFE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.


"What Ireland wants," said an old gentleman not very long ago, "is a
Walter Scott." The remedy did not seem very practical, since Walter
Scotts will not come to order, but the point of view is worth noting,
for there you touch the central fact about Irish literature. We desire a
Walter Scott that he may glorify our annals, popularise our legends,
describe our scenery, and give an attractive view of the national
character. In short, we know that Ireland possesses pre-eminently the
quality of picturesqueness, and we should like to see it turned to good
account. We want a Walter Scott to advertise Ireland, and to fill the
hotels with tourists; but as for desiring to possess a great novelist
simply for the distinction of the thing, probably no civilised people on
earth is more indifferent to the matter. At present, indeed, a Walter
Scott, should he appear in Ireland, would be apt to have a cold welcome.
To write on anything connected with Irish history is inevitably to
offend the Press of one party, and very probably of both. Lever is less
of a caricaturist than Dickens, yet Dickens is idolised while Lever has
been bitterly blamed for lowering Irish character in the eyes of the
world; the charge is even repeated in the _Dictionary of National
Biography_. That may be patriotic sentiment, but it is not criticism.

Literature in Ireland, in short, is almost inextricably connected with
considerations foreign to art; it is regarded as a means, not as an end.
During the nineteenth century the belief being general among all classes
of Irish people that the English know nothing of Ireland, every book on
an Irish subject was judged by the effect it was likely to have upon
English opinion, to which the Irish are naturally sensitive, since it
decides the most important Irish questions. But apart from this
practical aspect of the matter, there is a morbid national sensitiveness
which desires to be consulted. Ireland, though she ought to count
herself amply justified of her children, is still complaining that she
is misunderstood among the nations; she is for ever crying out for
someone to give her keener sympathy, fuller appreciation, and exhibit
herself and her grievances to the world in a true light. The result is
that kind of insincerity and special pleading which has been the curse
of Irish or Anglo-Irish literature. I write of a literature which has
its natural centre in Dublin, not in Connemara; which looks eastward,
not westward. That literature begins with the _Drapier Letters_: it
continues through the great line of orators in whom the Irish genius (we
say nothing of the Celtic) has found its highest expression; and it
produced its first novelist, perhaps also its best, in the unromantic
person of Maria Edgeworth.

Miss Edgeworth had a sound instinct for her art, disfigured though her
later writings are by what Madame de Staêl called her _triste utilité_.
Her first story is her most artistic production. _Castle Rackrent_ is
simply a pleasant satire upon the illiterate and improvident gentry who
have always been too common in her country. In this book she holds no
brief; she never stops to preach; her moral is implied, not expressed. A
historian might, it is true, go to _Castle Rackrent_ for information
about the conditions of land tenure as well as about social life in the
Ireland of that day; but the erudition is part and parcel of her story.
Throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, setting aside great towns,
the main interest of life for all classes is the possession of land.
Irish peasants seldom marry for love, they never murder for love; but
they marry and they murder for land. To know something of the
land-question is indispensable for an Irish novelist, and Miss Edgeworth
graduated with honours in this subject. She was her father's agent; when
her brother succeeded to the property she resigned, but in the troubles
of 1830 she was recalled to the management, and saved the estate.
_Castle Rackrent_ is, therefore, like Galt's _Annals of the Parish_, a
historical document; but it is none the worse story for that. The
narrative is put dramatically into the mouth of old Thady, a lifelong
servant of the family. Thady's son, Jason Quirk, attorney and agent to
the estate, has dispossessed the Rackrents; but Thady is still "poor
Thady," and regards the change with horror. Before recounting the
history of his own especial master and patron, Sir Condy Rackrent, last
of the line, Thady gives his ingenuous account of the three who
previously bore the name; Sir Patrick, Sir Murtagh, and Sir Kit. Sir
Patrick, the inventor of raspberry whiskey, died at table: "Just as the
company rose to drink his health with three cheers, he fell down in a
sort of fit, and was carried off; they sat it out, and were surprised in
the morning to find that it was all over with poor Sir Patrick." That
no gentleman likes to be disturbed after dinner, was the best recognised
rule of life in Ireland; if your host happened to have a fit, you knew
he would wish you to sit it out. Gerald Griffin in _The Collegians_
makes the same point with his usual vigour. A shot is heard in the
dining-room by the maids downstairs. They are for rushing in, but the
manservant knows better: "Sure, don't you know, if there was anyone shot
the master would ring the bell." After Sir Patrick, who thus lived and
died, to quote his epitaph, "a monument of old Irish hospitality," came
Sir Murtagh, "who was a very learned man in the law, and had the
character of it"; another passion that seems to go with the land-hunger
in Ireland. Sir Murtagh married one of the family of the Skinflints:
"She was a strict observer for self and servants of Lent and all fast
days, but not holidays." However, says Thady (is there not a strong
trace of Swift in all this?).

     "However, my lady was very charitable in her own way. She had a
     charity school for poor children, where they were taught to read
     and write gratis, and where they were well kept to spinning gratis
     for my lady in return; for she had always heaps of duty yarn from
     the tenants, and got all her household linen out of the estate from
     first to last; for after the spinning, the weavers on the estate
     took it in hand for nothing, because of the looms my lady's
     interest could get from the Linen Board to distribute gratis....
     Her table the same way, kept for next to nothing; duty fowls, and
     duty turkeys, and duty geese came as fast as we could eat them, for
     my lady kept a sharp look-out and knew to a tub of butter
     everything the tenants had all round.... As for their young pigs,
     we had them, and the best bacon and hams they could make up, with
     all young chickens in the spring; but they were a set of poor
     wretches, and we had nothing but misfortunes with them, always
     breaking and running away. This, Sir Murtagh and my lady said, was
     all their former landlord, Sir Patrick's fault, who let 'em get the
     half year's rent into arrear; there was something in that, to be
     sure. But Sir Murtagh was as much the contrary way--"

I have abridged my lady's methods, and I omit Sir Murtagh's, who taught
his tenants, as he said, to know the law of landlord and tenant. But,
"though a learned man in the law, he was a little too incredulous in
other matters." He neglected his health, broke a blood-vessel in a rage
with my lady, and so made way for Sir Kit the prodigal. Sir Kit was shot
in a duel, and Sir Condy came into an estate which, between Sir
Murtagh's law-suits and Sir Kit's gaming, was considerably embarrassed;
indeed, the story proper is simply a history of makeshifts to keep rain
and bailiffs out of the family mansion. Poor Sir Condy; he was the very
moral of the man who is no man's enemy but his own, and was left at the
last with no friend but old Thady. Even Judy Quirk turned against him,
forgetting his goodness in tossing up between her and Miss Isabella
Moneygawl, the romantic lady who eloped with him after the toss. She
deserted before Judy; here is a bit of the final scene. Thady was going
upstairs with a slate to make up a window-pane.

     "This window was in the long passage, or gallery, as my lady gave
     orders to have it called, in the gallery leading up to my master's
     bedchamber and hers. And when I went up with the slate, the door
     having no lock, and the bolt spoilt, was ajar after Mrs. Jane (my
     lady's maid), and as I was busy with the window, I heard all that
     was saying within. 'Well, what's in your letter, Bella, my dear?'
     says he. 'You're a long time spelling it over.' 'Won't you shave
     this morning, Sir Condy?' says she, and put the letter into her
     pocket. 'I shaved the day before yesterday,' says he, 'my dear, and
     that's not what I'm thinking of now; but anything to oblige you,
     and to have peace and quietness, my dear,'--and presently I had the
     glimpse of him at the cracked glass over the chimney-piece,
     standing up shaving himself to please my lady."

However, the quarrel comes on in a delightful scene, where Sir Condy
shows himself at all events an amiable gentleman; and so my lady goes
home to her own people. There you have Miss Edgeworth at her very best;
and, indeed, _Castle Rackrent_ received such a tribute as no other novel
ever had paid to it. Many people have heard how when _Waverley_ came to
the Edgeworth household, Mr. Edgeworth, after his custom, read it aloud
almost, as it would appear, at one sitting. When the end came for that
fascinated circle, amid the chorus of exclamations, Mr. Edgeworth said:
"What is this? _Postscript which ought to have been a preface_." Then
there was a chorus of protests that he should not break the spell with
prose. "Anyhow," he said, "let us hear what the man has to say," and so
read on to the passage where Scott explained that he desired to do for
Scotland what had been done for Ireland: "to emulate the admirable
fidelity of Miss Edgeworth's portraits." What Maria Edgeworth felt we
know from the letter she posted off "to the Author of 'Waverley,' _Aut
Scotus aut Diabolus_."

It would be unkind to compare Scott with his model. For the poetry and
the tragic power of his novels one would never think of looking in Miss
Edgeworth. Her work is compact of observation; yet the gifts she has are
not to be under-valued. She is mistress of a kindly yet searching
satire, real wit, a fine vein of comedy; and she can rise to such true
pathos as dignifies the fantastic figure of King Corny in _Ormond_,
perhaps the best thing she ever did. But she had in her father a
literary adviser, not of the negative but of the positive order, and
there never was a more fully developed prig than Richard Edgeworth. His
view of literature was purely utilitarian; to convey practical lessons
was the business of all superior persons, more particularly of an
Edgeworth. In _Castle Rackrent_ his suggestions and comments are happily
relegated to the position of notes; in the other books they form part
and parcel of the novel. _The Absentee_, for instance, contains
admirable dialogue and many life-like figures; but the scheme of the
story conveys a sense of unreality. Every fault or vice has its
counterbalancing virtue represented. Lady Clonbroney, vulgarly ashamed
of her country, is set off by the patriotic Lady Oranmore; the virtuous
Mr. Burke forms too obvious a pendant to the rascally agents old Nick
and St. Dennis. It is needless to say that the exclusively virtuous
people are deadly dull. It is the novel with a purpose written by a
novelist whose strength lies in the delineation of character. Miss
Edgeworth can never carry you away with her story, as Charles Reade
sometimes can, and make you forget and forgive the virtuous intention.

What was unreal in Miss Edgeworth became mere insincerity in her
contemporary, Lady Morgan. Few people could tell you now where Thackeray
got Miss Glorvina O'Dowd's baptismal name; yet _The Wild Irish Girl_ had
a great triumph in its day, and Glorvina stood sponsor to the milliners'
and haberdashers' inventions ninety years before the apotheosis of
Trilby. _O'Donnell_, which is counted Lady Morgan's best novel, gives a
lively ideal portrait of the authoress, first as the governess-grub,
then transformed by marriage into the butterfly-duchess. But the book is
a thinly-disguised political pamphlet. "Look," she says in effect, "at
the heroic virtues of O'Donnell, the young Irishman, driven to serve in
foreign armies, despoiled of his paternal estates by the penal laws;
look at the fidelity, the simplicity, the native humour (so dramatically
effective) of his servant Rory; and then say if you will not plump for
Catholic Emancipation." "My dear lady," the reader murmurs, "I wondered
why you were so set upon underlining all these things. Can you not tell
us a story frankly, and let us alone with your conclusions?"

Unfortunately, very much the same has to be said of a far greater
writer, William Carleton, even in those tales which are based upon his
own most intimate experience. _The Poor Scholar_, his most popular
story, proceeds directly from an episode in his own life. He had himself
been a poor scholar, had set out from his northern home to walk to
Munster, where the best known schools were, trusting to charity by the
way to lodge him, and to charity to keep him throughout his schooling
for the sake of his vocation, and for the blessing sure to descend upon
those who aided a peasant's son to become a priest. Nothing could be
more vivid than the early scenes, the collection made at the altar for
Jimmy McEvoy, the priest's sermon, the boy's parting from home, and the
roadside hospitality; there is one infinitely touching episode in the
house of the first farmer who shelters him. Then come the school itself,
and the tyranny of its master, till the boy falls sick of a fever, and
is turned out of doors. Then, alas, the conventional intervenes in the
person of the virtuous absentee ignorant of his agent's misdoings: the
long arm of coincidence is stretched to the uttermost; and we have to
wade through pages of discussion upon the relations of landlord and
tenant till we are put wholly out of tune for the beautiful scene of
Jimmy's return home in his priestly dress.

Carleton did for the peasantry what Miss Edgeworth had done for the
upper classes. In her books the peasants have only an incidental part,
and she describes them shrewdly and sympathetically enough, but with a
mind untouched either by their faith or by their superstitions; seeing
their good and bad qualities clearly in a dry light, but never in
imagination identifying herself with them. Superior to Miss Edgeworth in
power and insight, he is immeasurably her inferior in literary skill.
One should remember, in commenting upon the poverty of Irish literature
in English, that, so far as concerns imaginative work, it began in the
nineteenth century. Carleton only died in 1869, Miss Edgeworth in 1849;
and before them there is no one.

On the other hand the speech of Lowland Scots, with whose richness in
masterpieces our poverty is naturally contrasted, has been employed for
literature as long as the vernacular English. A king of Scotland wrote
admirable verse in the generation after Chaucer; the influence of the
Court fostered poetry, and the close intercourse with France kept Scotch
writers in touch with first-rate models. Dunbar, strolling as a friar in
France, may have known Villon, whom he often resembles. In Ireland, till
a century ago, English was as much a foreign language as Norman French
in England under the Plantagenets. Among the English Protestants,
settled in Ireland, and separated by a hard line of cleavage from the
Catholic population, there arose great men in letters, Goldsmith, Burke,
Sheridan, who showed their Irish temperament in their handling of
English themes. But in Ireland itself, before the events of 1782 added
importance to Dublin, there was no centre for a literature to gather
round. Such national pride as exists in English-speaking Ireland dates
from the days of Grattan and Flood. And Irish national aspirations still
bear the impress of their origin amid that period of political turmoil,
than which nothing is more hostile to the brooding care of literary
workmanship, the long labour and the slow result. Irishmen have always
shown a strong disinclination to pure literature. The roll of Irish
novelists is more than half made up of women's names; Miss Edgeworth,
Lady Morgan, Miss Emily Lawless, and Miss Jane Barlow. Journalists
Ireland has produced as copiously as orators; the writers of _The Spirit
of the Nation_, that admirable collection of stirring poems, are
journalists working in verse; and Carleton, falling under their
influence, became a journalist working in fiction. In his pages, even
when the debater ceases to argue and harangue, the style is still
journalistic, except in those passages where his dramatic instinct puts
living speech into the mouths of men and women. Politics so monopolise
the minds of Irishmen, newspapers so make up their whole reading, that
the class to which Carleton and the poet Mangan belonged have never
fully entered upon the heritage of English literature. If an English
peasant knows nothing else, he knows the Bible and very likely Bunyan;
but a Roman Catholic population has little commerce with that pure
fountain of style. Genius cannot dispense with models, and Carleton and
Mangan had the worst possible. Yet when it has been said that Carleton
was a half-educated peasant, writing in a language whose best literature
he had not sufficiently assimilated to feel the true value of words, it
remains to be said that he was a great novelist. He cannot be fairly
illustrated by quotation; but read any of his stories and see if he does
not bring up vividly before you Ireland as it was before the famine;
Ireland still swarming with beggars who marched about in families
subsisting chiefly on the charity of the poor; Ireland of which the
hedge-school was plainly to him the most characteristic institution.

Carleton does not stand by himself; he is the head and representative of
a whole class of Irish novelists, among whom John Banim is the best
known name. All of them were peasants who aimed at depicting scenes of
peasant life from their own experience. What one may call the
melodramatic Irish story, in which Lever was so brilliantly successful,
has its first famous example in _The Collegians_ of Gerald Griffin. The
novel has no concern with college life, and is far better described by
its stage-title, _The Colleen Bawn_. Here at least is a man with a story
to tell and no object but to tell it. Griffin belonged to the lay order
of Christian Brothers: his book deals principally with a society no more
familiar to him than was the household of Mr. Rochester to Charlotte
Brontë; and his method recalls the Brontës by its strenuous imagination
and its vehement painting of passion. The tale was suggested by a murder
which excited all Ireland. A young southern squire carried off a girl
with some money, and procured her death by drowning. He was arrested at
his mother's house and a terrible scene took place, terribly rendered in
the book. Griffin, of course, changes the motive; the girl is carried
off not for money but for love, and she is sacrificed to make way for a
stronger passion. Eily O'Connor, the victim, is a pretty and pathetic
figure; the hero-villain Hardress Cregan, and the mother who indirectly
causes the crime, are effective though melodramatic; but the actual
murderer, Danny the Lord, Hardress Cregan's familiar, is worthy of Scott
or Hugo.

In his sketches of society, Hyland Creagh, the duellist, old Cregan, and
the rest, Griffin is describing a state of affairs previous to his own
experience, the Ireland of Sir Jonah Barrington's memoirs; he is not, as
were Carleton and Miss Edgeworth, copying minutely from personal
observation. Herein he resembles Lever who, when all is said and done,
remains the chief, as he is the most Irish, of Irish novelists. It is
true that Lever had two distinct manners: and in his later books he
deals chiefly with contemporary society, drawing largely on his
experiences of diplomatic life. Like most novelists he preferred his
later work; but the books by which he is best known, _Harry Lorrequer_
and the rest, are his earliest productions; and though his maturer skill
was employed on different subjects, he formed his imagination in studies
of the Napoleonic Wars and of a duelling, drinking, bailiff-beating
Ireland. His point of view never altered, and the peculiar attraction of
his writings is always the same. Lever's books have the quality rather
of speech than of writing; wherever you open the pages there is always a
witty, well-informed Irishman discoursing to you, who tells his story
admirably, when he has one to tell, and, failing that, never fails to be
pleasant. Irish talk is apt to be discursive; to rely upon a general
charm diffused through the whole, rather than upon any quotable
brilliancy; its very essence is spontaneity, high spirits, fertility of
resource. That is a fair description of Lever. He is never at a loss. If
his story hangs, off he goes at score with a perfectly irrelevant
anecdote, but told with such enjoyment of the joke that you cannot
resent the digression. Indeed the plots are left pretty much to take
care of themselves; he positively preferred to write his stories in
monthly instalments for a magazine; he is not a conscientious artist,
but he lays himself out to amuse you, and he does it. If he advertises a
character as a wit, he does not labour phrases to describe his
brilliancy; he produces the witticisms. He has been accused of
exaggeration. As regards the incidents, one can only say that the
memoirs of Irish society at the beginning of this century furnish at
least fair warranty for any of his inventions. In character-drawing he
certainly overcharged the traits: but he did so with intention, and by
consistently heightening the tones throughout obtained an artistic
impression, which had life behind it, however ingeniously travestied.
His stories have no unity of action, but through a great diversity of
characters and incidents they maintain their unity of treatment. That is
not the highest ideal of the novel, but it is an intelligible one, not
lacking famous examples; and Lever perfectly understood it.

