IRISH WRITERS OF ENGLISH
By P.J. LENNOX, B.A., Litt.D.
The Gaelic literature of Ireland is not only of wonderful volume and priceless worth, but is also of great antiquity, whereas the English literature of Ireland, while also of considerable extent and high value, is of comparatively modern origin. The explanation of this fact is that for more than six centuries after the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169 the Irish language continued to be both the spoken and, with Latin, the written organ of the great mass of the Irish people, and that for nearly the whole of that period those English settlers who did not become, as the well-known phrase has it, more Irish than the Irish themselves by adopting the native language, customs, and sentiments, were kept too busy in holding, defending, and extending their territory to devote themselves to literary pursuits. Hence we need not wonder if, leaving out of account merely technical works like Lionel Power’s treatise on music, written in 1395, we find that the English literature of Ireland takes its comparatively humble origin late in the sixteenth century. For more than two centuries thereafter, owing to the fact that the native Irish, because they were Catholics, were debarred by law from an education, the writing of English remained almost exclusively in the hands of members or descendants of the Anglo-Irish colony, who, with scarcely an exception, were Protestants and had as their principal Irish seat of learning the then essentially Protestant institution, Trinity College, Dublin. Alien in race and creed though these writers mainly were, they have nevertheless spread a halo of glory around their adopted country, and have won the admiration, and often the affection, of Irishmen of every shade of religious and political belief. For example, there is no Irishman who is not proud of Molyneux and Swift, of Goldsmith and Burke, of Grattan and Sheridan. From the nineteenth century onward Irish Catholics have taken their full share in the production of English literature. Here, however, it will be necessary to consider the writers of none but the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, as in other pages of this volume considerable attention has been given to those of later date.
I. SIXTEENTH CENTURY.
Richard Stanyhurst (1547-1618), born in Dublin but educated at Oxford, is the first representative of the sixteenth century with whom we are called upon to deal. He belonged to a family long settled in or near Dublin and of some note in municipal annals. Under the direction of the Jesuit martyr, Edmund Campion, Stanyhurst wrote a Description, as well as a portion of the History, of Ireland for Holinshed’s Chronicles, published in 1577. He also translated (1582) the first four books of Virgil his Aeneis into quantitative hexameters, on the unsound pedantic principles which Gabriel Harvey was at that time trying so hard to establish in English prosody; but the experiment, which turned out so badly in the master’s hands, fared even worse in those of the disciple, and Stanyhurst’s lines will always stand as a noted specimen of inept translation and ridiculous versification. Equally inartistic was his version of some of the Psalms in the same metre. In Latin he wrote a profound commentary on Porphyry, the Neo-Platonic mystic. Stanyhurst, who was uncle to James Ussher, the celebrated Protestant archbishop of Armagh, was himself a convert to Catholicity, and on the death of his second wife became a priest and wrote in Latin some edifying books of devotion. Two of his sons joined the Jesuit order. He died at Brussels in 1618. Stanyhurst viewed Ireland entirely from the English standpoint, and in his Description and History is, consciously or unconsciously, greatly biased against the native race.
If we may take it as certain that modern investigation is correct in asserting that Thomas Campion was a native of Dublin, a notable addition will have been made to the ranks of Irish-born writers of English at this period. Thomas Campion (1567-1620), wherever born, spent most of his life in London. He was a versatile genius, for, after studying law, he took up medicine, and, although practising as a physician, he yet found time to write four masques and many lyrics and to compose a goodly quantity of music. Some of his songs appeared as early as 1591. Among his works is a treatise entitled Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602), in which, strange to say, he, a born lyrist, advocated unrhymed verse and quantitative measures, but fortunately his practice did not usually square with his theory. His masques were written for occasions, such as the marriage of Lord Hayes (1607), the nuptials of the Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine (1613), and the ill-starred wedding of Somerset and the quondam Countess of Essex in the same year. In these masques are embedded some of his best songs; others of his lyrics appeared in several Bookes of Ayres between 1601 and 1617. Many of them were written to music, sometimes music of his composing. Such dainty things as “Now hath Flora robb’d her bowers” and “Harke, all you ladies that do sleep” possess the charms of freshness and spontaneity, and his devotional poetry, especially “Awake, awake, thou heavy Spright” and “Never weather-beaten Saile more willing bent to shore”, makes almost as wide an appeal.
II. SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.
Passing by with regret the illustrious seventeenth century names of Philip O’Sullivan Beare, Sir James Ware, Luke Wadding, Hugh Ward, John Colgan, and John Lynch, because their bearers wrote in Latin, and those of “The Four Masters” and Geoffrey Keating, because they wrote in Irish, we are first brought to a pause in the seventeenth century by the imposing figure of him, whom, in a later day, Johnson justly called the “great luminary of the Irish [Protestant] church”, none other than the archbishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland, James Ussher himself. James Ussher (1581-1656), born in Dublin and among the earliest students of the newly-founded Trinity College, was in intellect and scholarship one of the greatest men that Ireland has ever produced. Selden describes him as “learned to a miracle” (ad miraculum doctus), and Canon D’Alton in his History of Ireland says of him that “he was not unworthy to rank even with Duns Scotus, and when he died he left in his own Church neither an equal nor a second.” Declining the high office of provost of Trinity, Ussher was made bishop of Meath and was afterwards promoted to the primatial see. His fine intellect was unfortunately marred by narrow religious views, and in many ways he displayed his animus against those of his countrymen who did not see eye to eye with him in matters of faith and doctrine. For example, it was he who in 1626 drew up the Irish Protestant bishops’ protest against toleration for Catholics, therein showing a bigotry which consorted badly with his reputation as a scholar. On account of his well-known attitude towards Catholicism, he was naturally unpopular with those who professed the ancient creed, and hence, when the rebellion of 1641 broke out, much of his property was destroyed by the enraged insurgents. His person escaped violence, for he happened to be in England at the time engaged in the vain task of trying to effect an accommodation between Charles I. and the English parliament. He never returned to his see and died in London.
Ussher’s collected works fill seventeen stately volumes. His magnum opus is undoubtedly the Annales Veteris et Novi Testamenti. It is written in Latin, and is a chronological compendium of the history of the world from the Creation to the dispersion of the Jews under Vespasian. Published at Leyden, London, Paris, and Oxford, it gained for its author a European fame. His books written in English deal mostly with theological or controversial subjects, and while they display wide reading, great acumen, and keen powers of argumentation, they yet do not do full justice to his genius. Those which he published in Dublin are A Discourse of the Religion anciently professed by the Irish and British (1622), in which he tried to show that the ritual and discipline of the Church as originally established in the British Isles were in agreement with the Church of England and opposed to the Catholic Church on the matters in dispute between them; An Answer to a Challenge made by a Jesuite in Ireland (1624), in which his aim was to disprove the contention set forth earlier in the same year by a Jesuit that uniformity of doctrine had always been maintained by the Catholic Church; and Immanuel, or the Mysterie of the Incarnation. He published in England The Originall of Bishops, A Body of Divinitie, The Principles of Christian Religion, and other works. So great was Ussher’s reputation that when he died Cromwell relaxed in his favor one of the strictest laws of the Puritans and allowed him to be buried with the full service of the Church of England, and with great pomp, in Westminster Abbey.
Among Ussher’s other claims to distinction, it should be noted that it was he who in 1621 discovered the celebrated Book of Kells, which had long been lost. This marvel of the illuminator’s art passed with the remainder of his collection of books and manuscripts to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1661, and to this day it remains one of the most treasured possessions of the noble library of that institution.
Sir John Denham (1615-1669), a Dublin man by birth, took an active part on the side of Charles I. against the parliament during the Civil War, and subsequently was conspicuous in the intrigues that led to the restoration of Charles II. In his own day he had a great reputation as a poet. His tragedy, The Sophy, and his translation of the Psalms are now forgotten, but he is still remembered for one piece, Cooper’s Hill, in which occur the well-known lines addressed to the River Thames:
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong, without rage; without o’erflowing, full.
Another Dublin-born man was Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon (1633-1684). He had the good fortune to win encomiums both from Dryden and from Pope. One of his merits, as pointed out by the latter, is that
In all Charles’s days
Roscommon only boasts unspotted bays.
He translated from Virgil, Lucan, Horace, and Guarini; wrote prologues, epilogues, and other occasional verses; but is now principally remembered for his poetical Essay on Translated Verse (1681), in which he develops principles previously laid down by Cowley and Denham. To his credit be it said, he condemns indecency, both as want of sense and bad taste. He was honored with a funeral in Westminster Abbey. Johnson records that, at the moment of his death, Roscommon uttered with great energy and devotion the following two lines from his own translation of the Dies Irae:
My God, my Father, and my Friend,
Do not forsake me in my end!