If one wishes to realise how good an artist Lever was, the best way is
to read his contemporary Samuel Lover. _Handy Andy_ appeared somewhat
later than _Harry Lorrequer_. It is just the difference between good
whiskey and bad whiskey; both are indigenous and therefore
characteristic, but let us be judged by our best. Obviously the men have
certain things in common; great natural vivacity, and an easy cheerful
way of looking at life. Lover can raise a laugh, but his wit is
horseplay except for a few happy phrases. He has no real comedy; there
is nothing in _Handy Andy_ half so ingenious as the story in _Jack
Hinton_ of the way Ulick Bourke acquitted himself of his debt to Father
Tom. And behind all Lever's conventional types there is a real fund of
observation and knowledge which is absolutely wanting in Lover, who
simply lacked the brains to be anything more than a trifler.

A very different talent was that of their younger contemporary J.
Sheridan Le Fanu. The author of _Uncle Silas_ had plenty of solid power;
but his art was too highly specialised. No one ever succeeded better in
two main objects of the story-teller; first, in exciting interest, in
stimulating curiosity by vague hints of some dreadful mystery; and then
in concentrating attention upon a dramatic scene. It is true that,
although an Irishman, he gained his chief successes with stories that
had an English setting; but one of the best, _The House by the
Churchyard_, describes very vividly life at Chapelizod in the days when
this deserted little village, which lies just beyond the Phoenix Park,
was thickly peopled with the families of officers stationed in Dublin.
Yet somehow one does not carry away from the reading of it any picture
of that society; the story is so exciting that the mind has no time to
rest on details, but hurries on from clue to clue till finally and
literally the murder is out. Books which keep a reader on the
tenter-hooks of conjecture must always suffer from this undue
concentration of the interest; and in spite of cheery, inquisitive Dr.
Toole, and the remarkable sketch of Black Dillon, the ruffianly genius
with a reputation only recognised in the hospitals and the police-courts
(a character admirably invented and admirably used in the plot) one can
hardly class Le Fanu among those novelists who have left memorable
presentments of Irish life. It is a pity; for plainly, if the man had
cared less for sensational incident and ingenious construction, he might
have sketched life and character with a strong brush and a kind of grim
realism.

Realism Lever does not aim at: he declines to be on his oath about
anything. What he gives one, vividly enough, is national colour, not
local colour; he is essentially Irish, just as Fielding is essentially
English; but he aims at verisimilitude rather than veracity. The ideal
of the novel has changed since his day. Compare him with the two ladies
who stand out prominently among contemporary writers of Irish fiction,
Miss Jane Barlow and Miss Emily Lawless. To begin with, Lever's stories
are always concerned with the Quality; peasants only come in for an
underplot, or in subordinate parts; and the gentry all through Ireland
resemble one another within reasonable limits. It is different with the
peasantry. In every part of Ireland you will find people who have never
been ten miles away from the place of their birth, and upon whom a local
character is unmistakably stamped. The contemporary novelists delight to
mark these differences, these salient points of singularity; and their
studies are chiefly of the peasantry. They settle down upon some little
corner of the country and never stir out of it. Miss Lawless is not
content to get you Irish character; she must show you a Clare man or an
Arran islander, and she is at infinite pains to point out how his
nature, even his particular actions, are influenced by the place of his
bringing up. Lever avoids this specialisation; he prefers a stone wall
country for his hunting scenes, but beyond that he goes no further into
details. Again Miss Lawless both in _Grania_ and in _Hurrish_ makes you
aware that young Irishmen of Hurrish's class are curiously indifferent
to female beauty. Lever will have none of that: his Irishman must be "a
divil with the girls," although Lever is no sentimentalist, and does not
talk of love matches among the Irish peasantry.

The greatest divergence of all, however, is in the temper attributed to
the Irish. Lever makes them gay, Miss Lawless and Miss Barlow make them
sad. No one denies that sadness is nearer the reality, but it is
unreasonable to call Lever insincere. Naturally careless and
lighthearted he does not trouble himself with the riddle of the painful
world; the distress which touches him most nearly is a distress for
debt. But if Lever is not realistic he is natural; he follows the law
of his nature as an artist should; he sees life through his own medium;
and if books are to be valued as companions, not many of them are better
company than _Charles O'Malley_ or _Lord Kilgobbin_; for first and last
Lever was always himself.

Yet, I must own it, it does not do to read Lever soon after Miss Barlow.
Her stories of Lisconnel and its folk have a tragic dignity wholly out
of his range. It is a sad-coloured country she writes of, gray and
brown; sodden brown with bog water, gray with rock cropping up through
the fields; the only brightness is up overhead in the heavens, and even
they are often clouded. These sombre hues, with the passing gleam of
something above them, reflect themselves in every page of her books. She
renders that complete harmony between the people and their surroundings
which is only seen in working folk whose clothes are stained with the
colour of the soil they live by, and whose lives assimilate themselves
to its character. She has a fineness of touch, a poetry, to which no
other Irish story-teller has attained.

Yet, Miss Barlow has never succeeded with a regular novel: and she may
have been only a forerunner. All great writers proceed from a school,
and there does exist now undeniably a school of Irish literature which
differs from Miss Edgeworth in being strongly tinged with the element of
Celtic romance, from Carleton in possessing an admirable standard of
style, and from Lever in aiming at a sincere and vital portraiture of
Irish life.

1897.



A CENTURY OF IRISH HUMOUR.


In a preface to the French translation of Sienkiewicz's works, M. de
Wyzewa, the well-known critic, himself a Pole, makes a suggestive
comparison between the Polish and the Russian natures. The Pole, he
says, is quicker, wittier, more imaginative, more studious of beauty,
less absorbed in the material world than the Russian--in a word,
infinitely more gifted with the artistic temperament; and yet in every
art the Russian has immeasurably outstripped the Pole. His explanation,
if not wholly convincing, is at least suggestive. The Poles are a race
of dreamers, and the dreamer finds his reward in himself. He does not
seek to conquer the world with arms or with commerce, with tears or with
laughter; neither money tempts him nor fame, and the strenuous,
unremitting application which success demands, whether in war, business,
or the arts, is alien to his being.

The same observation and the same reasoning apply with equal force to
the English and the Irish. No one who has lived in the two countries
will deny that the Irish are apparently the more gifted race; no one can
deny, if he has knowledge and candour, that the English have
accomplished a great deal more, the Irish a great deal less. Nowhere is
this more evident than in the productions of that faculty which Irishmen
have always been reputed, and justly reputed, to possess in peculiar
measure--the faculty of humour. Compare Lever, who for a long time
passed as the typical Irish humorist, with his contemporaries Thackeray
and Dickens. The comparison is not fair, but it suggests the central
fact that the humour of Irish literature is deficient in depth, in
intellectual quality, or, to put it after an Irish fashion, in gravity.

'Humorous' is a word as question-begging as 'artistic,' and he would be
a rash man who should try to define either. But so much as this will
readily be admitted, that humour is a habit of mind essentially complex,
involving always a double vision--a reference from the public or normal
standard of proportion to one that is private and personal. The humorist
refuses to part with any atom of his own personality, he stamps it on
whatever comes from him. "If reasons were as plenty as blackberries,"
says Falstaff, achieving individuality by the same kind of odd
picturesque comparison as every witty Irish peasant uses in talk, to the
delight of himself and his hearers. But the individuality lies deeper
than phrases: Falstaff takes his private standard into battle with him.
There is nothing more obviously funny than the short paunchy man, let us
not say cowardly, but disinclined to action, who finds himself engaged
in a fight. Lever has used him a score of times (beginning with Mr.
O'Leary in the row at a gambling-hall in Paris), and whether he runs or
whether he fights, his efforts to do either are grotesquely laughable.
Shakespeare puts that view of Falstaff too: Prince Hal words it. But
Falstaff, the humorist in person, rises on the field of battle over the
slain Percy and enunciates his philosophy of the better part of valour.
Falstaff's estimate of honour--"that word honour" ("Who hath it? he that
died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it?"), the "grinning honour" that Sir
Walter Blunt wears where the Douglas left him--is necessary to complete
the humorist's vision of a battle-piece. Lever will scarcely visit you
with such reflections, for the humorist of Lever's type never stands
apart and smiles; he laughs loud and in company. Still less will he give
you one of those speeches which are the supreme achievement of this
faculty, where the speaker's philosophy is not reasoned out liked
Falstaff's, but revealed in a flash of the onlooker's insight. Is it
pardonable to quote the account of Falstaff's death as the hostess
narrates it?

     "How now, Sir John, quoth I, what, man! be of good cheer. So a'
     cried out God, God, three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid
     him a' should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to
     trouble himself with any such thoughts yet."

Humour can go no farther than that terrible, illuminating phrase, which
is laughable enough, heaven knows, but scarce likely to make you laugh.
Contrast the humour of that with the humour of such a story as Lever
delighted in. There were two priests dining with a regiment, we all have
read in _Harry Lorrequer_, who chaffed a dour Ulster Protestant till he
was the open derision of the mess. Next time they returned, the
Protestant major was radiant with a geniality that they could not
explain till they had to make their way out of barracks in a hurry, and
found that the countersign (arranged by the major) was "Bloody end to
the Pope." Told as Lever tells it, with all manner of jovial
amplifications, that story would make anyone laugh. But it does not go
deep. The thing is funny in too obvious a way; the mirth finds too large
an outlet in laughter; it does not hang about the brain, inextricable
from the processes of thought; it carries nothing with it beyond the
jest. And just as tears help to an assuaging of grief, so in a sense
laughter makes an end of mirth. Give a feeling its instinctive vent, and
you will soon be done with it, like the child who laughs and cries
within five minutes; check it, and it spreads inward, gaining in
intellectual quality as it loses in physical expression. The moral is,
that if you wish to be really humorous you must not be too funny; and
the capital defect of most Irish humour is that its aim is too
simple--it does not look beyond raising a laugh.

There are brilliant exceptions in the century that lies between Sheridan
and Mr. Bernard Shaw, between Maria Edgeworth and Miss Barlow. But
serious art or serious thought in Ireland has always revealed itself to
the English sooner or later as a species of sedition, and the Irish have
with culpable folly allowed themselves to accept for characteristic
excellences what were really the damning defects of their work--an easy
fluency of wit, a careless spontaneity of laughter. They have taken
Moore for a great poet, and Handy Andy for a humorist to be proud of.
Yet an Irishman who wishes to speak dispassionately must find humour of
a very different kind from that of _Handy Andy_ or _Harry Lorrequer_
either, to commend without reserve, as a thing that may be put forward
to rank with what is best in other literatures.

Taking Sheridan and Miss Edgeworth as marking the point of departure, it
becomes obvious that one is an end, the other at a beginning. Sheridan
belongs body and soul to the eighteenth century; Miss Edgeworth, though
her name sounds oddly in that context, is part and parcel of the
romantic movement. The "postscript which ought to have been a preface"
to _Waverley_ declared, though after Scott's magnificent fashion, a real
indebtedness. Sheridan's humour, essentially metropolitan, had found no
use for local colour; Miss Edgeworth before Scott proved the artistic
value that could be extracted from the characteristics of a special
breed of people under special circumstances in a special place. Mr.
Yeats, who, like all poets, is a most suggestive and a most misleading
critic, has declared that modern Irish literature begins with Carleton.
That is only true if we are determined to look in Irish literature for
qualities that can be called Celtic--if we insist that the outlook on
the world shall be the Catholic's or the peasant's. Miss Edgeworth had
not a trace of the Celt--as I conceive that rather indefinite
entity--about her; but she was as good an Irish woman as ever walked,
and there are hundreds of Irish people of her class and creed looking at
Irish life with kindly humorous Irish eyes, seeing pretty much what she
saw, enjoying it as she enjoyed it, but with neither her power nor her
will to set it down. _Castle Rackrent_ is a masterpiece; and had Miss
Edgeworth been constant to the dramatic method which she then struck out
for herself, with all the fine reticences that it involved, her name
might have stood high in literature. Unhappily, her too exemplary father
repressed the artist in her, fostered the pedagogue, and in her later
books she commits herself to an attitude in which she can moralise
explicitly upon the ethical and social bearings of every word and
action. The fine humour in _Ormond_ is obscured by its setting; in
_Castle Rackrent_ the humour shines. Sir Condy and his lady we see none
the less distinctly for seeing them through the eyes of old Thady, the
retainer who narrates the Rackrent history; and in the process we have a
vision of old Thady himself. Now and then the novelist reminds us of her
presence by some extravagantly ironic touch, as when Thady describes Sir
Condy's anger with the Government "about a place that was promised him
and never given, after his supporting them against his conscience very
honourably and being greatly abused for, he having the name of a great
patriot in the country." Thady would hardly have been so ingenuous as
that. But for the most part the humour is truly inherent in the
situation, and you might look far for a better passage than the
description of Sir Condy's parting with his lady. But it is better to
illustrate from a scene perhaps less genuinely humorous, but more
professedly so--Sir Condy's wake. Miss Edgeworth does not dwell on the
broad farce of the entertainment; she does not make Thady eloquent over
the whisky that was drunk and the fighting that began and so forth, as
Lever or Carleton would certainly have been inclined to do. She fixes on
the central comedy of the situation, Sir Condy's innocent vanity and its
pitiable disappointment--is it necessary to recall that he had arranged
for the wake himself, because he always wanted to see his own funeral?
Poor Sir Condy!--even Thady, who was in the secret, had forgotten all
about him, when he was startled by the sound of his master's voice from
under the greatcoats thrown all atop.

     "'Thady,' says he, 'I've had enough of this; I'm smothering and
     can't hear a word of all they're saying of the deceased.' 'God
     bless you, and lie still and quiet a bit longer,' says I, 'for my
     sister's afraid of ghosts, and would die on the spot with fright if
     she was to see you come to life all on a sudden this way without
     the least preparation.' So he lays him still, though well-nigh
     stifled, and I made haste to tell the secret of the joke,
     whispering to one and t'other, and there was a great surprise, but
     not so great as he had laid out there would. 'And aren't we to have
     the pipes and tobacco after coming so far to-night?' said some one;
     but they were all well enough pleased when his honour got up to
     drink with them, and sent for more spirits from a shebeen house
     where they very civilly let him have it upon credit. So the night
     passed off very merrily; but to my mind Sir Condy was rather upon
     the sad order in the midst of it all, not finding there had been
     such great talk about himself after his death as that he had always
     expected to hear."

In the end Sir Condy died, not by special arrangement. "He had but a
poor funeral after all," is Thady's remark; and you see with the kindly
double vision of the humorist Thady's sincere regret for the
circumstance that would most have afflicted the deceased, as well as the
more obviously comic side of Thady's comment and Sir Condy's lifelong
aspiration. Indeed, the whole narrative is shot with many meanings, and
one never turns to it without a renewed faculty of laughter.

If it were necessary to compare true humour with the make-believe, a
comparison might be drawn between Thady and the servant in Lady Morgan's
novel _O'Donnell_. Rory is the stage Irishman in all his commonest
attitudes. But it is better to go straight on, and concern ourselves
solely with the work of real literary quality, and Carleton falls next
to be considered.

Of genius with inadequate equipment it is always difficult to speak.
Carleton is the nearest thing to Burns that we have to show; and his
faults, almost insuperable to the ordinary reader, are the faults which
Burns seldom failed to display when writing in English. But to Burns
there was given an instrument perfected by long centuries of use--the
Scotch vernacular song and ballad; Carleton had to make his own, and the
genius for form was lacking in him. Some day there may come a man of
pure Irish race who will be to Carleton what Burns was to Ferguson, and
then Ireland will have what it lacks; moreover, in the light of his
achievement we shall see better what the pioneer accomplished. Every
gift that Carleton had--and pathos and humour, things complementary to
each other, he possessed in profusion--every gift is obscured by faulty
technique. Nearly every trait is overcharged; for instance, in his story
of the _Midnight Mass_ he rings the changes interminably upon the old
business of the wonderful medicine in the vagrants' blessed horn that
had a strong odour of whisky; but what an admirably humorous figure is
this same Darby O'More! Out of the _Poor Scholar_ alone, that inchoate
masterpiece, you could illustrate a dozen phases of Carleton's mirth,
beginning with the famous sermon where the priest so artfully wheedles
and coaxes his congregation into generosity towards the boy who is going
out on the world, and all the while unconsciously displays his own
laughable and lovable weaknesses. There you have the double vision, that
helps to laugh with the priest, and to laugh at him in the same breath,
as unmistakably as in the strange scene of the famine days where the
party of mowers find Jimmy sick of the fever by the wayside and "schame
a day" from their employer to build him a rough shelter. That whole
chapter, describing the indefatigable industry with which they labour
on the voluntary task, their glee in the truantry from the labour for
which they are paid, their casuistry over the theft of milk for the
pious purpose of keeping the poor lad alive, the odd blending of
cowardice and magnanimity in their terror of the sickness and in their
constant care that some one should at least be always in earshot of the
boy, ready to pass in to him on a long-handed shovel what food they
could scrape up, their supple ingenuity in deceiving the pompous
landlord who comes to oversee their work,--all that is the completest
study in existence of Irish character as it came to be under the system
of absolute dependence. There is nothing so just as true humour, for by
the law of its being it sees inevitably two sides; and this strange
compound of vices and virtues, so rich in all the softer qualities, so
lacking in all the harder ones, stands there in Carleton's pages,
neither condemned nor justified, but seen and understood with a kindly
insight. Carleton is the document of documents for Ireland in the years
before the famine, preserving a record of conditions material and
spiritual, which happily have largely ceased to exist, yet operate
indefinitely as causes among us, producing eternal though eternally
modifiable effects.

But, for the things in human nature that are neither of yesterday,
to-day, nor to-morrow, but unchangeable, he has the humorist's true
touch. When the poor scholar is departing, and has actually torn himself
away from home, his mother runs after him with a last token--a small
bottle of holy water. "Jimmy, alanna," said she, "here's this an' carry
it about you--it will keep evil from you; an' be sure to take good care
of the written characther you got from the priest an' Squire Benson;
an', darlin', don't be lookin' too often at the cuff o' your coat, for
feard the people might get a notion that you have the banknotes sewed in
it. An', Jimmy agra, don't be too lavish upon their Munsther crame; they
say 'tis apt to give people the ague. Kiss me agin, agra, an' the
heavens above keep you safe and well till we see you once more."

Through all that catalogue of precautions, divine and human, one feels
the mood between tears and laughter of the man who set it down. But I
think you only come to the truth about Carleton in the last scene of
all, when Jimmy returns to his home, a priest. Nothing could be more
stilted, more laboured, than the pages which attempt to render his
emotions and his words, till there comes the revealing touch. His mother
at sight of him, returned unlooked-for after the long absence, loses for
a moment the possession of her faculties, and cannot be restored. At
last, "I will speak to her," said Jimmy, "in Irish; it will go directly
to her heart." And it does.

Carleton never could speak to us in Irish; the English was still a
strange tongue on his lips and in the ears of those he lived among; and
his work comes down distracted between the two languages, imperfect and
halting, only with flashes of true and living speech.