Robert Boyle (1627-1691), one of the founders of the Royal Society (1662), was son of the “great” Earl of Cork and was born at Lismore, Co. Waterford. He takes rank among the principal experimental philosophers of his age, and he certainly rendered valuable services to the advancement of science. Most of his writings, which are very voluminous, are naturally of a technical character and therefore do not properly belong to literature; but his Occasional Reflections on Several Subjects (1665), a strange mixture of triviality and seriousness, was germinal in this sense that it led to two celebrated jeux d’esprit, namely, Butler’s Occasional Reflection on Dr. Charlton’s feeling a Dog’s Pulse at Gresham College and Swift’s Pious Meditation upon a Broomstick, in the Style of the Honourable Mr. Boyle. Indeed, one of Boyle’s Reflections, that “Upon the Eating of Oysters”, is reputed to have rendered a still more signal service to literature, for in its two concluding paragraphs is contained the idea which, under the transforming hand of the master satirist, eventually took the world by storm when it appeared, fully developed, as Gulliver’s Travels.
His brother, Roger Boyle (1621-1679), who figures largely as a soldier and a statesman in Irish and English history under his title of Lord Broghill, was an alumnus of Trinity College, Dublin. During the Civil War he was a royalist until the death of Charles I., when he changed sides and aided Cromwell materially in his Irish campaign. When the Lord Protector died, Broghill made another right-about-face, and crossing to his native country worked so energetically and successfully that he made Ireland solid for the restoration of Charles II. For this service he was rewarded by being created Earl of Orrery. He was the author of six tragedies and two comedies, some of which when produced proved gratifyingly popular. He is noted for having been the first to write tragedy in rhyme, thereby setting an example that was followed with avidity for a time by Dryden and others. He also wrote poems, a romance called Parthenissa (1654), and a Treatise on the Art of War (1677). From whatever point of view considered, Lord Orrery was a remarkable member of a remarkable family. His son, John Boyle, Earl of Cork and Orrery (1707-1762), in virtue of his translation of Pliny’s Letters, his Remarks on the Life and Writings of Swift, and his Letters from Italy, has some claims to recognition in the field of literature.
Charles Leslie (1650-1722), a Dubliner by birth, was son of that John Leslie, bishop of Raphoe and Clogher, who lived through a whole century, from 1571 to 1671, and who was 79 years of age when Charles, his sixth son, was born. Educated first at Enniskillen and afterwards at Trinity College, Dublin, Charles Leslie studied law in London, but eventually abandoned that profession and entered the ministry. He was of a disputatious character and in particular went to great lengths in opposing the pro-Catholic activities of James II. Nevertheless, when the Revolution of 1688 came, he took the side of the deposed monarch, and loyally adhered to his Jacobite principles for the remainder of his life. He even joined the Old Pretender on the continent, and endeavored to convert him to Protestantism, but, failing therein, he returned to Ireland, where he died at Glasslough in county Monaghan. Many years of Leslie’s life were devoted to disputes with Catholics, Quakers, Socinians, and Deists, and the seven volumes which his writings fill prove that he was an extremely able controversialist. His best known work is the famous treatise, A Short and Easy Method with the Deists, published in 1698.
The Irish note, tone, or temper is not conspicuous in any of the writings so far named unless when it is conspicuous by its absence; but it appears plainly, for the first time, in Molyneux’s Case of Ireland being bound by Laws [made] in England Stated (1698). William Molyneux (1656-1698) has always ranked as an Irish patriot. His was one of the spirits invoked by Grattan in his great speech (1782) on the occasion on which he carried his celebrated Declaration of Independence in the Irish parliament. When the English Act of 1698, which was meant to destroy, and did destroy, the Irish woolen industry, came before the Irish house of commons for ratification, Molyneux’s was the only voice raised against its adoption. His protest was followed by the publication of his Case Stated, which is a classic on the general relations between Ireland and England, and contained arguments so irrefutable that it drove the English parliament to fury and was by that body ordered to be burned by the common hangman. It is a remarkable coincidence that Molyneux opens his argument by laying down in almost identical words the principles which stand at the beginning of the American Declaration of Independence.
John Toland (1669-1722) was born near Redcastle, in Co. Derry, and was at first a Catholic but subsequently became a free-thinker. His Christianity not Mysterious (1696) marks an epoch in religious disputes, for it started the deistical controversy which was so distinctive a feature of the first half of the eighteenth century. It shared a similar fate to that of the Case Stated, though on very different grounds, and was ordered by the Irish parliament to be burned by the hangman. Toland wrote many other books, among which are Amyntor (1699); Nazarenus (1702); Pantheisticon; History of the Druids; and Hypatia. All his books show versatility and wide reading and are characterized by a pointed, vigorous, and aggressive style.