When you come to Lever, it is a very different story. Lever was at no
lack for utterance; nobody was ever more voluble, no one ever less
inclined to sit and bite his pen, waiting for the one and only word.
Good or bad, he could be trusted to rattle on; and, as Trollope said, if
you pulled him out of bed and demanded something witty, he would flash
it at you before he was half awake. Some people are born with the
perilous gift of improvisation; and the best that can be said for Lever
is that he is the nearest equivalent in Irish literature, or in English
either, to the marvellous faculty of D'Artagnan's creator. He has the
same exuberance, the same inexhaustible supply of animal spirits, of
invention that is always spirited, of wit that goes off like fireworks.
He delighted a whole generation of readers, and one reader at least in
this generation he still delights; but I own that to enjoy him you must
have mastered the art of skipping. Whether you take him in his earlier
manner, in the "Charles O'Malley" vein of adventure, fox-hunting,
steeple-chasing, Peninsular fighting, or in his later more intellectual
studies of shady financiers, needy political adventurers, and the whole
generation of usurers and blacklegs, he is always good; but alas and
alas, he is never good enough. His work is rotten with the disease of
anecdote; instead of that laborious concentration on a single character
which is necessary for any kind of creative work, but above all for
humorous creation, he presents you with a sketch, a passing glimpse, and
when you look to see the suggestion followed out he is off at score with
a story. In the first chapter of _Davenport Dunn_, for instance, there
is an Irish gentleman on the Continent, a pork-butcher making his first
experience of Italy, hit off to the life. But a silhouette--and a very
funny silhouette--is all that we get of Mr. O'Reilly, and the figures
over whom Lever had taken trouble--for in that work Lever did take
trouble--are not seen with humour. Directly he began to think, his
humour left him; it is as if he had been funny in watertight
compartments. And perhaps that is why, here as elsewhere, he shrank from
the necessary concentration of thought.

There is always a temptation to hold a brief for Lever, because he has
been most unjustly censured by Irishmen, even in so august and impartial
a court as the _Dictionary of National Biography_, as if he had traduced
his countrymen. Did Thackeray, then, malign the English? The only charge
that may fairly be brought against him is the one that cannot be
rebutted--the charge of superficiality and of scamped work, of a humour
that only plays over the surface of things--a humour which sees only the
comic side that anybody might see. And because I cannot defend him, I
say no more. Lever is certainly not a great humorist, but he is
delightful company.

One may mention in passing the excursions into broad comedy of another
brilliant Irishman--Le Fanu's short stories in the _Purcell Papers_,
such as the _Quare Gander_, or _Billy Molowney's Taste of Love and
Glory_. These are good examples of a particular literary type--the
humorous anecdote--in which Irish humour has always been fertile, and of
which the _ne plus ultra_ is Sir Samuel Ferguson's magnificent squib in
Blackwood, _Father Tom and the Pope_. Everybody knows the merits of that
story, its inexhaustible fertility of comparison, its dialectic
ingenuity, its jovialty, its drollery, its Rabelaisian laughter. But,
after all, the highest type of humour is humour applying itself to the
facts of life, and this is burlesque humour squandering itself in riot
upon a delectable fiction. Humour is a great deal more than a
plaything; it is a force, a weapon--at once sword and shield. If there
is to be an art of literature in Ireland that can be called national, it
cannot afford to devote humour solely to the production of trifles.
_Father Tom_ is a trifle, a splendid toy; and what is more, a trifle
wrought in a moment of ease by perhaps the most serious and
conscientious artist that ever made a contribution to the small body of
real Irish literature in the tongue that is now native to the majority
of Irishmen.

Of contemporaries, with one exception, I do not propose to speak at any
length, nor can I hope that my review will be complete. There is first
and foremost Miss Barlow, a lady whose work is so gentle, so unassuming,
that one hears little of it in the rush and flare of these strident
times, but who will be heard and listened to with fresh emotion as the
stream is heard when the scream and rattle of a railway train have
passed away into silence. Is she a humorist? Not in the sense of
provoking laughter--and yet the things that she sees and loves and
dwells on would be unbearable if they were not seen through a delicate
mist of mirth. The daily life of people at continual handgrips with
starvation, their little points of honour, their little questions of
precedence, the infinite generosity that concerns itself with the
expenditure of six-pence, the odd shifts they resort to that a gift may
not have the appearance of charity,--all these are set down with a
tenderness of laughter that is peculiarly and distinctively Irish.

Yet, though we may find a finer quality of humour in those writers who
do not seek to raise a laugh--for instance, the subtle pervasive humour
in Mr. Yeats's _Celtic Twilight_--still there are few greater
attractions than that of open healthy laughter of the contagious sort;
and it would be black ingratitude not to pay tribute to the authoresses
of _Some Experiences of an Irish R.M._--a book that no decorous person
can read with comfort in a railway carriage. These ladies have the
keenest eye for the obvious humours of Irish life, they have abundance
of animal spirits, and they have that knack at fluent description
embroidered with a wealth of picturesque details that is shared by
hundreds of peasants in Ireland, but is very rare indeed on the printed
page. And, mingling with the broad farce there is a deal of excellent
comedy--for instance, in the person of old Mrs. Knox of Aussolas. But
there is the same point to insist on--and since these witty and
delightful ladies have already the applause of all the world one insists
less unwillingly--this kind of thing, admirable as it is, will not
redeem Irish humour from the reproach of trifling. But in the novel,
_The Real Charlotte_, there is humour as grim almost as Swift's--and as
completely un-English; it is a humour which assuredly stirs more
faculties than the simple one of laughter.

There is indeed a literature which, if not always exactly humorous, is
closely allied to it--the literature of satire and invective; and in
this Ireland has always been prolific. In the days of the old kings the
order of bards had grown so numerous, that they comprised a third of the
whole population, and they devoted themselves with such talent and zeal
to the task of invective that no man could live in peace, and the
country cried out against them, and there was talk of suppressing the
whole order. The king spared them on condition that they would mend
their manners. We have those bards still, but nowadays we call them
politicians and journalists; and frankly I think we are ripe for another
intervention, if only in the interests of literature. So much good
talent goes to waste in bad words; and, moreover, an observance of the
decencies is always salutary for style. And it seems that as the years
have gone on, humour has diminished in Irish politics, while bad humour
has increased; and therefore I leave alone any attempt to survey the
humour of the orators, though Curran tempts one at the beginning and Mr.
Healy at the close. Of purely literary satire there has been little
enough, apart from its emergence in the novel; but there is one example
which deserves to be recalled. I have never professed enthusiasm for
Thomas Moore, but I am far indeed from agreeing with a recent critic who
would claim literary rank for him rather in virtue of the _Fudge Family_
than of the Irish Melodies. That satire does not seem to get beyond
brilliancy; it is very clever, and not much more. Still, there are
passages in it which cannot be read without enjoyment; and one quotation
may be permitted, since it puts with perfect distinctness what it is
always permissible to put--the English case against Ireland.

    I'm a plain man who speak the truth.
      And trust you'll think me not uncivil
    When I declare that from my youth
      I've wished your country at the devil.
    Nor can I doubt indeed from all
      I've heard of your high patriot fame,
    From every word your lips let fall,
      That you most truly wish the same.

    It plagues one's life out; thirty years
      Have I had dinning in my ears--
    Ireland wants this and that and t'other;
      And to this hour one nothing hears
    But the same vile eternal bother.
      While of those countless things she wanted,
    Thank God, but little has been granted.

The list of writers of humorous verse in Ireland is a long one, but a
catalogue of ephemera. Even Father Prout at this time of day is little
more than a dried specimen labelled for reference, or at most preserved
in vitality by the immortal _Groves of Blarney_. But neither that work,
nor even _The Night before Larry was stretched_, nor Le Fanu's ballad of
_Shemus O'Brien_, can rank altogether as literature. About the humorous
song I need only say that, so far as my experience goes, there is one,
and one only, which a person with no taste for music and some taste for
literature can hear frequently with pleasure, and that song of course is
_Father O'Flynn_. To recall the delightful ingenuity and the nimble wit
shown by another Irishman of the same family in the _Hawarden Horace_,
and in a lesser degree by Mr. Godley in his _Musa Frivola_, leads
naturally to the inquiry why humour from Aristophanes to Carlyle has
always preferred the side of reaction--a question that would need an
essay, or a volume, all to itself.

But the central question is after all why in a race where humour is so
preponderant in the racial temperament does so little of the element
crystallise itself in literature. Humour ranks with the water power as
one of the great undeveloped resources of the country. Something indeed
has been done in the past with the river of laughter that almost every
Irish person has flowing in his heart; but infinitely more might be
done if these rivers were put in harness.

Yet, take away two Irish names from the field of modern comedy in the
English language written during the nineteenth century, and you have
uncommonly little for which literary merit can be claimed. The quality
of Oscar Wilde's is scarcely disputed. There is the more reason to dwell
on Mr. Bernard Shaw's plays, because they have not even in the twentieth
century been fully accepted by that queer folk, the theatre-going
public. But I never yet heard of anyone who saw _You Never can Tell_,
and was not amused by it. That was a farce, no doubt, but a farce which
appealed to emotions less elementary than those which are touched by the
spectacle of a man sitting down by accident on his hat; it was a farce
of intellectual absurdities, of grotesque situations arising out of
perversities of character and opinion; a farce that you could laugh at
without a loss of self-respect. But it is rather by his comedies than by
his farces that Mr. Shaw should be judged. If they are not popular, it
is for a very good reason: Mr. Shaw's humour is too serious. His humour
is a strong solvent, and one of the many things about which this
humorist is in deadly earnest is the fetish worship of tradition. To
that he persists in applying--in _Candida_ as in half a dozen other
plays--the ordeal by laughter--an ordeal which every human institution
is bound to face. _Candida_ will not only make people laugh, it will
make them think; and it is not easy to induce the public to think after
dinner on unaccustomed lines. They will laugh when they have been used
to laugh, weep when they have been used to weep; but if you ask them to
laugh when they expect to weep, or _vice versâ_, the public will resent
the proceeding. The original humorist, like every other original artist,
has got slowly and laboriously to convert his public before he can
convince them of his right to find tears and laughter where he can.

Whatever Mr. Shaw touches, whether it be the half-hysterical impulse
that sometimes passes current for heroism, as in _Arms and the Man_, or,
as in the _Devil's Disciple_, the conventional picturesqueness of a Don
Juan--that maker of laws, breaker of hearts, so familiar with the
limelight, so unused to the illumination by laughter, who finds himself
in the long run deplorably stigmatised as a saint--there is a flood of
light let in upon all manner of traditional poses, literary
insincerities that have crept into life. There are few things of more
value in a commonwealth than such a searching faculty of laughter. Like
Sheridan, Mr. Shaw lives in England, and uses his comic gift for the
most part on subjects suggested to him by English conditions of life,
but with a strength of intellectual purpose that Sheridan never
possessed. Irishmen may wish that he found his material in Ireland. But
an artist must take what his hand finds, and there is no work in the
world more full of the Scottish spirit or the Scottish humour than
Carlyle's _French Revolution_. If it be asked whether Mr. Shaw's humour
is typically Irish, I must reply by another question: "Could his plays
have conceivably been written by any but an Irishman?"

Is there, in fact, a distinctively Irish humour? In a sense, yes, no
doubt, just as the English humour is of a different quality from the
Greek or the French. But nobody wants to pin down English humour to the
formula of a definition; no one wants to say, Thus far shalt thou go,
and beyond that shalt cease to be English. Moreover, a leading
characteristic of the Irish type is just its variety--its continual
deviation from the normal. How, then, to find a description that will
apply to a certain quality of mind throughout a variable race; that
quality being in its essence the most complete expression of an
individuality, in its difference from other individualities, since a
man's humour is the most individual thing about him? Description is
perhaps more possible than definition. One may say that the Irish humour
is kindly and lavish; that it tends to express itself in an exuberance
of phrase, a wild riot of comparisons; that it amplifies rather than
retrenches, finding its effects by an accumulation of traits, and not by
a concentration. The vernacular Irish literature is there to prove that
Irish fancy gives too much rather than too little. One may observe,
again, that a nation laughs habitually over its besetting weakness; and
if the French find their mirth by preference in dubious adventures, it
cannot be denied that much Irish humour has a pronounced alcoholic
flavour. But it is better neither to define nor to describe; there is
more harmful misunderstanding caused by setting down this or that
quality, this or that person, as typically French, typically English,
typically Irish, than by any other fallacy; and we Irish have suffered
peculiarly by the notion that the typical Irishman is the funny man of
the empire. What I would permit myself to assert is, first, that the
truest humour is not just the light mirth that comes easily from the
lips--that, in the hackneyed phrase, bubbles over spontaneously--but is
the expression of deep feeling and deep thought, made possible by deep
study of the means to express it; and secondly, that literature, which
through the earlier part of last century never received in Ireland the
laborious brooding care without which no considerable work of art is
possible, now receives increasingly the artist's labour; and
consequently that among our later humorists we find a faculty of mirth
that lies deeper, reaches farther, judges more subtly, calls into light
a wider complex of relations. After all, laughter is the most
distinctive faculty of man; and I submit that, so far as literature
shows, we Irish can better afford to be judged by our laughter now than
a century ago.

1901.



LITERATURE AMONG THE ILLITERATES

I

THE SHANACHY


There is nothing better known about Ireland than this fact: that
illiteracy is more frequent among the Irish Catholic peasantry than in
any other class of the British population; and that especially upon the
Irish-speaking peasant does the stigma lie. Yet it is, perhaps, as well
to inquire a little more precisely what is meant by an illiterate. If to
be literate is to possess a knowledge of the language, literature, and
historical traditions of a man's own country--and this is no very
unreasonable application of the word--then this Irish-speaking peasantry
has a better claim to the title than can be shown by most bodies of men.
I have heard the existence of an Irish literature denied by a roomful of
prosperous educated gentlemen; and, within a week, I have heard, in the
same county, the classics of that literature recited by an Irish peasant
who could neither write nor read. On which part should the stigma of
illiteracy set the uglier brand?

The Gaelic revival sends many of us to school in Irish-speaking
districts, and, if it did nothing else, at least it would have sent us
to school in pleasant places among the most lovable preceptors. It was a
blessed change from London to a valley among hills that look over the
Atlantic, with its brown stream tearing down among boulders, and its
heathy banks, where the keen fragrance of bog-myrtle rose as you brushed
through in the morning on your way to the head of a pool. Here was
indeed a desirable academy, and my preceptor matched it. A big,
loose-jointed old man, rough, brownish-gray all over, clothes, hair, and
face; his cheeks were half-hidden by the traditional close-cropped
whisker, and the rest was an ill-shorn stubble. Traditional, too, was
the small, deep-set, blue eye, the large, kindly mouth, uttering English
with a soft brogue, which, as is always the case among those whose real
tongue is Irish, had no trace of vulgarity. Indeed, it would have been
strange that vulgarity of any sort should show in one who had perfect
manners, and the instinct of a scholar, for this preceptor was not even
technically illiterate. He could read and write English, and Irish, too,
which is by no means so common; and I have not often seen a man happier
than he was over Douglas Hyde's collection of Connacht love-songs, which
I had fortunately brought with me. But his main interest was in
history--that history which had been rigorously excluded from his school
training, the history of Ireland. I would go on ahead to fish a pool,
and leave him poring over Hyde's book; but when he picked me up,
conversation went on where it broke off--somewhere among the fortunes of
Desmonds and Burkes, O'Neills and O'Donnells. And when one had hooked a
large sea-trout, on a singularly bad day, in a place where no sea-trout
was expected, it was a little disappointing to find that Charlie's only
remark, as he swept the net under my capture, was: "The Clancartys was
great men too. Is there any of them living?" The scholar in him had
completely got the better of the sportsman.

Beyond his historic lore (which was really considerable, and by no means
inaccurate) he had many songs by heart, some of them made by Carolan,
some by nameless poets, written in the Irish which is spoken to-day. I
wrote down a couple of Charlie's lyrics which had evidently a local
origin; but what I sought was one of the Shanachies who carried in his
memory the classic literature of Ireland, the epics or ballads of an
older day. Charlie was familiar, of course, with the matter of this
"Ossianic" literature, as we all are, for example, with the story of
Ulysses. He knew how Oisin dared to go with a fairy woman to her own
land; how he returned in defiance of her warning; how he found himself
lonely and broken in a changed land; and how, in the end, he gave in to
the teaching of St. Patrick ("Sure how would he stand up against it?"
said Charlie), and was converted to Christ. But all the mass of rhymed
verse which relates the dialogues between Oisin and Patrick, the tales
of Finn and his heroes which Oisin told to the Saint, the fierce answers
with which the old warrior met the Gospel arguments--all this was only
vaguely familiar to him. I was looking for a man who had it by heart.

The search for the repositories of this knowledge leads sometimes into
strange contrasts. One friend of mine lay stretched for long hours on
top of a roof of sticks and peat-scraws which was propped against the
wall of a ruined cabin, while within the evicted tenant, still clinging
to his home as life clings to the shattered body, lay bedridden on a
lair of rushes, and chanted the deeds of heroes; his voice issuing
through the vent in the roof, at once window and chimney, from the
kennel in which was neither room nor light for a man to sit and record
the verses. My own chance was luckier and happier. It came on a day when
a party of us had set out in quest of a remote mountain lough. Our way
led along the river, and as we drove up to where the valley contracted,
and the tillage land decreased in extent and fertility, the type of the
people changed. They were Celts and Catholics, evident to the least
practised eye. A little further still from civilisation we reached the
fringe that was Gaelic not merely in blood; the kindly woman whose
cottage warmed and sheltered us when we returned half-foundered from
plunging through bogs was an Irish speaker. She had no songs herself,
but if I wanted them her neighbour, James Kelly, was the best of
company, and would keep me listening the length of a night.

I pushed my bicycle through a drizzle of misty rain up the road over
mountainous moor, before I saw his cottage standing trim and white under
its thatch in a screen of trees, and as I was nearing it, the boy with
me showed me James down in a hollow, filling a barrow with turf. He
stopped work as I came down, and called off his dog, looking at me
curiously enough, for, indeed, strangers were a rarity in that spot,
clean off the tourist track, and away from any thoroughfare. One's
presence had to be explained out of hand, and I told him exactly why I
had come. He looked surprised and perhaps a little pleased, that his
learning should draw students. But he made no pretence of ignorance; the
only question was, how he could help me. Did I want songs of the modern
kind, or the older songs of Finn Mac-Cool? If it was the latter, it
seemed I was not well able to manage the common talk, and these songs
were written in "very hard Irish, full of ould strong words."