George Farquhar (1678-1707), a Derry man, and Thomas Southerne (1660-1746), born near Dublin, were distinguished playwrights, who began their respective careers in the seventeenth century. Farquhar left Trinity College, Dublin, as an undergraduate and became an actor, but owing to his accidental killing of another player he left the stage and secured a commission in the army. He soon turned his attention to the writing of plays, and was responsible in all for eight comedies. He has left us some characters that are very humorous and at the same time true to life, such as Scrub the servant in The Beaux’ Stratagem and Sergeant Kite in The Recruiting Officer. His Boniface, the landlord in the former of these two plays, has become the type, as well as the ordinary quasi-facetious nickname, of an innkeeper. He was advancing in his art, for his last comedy, The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707), is undoubtedly his best, and had he lived longer–he died before he was thirty–he might have bequeathed to posterity something even more noteworthy. As Leigh Hunt says of him: “He was becoming gayer and gayer, when death, in the shape of a sore anxiety, called him away as if from a pleasant party, and left the house ringing with his jest.”
Southerne was also a student of Trinity College, Dublin. At the age of eighteen, however, he left his alma mater, and went to London to study law. This profession he in turn abandoned for the drama. His first play, The Persian Prince, or the Loyal Brother, had remarkable success when performed, and secured him an ensign’s commission in the army (1685). Here promotion came to him rapidly and by 1688 he had risen to captain’s rank. The Revolution of that year, however, cut off all further hope of advancement, and he once more turned his attention to the writing of plays. His productions number ten. His tragedies Isabella, or the Fatal Marriage (1694) and Oroonoko (1696), both founded on tales by Mrs. Aphra Behn, are powerful presentations of human suffering. His comedies are amusing, but gross. Southerne had business ability enough to make play-writing pay, and the amounts he received for his productions fairly staggered his friend Dryden. It is to this faculty that Pope alludes when he says that Southerne was one whom
heaven sent down to raise
The price of prologues and of plays.
He was apparently of amiable and estimable character, for he secured and retained the friendship not only of Dryden–a comparatively easy matter–but also that of Pope, a much more difficult task. Known as “the poets’ Nestor”, Southerne spent his declining years in peaceful retirement and in the enjoyment of the fortune which he had amassed by his pen.
Nahum Tate (1652-1715), a Dubliner by birth, and Nicholas Brady (1659-1726), a Bandon man, have secured a certain sort of twin immortality by their authorized metrical version of the Psalms (1696), which gradually took the place of the older rendering by Sternhold and Hopkins. Tate became poet-laureate in 1690 in succession to Shadwell and was appointed historiographer-royal in 1702. He wrote the bulk of the second part of Absalom and Achitophel with a wonderfully close imitation of Dryden’s manner, besides several dramatic pieces and poems. Between Tate, Shadwell, Eusden, and Pye lies the unenviable distinction of being the worst of the laureates of England. Brady was a clergyman who, after the pleasant fashion of that day, was a pluralist on a small scale, for he had the living of Richmond for thirty years from 1696, and while holding that held also in succession the livings of Stratford-on-Avon and Clapham. He added further to his income, and doubtless to his anxieties, by keeping a school at Richmond. He wrote a tragedy entitled The Rape, a History of the Goths and Vandals, a translation of the Aeneid into blank verse, and an Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day; but, unless for his share in the version of the Psalms, his literary reputation is well nigh as dead as the dodo.
Ireland somewhat doubtfully claims to have given birth to Mrs. Susannah Centlivre (c. 1667-1723), who, after a rather wild youth, settled down to literary pursuits and domestic contentment when, in 1706, she married Queen Anne’s head-cook, Joseph Centlivre, with whom she lived happily ever after. Her first play, The Provoked Husband, a tragedy, was produced in 1700, and then she went on the stage as an actress. She wrote in all nineteen dramatic pieces, some of which had the honor of being translated into French and German. Her most original play was A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1717).
III. EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
We have now fairly crossed the border of the eighteenth century, and, as we met Ussher early in the seventeenth, so we are here confronted with the colossal intellect and impressive personality of Swift, one of the greatest, most peculiar, and most original geniuses to be found in the whole domain of English literature. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), born in Dublin, was educated at Trinity College, where he succeeded in graduating only by special favor. After some years spent in the household of Sir William Temple in England, he entered the ministry of the Irish Church. During the early years of the century he spent much time in London, and took an active part in bringing about that political revolution which seated the Tories firmly in power during the last four years of the reign of Queen Anne. His services in that connection on the Examiner newspaper were so great that it would be difficult to dispute the assertion, which has been made, that he was one of the mightiest journalists that ever wielded a pen. He also stood loyally by his party in his great pamphlets, The Conduct of the Allies (1711), The Barrier Treaty (1712), and The Public Spirit of the Whigs (1714). When the time came for his reward, he received not, as he had hoped, an English bishopric, but the deanery of St. Patrick’s in Dublin. On resuming his residence in Ireland he was at first very unpopular, but his patriotic spirit as shown in the Drapier Letters (1723-1724), written in connection with a coinage scheme known as “Wood’s halfpence”, not only caused the withdrawal of the obnoxious project but also made Swift the idol of all classes of his countrymen. In many others of his writings he showed that pro-Irish leaning which caused Grattan to invoke his spirit along with that of Molyneux on the occasion already referred to. Nothing more mordant than the irony contained in his Modest Proposal has ever been penned. In his plea for native manufactures he struck a keynote that has vibrated down the ages when he advised Irishmen to burn everything English except coal!
Swift’s greater works are The Battle of the Books, his contribution to the controversy concerning the relative merits of the ancients and the moderns; the Tale of a Tub, in which he attacked the three leading forms of Christianity; and, above all, Gulliver’s Travels. In this last work he let loose the full flood of his merciless satire and lashed the folly and vices of mankind in the most unsparing way. He also wrote verses which are highly characteristic and some of them not without considerable merit. His life was unhappy and for the last five years of it he was to all intents and purposes insane. His relations with Stella (Hester Johnson) and Vanessa (Esther Vanhomrigh) have never been quite satisfactorily explained. The weight of evidence would seem to show that he was secretly married to Stella, but that they never lived together as husband and wife. Many novels and plays have been written round those entanglements. He lies buried in his own cathedral, St. Patrick’s, Dublin, and beside him lies Stella. Over his tomb there is an epitaph in Latin, written by himself, in which, after speaking of the saeva indignatio which tore his heart, he bids the wayfarer go and imitate, if he can, the energetic defender of his native land.
Contemporary with the Dean there was another Anglo-Irishman, who fills a large space in the history of English literature, and of whom his countrymen are justly proud. Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), who was born in Dublin and educated at the Charterhouse in London and afterwards at Oxford, started the Tatler in 1709, and thereby popularized, though he did not exactly originate, the periodical essay. Aided by his friend, Addison, he carried the work to perfection in the Spectator (1711-1712) and the Guardian (1713). Since then these essays have enlightened and amused each succeeding generation. Of the two, Addison’s is the greater name, but Steele was the more innovating spirit, for it is to him, and not to Addison, that the conception and initiation of the plan of the celebrated papers is due. Steele had had a predecessor in Defoe, whose Review had been in existence since 1704, but the more airy graces which characterized the Tatler and the Spectator gave the “lucubrations” of “Isaac Bickerstaffe” and of “Mr. Spectator” a greater hold on the public than Defoe’s paper was ever able to establish. Steele was responsible for many more periodicals, such as the Englishman, the Lover, the Reader, Town Talk, the Tea-Table, Chit-Chat, the Plebeian, and the Theatre, most of which had a rather ephemeral existence. Among his other services to literature he helped to purify the stage of some of its grossness, and he became the founder of that sentimental comedy which in the days of the early Georges took the place of the immoral comedy of the Restoration period, when, in Johnson’s famous phrase,
Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit.
Steele’s four comedies are The Funeral; or Grief à la mode (1701); The Lying Lover (1703); The Tender Husband (1705); and The Conscious Lovers (1722). Although he held various lucrative offices, Steele was never really prosperous and was frequently in debt; like most of the contemporary Englishmen with whom his lot was thrown, he was rather addicted to the bottle; but, on the whole, it may fairly be advanced that unnecessary stress has been laid on these aspects of his life by Macaulay, Thackeray, and others. After a chequered career, he died near Carmarthen, in Wales, on September 1, 1729.