I should like to send the literary Irishmen of my acquaintance one by
one to converse with James Kelly as a salutary discipline. He was
perfectly courteous, but through his courtesy there pierced a kind of
toleration that carried home to one's mind a profound conviction of
ignorance. People talk about the servility of the Irish peasant. Here
was a man who professed his inability to read or write, but stood
perfectly secure in his sense of superior education. His respect for me
grew evidently when he found me familiar with the details of more
stories than he expected. I was raised to the level of a hopeful pupil.
They had been put into English, I told him. "Oh, ay, they would be, in a
sort of a way," said James, with a fine scorn. Soon we broke new ground,
for James had by heart not only the Fenian or Ossianic cycle, but also
the older Sagas of Cuchulain. He confused the cycles, it is true, taking
the Red Branch heroes for contemporaries of the Fianna, which is much as
if one should make Heracles meet Odysseus or Achilles in battle; but he
had these earlier legends by heart, a rare acquirement among the
Shanachies of to-day.

Here then was a type of the Irish illiterate. A man somewhere between
fifty and sixty, at a guess; of middle height, spare and well-knit,
high-nosed, fine-featured, keen-eyed; standing there on his own ground,
courteous and even respectful, yet consciously a scholar; one who had
travelled too--had worked in England and Scotland, and could tell me
that the Highland Gaelic was far nearer to the language of the old days
than the Irish of to-day; finally, one who could recite without apparent
effort long narrative poems in a dead literary dialect. When I find an
English workman who can stand up and repeat the works of Chaucer by
heart, then and not till then I shall see an equivalent for James Kelly.

And yet it would be a different thing entirely. Chaucer has never
survived in oral tradition. But in the West of Donegal, whence James
Kelly's father emigrated to where I found his son, every old person had
this literature in mind, and my friend was no exception. It is among the
younger generation, who have been taught in the National Schools (surely
the most ironic of all titles), that the language and the history of the
nation are dying out. Yet that is changing. For instance, James Kelly's
son reads and writes Irish, and on another day helped me to note down
some of his father's lore.

For it was late when I came first to the house, and though the Shanachie
pressed me (not knowing even my name) to stay the night, I had to depart
for that day, after I had heard him recite in the traditional chant some
staves of an Ossianic lay, and sing to the traditional air Carolan's
famous lyric, "The Lord of Mayo." We drank a glass of whisky from my
flask, a cup of tea that his wife made; and as we went into the house he
asked a favour in a whisper. It was that I should eat plenty of his good
woman's butter. He escorted me a good way over the hill, for, said he,
when I had come that far to see him, it was the least that he should put
me a piece on my road, and he exhorted me to come again for "a good
crack together." And if I deferred visiting him for another year that
was largely because I did not like to face again this illiterate without
acquiring a little more knowledge.

What came of my second visit must be written in another paper. But here,
let it be understood this is no exceptional case. In every three or four
parishes along the Western seaboard and for twenty miles inland, from
Donegal to Kerry, there is the like of James Kelly to be found. It may
be that in another fifty years not one of these Shanachies will linger;
education will have made a clean sweep of illiteracy. And yet again, it
may be that by that time, not only in the Western baronies but through
the length and breadth of Ireland, both song and story and legend will
be living again on the lips and in the hearts of the people. _Go leigidh
Dia sin._



LITERATURE AMONG THE ILLITERATES

II

THE LIFE OF A SONG


There was a great contention some years ago fought out in a law court
between the British Museum and the Royal Irish Academy, for the custody
of certain treasure trove, gold vessels and ornaments disinterred on an
Irish beach. The treasures went back, as was only right, to Ireland,
where is a rich storehouse of such things, for the soil has been dug
over in search for the material relics of ancient art. Yet little heed
has been paid to treasures of far greater worth and interest, harder to
sell, it is true, but easier to come by--the old songs and stories which
linger in oral tradition or in old manuscripts handed down from peasant
to peasant. Only within the last few years did the Irish suddenly awake
to a consciousness that the authentic symbols, or, rather, the
indisputable proofs of the national existence so dear to them, were
slipping out of their hands. So far had the heritage perished, so ill
had the tradition been maintained, that when they turned to revive their
expiring language and literature, the first question asked was, "What is
it you would revive? Was there ever a literature in Irish or merely a
collection of ridiculous rhodomontade? Is there a language, or does
there survive merely a debased jargon, employed by ignorant peasants
among themselves, and chiefly useful, like a thieves' lingo, to baffle
the police?"

These were the questions put, and not one in a thousand of Irish
Nationalists could give an answer according to knowledge.

Now, matters are changed. The books that were available in print have
been read; the work of poets extant only in manuscript has been printed
and widely circulated; the language is studied with zeal, and not in
Ireland only, but wherever Irishmen are gathered. Yet nothing has so
strongly moved me to believe that we cherish the living rather than pay
funeral honours to the dead, as certain hours spent with a peasant who
could neither write nor read.

The life of a song--poets have said it again and again in immortal
verse--is of all lives the most enduring. Kingdoms pass, buildings
crumble, but the work which a man has fashioned "out of a mouthful of
air" defies the centuries; it keeps its shape and its quivering
substance. Strongest of all such lives are perhaps those where "the
mouthful of air" is left by the singer mere air, and no more, unfixed on
paper or parchment; when the song goes from mouth to mouth, altering its
contours it may be, but unchanged in essence, though coloured by its
immediate surroundings as a flower fits itself to each soil. Such was
the song that I had the chance to write down, from lips to which it came
through who knows how many generations.

The story which it tells is among the finest in that great repertory of
legend which, since Ireland began to take count of her own possessions,
has become familiar to the world. It is the theme of a play in the last
book published by the chief of modern Irish poets, Mr. W. B. Yeats. But
since he tells the story in a way of his own, and since it is none too
well known even in those parts of Ireland where its hero's name is a
proverb (_Comh làidir le Cuchulain_, Strong as Cuchulain), it may be
well to set out the legend here.

Cuchulain, the Achilles of Irish epic, was famous from the day in
boyhood when he got his name by killing, bare-handed, the smith's fierce
watchdog that would have torn him. The ransom for the killing was laid
on by the boy himself, and it was that he should watch Culann's house
for a year and a day till a pup should be grown to take the place of the
slain dog. So he came to be called Cú Chulain, Culann's Hound, and by
that name he was known when, as a young champion, he set out for the
Isle of Skye, where the warrior-witch Sgathach (from whom the island is
called) taught the crowning feats of arms to all young heroes who could
pass through the ordeals she laid upon them.

There was no trial that Cuchulain could not support, and the fame of him
drew on a combat with another Amazonian warrior, Aoifé, who, in the
story that I heard, was Sgathach's daughter, though Lady Gregory in her
fine book _Cuchulain of Muirthemne_ gives another version. But, at any
rate, Cuchulain defeated Aoifé, and she gave love to her
conqueror--whose passion for the fierce queen was not strong enough to
keep him from Ireland. When he made ready to go, the woman warrior told
him that a child was to be born of their embraces, and she asked what
should be done with it. "If it be a girl, keep it," said Cuchulain,
"but if a boy, wait till his thumb can fill this ring"--and he gave her
the circlet--"then send him to me." So he departed, leaving wrath behind
him.

The child born was a son, and Aoifé reared him and taught him all feats
of arms that could be taught to a mortal, except one only, and of that
feat only Cuchulain was master: "the way," said James Kelly, prefacing
his ballad with such an explanation as I am now giving, "there would be
none could kill him but his own father." And when the boy had learnt all
and was the perfect warrior, Aoifé sent him out to Ireland under a
pledge to refuse his name to any that should ask it, well knowing how
the wardens of the coast would stop him on the shore. It fell out as she
purposed. The young Connlaoch defeated champion after champion till
Cuchulain himself went down, and was recognised by his son. But the
pledge tied Connlaoch's tongue, and only when he lay dying, slain by the
magic throw which Aoifé had withheld from his knowledge, could he reveal
himself to his father, the great and childless hero, whose lament for
his lost son is written in the song that I set out to secure, on a day
of sun and rain, last summer, when great soft clouds drove full sail
through the moist atmosphere, their shadows sweeping over brown moor and
green valley, while far away towards the sea, mountain peaks rose purple
and amethystine in the distance.

Twice before this I had been in the little cottage on Cark Mountain;
first, when the chance rumour heard in a neighbouring cabin of a man
with countless songs and stories sent me off to investigate; and for a
second time, when I had come back with a slightly better knowledge of
Gaelic and had taken down a few verses of the poem. These, sent to an
Irish scholar, had sufficed to identify the ballad with one printed in
Miss Brooke's _Reliques of Irish Poetry_, a characteristic production of
the latter days of the eighteenth century, when Macpherson, with his
adaptation of the Ossianic poems, and Bishop Percy, with his gathering
of old English ballads, had set a fashion soon to culminate in Scott's
great achievement.

They proved, however, not identity only but difference; and the ballad
as I have it in full with its nineteen quatrains, is even less like the
longer version given by O'Halloran to Miss Brooke, than the opening
stanzas suggested. In them the variations were mainly textual, and when
I read out O'Halloran's version to James Kelly, his son, a keen
listener, declared a preference for the printed text. But the old man
was of another mind. "It's the same song," he said, "sure enough, but
there's things changed in it, and I know rightly about them. Some one
was giving it the way it would be easier to understand, leaving out the
old hard words. And I did that myself once or twice the last day you
were here, and I was vexed after, when I would be thinking about it. And
this day you will be to take down what I say, let you understand it or
not; just word for word, the right way it should be spoken."

There you have in a glimpse the custodian of legend. The man was
illiterate, technically, but he knew by instinct, as his ancestors had
known before him, that he was the guardian of the life of a song; he
recognised that it was a scripture which he had no right to mutilate or
alter. He had to the full that respect for a work of literature which is
the best indication of a scholar, and for him at least the line was
unbroken from the Ireland of heroes and minstrels to the hour when he
chanted over the poem that some bard in the remote ages had fashioned.

Little wonder, too, for his own way of life was close to that of the
Middle Ages. Below in the valley, where the Swilly River debouches into
its sea lough, was a prosperous little town with banks and railway; but
to reach the bleak brown moor where James Kelly's house stood, you must
climb by one of two roads, each so rough and steep that a bicycle cannot
be ridden down them. Here, in a little screen of scrub alders, stands
the cottage, where three generations of the family live together. His
own home consisted simply of two rooms with no upper story, but it was
trim and comfortable, the dresser well filled, and the big pot over the
turf fire gave out a prosperous steam. The son, a grown man, waited from
his turf-cutting to help in our discussion; the wife was abroad that
day, and one daughter was just starting for market with a web of
homespun cloth which they had dressed in the household. The spinning
wheel stood in the corner; but another girl was busy near the fire with
more modern work, hemming shirts with a machine for a Derry factory, and
the bleached linen was the only thing in the house which had not taken
on the brown tints of peat smoke.

James Kelly himself, as he sat by the fire declaiming at me, was all
browns and greys, like the country outside his door; and his eyes were
like brown streams running through that peaty mountain, with their
movement and sparkle, and their dark depths. At other times easy, like
that of all Irish peasants, his manner changed and grew rough and
imperious when the business began. I must not interrupt with questions.
I must write down, syllable for syllable, that the song might be got
"the right way." It was by no means easy to carry out these directions,
for the poem was written in an Irish not spoken to-day, as unlike as the
Chaucerian English is to our common speech; and even to write down
modern Irish by ear I was poorly qualified. Things were made harder,
too, by the manner of recitation, as traditional as the words. He
chanted, with a continuous vocalisation, and while he chanted, elbow and
knee worked like a fiddler's or piper's marking the time. However, with
persistence, I got the thing down, letting him first say a verse fully
through, then writing line by line or as near as I could; then going
back and asking questions in detail: the son coming to my rescue, when
the old man lost patience (as he did once in every ten minutes) and
interposing usefully in our discussions.

For there were endless discussions as to the meaning of words, and
nothing could be more curious than to see the old man's endeavour to
give in English not merely a bare rendering, but the colour of every
phrase. It made me realise as nothing else could have done, how fine was
his feeling for the shade of a word, and I cannot describe his
dissatisfaction with the poor equivalents he could find. He was happy
enough when the debate drifted into an exposition--always addressed to
his son--of the uses of some rare word in the Irish, the manner of
exposition being by citation of passages from other songs, or phrases
that might occur in talk. I have listened to many a professor doing the
same thing in Greek and Latin, but to none who had a finer instinct for
the business. Kelly's vexation came when he had to "put English on" a
word for me, and the obvious equivalent was not the right one. Sometimes
I could help; sometimes he arrived by himself at what satisfied him,
though once at least it was droll enough. We were at the lines where
Connlaoch, dying, says to his father: "If I could give my secret to any
under the sun, it is to your bright body I would tell it." The trouble
was about the phrase "bright body," for the word "cneas" means literally
"skin," but is used (just like [Greek: chrôs] in Homer) to signify
"person." What James wanted to convey to me was that the word was not
the common one for "body," and at last he smote his thigh. "Carkidge,"
he cried, "it's carkidge (carcase), 'It is to your clear carkidge I
would tell it.'" A man with less instinct for literature would have said
"body" at once, and never trouble more; but James knew at once too much
and too little, and I give the instance to show how an Irishman
unlettered in English may be deeply imbued with the true spirit of
letters through a literature of his own.

There were, however, several passages where I could get no clear account
of the meaning, and in some I have since found by comparison with the
text which O'Halloran provided for Miss Brooke that Kelly had got the
words twisted. For instance, the first stanza opens simply:--

    "There came to us a stout champion,
    The hearty champion Connlaoch."

But of the next two lines I could get no clearer rendering than that "he
just came in full through these people for diversion and for fun to
himself." Then the ballad continues at once--for its method is terse and
its transitions abrupt throughout--to give us the words of the men who
meet Connlaoch on his landing:--

    "Where have you been, O tender gallant,
    Riding like a noble's son?
    Methinks by the way of your coming,
    You are wandering or astray."

And Connlaoch answers the taunt and the challenge implied:--

    "My coming is over seas from the land
    Of the High King of the World,
    To prove my merry prowess
    Athwart the high chiefs of Erin."

(It seemed to me characteristic that the stock epithet of valour should
be "merry" or "laughing.") The ballad added no reply (though in Miss
Brooke's version at this point there is a dialogue of warnings), but
went on to tell in the shortest possible words how Conall Cearnach ("the
Victorious") rode out from Emain Macha and met the challenger:--

    "Out started Conall, not weak of hand,
    To get news of the noble's son.
    Bitter and hard was the way of it;
    Conall was tied by Connlaoch."

    "'Bring word from us to Hound's head,'
    Said the King in fierce sullen tones,
    To Dundalk sunny and bright,
    To the Hound, Dog's jaw."

Then Cuchulain (thus described by versions of the nickname won when he
broke the jaws of Culann's hound) made answer:--

    "Hard for us is hearing of the captivity
    Of the man whose plight is told;
    And hard it is to try the venom of blades
    With the warrior that bound Conall."

But the messenger pleads:--

    "Do not think but to go to the rescue
    Of the destroying keen dangerous warrior,
    Of the hand that had no fear for any,
    To loose him, and he fettered."

Then (as Miss Brooke in the majestic manner of the eighteenth century
puts it):--

    "Then with firm step and dauntless air,
    Cucullin went and thus the foe addrest,
    Let me, O valiant knight (he cried),
            Thy courtesy request,
    To me thy purpose and thy name confide."

And so on through a sonorous description of dialogue and fight till:--

    "At length Cucullin's kindling soul arose,
    Indignant shame recruited fury lends;
    With fatal aim his glittering lance he throws,
    And low on earth the dying youth extends."

Or, as I translate almost literally from James Kelly's version, which is
considerably briefer than the text which Miss Brooke has so volubly
expanded:--

    "Out set the Hound of the keen, smooth blade
    To see the work that Conall made,
    Till he pierced with a bitter blow,
    That hero youth his hardy foe."

That is all we are told of the fighting; the ballad passes straight to a
terse dramatic dialogue, which Cuchulain opens:--

    "Champion, tell your story,
    For I see your wounds are heavy;
    'Twill be short ere they raise your cairn,
    So hide your testament no longer."

"That's what he said to the son," said James Kelly, finishing the verse,
and beginning afresh,

    "Let me fall on my face,
    For methinks 'tis you are my father,
    And for fear lest men of Eiré should see
    Me retreating from your fierce grapple."

"Then," said James, "the son spoke for to tell him the reason he
couldn't spake at the first":--

    "I took pledges to my mother
    Not to give my story to any single man,
    If I would give it to any under the sun,
    It is to your bright body I would tell it."

("Complimenting him, like," said James.) Then he recited the stanza
which tells by implication how in the long duel Cuchulain was at last
driven to use the irresistible stroke of Sgathach's teaching:--

    "I lay my curse on my mother,
    That she put me under pledge;
    But if it were not for the feat of magic
    I had not been got for nothing."

(It is a fine phrase surely, "You had paid dear in blood before you
mastered me.")

Cuchulain answers groaning, with a wail for the lineage that is cut off:

    "I lay my curse on your mother,
    For she destroyed a multitude of young ones;
    And because the treachery that was in her
    Left your smooth flesh reddened."

Then comes, with the boy's dying word, the revelation of the most tragic
moment in the fight.

    "Cuchulain, beloved father,
    Is it not a wonder you did not know me
    When I cast my spear crooked and feebly
    Against your bush of blades."

Where will you find a finer stroke of invention? The boy, tongue-tied by
his pledge, knows his father and feels his defence failing against the
terrible onset; he would not, if he could, be the victor, but he thinks
of a way within the honour of his bond which may awaken knowledge of
him; and he casts his javelin with a clumsiness not to be looked for in
the champion "that tied Conall." It is useless, the battle madness is in
Cuchulain, he thinks only of conquest, an end to the supple, quick
parrying, and he throws the gaebulg, a spear of dragon's bones bristling
with points (his "bush of blades"), with the magic cast that there is no
meeting. And now there is nothing left to him but the lamentation,

    "Och, och! Great is my madness!
    I lifting here my young lad!
    My son's head in my one hand,
    His arms and his raiment on the other.

    "I, the father that slew his son,
    May I never throw spear nor noble javelin;
    The hand that slew its son,
    May it win torture and sharp wounding.

    "The grief for my son I put from me never,
    Till the flagstones of my side crumble,
    It is in me, and through my heart,
    Like a sharp blaze in the hoar hill grasses.

    "If I and my heart's Connlaoch
    Were playing our kingly feats together,
    We could range from wave to shore
    Over the five provinces of Erin."

The penultimate stanza, with its magnificent closing image and its truly
Æschylean hyperbole, is not even suggested in Miss Brooke's version. It
is, perhaps, the finest thing in the poem; but I hardly know any ballad
finer as a piece of dramatic narrative; and the resonant verse, strongly
rhymed (in the Gaelic assonances), and copiously stressed with
alliteration, bears out the theme.

These, I trust, are critical opinions. But if the collector would have a
special weakness for a vase which his own spade had unearthed, I may be
prejudiced in favour of the poem, which I got in the sweat of my brow
from very probably the one man living who knew it in that form.