Member of a family and bearer of a name destined to secure immense fame in later Irish history, Thomas Parnell (1679-1718) was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College. Entering the ministry in 1700, he was rapidly promoted to be archdeacon of Clogher and some years later was made rector of Finglas. An accomplished scholar and a delightful companion, he was one of the original members of the famous Scriblerus Club and wrote or helped to write several of its papers, he contributed to the Spectator and the Guardian, and he rendered sterling assistance to Pope in the translation of Homer. As will be inferred, he spent much of his time in England, and on one of his journeys to Ireland he died in his thirty-ninth year at Chester, where he was buried. He wrote a great deal of verse–songs, hymns, epistles, eclogues, translations, tales, and occasional trifles; but three poems, A Hymn to Contentment, which is fanciful and melodious, A Night-piece on Death, in which inquisitorial research seems to have found the first faint dawn of Romanticism, and The Hermit, which has been not inaptly styled “the apex and chef d’oeuvre of Augustan poetry in England”, constitute his chief claim to present remembrance.
Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746), the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born at Armagh, and studied at Glasgow University. He opened in Dublin a private academy, which succeeded beyond expectation. The publication of his Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1720) and his Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions (1728) brought him great fame, and in 1729 he was elected to the professorship of moral philosophy in the University of Glasgow. Others of his works are a treatise on Logic and A System of Moral Philosophy, the latter not published till 1755, nine years after his death. Hutcheson fills a large space in the history of philosophy, both as a metaphysician and as a moralist. He is in some respects a pioneer of the “Scotch school” and of “common sense” philosophy. He greatly developed the doctrine of “moral sense”, a term first used by the third Earl of Shaftesbury; indeed, much of his whole moral system may be traced to Shaftesbury. Hutcheson’s influence was widely felt: it is plainly perceptible in Hume, Adam Smith, and Reid. He was greater as a speaker even than as a writer, and his lectures evoked much enthusiasm.
George Berkeley (1685-1753), bishop of Cloyne, was born at Dysert Castle, near Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, and was educated first at Kilkenny school and afterwards at Trinity College, Dublin. Having taken Anglican orders, he visited London, where he wrote nine papers for the Guardian and was admitted to the companionship and friendship of the leading literary men of the age–Swift, Pope, Addison, Steele, and Arbuthnot. This connection proved of great assistance to him, for Pope not only celebrated him as possessing “every virtue under heaven”, but also recommended him to the Duke of Grafton, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, who appointed him his chaplain and subsequently obtained for him the deanery of Derry. In furtherance of a great scheme for “converting the savage Americans to Christianity”, Berkeley and some friends, armed with a royal charter, came to this country, landing at Newport in Rhode Island in January, 1729. All went well for a while: Berkeley bought a farm and built a house; but when the hard-hearted prime minister refused to forward the £20,000 which had been promised, the project came to an end, and Berkeley returned to London in February, 1732. In 1734 he was appointed bishop of Cloyne, and later refused the see of Clogher, though its income was fully double that of his own diocese. In 1752 he resigned his bishopric and settled at Oxford, where he died in 1753.
Berkeley’s works are very numerous. His Essay towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), which was long regarded in the light of a philosophical romance, in reality contains speculations which have been incorporated in modern scientific optics. In his Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713) he sets forth his famous demonstration of the immateriality of the external world, of the spiritual nature of the soul, and of the all-ruling and direct providence of God. His tenets on immateriality have always been rejected by “common-sense” philosophers; but it should be remembered that the whole work was written at a time when the English-speaking world was disturbed by the theories of sceptics and deists, whose doctrines the pious divine sought as best he could to confute. In 1732 appeared his Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher, in which, dialogue-wise, he presents nature from a religious point of view and in particular gives many pleasing pictures of American scenery and life. These dialogues have frequently been compared to the dialogues of Plato. To Berkeley’s credit be it said that while he ruled in Cloyne he devoted much thought to the amelioration of conditions in his native land. Many acute suggestions in that direction are found in the Querist (1735-1737). By some extraordinary ratiocinative process he convinced himself that tar-water was a panacea for human ills, and in 1744 he set forth his views on that subject in the tract called Siris, and returned to the charge in 1752 in his Further Thoughts on Tar-Water. Whatever may be thought of the value of Berkeley’s philosophical or practical speculations, there is only one opinion of his style. It is distinguished by lucidity, ease, and charm; it has the saving grace of humor; and it is shot through with imagination. Taken all in all, this eighteenth century bishop is a notable figure in literary annals.
Charles Macklin (c. 1697-1797), whose real name was MacLaughlin, was a Westmeath man, who took to the stage in early life and remained on the boards with considerable and undiminished reputation for some seventy years, not retiring until 1789 when he was at least 92 years old. To him we are indebted for what is now the accepted presentation of the character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. He wrote a tragedy and many comedies and farces: those by which he is now best remembered are the farce, Love-à-la-Mode (1760), and his masterpiece, the farcical comedy, The Man of the World (1764). In Sir Pertinax MacSycophant, Macklin has given us one of the traditional burlesque characters of the English stage.
Thomas Amory (1691?-1788), if not born in Ireland, was at least of Irish descent and was educated in Dublin. He is known in literature for two books. The first, with the very mixed title of Memoirs containing the Lives of several Ladies of Great Britain; A History of Antiquities; Observations on the Christian Religion, was published in 1755, and the second, The Life of John Buncle, Esq., came out in two volumes in 1756-1766. It appears to have been the author’s aim in both works to give us a hotch-potch in which he discourses de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis. We have dissertations on the cause of earthquakes and of muscular motion, on the Athanasian Creed, on fluxions, on phlogiston, on the physical cause of the Deluge, on Irish literature, on the origin of language, on the evidences for Christianity, and on all other sorts of unrelated topics. Hazlitt thought that the soul of Rabelais had passed into Amory, while a more recent critic can see in his long-winded discussions naught but the “light-headed ramblings of delirium.” If we try to read John Buncle consecutively, the result is boredom; but if we open the book at random, we are pretty sure to be interested and even sometimes agreeably entertained.
The bizarre figure of Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) next claims our attention. The son of a captain in the British army, he was born at Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Of him almost more than of any of the writers so far dealt with, it may be said that he was Irish only by the accident of birth. His parents were English on both sides, and practically the whole life of their son was spent out of Ireland. He was sent to school at Halifax, in Yorkshire, and thence went to Cambridge University, where he graduated in due season. Taking Anglican orders in 1738, he was immediately appointed to the benefice of Sutton-in-the-Forest, near York, and on his marriage in 1741 with Elizabeth Lumley he received the additional living of Stillington. He was also given sundry prebendal and other appointments in connection with the chapter of the archdiocese of York. He spent nearly twenty years in the discharge of his not very onerous duties and in reading, painting, shooting, and fiddling, without showing the least sign of any literary leanings. Then suddenly, in 1760, he took the world by storm with the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy. He at once became the lion of the hour, was fêted and dined to his heart’s content, and had his nostrils tickled with the daily incense of praise from his numerous worshippers. He repeated the experiment with equal success the following year with two more volumes of Tristram, and so at intervals until 1767, when he published the ninth and last volume of this most peculiar story. In 1768 he brought out A Sentimental Journey, and within three weeks he died in his lodgings in London. His other publications include Sermons and Letters. Tristram Shandy is unique in English literature–it stands sui generis for all time. There is scarcely any consecutive narrative, and what there is is used merely as a peg on which to hang endless digressions. But while there are many faults of taste and morals, there are also genuine humor and pathos, and without Walter Shandy, Dr. Slop, the Widow Wadman, Yorick, Uncle Toby, and Corporal Trim, English literature would certainly be very much the poorer.
Hugh Kelly (1739-1777), born in Dublin, was the son of a publican and himself became a staymaker, a trade from which he developed through the successive stages of attorney’s clerk, newspaper-writer, theatrical critic, and essayist, into a novelist and playwright. His novel, Memoirs of a Magdalen (1767), was translated into French. His first comedy, a sentimental one entitled False Delicacy (1768), achieved a remarkable success on the stage and was even a greater success in book form, 10,000 copies being sold in a year, so that its author was raised from poverty to comparative affluence. In addition, it gave him a European reputation, for it was translated into German, French, and Portuguese. Strange to say, his later comedies, A Word to the Wise, A School for Wives, and The Man of Reason, were practically failures, and the same is true of his tragedy, Clementina. Kelly ultimately withdrew from stage work, and for the last three years of his life practised as a barrister without, however, achieving much distinction in his new profession.
Charles Coffey (d. 1745), an Irishman, was the author of several farces, operas, ballad operas, ballad farces, and farcical operas, the best known of which was The Devil to Pay, or the Wives Metamorphosed (1731).