Tellers of old Irish fairy tales about enchanted princes, magic cocks
and hens, and the like, are still numerous; but it is very rare to find
a man who keeps living the old poetry which was made, perhaps, in the
twelfth century. Yet while any survive the tradition is still there; the
song still lives, for I did not spend my hours without feeling that this
old man could respond to any emotion that the song-maker put into the
sound and the meaning and the associations of his words. There are still
those to whom the Irish even of the twelfth century is no dead language.
Even if it were, no doubt the songs made in it might still be strong in
life, as are to-day those of Homer and a hundred others. But in the case
of these smaller literatures, once the tongue itself has ceased to be
heard, dumbness and paralysis fall upon what might else be so full of
vitality. And a song has more than its own life, it has power to
quicken, to breed. If any one considers that legend of the son and
father (found in many languages, yet in none, I think, more finely
shaped), it is easy to see how from age to age it may revive itself in
new forms, entering into other shapes, as Helen's figure adorns not her
own story only, but the praise of a thousand women. Let it be understood
that this legend is only one of a cycle, and that the song which I wrote
down was only the barest fraction of James Kelly's repertory. Indeed, he
was vexed that I should take it as a specimen, for he himself "had more
conceit in" the lays that tell of Finn and his companions, and I could
have filled a volume, and maybe several volumes, from his recitations.

These songs may die, the language may die, the Irish race may be
swallowed up in England and America. But it is my belief that the strong
intellectual life which made of Ireland a home of the arts before the
Normans came across channel may, like many another life in nature,
spring after centuries of torpor into vigour and fertility again. That
is the belief and hope of many of us; but nothing has rendered me so
confident in it as to find this work of a strong and fine art not laid
aside and neglected, but honoured and current to-day, and, though in a
poor man's cottage, living with as full a life as when it was chanted at
the feasts of princes.



IRISH EDUCATION AND IRISH CHARACTER.


Education in Ireland has been organised by the State in accordance with
English ideas. Had English influence been able to bring about any large
measure of conformity between the two countries, there would have been
little or no need for a separate paper on moral training in Irish
schools. But what conformity there is, is purely superficial; and
although free development has been hindered, and Irish institutions for
teaching are less characteristic than they would have been if entirely
left to themselves, still the moral influences which emerge wherever
pupils and teachers are brought together reveal themselves in Ireland,
and reveal themselves as Irish. The object of this paper, then, is to
illustrate, so far as possible, the nature and the symptoms of these
distinctive influences.

First of all, it may be said broadly that no ordinary person in Ireland
contemplates the possibility of teaching morality apart from religion;
and by religion is meant emphatically this or that particular creed.
Almost every school maintained by the State is managed locally by a
clergyman, who appoints the teacher, and public feeling is so strong on
the matter that in any neighbourhood even a small group of families of
any particular denomination is always provided with a separate school of
its own. Of late, indeed, opinion has begun to agitate for associating
the laity with the clergy in the management of schools; but this does
not indicate any desire to lessen the importance given to the part
played by religion in education.

Further, so far as Catholic Ireland is concerned, an immense proportion
of the teaching both in primary and secondary schools is done by members
of religious orders, and in these, of course, there is no conception of
separating moral influences from religious. There is, however, no
evidence known to me that even in the few Protestant schools which are
partly or wholly under lay control any duties, other than those of
ordinary school work, are inculcated except as part of a Christian's
religious obligations. This entire state of things is due to the fact
that positive Christian belief, and the practice of religious
observances, are everywhere in Ireland very general, and among the
Catholic population almost universal. It is also hardly necessary to
point out that in many respects the standard of Irish morality is so
high that the example of Ireland may be quoted with confidence in
support of the view which makes moral teaching necessarily a part of
religion.

But from such broad generalities there is not much to be gathered, and I
proceed to examine in some detail the existing institutions--beginning
at the top with higher education.

It follows from what has been said that, in the general opinion of
Irishmen, there can be no positive moral influence where there is no
religious teaching; and for that reason a university without a school of
theology or arrangements for corporate worship is, to Irishmen, a
university deficient in moral safeguards. This accounts for the fact
that Catholic opinion was much less opposed to the Protestant
University of Dublin than to the more modern Queen's Colleges, which,
designed by England to provide for her wants of Ireland, excluded
religion entirely from their purview. This provision satisfied no one,
except to some extent the Presbyterians, who accepted Queen's College,
Belfast, with some alacrity, though in practice demanding that its head
should always be a staunch professor of their own persuasion. But
Catholics as a body refused to accept either the University of Dublin
with its Protestant atmosphere or the "godless" Queen's Colleges; and
since Ireland is mainly a Catholic country, and the National University
has not yet created a tradition, it is clear that not much can be
gleaned on the subject of Irish ideas of moral training from Irish
universities.

Yet Trinity College is well worth study, for in it we have a free
growth, typifying both in its virtues and in its defects the ruling
Protestant class, landed and professional. Here, unquestionably, the
chief moral influence is that of the Church, felt, as at Oxford,
directly through the chapel services and sermons, and indirectly through
the presence of a large body of theological students. The second of
these influences is specially strong in Dublin, because these students
have an organisation of their own in the University Theological Society,
and also because the work of the Divinity School at Dublin comprises
much that is done in England by the training colleges. I should
therefore be inclined to put the positive influence of dogmatic religion
higher at Dublin than at Oxford.

On the other hand, the vaguer humanitarian enthusiasms which are more or
less allied to Socialism, and with which the High Church party
willingly allies itself, have, I think, much less hold in Trinity than
at the English universities; though the movement which sends so many
brilliant young Englishmen into work (temporary or permanent) in the
East End of London has its parallel in the recently organised Social
Service Society, which attempts something for the reclamation of Dublin
slums. Again, in regard to more definitely political aspirations, Irish
Protestants are somewhat unfortunately situated. Trinity as a whole has
no sympathy with the ideals that appeal to Ireland as a nation, and it
always seems to lack first-hand touch with the best English thought,
whether Liberal or Tory. This isolation from the main movement of Irish
thought and feeling on the one hand, and on the other, this enforced
separation from the current of English life, keep the place a little
old-fashioned; and to generate enthusiasm, ideals and feelings need a
certain freshness. If it be held (as I should hold) that a university's
main moral function is to produce enthusiasts rather than merely decent
citizens, in this respect, I think, Trinity fails.

In regard to the less direct influences, a good deal may be noted. The
general trend of life in Trinity is towards frugality, just as at Oxford
it is towards extravagance. Consequently, money is less of an advantage,
poverty less of a drawback than at the English universities; the
standard of living is more uniform; and in the society of which the
university is typical, and which it influences, respect for wealth as
wealth is noticeably rare. Again, the idea of education is more
disciplinary than in England. Irishmen go to college, not to acquire
culture by contact, but to learn certain definite things; and the
university, in its anxiety to find out if the task is being learnt,
multiplies examinations. The same idea pervades all Irish education--the
old-fashioned demand for a positive result in knowledge; and if it leads
to an excessive value set upon these tests, it also goes far to
discourage idleness.

In another matter Trinity College is typical of Irish ideas generally.
Games are simply taken as games, not as a main business of life in which
success may even have a marketable value. Everybody recognizes their
physical use, and more than that, their use as a means of bringing men
together. But nobody in Ireland, save here and there a stray apostle of
English notions, talks of the moral lessons to be acquired by fielding
out or by patient batting. Compulsory games at school are practically
unknown; nobody plays unless he wants to; so that the duffer does not
experience the questionable moral advantage of physical discomfort and
frequent humiliation, and the naturally painstaking or excellent athlete
gets no more than his fair chance of exercising his gifts. And these are
less likely to have an undue importance in their possessor's eyes,
because they will not of themselves lead him to a position of great
distinction in an Irish university.

Unfortunately, Trinity College is the only place in Ireland--unless
perhaps a saving clause should be made for Queen's College,
Belfast--which offers what is meant by a university life. The National
University, whether in Dublin, Cork or Galway, brings young men together
only in classes and in one or two debating societies. Yet even so, I
question whether, in some ways, life does not beat stronger in it than
in Trinity; whether the moral influences proper to a university, the
enthusiasm, the contagion of generous ideas, are not here more strongly
felt. The reason for this view must be given.

Trinity has never been the University of Ireland. It is ceasing to be
the University of Protestant Ireland, for Protestants, who can afford to
do so, send their sons increasingly to Oxford or Cambridge, and Trinity,
which has not known how to create a true and special function for
itself, is becoming merely a cheap substitute for these English
institutions. And the reason for this is a moral reason which goes to
the root of many questions connected with Irish education. Should Irish
schools and colleges seek to educate citizens for the Empire, or
citizens for Ireland? During the last half century, while the
Imperialist idea has been developing in England, Trinity has thrown all
its moral weight into support of that idea. But the Imperialist idea in
England is very different from the same idea as viewed in Canada or New
Zealand or Australia; and universities in these countries address
themselves particularly to local needs. In the section of Ireland which
Trinity represents, local patriotism is held to conflict with Imperial
patriotism, and one has to observe that Trinity's Imperialism is
forwarding tendencies which are leaving her drained. Nationalists may
respect the sincerity of convictions so pressed in defiance of a local
interest; but a university, whose main emotional appeal is directed
towards evoking primarily an enthusiasm for England, cannot be of much
use to Nationalist Ireland. Catholics may (and do) respect the
thoroughness of the religious teaching, and the strong grip which
Protestantism keeps on the university; but a university which
inculcates morals through a Protestant religion is not precisely
suitable to Catholics. Yet Catholics and Nationalists alike infinitely
prefer a university or a college or a school with strong Protestant
beliefs, or strong Imperialist patriotism, to an institution with
neither beliefs nor patriotism at all. The colourless and merely
scholastic ideals of the Queen's Colleges, and the huge examining
machinery known as the Royal University, typified in their total lack of
moral influences all that was worst in the educational system under
which Ireland labours.

I pass to a brief examination of the boarding schools, institutions
which have never flourished in Ireland. Nearly all Protestants and many
Catholics, if they can afford it, send their sons to England to be
taught. The ideals of the English Public School have reacted so strongly
upon Irish Protestant schools that nothing need be said of these--not
one of which has ever, within living memory, had a continuous
prosperity. The important Catholic schools are managed by the great
teaching orders, especially by the Jesuits, and managed at astonishingly
low cost. They give everywhere more than value for the fees which they
receive. No unendowed institution could compete with them; and it
practically comes to this, that the regular clergy subsidise education
with their own unpaid labour and even with their own funds, in order to
maintain their influence over the faith and morals of their country.
Whether it might be more to the advantage of Irish parents to pay more
and get something different, is another question; but those of us who
least like the exclusive delegation of these important functions to the
priesthood, cannot but admire the thoroughness and consistency with
which the Catholic priesthood's idea is carried out. It would be hard to
overstate the moral effect of that vast organised system of
self-sacrifice and self-suppression.

Three or four points may be noted in relation to these schools. One is,
that in all classrooms and playgrounds, a master is always present.
Comparing this with the system in vogue at many English schools, under
which a boy out of school hours is always forced to live in public by
rules which compel him either to be playing some game or looking on
while others play, I prefer the system of frank supervision, as leaving
more individual freedom and choice of pursuits, and as making serious
bullying impossible. Generally, the idea that it is good for a boy to be
knocked about without stint is foreign to Irish ideas. A pleasant and
characteristic feature of Jesuit schools is the habit of telling off
some boy to act as companion and cicerone to a newcomer for his first
week or fortnight; and the ridiculous English fashion which prescribes
that the smallest fag should be described as a "man" is unknown.
Christian names, not surnames, are used generally. The unpopularity of
boarding schools in Ireland is due to the great value set upon home
life; and an Irish boarding school is far less distinct from home life
than an English one.

English eyes would be surprised and a good deal shocked by the presence
of a billiard table in every playroom; yet it may fairly be argued that
it is wise to limit the number of things that have the fascination of
the forbidden. A more serious criticism would address itself to the
permitted slovenliness. Untidiness amounts to a national vice in
Ireland, and, though one may overstate its gravity, the secondary
schools could and should do much more to remedy this national defect
than they are at present doing. At one first-class Irish
establishment--admirably equipped with buildings, playground, and all
other appliances--boots used to go unblacked from one end of the month
to the other. The boys who come here come largely from the well-to-do
farming class, in whose homes, in many ways so pleasant and worthy of
respect, there is often a lamentable lack of that charm which comes of
notable housewifery. The young men who return from this school will be
less apt than they should be to value good housewifery in their wives
and mothers.

But of all sinners in this regard the State is the chief offender. Under
the Code of the National Board of Education a national schoolmaster or
mistress is bound to teach cleanliness and decency by precept and
example. He or she is paid an average wage (without allowances) of
thirty shillings or one pound a week according to sex; and out of that
an appearance befitting superior station has to be maintained--for in
Ireland the schoolmaster has always a position of some dignity. For the
school the State provides four bare walls, a roof, not always
weatherproof, and a few desks. Firing is not provided. Decoration is
subject to inspection, and any picture which can be held to have a
religious or remotely political bearing is a gross offence against the
Code. It follows, in practice, that bare walls are kept bare, though not
clean; and let it be remembered that Catholicism, if left to itself, in
education always trusts greatly to the appeal to the eye. In every
Catholic school uncontrolled by the State the emblems of religion are
everywhere present. National schools under State control, even in places
where there is not a Protestant child within twenty miles, are
rigorously forbidden the use of any such embellishment. On the other
hand, Protestant schools which would gladly, and, as I think, most
laudably, furnish themselves with pictures recalling such memories as
the shutting of the Derry gates, come under the same tyranny of
compromise. Taste and culture are the expression of an individuality,
and individuality is forbidden to Irish teachers in State employ. The
State puts a schoolmaster into a schoolhouse, without adequate payment
for himself, without adequate provision either for building or the
upkeep of building; it bids him to keep it clean, but pays no servant to
wash or sweep; and, while enjoining the absence of dirt, it checks and
hampers that desire to decorate, which is the positive side of order and
taste. The result is, broadly, slatternly schools.

There could hardly be a better moral influence in Ireland than
tastefully and brightly decorated schools, cleanly kept. But to secure
this the State must provide money, and must give individual freedom.
Instead of that, it adapts its institution to the lowest standard of
living; and the raggedest child out of the dirtiest cottage will
probably be in full keeping with his environment when he takes his place
in class.

The same tyranny of compromise sterilises the whole teaching on the
moral side. Nothing must be taught anywhere which could offend any
susceptibility--except in the hour licensed for the teaching of
denominational religion. There must be no appeal to Irish patriotism,
whether it be of Protestant or Catholic. Irish history may not be taught
as a subject, and, until lately, anything bearing on it, however
remotely, was tabooed. The poem _Breathes there a man with soul so dead_
was struck out of a lesson book, lest it should encourage sedition.
To-day certain accepted books on Irish history may be used as readers;
the Irish language may be taught, and is taught; and gradually with
these changes new moral influences are coming in. Irish children are
being encouraged to remember their nationality. Yet, meanwhile, the
teacher, who is to instruct them in the duties of a good citizen, is
debarred from taking any part in local politics, from serving on any
local council. He is forbidden, in fact, to be himself a good citizen;
forbidden to be anything more than the colourless instrument of a system
of compromise and countercheck. Nothing is more certain than this, that
to get a good teacher you need a man's whole personality; you must
enlist all his beliefs and his feelings in the exercise of that moral
function of education which can never be fulfilled by a mere machine for
imparting the rudiments. Man everywhere, but especially in Ireland, is,
as Aristotle said, a political animal. The State in Ireland, when
organising education, tries as far as possible to eliminate the man and
produce the pedagogue.

Take, for contrast with all this, the purely native institution, now
unhappily extinct, of the old "classical academies" kept in the country
parts of Munster by private laymen. In the eighteenth century, and on
into the nineteenth, these men kept alive the tradition of Irish popular
poetry, sometimes with a real gift. For good or for bad they were
persons of character and of talent, and the last of them is alive,
though he keeps school no longer. He taught boys who had learnt the
rudiments at the ordinary national school, and who wished to carry on
their studies with a view either to the priesthood or to medicine. He
was paid only by the fees of his scholars, who were either the sons of
farmers about him, or of men living at a distance, who sent their
children to be part of the family in some farm where they had kinship or
acquaintance. Thus existence for these scholars was divided between the
home life of a farm and the hours of school. There was, however, a small
element of what in Ireland were called "poor scholars"--boys from the
less prosperous North and West, who came (sometimes walking the whole
journey) to get learning gratis. To them teaching was never refused, and
their board was provided by the farmers, who "would be snatching them
from one and other," since they assisted the other children in preparing
tasks.

Now, in the school which my friend has described to me, there was no
formal teaching of anything but the prescribed subjects. But literature
would be lying about--Haverty's _History of Ireland_, and the
Nationalist papers of the day--and the teacher was there always ready to
expound and answer questions. Himself a fighting politician (a member of
the Fenian organisation, whose name is still sacred throughout Ireland),
he was careful never to draw in or compromise his pupils; but to teach
them the story of their country and discuss it with them was part of his
natural occupation. He taught Irish also, the tongue readiest to him,
for he held that Irishmen should know their own language; but the
essential business of his school was teaching the simple old-fashioned
curriculum, Latin, mathematics, and some Greek. Yet because he was a man
who loved and valued knowledge for its own sake, and loved and valued
literature, it is probable that he gave a more real training to the mind
than is achieved by the most modern system of hand and eye culture and
the rest of it. He taught neither religion nor morals, but his teaching
assumed throughout, what his example showed, that a man should be true
and thorough in what he professed to believe, and should be ready at all
times to make sacrifices for principle. Such a school had the only moral
influence which in Ireland has ever counted for much--the influence of a
strong personality, acting in alliance with the influences of a fully
realised religion and of an ordered family life.

I sketch a more concrete picture that always rises in my mind with a ray
of hope, when I think of education in Ireland. Out of doors, winter
twilight falling on a wild landscape within hearing of the Atlantic
surf; the man of the house coming out to talk to me, a handsome Irishman
of the old school, frieze-clad, with the traditional side whiskers, the
humorous eye and mouth. We talked for a while in the cold, then "_Gabh i
leith isteach_," he said, "for I hear you have the Irish." As I paused
in the door to phrase the Gaelic salutation, more devout and courteous
than would come to my lips in any other tongue, I was astonished at the
company gathered in the long low room. Chairs were set by the wide
hearth of course, and from one of them the woman of the house rose to
greet me; a settle ran along the side wall, and its length was filled
with men and women blotted against the dusk background. But the centre
of the picture was a narrow deal table set in the middle of the room,
with candles on it, and benches on each side, and on the benches fully
ten children busy with books and copies. "Are these your burden?" I
asked in the quaint Irish phrase. "A share of them," the man answered;
and then I understood that some belonged to other neighbours, and that
it was a mutual arrangement for friendliness and help. None of the
children budged; there they were, drilled and disciplined at their work,
in the middle of the room, while their elders sat and chatted quietly. I
have never seen elsewhere anything which so filled my conception of what
a home should be, as that farmhouse in Corcabascinn--so full of order
and good governance, yet so free of constraint, so full of welcome, yet
so lacking in expense or display. For, understand, we who were strangers
were brought (much against my will) into the state-room or parlour
beyond the party wall, and drink was pressed upon us hospitably. But the
neighbours who had come there (and came daily, I fancy) came neither to
eat nor drink (unless maybe tea might be brewing) but simply to sit and
smoke and talk, and watch that their children got their lessons
properly. And at the end, perhaps before they parted, perhaps when the
family was alone, the rosary would be said by the turf fire, that made,
winter or summer, the centre of all that pleasant existence.

It is a pity to think of how poorly the National school, to which those
children would go with their tasks in the morning, seconds the help
which this home life gives it. Easily could the school--which takes
whatever real light it has from the home, just as it depends for warmth
on the few turf which scholars bring daily along with their
books--reflect sound and fruitful ideas on to the home through the
children. It could teach the children and the parents, not only the
political, but the economic history of their own country; it could teach
them what has been done in Ireland, what has succeeded, what has failed,
and why; it could teach them, who are already proud of being Irish, to
have new reasons for their pride; it could teach them, who are already
willing to do their best for Ireland, into what channels the driving
force of that willingness may be poured.

Outside of definite religion, the only fruitful source of educational
ideas connected with the moral order that I see in Ireland is the Gaelic
League. This organisation, founded to save from extinction, and to
revive into new prosperity the national language of Ireland, based
itself entirely upon a moral appeal. It appealed to Irishmen as they
were proud of their race, to save the most distinctive symbol of their
nationality; and the appeal met with an extraordinary promptness of
response. But to stimulate and promote the movement, it was found
necessary to widen the propaganda. Irishmen were urged to learn Irish,
and to speak Irish because of pride in their country; the same
organisation soon began to teach that an Irishman who set an example of
drunkenness, or gave an occasion of it, not only sinned against himself,
but against his country. Vulgar and indecent literature was denounced as
un-Irish; Irish dances were advocated, not only for their admirable
grace and their historic interest, but also because it was held that
dances like the waltz, departed from the austere standard of Irish
morality. Irish men and women were taught to buy goods of Irish
manufacture by the people who taught them to learn the language, on the
ground that if the Irish nation continued to ebb away out of Ireland,
nationality and language must perish together.

Thus through the medium of a propaganda which at first sight would seem
merely literary and archæological, many practical issues of life were
related to a purely educational purpose. There is no doubt that the
Gaelic League, now a widespread and solidly established organisation,
spending on the whole, perhaps, £30,000 or £40,000 a year on its
enterprise, has done as much to promote temperance, and to further Irish
industries, as it has accomplished in its peculiar task of reviving the
old tongue. Primarily a teaching institution--for each of the League's
eight hundred branches exists to hold classes for Irish study--it has
linked with the linguistic teaching a moral idea. The reaction has been
mutual, for there is more intelligent thought on the methods of
linguistic teaching in the Gaelic League than one would easily find in
all the schools and universities of Ireland. The appeal to pride of race
has quickened intelligence no less than enthusiasm.

It is a very remarkable fact, that the great teaching order of the
Christian Brothers has taken up the teaching of Irish and generally the
Gaelic League's whole propaganda more thoroughly than any other
organisation in Ireland; very remarkable, for their practical success is
so conspicuous that Protestant clergymen have repeatedly from the pulpit
appealed for extra support to Protestant schools whose pupils, as one
preacher said in my hearing, were being ousted in all competition for
employment by the lads from the Christian Brothers' schools. Whatever
the post was, the preacher said, this body of lay Catholics seemed
always to have a candidate specially prepared for it. One of the
greatest institutions in charge of that order is the industrial school
at Artane, near Dublin, where eight hundred boys are being prepared for
different trades. Every single one of those boys is now being taught
Irish; that is to say, a linguistic training with a special appeal to
the learner's patriotism has been superimposed on the ordinary
rudiments. It is a great experiment made by enthusiasts who are also
teachers with an intensely practical bent.

It is too early even to forecast the effect which is likely to be
produced upon Irish education generally by the new university colleges
set up under Mr. Birrell's Act. Yet this may be said. Irish education
needs reform from the top downwards, not from the bottom upwards. It has
lacked idealism, and these universities in which Ireland, whether of the
north or the south, will be free to express its own character, can and
should set up ideals which will govern every school in the country.
Trinity College has been free to follow its own bent, and its eyes
to-day are, in scriptural phrase, "on the ends of the earth." Primary
education, secondary studies, as governed by the machinery controlled
through the Board of Intermediate Education, and university teaching as
directed and rewarded through the Royal University, have all in the last
resort been inspired by Englishmen who thought it very desirable that
Irish boys and girls should learn to read and write and cipher, and that
young men and young women should equip themselves for clerkships in the
civil service, but who never for one instant realised that the end of
education is divergence not conformity--to elicit, whether from the race
or from the individual, a full and characteristic development. In twenty
years perhaps a paper of interest may be written to show the positive
results of education upon Irish character. At present the most
noticeable facts are negative, and may be summed up by affirming a total
lack of correspondence between the system employed and the needs and
qualities of the Irish people.

1907.



THE IRISH GENTRY.


At the height on the struggle over the Home Rule Bill, there was
published a book interesting as the biography of a remarkable
individual, but no less interesting as depicting the crucial moment in
the history of an aristocracy. Colonel Moore wisely entitles the life of
his father simply _An Irish Gentleman_. Versatile, eloquent,
quick-tempered and lovable, excessive in generosity, excessive in
courage and self-confidence, with the racecourse for his ruling passion
and horsemanship for his supreme achievement, George Henry Moore was the
paragon of his class. He displayed in the highest degree those qualities
on which the Irish gentry prided themselves and which they most admired:
he shared the prestige and power of Irish landlords when prestige and
power were at their height; and he confronted the decisive hour when he,
and men like him, had to choose between the interest of their country
and the interest of their class. There he separated himself from his
fellows; he parted from all to whom he was bound by ties of immediate
advantage, of pleasure, of association, of affection, and he threw in
his lot with Ireland. He saw first the moral bankruptcy of his own
class, then their widespread financial ruin; and though he helped to
break their political power, and in so doing earned the general love of
his countrymen, yet the troubles which beset the landlord class did not
spare him, and he died, broken-hearted, forty-three years ago, at the
beginning of a struggle which is not ended yet. It is well worth while
to consider the circumstances of that stormy career.

First a brilliant schoolboy, then an idle law student, George Henry
Moore was driven to travel by the complications of a passionate love
affair, and he travelled adventurously, being a pioneer of exploration
in the Caucasus and Syria. Sketches reproduced in the book show that he
could draw no less well than he wrote. Returning to Ireland at the age
of twenty-seven, he devoted himself entirely to hunting and racing, and
few men were better known on the turf, nor were there even in the West
of Ireland more desperate riders than his brother and himself. George
Henry was carried off the field at Cahir in 1843 to all appearance dead;
he was alive enough to hear discussion as to his burial. Augustus, less
lucky, died of a fall he took riding Mickey Free in the Grand National
two years later. The brothers were closely bound to each other in
affection, and this was a heavy blow to the survivor; but George Moore
continued to race, and in 1846 made the coup of his life, winning
£10,000 on "Coranna" for the Chester Cup. He sent £1,000 of it home for
distribution among his tenants, and there was soon sore need of the
money, for that year saw the second and disastrous failure of the potato
crop. The Irish Famine made the turning-point in Moore's history, as in
that of his class. The catastrophe which brought him into public life
and into the service of his country demonstrated, cruelly enough--though
this was the least of its cruelties--the futility of the Irish gentry as
a whole.

By the shock of his brother's death in 1845 Moore's mind had been turned
to serious thoughts. Matter was not lacking. The report of the Devon
Commission upon Irish land, joined to the first failure of the potato
crop--with its accompaniment of distress and widespread agrarian
crime--gave any Irish landlord food for reflection, and in March, 1846,
when a vacancy occurred in the representation of Mayo, Moore came
forward as a Whig candidate. The whole landlord interest was at his
back, but a Repealer opposed him, and O'Connell's influence carried the
day. There were fierce encounters, the landlords marching their tenants
to the poll under guards of soldiers, the popular side falling upon
these escorts and sometimes carrying off the voters--or enabling them to
escape. One of Moore's friends, Mr. Browne, afterwards Lord Oranmore,
wrote: "I now see we owe our lives to the priests, as they can excite
the whole people against us whenever they like. Whatever may be the
cause, Ireland needs reconquering."

That was a typical expression of the gentry's view. Plainly Ireland was
in rebellion when landlords could no longer carry their tenants to the
polls to vote as the landlord directed. Moore however differed from the
generality of Irish landlords in one important respect. He was not
divided by religion from the people over whom he ruled, and he can never
have had Mr. Browne's feeling of aloofness from Ireland as a country
which might need reconquering to re-establish the ascendancy of the
"English garrison"; nor was it natural to him to distrust the priests as
leaders of a separate and subject race.

In the autumn of 1846, when the threat of famine had become a
certainty, Moore came home to Mayo, where there was grim business to be
done. His tenants, on an estate running up into the wild Partry
mountains, numbered five thousand souls. For their benefit he utilised
far more of his winnings on "Coranna" than the tithe which he had
originally ear-marked; and not one of all these his dependants died of
want in that outlandish region, though in places far less remote death
was ravenous. He was chairman of the Relief Board for the whole county,
and slaved at his task--not harder than other landlords in other parts
of Ireland. But his methods were more drastic, his view of the situation
clearer. Folk must have rubbed their eyes and perhaps stopped to think
twice when the owner of "Wolfdog," of "Anonymous," and a score of other
famous horses, wrote, in answer to a request for his annual subscription
to the local races, that he thought the county of Mayo "as little fit to
be the scene of such festivities as he to contribute to their
celebration."

But Moore did not content himself with mere administration of relief. He
saw that the English Government was apathetic and incompetent to face so
terrible an affliction, and he took in hand to create within his own
class an organised force of Irish opinion to bind together the ruling
Irishmen for the good of Ireland. In company with his friend and
kinsman, Lord Sligo, he "travelled through twenty-seven counties and
personally conferred with most of the leading men in Ireland on the
urgent necessity of a united effort to save the sinking people." The
result was that between sixty and seventy members of Parliament and some
forty peers pledged themselves to endeavour to secure united action
upon measures regarding Ireland in the new session. On the 14th of
January, 1847, the Irish landlord class held such a muster as had not
been seen since the Union. "Nearly twenty peers, more than thirty
members of Parliament, and at least six hundred gentlemen of name and
station took part in it. The meeting called on Government to prohibit
export of food stuffs and to sacrifice any sum that might be required to
save the lives of the people." It passed thirty resolutions without
dissension; and then some one asked what was to be done if the
Government refused to adopt any of their suggestions. Would Irish
members then unite to vote against the Government? To this, Irish
members refused to pledge themselves, and Moore, as he said afterwards,
"saw at a glance that the confederacy had broken down."

That was the end of the revolt of the Irish gentry. It was really the
decisive moment of their failure; disorganised and futile, they went
down by scores in the ruin of the Encumbered Estates Court, while their
tenants were marking with their bones a road across the Atlantic. As for
the landlords who were popular leaders, within a few months after that
great assembly, Daniel O'Connell, who had proposed the first resolution,
died in Rome, heart-broken. A few months more and Smith O'Brien, the
mover of another resolution, headed a rebellion in sheer despair.

Smith O'Brien had twenty years of parliamentary life behind him when he
was driven to the wild protest of insurrection. Twenty years of the same
experience were to bring Moore to a very similar attitude; but in 1847
Moore was hopeful of building up in Parliament the nucleus of an
Independent Irish Party. When the dissolution came, in 1847, he stood
for a second time, but as an Independent, and his work in the famine
times carried at least its recognition. Every single elector who went to
the poll gave one of his two votes to the Independent. He went to
Westminster and denounced with equal energy the agrarian murders, which
were then rife in Ireland, and those organs of publicity in England
which sought to magnify these outrages into an indictment against the
Irish nation. The ferment of indignation against English methods had not
yet died out in the hearts of Irish landlords. Lord Sligo, writing to
Moore concerning the controversy which followed, used these words: "I
believe that _The Times_ did much to cause the feeling which resulted in
landlord and parson shooting; it will end by turning us all into
Repealers." If only it had! But Moore got no help from the landlord
class, and the well-to-do Catholic professional men with whom he was
principally allied proved themselves unable to resist the temptations of
office and of personal interest. In the days of Sadleir and Keogh he
fought a desperate fight against Whig place-seekers; his reward was to
be finally unseated (in 1857) on an election petition, the charge being
that spiritual intimidation had been exercised on his behalf by the
priests. As Colonel Moore observes, if a landlord threatened his tenants
with disfavour, which meant eviction, that was "only a legitimate
exercise of their rights of property"; but if a priest told his flock
that a man would imperil his soul by selling his vote or prostituting it
to the use of a despot, the candidate whom that priest supported would
lose his seat and be disqualified for re-election.

From this time onward George Henry Moore found himself heading the same
way as Smith O'Brien had gone. In 1861 he told the Irish people that if
they desired freedom they must take a lesson from Italy; they must
"become dangerous"; and he advocated the formation of a new Irish
volunteer force to emulate that of 1782. Nothing came of this; but after
the American war a new movement grew up, not this time among the
landlords or the professional men, nor countenanced by the priests, but
nursed in the fierce heart of the people. Ireland had become dangerous.
Colonel Moore recognises rightly the difference between the Fenian
organisation and the Young Ireland movement which had preceded it. Both
were idealistic, but the idealism of 1848 was "the inspiration of a few
literary gentlemen, poets, and writers." Smith O'Brien, its titular
head, was influenced profoundly by the aristocratic conception of his
rightful place as representing the Kings of Thomond. Fenianism was
democratic; it was officered largely by men who had themselves fought in
the most stubborn of modern wars and who had seen what Irish regiments
could do in the citizen levies of Federals and Confederates. It was
spontaneous, and it was strong; the measure of its strength is given not
by the few flickering outbreaks easily suppressed, but by the terror
which it inspired, and by the change which it wrought in the spirit of
the people. Moore when he took the step, extraordinary for a man in his
position, of enrolling himself in that sworn and secret conspiracy can
hardly have failed to foresee the collapse of Fenianism as a fighting
force; but he recognised that (in his son's words) "the old complacent
toleration of schemers and dishonest politicians had vanished and a
sturdy independence had taken its place."

With the advent of that spirit the power of the Irish landlords was
doomed. They had made their choice; when they might have made common
cause with the whole people of Ireland they had refused to rise beyond
their immediate personal advantage and the interests of their class.
Moore, who was of themselves, who shared all their pleasures, who loved
them, was forced to take a hand in their overthrow. From 1858 onward he
had been almost entirely out of politics, living the life of a popular
country gentleman, racing and hunting more successfully than ever; his
most famous horse, "Croagh Patrick," ran in the 'sixties. But in 1868 he
flung all this aside, sold his horses, and undertook to fight the
alliance of Whig and Tory which had dominated County Mayo in the
landlord interest for ten years.

     I shall have the question settled (he said) whether one lord shall
     drive a hundred human souls to the hustings, another fifty, another
     a score; whether this or that squire shall call twenty, or ten, or
     five as good men as himself "his voters" and send them up with his
     brand on their backs to vote for an omadhaun at his bidding.

He did settle it. Mayo beat the landlords then, and Mayo became the
cradle of popular movements ever after. This most typical of Irish
land-owning gentlemen had been forced to sever himself from his class
and even to injure his class, and it was not by advocacy of
self-government that he estranged so close a friend as Lord Sligo.
Fintan Lalor's policy, rejected by the Young Irelanders in 1846, was
beginning to take hold in 1868; the movement for self-government was
becoming linked on to the driving force of land-hunger. In the eyes of
Lord Sligo and all his class Tenant Right meant Landlord Wrong, and
Moore himself was not exempt from that feeling. He suffered indeed, for
rents that he had reduced to a figure fixed by the tenants' own
arbitrators were withheld from him. Yet he knew clearly that it was
necessary for the country, and not more necessary than just, to secure
the tenants in their holdings. No one disputes now that he was right.
But the last thing he desired was to abolish the landlords. If they did
not like the leadership of the priests "they have," he said, "a remedy
left; let them make themselves more popular than the priests. If the
landlords will make common cause with the people, the people will make
common cause with them." There was never a truer word spoken, but it
fell on closed ears.

Moore himself broke the landlords' power at the polls; their infinitely
greater power, proceeding from control of the land, was broken by
another Mayo man, Michael Davitt, the evicted peasant from Straide,
close by Moore Hall. That fight was bound to come when Moore's warning
and the warning of men like him was set at nought. What a change it has
made! and what has been lost to Ireland!

Moore died in 1870. His last year of life saw a hope that Presbyterian
farmers of the North, interested in Tenant Right, who had been
temporarily allied to Catholics in the struggle for Disestablishment,
might unite solidly with the Nationalists. Even the Protestant gentry
afforded numerous supporters to Butt's Home Rule policy at its outset.
But of this nothing serious came. The Land Act of 1870 was ineffective,
and it seemed that, in spite of Fenianism, all would go on as before.
Throughout the 'seventies the landlord class was in undisturbed
supremacy. Country gentlemen still talked in good set phrase about "the
robbery of the Church"; in actual fact they were very complacently and
competently helping to administer its new constitution. Agriculture was
prosperous and rents went high, though the harsh and overbearing
landlord was condemned by his fellows. This, however, was poor
consolation to the tenants. In the county where I was brought up, one
landlord was a name of terror, and there was no redress from his
tyranny, until at last the peasantry found it for themselves. The grim
old man died fighting hard before his brains were dashed out on the
roadside, and two innocent people were killed along with him; but no
sane person could fail to perceive that, within five years of his taking
off, the whole district was improved out of knowledge. The moral to be
drawn was only too obvious; yet none of the landlords drew it; the
established interest of a class is too strong a thing for that class to
shake themselves out of its influence.

The men of that generation--how well I remember them! most vividly
perhaps as they used to come in to church on Sunday morning, when the
ladies of their families addressed themselves to devotions kneeling,
while the men said their prayers standing, peering mysteriously into
their tall hats--a strange ritual, of which traces may be observed at
the House of Commons, but nowhere else, I fancy, on earth. On week days
they lived an orderly, dignified existence in their big old-fashioned
houses, leaving home little, though the more cultivated among them had
travelled in their youth and knew thoroughly some foreign country. In
their own orbit they had power, leisure, and deference, all of which set
a stamp upon them; individuality had great scope to develop, and an able
man among them was a man made for government. One such stands out in my
memory. Stormy tales were told of his youth, but from himself no one
heard a whisper of these far-off exploits; small, exquisitely neat,
finely made and finely featured, he was courteous and gentle-spoken with
all; but he was of those quiet creatures who breed fear. I cannot
imagine the situation of power of responsibility from which he would
have shrunk, or to which he would have been unequal; neither can I
imagine him anxious in the pursuit of office. That was Parnell's type.
Parnell's strength appears to have lain precisely in that
self-confidence which was a law to itself and which no prestige of fame
or authority could shake or overawe. The men who might have been
Ireland's leaders were men extraordinarily suited for the conduct of
affairs, but as a class they had been thrown out of their natural
relation. Castlereagh, who in his cold efficiency had much in common
with Parnell, accomplished a desperate deed when he made the Union
through them. He committed their honour to justify for all time that
transaction. If those who condemned the Union were not traitors, then
the class from whom it was bought with cash and titles stood convicted
of infamy; and since the heart of Ireland loathed and detested
Castlereagh's work, the whole body of the Irish gentry found themselves
inevitably estranged from the heart of Ireland. On one side was the
interest of a class--and not merely the material interest but the
interest of its honour, which sought a justification in the name of
loyalty; on the other was the interest of Ireland; and the landlord who
chose the side of Ireland severed himself necessarily, as Moore had to
do, from his own friends and kin.

For years now there has been moving through many minds in Ireland the
question whether this state of things must permanently endure. Is that
estrangement inevitable? I at least think otherwise. Throughout the last
two decades of the nineteenth century landlord and tenant were opposed
in a struggle for definite material interests; it was a fight not only
for free conditions of tenure but for the reduction of rent, if not for
its total abolition. A way of peace was found in State-aided land
purchase, and in a reconstitution of the whole agricultural order. The
landlords, where they have been bought out, have not even the duty of
rent collecting. How will this affect their traditional attitude, which
calls itself loyalty to the English connexion, but which I interpret
rather as a traditional justification of the Union and of the hereditary
landlord policy? If self-government is established without dissolution
of the Union, is it not reasonable to suppose that there will be a
change in men's dispositions?

The question involved is really more serious, though of far less
political importance, than that of Ulster. Whatever happens, the
industrial community of Belfast and its district is not going to run
away. That element will not be lost to Ireland; it is too strong, too
well able to assert itself; and it is anchored by its interest. The
ex-landlords, now that their occupation is gone, are bound to Ireland
only by habit and attachment. At present they fulfil no essential
function; and it will be open undoubtedly for the gentry once more to
make an error mischievous to Ireland and disastrous to themselves. They
may take up the line of unwilling submission, of refusal to co-operate,
of cold-shouldering and crying down the new Parliament and the new
Ministry. Social pressure may be exercised to keep men from seeking
election, and so to perpetuate the existing severance between the
leisured and wealthier classes and the main body of the nation. There
will be strong tendencies in this direction. But on the other hand I
think that among the men who have grown up under the new order there is
an increasing willingness to accept the change. One friend of mine--no
politician, and, like all non-politicians, a Unionist--said to me lately
that he would be rather disappointed if Home Rule did not become law--he
was "curious about it"; and he added, "I think a great many like me have
the same feeling." Others probably have a more positive outlook, and
desire to take an active part in the public life of their country; and
there will be a strong desire among Irish Nationalists to bring in at
the outset those who wish to come in. On the other hand, no less
certainly, there will be the feeling that is natural towards those who
wish to reap where they have not sown; and the gentry will need to make
allowance for this. If they set out with the notion, as some did when
Local Government was established, that places are theirs by right when
they condescend to take them--that they are entitled to election because
they have more money, more education, because, if you will, they are, in
the eye of pure reason, better qualified--nothing but trouble can come
of such a disposition. Ireland, which in George Henry Moore's time was
the most aristocratically governed part of the British Isles, is now by
far more democratic, at all events, than England: the poor man is on a
level with the rich, and means to stay there. Those who want to go into
Irish politics, under Home Rule as now, must take their chances in the
ruck; but if they do, they will find a people ready and even eager to
recognise their qualities, and to allot perhaps more consideration than
is due to their social position.

With all their practical democracy, the Irish have a great tenderness
for "the old stock." In the cases (and there are many hundreds of them)
where a landlord or professional man or Protestant clergyman has been
for long years a real friend and support and counsellor to his poorer
neighbours, as Irish in voice and looks and gesture as they, sharing
their tastes and their aversions, their sport and their sorrow, yet
divided and cut off from them by a kind of political religion, I believe
from my heart that there will be on both sides a willingness to
celebrate the end of that old discord in some happy compact. But on both
sides there must be generosity and a sympathy with natural hesitations
and reluctances. Whatever comes or goes, the old domination of the
gentry has disappeared; yet, whatever comes or goes, men of that class
may find a sphere of usefulness and even of power in Ireland. But this
will be infinitely easier to achieve when the great subject of
contention is removed, and when the ex-landlord can seek election, and
the ex-tenant can support him, without a sense on either side of turning
against the traditional loyalties of a class.

1913.



YESTERDAY IN IRELAND.


"Oh, maybe it was yesterday, or forty years ago," says the verse of an
Irish song. That is the kind of indeterminate "yesterday" which is
described in _Irish Memories_ by two friends who have made some memories
of Ireland imperishable. "The Ireland that Martin and I knew when we
were children," writes Miss Somerville, "is fast leaving us; every day
some landmark is wiped out." No one knows better than she that while in
many parts of Ireland you must go back very close on forty years to
reach any likeness of that old way of life, yet in other parts yesterday
and forty years ago are very much the same. Still, she would reply, and
I must admit, that one profound modification has affected even the most
unchanging places, altering the whole position of the class in which she
was born and bred. In a sense, all her memories of Ireland concern
themselves with this change, depicting either what formerly was, and the
process of its passing, or what yet remains and seems likely to vanish
too. Her presentment of yesterday is well worth study, for its outlook
is typical of the most generous and shrewdest minds among the Irish
gentry. I use here an old-fashioned word, somewhat decried, but it is
the only one that expresses my meaning.

But readers will know that this is not only a book of memories; it is,
if not a memoir, at least the memorial of a singularly brilliant Irish
woman. Miss Somerville had planned to write her recollections, as she
had written so much else, in collaboration with her cousin and comrade,
"Martin Ross"--Miss Violet Martin, of Ross, in County Galway. It did not
so fall out; and though in this volume one is aware that the narrator is
often (by a sort of sub-conscious habit) speaking out of two minds, from
a dual complex of associations, and though considerable fragments of
Martin Ross's own writing give a justification to the joint signature,
yet one of the two comrades is joint author now only in so far as she is
part of all the memories, and a surviving influence little likely to
pass away. But her stock, so to say, in the partnership remains; Galway,
no less than Cork, is the field over which these memories travel. In the
main, the book is concerned with recalling the joint kindred of the two
friends and cousins, and reconstituting the surroundings and the
atmosphere of both families. Families, however, are conceived and
depicted in their most extended relations; figures are evoked of chief,
vassal, page and groom, tenant and master; and with them go their
"opposite numbers" (to borrow an army term) from chieftainess to cook.
Chieftainesses are there unmistakably. One ex-beauty had retired from
the Court of the Regent to Castle Townshend (Miss Somerville's personal
background), and there lived long, "noted for her charm of manner, her
culture and her sense of humour."

     Near the end of her long life she went to the funeral of a
     relative, leaning decorously upon the arm of a kinsman. At the
     churchyard a countryman pushed forward between her and the coffin.
     She thereupon disengaged her arm from that of her squire and struck
     the countryman in the face.

Miss Somerville observes that such stories may help to explain the
French Revolution; but she adds, quite plausibly:--

     It is no less characteristic of the time that the countryman's
     attitude does not come into the story, but it seems to me probable
     that he went home and boasted then, and for the rest of his life,
     that old Madam---- had "bet him in a blow in the face."

Undoubtedly the chieftain-spirit is admired, and not least when it shows
itself in a woman. A more lenient and more modern example is to be found
in the account of a dispute about bounds in a transaction under the Land
Purchase Act. After all other agencies failed, the landlord's sister
called the disputants before her to the disputed spot, stepped the
distance of the land debatable, drove her walking-stick into a crevice
of the rock (disputes are passionate in opposite ratio to the value of
the land) and, collecting stones, built a small cairn round it. "Now
men," she said, "in the name of God let this be the bounds." And it was
so. "It failed the agent, and it failed the landlord, and it failed the
priest; but Lady Mary settled it," was the summing up of one of the
disputants. That was a chieftainess for you.

Not inferior in chieftainly spirit was Martin Ross's grandfather who
"had the family liking for a horse."

     It is recorded that in a dealer's yard in Dublin he mounted a
     refractory animal, in his frock-coat and tall hat, and took him
     round St. Stephen's Green at a gallop, through the traffic, laying
     into him with his umbrella.

Somehow that picture gives a measure of the remoteness. Stephen's Green
was not then a place of square-set granite pavement, tram-rails and
large swift-moving electric trams; it was a leisurely promenade where
large slow-moving country gentlemen turned out in tall hats and
frock-coats. We of Miss Somerville's generation depend on our
imagination, not on memory, to reconstruct the scene. The grandfather in
question died before the great famine of 1847, which shook and in many
places uprooted the old order without yet bringing in the new. His son,
Martin Ross's father, had the famine to cope with and survived it; but
of the second convulsion from which emerged the Ireland of to-day he saw
only the beginning, for he died in 1873, when the organised peasant
uprising was at most a menace. But his wife knew both periods--the bad
times of the late 'forties and the bad times of the early eighties. The
true link with the past for the writers of _Irish Memories_ is through
the female line. This is a book of mothers and daughters rather than of
fathers and sons.

Martin Ross's mother went back easily in memory to the society which had
known the Irish Parliament, had made or accepted the Union, and which,
after the Union, exercised chieftainship in Ireland. She was the
daughter of Chief Justice Bushe, one of Grattan's rivals in oratory,
who, like Grattan, had opposed the Union with all the resources of his
eloquence. Against his name in the private Castle list of voters for the
crucial division had been written in despair one word: "Incorruptible."
He was the common ancestor whose blood made the bond of kinship between
Miss Somerville and Martin Ross, and both these staunch Unionist ladies
are passionately proud of the part which their grandfather played in
resisting the Union; just as you will find the staunchest Ulster
Covenanters exulting in the fact that they had a forbear "out" with the
United Irishmen at Antrim or Ballynahinch in 1798. No wonder Englishmen
find Ireland puzzling; but Scots understand, for their own records
abound in examples of the same paradoxes of historic sentiment.

_Yesterday in Ireland_, I think, for my present purpose comes to define
itself as the period between the famine of 1847 and the famine of
1879--between the downfall of O'Connell and Parnell's coming to power.
We who were born in the 'sixties grew up in the close of it, and perhaps
recognise now more clearly than when they were with us the characters of
our kindred who were a part of it as mature human beings. "The men and
women, but more specially the women of my mother's family and
generation, are a lost pattern, a vanished type." I could say the same
as Miss Somerville. There was a spaciousness about those people, a
disregard of forms and conventions, a habit of thinking and acting for
themselves which really came down from a long tradition of interpreting
the law to their own liking. Miss Somerville and her comrade knew the
type in its fullest development, for both grew up in far-out
Atlantic-bordering regions--Carbery of West Cork, Connemara of West
Galway--where the countryside knew scarcely "any inhabitants but the
gentry and their dependents. 'Where'd we be at all if it wasn't for the
Colonel's Big Lady?' said the hungry country-women, in the Bad Times,
scurrying, barefooted, to her in any emergency to be fed and doctored
and scolded." So writes Miss Somerville of her mother; so might Martin
Ross have written of her father, who was, so far as in him lay, a
Providence for his tenantry. Yet there is a story told of Mr. Martin
that throws a flood of light on the whole position of affairs. Who were
indeed the dependents? And on what did they depend? The story tells of a
widow down by Lough Corrib, long in arrears with her rent.

     The Master sent to her two or three times, and in the end he walked
     down himself, after his breakfast, and he took Thady (the steward)
     with him. Well, when he went into the house, she was so proud to
     see him, and "Your Honour is welcome," says she, and she put a
     chair for him. He didn't sit down at all, but he was standing up
     there with his back to the dresser, and the children were sitting
     down one side the fire. The tears came from the Master's eyes,
     Thady seen them fall down the cheek. "Say no more about the rent,"
     says the Master to her, "you need say no more about it till I come
     to you again." Well, it was the next winter, men were working in
     Gurthnamuckla and Thady with them, and the Master came to the wall
     of the field, and a letter in his hand, and he called Thady over to
     him. What had he to show but the widow's rent that her brother in
     America sent her.

Martin Ross, writing in the light of to-day, makes this comment:--

     It will not happen again; it belongs to an almost forgotten régime,
     that was capable of abuse, yet capable too of summoning forth the
     best impulses of Irish hearts.

War, famine and pestilence--all these are capable of summoning forth
splendid impulses; but society should not be organised to give play to
these hazards of feeling. The fundamental truth about yesterday in
Ireland is that everybody accepted as natural a state of affairs under
which Irish gentry were taking rents that could not be earned on the
land which was burdened with them. Landlord and tenant alike were really
dependent on what was sent back by the sons and daughters of poor people
from America to prevent the break-up of homes. The whole situation was
false, from top to bottom. At top, a small class, physically and often
mentally superb, full of charm, extraordinarily agreeable, fit for great
uses, but by temperament, habit and education unequipped for its proper
task of equipping and directing the labour out of which ultimately it
had to live or perish. It perished. At bottom, a multitude with
marvellous constitution, undermined by age-long under-feeding, friendly,
most lovable, most winning, but untrained and unequipped, half-hearted
in its business of rolling the pitiless stone up the never-ending hill.
It survived--clinging with a desperate tenacity to the soil which so
meagrely nourished it. But during that generation of yesterday--and how
many generations before it?--there grew up inevitably, from the
conditions, a traditional toleration of incompetence, a faith as it were
in inefficiency. Ireland of yesterday was bound up in one vicious circle
of work that was necessarily underpaid because it was inefficient, and
work that was necessarily inefficient because it was underpaid. In the
lower class there were no reserves; the dependants lived from hand to
mouth, and when hand failed to find food, they had to come to the upper
class, first for remission of its claims on them and then for actual
subsistence. But the dependence was mutual, and there were no reserves
at top equal to the needs of that joint hazard. Penury was only at two
removes from the "gentry houses." While the first line of defence, the
tenants, held good, the world went pleasantly for the Ireland of
yesterday. But when that line broke, and starvation burst in, then the
best men and women in the big houses flung their all into the common
stock, and went under--as did the chief of the Martins in Connemara.

That, however, happened the day before yesterday; yesterday saw nothing
so dire. But the menace of it was always there, and the rest of Ireland
gradually consolidated itself for a struggle to win what had long ago
been acquired for Protestant Ulster--the right of a tenant to what his
own labour created. The Ulster custom has done for Ulster, industrial as
well as agricultural, more than is generally perceived. It gave in some
degree recognition to efficiency. Tenure was there less precarious, less
dependent on the landlord's pleasure; men were freer, work had more
rights. There was less room for impulse, perhaps less appeal to
affection; but when a business relation is based on impulse and
affection, where rights are not solid and defined, the sense of
obligation easily leads men astray. That which is given out of loyalty
and affection comes to be taken as a due. Martin Ross--"Miss Violet,"
whom the people of Ross called "the gentle lady," as beautiful a name as
was ever earned by mortal--inherited with little qualification the
landlord standpoint. She recalls the story of an election in 1872, when
her father, going to vote in Oughterard, saw "a company of infantry
keeping the way for Mr. Arthur Guinness (afterwards Lord Ardilaun) as he
conveyed to the poll a handful of his tenants to vote for Captain
Trench, he himself walking in front with the oldest of them on his arm."
She does not ask if the tenants desired to be so conveyed. She merely
describes how her father "ranged through the crowd incredulously, asking
for this or that tenant, unable to believe that they had deserted him."
When he came home, "even the youngest child of the house could see how
great had been the blow. It was not the political defeat, severe as
that was, it was the personal wound, and it was incurable."

Looking back through all those years, the "gentle lady" can see nothing
in that episode but a case of priestly intimidation. "One need not blame
the sheep who passed in a frightened huddle from one fold to another."
Yet friends of mine in Galway look back on it in a very different
spirit; they remember the Nolan-Trench election and Captain Nolan's
victory as a triumph of the poor, a first instalment of freedom; it
brought with it an exultation very different from the mere outburst of
hatred that these pages suggest. What is more, having been privileged to
sit in the most widely representative assembly of Irishmen that modern
Ireland has known, I can testify that to-day peer and peasant, clergy
and laymen, those who opposed it, and those others who fought for it,
alike admit that the change which such a victory fore-shadowed was
necessary and was beneficent. But it was a revolution. Ireland of
yesterday was Ireland before the revolution. The Ireland that Miss
Somerville and Martin Ross have lived in as grown women has been a
country in the throes of a revolution, long drawn-out, with varying
phases, yet still incomplete. Those who judge Ireland should remember
this. In time of revolution, life is difficult, ancient loyalties clash
with new yet living principles, sympathy and justice even are unsure
guides. No country could have been kept for forty years in such a
ferment as Ireland has known without profound demoralisation. We may
well envy those who lived more easily and quietly in the Ireland of
yesterday, and held with an unquestioning spirit to the state of things
in which they were born.

Such were the folk of whom Miss Somerville writes with "that indomitable
family pride that is an asset of immense value in the history of a
country." They "took all things in their stride without introspection or
hesitation. Their unflinching conscientiousness, their violent
church-going (I speak of the sisters), were accompanied by a
whole-souled love of a spree and a wonderful gift for a row." I can
corroborate her details, especially the last. All those that I recall
had some talent for feuds; at least, in every family there would be one
warrior, male or female; and all had the complete contempt, not so much
for convention as for those who were affected in their lives (or
costumes) by any standard that was not home-made. But in all humility I
must admit that the real heroines of this book--Mrs. Somerville and Mrs.
Martin--outshine anything that my memory can produce. When Martin Ross
and her mother went back to West Galway and re-established themselves at
their old home, a letter from her to Miss Somerville describes one
incident:--

     I wish you had seen Paddy Griffy, a very active little old man, and
     a beloved of mine, when he came down on Sunday night to welcome me.
     After the usual hand-kissings on the steps, he put his hands over
     his head and stood in the doorway, I suppose invoking his saint. He
     then rushed into the hall.

     "Dance, Paddy," screamed Nurse Bennett (my foster-mother, now our
     maid-of-all-work).

     And he did dance, and awfully well, too, to his own singing. Mamma,
     who was attired in a flowing pink dressing-gown and a black hat
     trimmed with lilac, became suddenly emulous, and with her spade
     under her arm joined in the jig. This lasted for about a minute,
     and was a never-to-be-forgotten sight. They skipped round the hall,
     they changed sides, they swept up to each other and back again and
     finished with the deepest curtseys.

My own mother would gladly have done the same on a like occasion, but
she lacked Mrs. Martin's talent for the jig. Mrs. Somerville is sketched
with a free and humorous hand. I quote only one detail, but it shows the
real Irishwoman, more deeply in touch with Ireland's traditional life
than any Gaelic League could bring her. Question arose how to find a
suitable offering for 'an old servant of forty years' standing, whose
fancies were few and her needs none.' "Give her a nice shroud," said
Mrs. Somerville, "there's nothing in the world she'd like so well as
that."

Shakespeare could not have outdone that intuition, and only one of the
larger breed would have been unconventional enough to suggest what the
younger generation, hampered by other feelings than those of West
Carbery, "were too feeble to accept."

These two traits belong to the harmonious and thoroughly Irish grouping
in which such ladies as Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Somerville were central
figures of the whole countryside. That grouping exists no longer, and
this book has to describe the discord which interrupted that harmony.
Martin Ross's elder brother, Robert Martin (famous in his day as the
writer and singer of _Ballyhooly_, and a score of other topical songs),
left his work as a London journalist to help in fighting the first
campaign which brought the word "boycott" into usage.

     It was at this work (his sister writes), that Robert knew for the
     first time what it was to have every man's hand against him, to
     meet the stare of hatred, the jeer and the sidelong curse; to face
     endless drives on outside cars with his revolver in his hand; to
     plan the uphill tussle with boycotted crops and cattle for which a
     market could scarcely be found; to know the imminence of death,
     when by accidentally choosing one of two roads he evaded the man
     with a gun who had gone out to wait for him.

Robert Martin faced, in a word, the earliest and ugliest phases of that
Irish revolution, which was the Nemesis of the all too easy and too
pleasant ways of yesterday in Ireland. Later, after his death, Martin
Ross herself had to gain some experience of the same trouble. When she
went back with her mother to re-establish the family home from which
they had been fifteen years absent, there was a hostile element in the
parish, and gracious hospitality was ungraciously met. An attempt was
made to keep children from a children's party which she had organised.
The move was half-hearted and her energy defeated it, but that the
attempt should be made was such "a facer" as she had never before known.
Like many another ugly thing in Ireland, it originated in that cowardly
fear of public opinion which is to be found on the seamy side of all
revolutions; and it did not stand against her "gallant fight to restore
the old ways, the old friendships."

The old ways, in so far as they meant the old friendships, she might
hope to restore, although the friendship would, half consciously, take
on a new accent; personality would count for more in it, position for
less. But the old relation which authorised a kind-hearted landlord to
feel that his tenants had "deserted him" because they voted against his
wish in an election--that is gone for ever; and gone, at all events, for
the present, is the local leadership of the gentry.

I question whether it is realised that in parting from that leadership
Ireland lost what was in a sense Home Rule. In the "yesterday" of which
I write Ireland was governed in all its parochial and most intimate
affairs by a class or a caste; but that governing class was Irish--Irish
with a limitation, no doubt, yet still indisputably Irish. When that
rule perished, when that class lost its local ascendancy, government
became the bastard compromise that we have known, with power
inharmoniously divided between officialdom and agitators. The law was
framed and administered by officials, often English or Scotch,
possessing no authority except what the law conferred on them. Authority
lay very largely with popular leaders; but leadership and authority
alike were purely personal, depending on a man's own qualities and the
support which they evoked. No man was born to it as of right, and such
authority is far more precarious than the established power of a
governing class. This is a weakness in all democratically-governed
countries, but where there is self-government, the individual, in
entering upon office, acquires the support and the prestige of a
long-established machinery of power. He ceases to be merely the
individual when he becomes part of the Government. For the Irish leaders
this reinforcement to the personal authority has never existed; they
have been at a terrible disadvantage as compared with all other
democratic politicians; and consequently the power exercised by them has
always, except perhaps at Parnell's zenith, been far less than was the
combined authority of the gentry before the landlord rule was broken.
Those who shared in that authority acted, and could afford to act, with
unquestioning confidence; they were surer of themselves, than is any
popular leader or any official in Ireland of to-day. It seldom occurred
to them to ask whether their conduct in any juncture might meet with
approval; being a law to other people, they were naturally a law to
themselves, and an Irish law. Their power was excessive, and demoralised
them by its lack of limitation; yet many of the qualities which it bred,
made them an element of great value in the country. These qualities are
by no means extinct in their kindred, nor is the tradition of their
right to leadership forgotten.

Of one thing Miss Somerville and those for whom she speaks (she is a
real spokeswoman) may be well assured. Whatever be the surface mood of
the moment, whatever the passing effect of war's hectic atmosphere,
nothing is more deeply realised throughout Ireland than the need to
restore the old ways, the old friendships--the need to bring back the
gentry to their old uses in Ireland, and to so much of leadership as
should be theirs by right of fitness. When the history of the Irish
Convention comes to be fully recorded, it will be seen that a great
desire was universally felt, cordially uttered, in that assembly, to
bridge over the gulf which divides us from yesterday in Ireland, and to
recover for the future much of what was admirable, valuable and lovable
in a past that is not unkindly remembered. Indeed, it is plain that Miss
Somerville has felt the influences that were abroad on the winds, when
she wrote of her comrade:--

     Her love of Ireland, combined with her distrust of some of those
     newer influences in Irish affairs to which her letters refer, made
     her dread any weakening of the links that bind the United Kingdom
     into one; but I believe that if she were here now, and saw the
     changes that the past eighteen months have brought to Ireland, she
     would be quick to welcome the hope that Irish politics are lifting
     at last out of the controversial rut of centuries, and that
     although it has been said of East and West that "never the two
     shall meet," North and South will yet prove that in Ireland it is
     always the impossible that happens.

North and South--that is a more difficult gulf to bridge, for the one I
have been speaking of is only a breach to repair. But industrial
Protestant Ulster and the rest of Ireland have never really been one.
Unity there has not to be re-established, but created. Martin Ross went
to the North only once "at the tremendous moment of the signing of the
Ulster Covenant," and she was profoundly impressed by what she saw. She
wrote about it publicly and she wrote also privately (in a letter which
I had the honour to receive) a passage well worth quoting:--

     I did not know the North at all. What surprised me about the place
     was the feeling of cleverness and go, and also the people struck me
     as being hearty. If only the South would go up North and see what
     they are doing there, and how they are doing it, and ask them to
     show them how, it would make a good deal of difference. And then
     the North should come South and see what nice people we are, and
     how we do that.

When that reciprocal pilgrimage was accomplished by the Convention, her
anticipations were more than justified. But how clever she was! In a
flash, she, coming there a stranger, hits on the word which describes
Ulster and differentiates it from the rest of Ireland. "Hearty," that is
what they are; it is the good side of their self-content. No people that
is in revolution can be hearty--least of all when revolution has dragged
on through more than a generation. Distrust of your comrades--distrust
of your leaders--self-distrust--these are the characteristic vices of
revolution (look at Russia), and they sow a bitter seed. Protestant
Ulster has never known revolution; for it yesterday and to-day have been
happily, naturally, continuous. Political change it has known, normal
and beneficent; land purchase came to Ulster as a by-product of what the
rest of Ireland endured in torment, and agony, and self-mutilation.
Clever the Northerns are, but their cleverness issues prosperously in
action; they carry on in a solidly-established order; they have not
needed to break down before they could begin to build. That is why their
heartiness stood out when they were assembled, as I have seen them in a
common council of Irishmen, which was also, thank heaven, a
companionship. But the world at large can see it exhibited in another
way. Contrast the work of the Ulster Players with that of the Abbey
Theatre. _The Drone_ is perhaps not the best of new Irish comedies, but
it is infinitely the pleasantest; there is no bitter tang in its hearty
humour. Even in _The Enthusiast_, a sketch which has some touch of
pessimism, there is little more than a good-humoured shrug of the
shoulders when the Enthusiast abandons his pretensions to make himself
heard against the banging of Orange drums. I find a very different note,
not merely in the work of Synge, of Boyle, Colum, Lennox Robinson, and
the rest of the Abbey dramatists, but even in the books of which Miss
Somerville was joint author. When Ireland is seen with the eyes, for
instance, of her Major Yeates, is not the whole attitude one of amused
and acquiescent resignation? Take the hunting out of it (with all the
humours of the hunt)--take the shooting and fishing--and what is left
but a life (to borrow a phrase from Mr. George Moore) "as melancholy as
bog-water and as ineffectual." Miss Somerville would probably decline
to imagine an Ireland with these unthinkable suppressions, but after
all, we cannot live by or for sport alone. What gave dignity and reality
to the life of yesterday was leadership in one class, and loyalty in the
other. Leadership resting on ownership is gone now, dead as the dodo;
what is left for the like (say) of Mr. Flurry Knox if he should begin to
take himself seriously? You can easily make a soldier of him; we have
all met him in trenches and observed his airy attitude in No Man's Land.
But soldiering has generally meant expatriation. For my part, I hope
some day to see this gentleman (or his like) play a useful part in some
battalion of Irish territorials--some home service offshoot of the
Connaught Rangers. But that is not enough. If those who, like Miss
Somerville, love Ireland's yesterday and desire to link it up with a
worthy to-morrow, there must be a wider understanding of Ireland, not in
the North only, but in that element of the South and West which stands
to-day in a sense morally expatriated. The Irish gentry who complain
that their tenants "deserted" them must learn where they themselves
failed their tenants. Leadership cannot depend merely on a power to
evict, and they would to-day repudiate the desire for a leadership so
grounded. But between free men where there is not comprehension there
can be no leadership.

I take first what is most difficult--the very heart of antagonism.
Everyone who desires to understand Ireland to-day should read Patrick
Pearse's posthumous book, called boldly _The Story of a Success_.[1] It
is the spiritual history of Pearse's career as a schoolmaster, edited
and completed by his pupil, Desmond Ryan; and it is a book by which no
one can be justly offended--a book instinct with nobility, chivalry and
high courtesy, free from all touch of bitterness; a book, too, shot
through and slashed with that tragic irony which the Greeks knew to be
the finest thrill in literature--the word spoken, to which the foreknown
event gives an echo of double meaning. Pearse was concerned with
Ireland's yesterday; he desired to bring the present and the future into
organic rotation with the past. But his yesterday was not Miss
Somerville's nor mine. The son of an English mechanic and a Galway
woman, he was brought up in Connemara after the landlord power had
ceased to exist. Ireland's past for him and Irish tradition were seen
through the medium of an imagination in touch only with the peasant
life, but inspired by books and literature, written and spoken. His
yesterday was of no definite past, for he had been born in a revolution
when the immediate past was obliterated. In his vision a thousand years
were no more than the watch of some spellbound chivalry, waiting for the
voice that should say, "It is the time." Cuchulain and Robert Emmet were
his inspirations, but the champion of the legendary Red Branch cycle and
the young revolutionary of Napoleon's days were near to him one as the
other, in equally accessible communion. Going back easily to the heroic
legends, on which, though blurred in their outline, his boyhood had been
fostered by tellers of long-transmitted tales at a Connemara hearthside,
he found the essential beauty and significance where more learned though
less cultured readers have been bewildered by what seemed to them wild
extravagances of barbarism. What he gathered from them did not lie
inert, but quickened in him and in others, for he was the revolutionary
as schoolmaster--the most drastic revolutionary of all. In the school
review which was the first vehicle for these writings of his, he hoped
to found "the rallying point for the thought and aspirations of all
those who would bring back again in Ireland that Heroic Age which
reserved its highest honour for the hero who had the most childlike
heart, for the king who had the largest pity, and for the poet who
visioned the truest image of beauty." All his theory of education was
based on the old Irish institution of fosterage, which was no mere
physical tie of the breast; the child sent to be fostered was sent to be
bred and trained, and it was a tie stronger than that of its blood or of
the breast. _Irish Memories_ shows incidentally how great a part this
fosterage played in the Ross of yesterday--that family with its
multitude of children was bound to the countryside by all the "Nursies."
But the Martin household, and all similar households were, in a less
literal sense, fostered by the peasantry at large. The truest part of
education should be to know your own country (a principle much neglected
in Ireland), and which of us all, who had the good fortune to be brought
up in touch with Irish peasant life, does not realise our debt? We
received a devotion, an affection, for which no adequate return could be
made--it is the nature of fosterage that the fosterer should give more
than can ever be requited; but we gained also our real knowledge, in so
far as we ever had it, of the countryside, the traditional wisdom, the
inherited way of life. There was more to be got if we had the wit to
assimilate it. Almost all of modern Irish literature that has lasting
value is evoked from elements floating in peasant memory, in the peasant
mind, and in the coloured peasant speech of an Ireland which keeps
unbroken descent from a long line of yesterdays. Mr. Yeats is only the
chief of those who draw from this source. Miss Somerville herself and
her cousin must have known well that the real worth of their work lies
in their instinct for the poetry which, more specially in
Gaelic-speaking regions, sits in rags by roadside and chimney corner.
Irish poetry is not only the tragic voice of the keene; Gaelic had its
comic muse as well, a robust virago, of the breed which produced
Aristophanes and Rabelais--and Slipper with his gift for epic narrative
is a camp-follower of that regiment.

[Footnote 1: "The Story of a Success." By P. H. Pearse. Being a Record of
St. Erda's College, September, 1908, to Easter, 1916. Edited by Desmond
Ryan, B.A. Maunsel & Co.]

Yet in Miss Somerville's appreciation there is often--not always--a
sense of the incongruity as well as of the beauty in peasant speech. The
woman crying for alms of bread who described her place of habitation, "I
do be like a wild goose over on the side of Drominidy Wood," moves to
laughter as well as to pity with the dignity of her phrase. Ireland so
felt is Ireland perceived from the outside--seen as a picturesque ruin.
You cannot so see Pearse; he is too strong for even compassionate
laughter. What he embodies is the central strength of Irish
nationalism--its disregard of the immediate event.

     Wise men have told me that I ought never to set my foot on a path
     unless I can see clearly whither it will lead me. But that
     philosophy would condemn most of us to stand still till we rot.
     Surely one can do no more than assure one's self that each step one
     takes is right; and as to the rightness of a step one is
     fortunately answerable only to one's conscience and not to the wise
     men of the counting house. The street will pass judgment on our
     enterprises according as they have "succeeded" or "failed." But if
     one can feel that one has striven faithfully to do a right thing,
     does not one stand ultimately justified, no matter what the issue
     of one's attempt, no matter what the sentence of the street?

By such teaching he commended to his scholars, and to Ireland, the
spirit which he desired to see expressed in "that laughing gesture of a
young man that is going into battle or climbing to a gibbet." Strange
country, that has the gibbet always before the eyes and almost before
the aspiration of its idealists! It was so yesterday--in all the
yesterdays--and yet the reason is plain. All the aspirations of such
idealists have been regarded as criminal by the class for which Miss
Somerville and her cousin speak--criminal and menacing to those who,
holding the power, arrogated to themselves a monopoly of loyalty. They
have always conceived of Pearse and his like as thirsting for their
blood. Miss Edgeworth, in a letter printed for the first time in _Irish
Memories_, writes:--"I fear our throats will be cut by order of
O'Connell and Co. very soon." We know enough to-day about O'Connell to
realise how far this estimate lay from the truth of things; yet Miss
Somerville herself talks about "Parnell and his wolf-pack." Justin
McCarthy, John Redmond, Willie Redmond--these were some of the wolves
who presumably wanted to tear Miss Somerville's kindred to pieces. That
is where the change must come; there must be among the gentry some
generous understanding of Nationalist leaders before the grave has
closed over them. Anyone can see what is bad in Sinn Féin, but no one
can fight that evil effectively, no one can convert to better uses the
ill-guided force which Sinn Féin represents, until he understands what
is best in it. Sinn Féin has largely replaced a movement which, in its
later phases, dwelt perhaps too much on the material advantages which it
offered as the reward of support. Sinn Féin's strength has lain not in
what it has offered, but in what it has asked; it has asked for
devotion, and Pearse certainly both gave that and received it. Such was
his teaching, and I do not know a better saying for the Irish gentry to
ponder over than the last sentence in these essays of his: "The highest
thing anyone can do is to serve."

That temper was perhaps lacking in the Ireland of yesterday which Miss
Somerville so lovingly describes. To command loyalty as a right, to
reward it by generosity, by indulgence--this made part of the ideal of
leadership; but scarcely to be laborious either in rendering or exacting
capable work.

The old way of life was good for children, as Martin Ross describes it
in her sketch of her brother's upbringing.

     Everything in those early days of his was large and vigorous; tall
     trees to climb, great winds across the lake to wrestle with,
     strenuous and capable talk upstairs and downstairs, in front of
     furnaces of turf and logs, long drives and the big Galway welcome
     at the end of them.

But for the grown men, it lacked one thing: effort. Pleasant it was;
lots of everything, lots of hunting, lots of game on the moors and bogs,
lots of fish in lake and river, lots of beef and mutton on the farm,
lots of logs and turf, lots of space--above all, lots of time, and
always the spirit for a spree that made everyone "prefer good fun to a
punctual dinner." There was only one deficiency: that way of life was
apt to be short of cash. It was, in short, a life that could not pay its
way. The "big Galway welcome" is just as big with a sounder economic
system, that rests solidly on men's own work. Anyone who knows Western
Ireland can tell you that the quality of work is better on the land
where men are their own masters than it was in the old days. Yet even
there we are not out of the old vicious circle of under-pay and
under-work; and in the industrial life we are fully entangled in it. But
here also the revolutionary as schoolmaster has appeared. To my thinking
the most momentous apparition in Ireland of our times is that of Mr.
Ford, who is paying American wage rates for labour in Cork, and
calculating, not to get value for his money at once, but to teach labour
to be worth it. According to his gospel, as it was expounded to me, you
will not get efficiency by offering to pay the wages of efficiency when
labour becomes efficient: you must first provide the conditions of
efficiency and then teach, just as in the army your first care is to get
a recruit fit and your second to make him thorough in his ground work.
That is the practical recognition of what yesterday in Ireland failed to
recognise.

Nor does this ideal of strenuous and capable work exclude either the
strenuous and capable talk of Martin Ross's Galway household or anything
else that was excellent in the old way. Certainly the most laborious and
the most prosperous peasant household that I have ever known (and for
many months I was part of it) was the most thoroughly and traditionally
Irish, except that it was removed by one generation from Gaelic speech.
But the whole cast of mind was Gaelic, remote as the poles from that
"newer Ireland" which is in revolt against all tradition of
authority--and, if they only knew it, against all Irish tradition. Miss
Somerville thinks, as a page in her book shows, that the newer Ireland
has lost the endearing courtesy which is imposed by the genius of the
Gaelic tongue, and is for that matter to be found in every line of
Pearse's essays. We can educate back to that without any detriment; we
can be as efficient and as courteous as the Japanese. Another thing is
gone. Ireland of yesterday, even in its poverty, was a merry country;
to-day, even in its prosperity, it is full of bitter, mirthless rancour
and hate. It will be a great thing if we can help to preserve for
Ireland the exquisite benediction which a beggar woman in Skibbereen
laid upon Martin Ross: "Sure, ye're always laughing! That ye may laugh
in the sight of the glory of Heaven."

1918.





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