Henry Brooke (1703?-1783), a county Cavan man and the son of a clergyman, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and afterwards studied law in London. Becoming guardian to his cousin, a girl of twelve, he put her to school for two years and then secretly married her. Of his large family of twenty-two children, three of whom were born before their mother was eighteen years old, but one survived him. Appointed by Lord Chesterfield barrack-master at Mullingar, Brooke afterwards settled in Co. Kildare. It was there that he wrote his celebrated work, The Fool of Quality, or the History of the Earl of Moreland (5 vols., 1766-1770), which won the commendations of men so widely different as John Wesley and Charles Kingsley. It is, indeed, a remarkable book, combining, as it does, many of the characteristics of Sterne, Mackenzie, Borrow, and George Meredith. It is not very well known nowadays, but it will always bear, and will well repay, perusal. Brooke also wrote a poem on Universal Beauty (1735) and the tragedies Gustavus Vasa (1739), the production of which was forbidden in London but which was afterwards staged in Dublin as The Patriot, and The Earl of Essex (1749), which was played both in London and in Dublin, and has been made famous by the parody of one line in it by Samuel Johnson. Another novel, Juliet Grenville, or the History of the Human Heart, published in 1774, was not nearly up to the standard of The Fool of Quality. Brooke was a busy literary man. He made a translation of part of Tasso, drafted plans for a History of Ireland, projected a series of old Irish tales, wrote one fragment in a style very like that subsequently adopted by Macpherson in his Ossian, and for a while was editor of the Freeman’s Journal. In the beginning, Brooke was violently anti-Catholic; but, as time progressed, he became more liberal-minded, and advocated the relaxation of the penal laws and a more humane treatment of his Catholic fellow-countrymen. Like Swift and Steele, he fell into a state of mental debility for some years before his death. His daughter, Charlotte Brooke (1740-1793), deserves mention as a pioneer of the Irish literary revival, for she devoted herself to the saving of the stores of Irish literature which in her time were rapidly disappearing. One of the fruits of her labors was The Reliques of Irish Poetry, published in 1789. She also wrote Emma, or the Foundling of the Wood, a novel, and Belisarius, a tragedy.
Charles Johnstone (c. 1719-1800), a Co. Limerick man, was educated in Dublin and called to the English bar, but owing to deafness was more successful as a chamber counsel than as a pleader. Emigrating to India in 1782, he became joint proprietor of a newspaper in Calcutta, and there he died. He wrote several satirical romances, such as Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea; The Reverie, or a Flight to the Paradise of Fools; and The History of Arsaces, Prince of Betlis. Of these the first was the best. Samuel Johnson, who read it in manuscript, advised its publication, and his opinion was vindicated, for it proved a huge success. Sir Walter Scott afterwards said that the author of Chrysal deserved to rank as a prose Juvenal. Johnstone also wrote The Pilgrim, or a Picture of Life and a picaresque novel, The History of John Juniper, Esquire, alias Juniper Jack.
Arthur Murphy (1727-1805), born at Cloonquin, Co. Roscommon, was educated at St. Omer. At first an actor, he afterwards studied law and was called to the English bar in 1762. He made a translation of Tacitus, and wrote several farces and comedies, among which may be mentioned The Apprentice; The Spouter; The Upholsterer; The Way to Keep Him; and All in the Wrong. He also wrote three tragedies, namely, The Orphan of China; The Grecian Daughter; and Arminius. For the last-named, which was produced in 1798, and which had a strongly political cast, he received a pension of £200 a year. His plays long held the stage.
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), essayist, poet, novelist, playwright, historian, biographer, and editor, was a many-sided genius, who, as Johnson said in his epitaph, left scarcely any kind of writing untouched, and touched none that he did not adorn. Born, probably, in Co. Longford, the son of a poor clergyman, he was educated at various country schools until, in 1744, he secured a sizarship in Trinity College, Dublin. There he had a somewhat stormy career, but eventually took his degree in 1749. He then lounged at home for a while in his widowed mother’s cottage at Ballymahon, until he was persuaded to take orders, but spoiled his already sufficiently poor chances of ordination by appearing before the bishop of Elphin in scarlet breeches. After other adventures in search of a profession, he went to Edinburgh in 1752 to study medicine, and two years later transferred himself to Leyden for the same purpose. It was from Leyden that, with one guinea in his pocket, one shirt on his person, and a flute in his hand, he started on his celebrated walking tour of Europe, during which he gained those impressions which he was afterwards to embody in some of his greater works. In 1756 he arrived in England, where for three years he had very varied experiences–as a strolling player, an apothecary’s journeyman, a practising physician, a reader for the press, an usher in an academy, and a hack-writer. In 1759 he published anonymously his Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe, which was well received and helped him to other literary work. The Bee, a volume of essays and verses, appeared in the same year. He was made editor of the Lady’s Magazine; he published Memoirs of Voltaire (1761), a History of Mecklenburgh (1762), and a Life of Richard Nash (1762). In 1762 also he brought out his Citizen of the World, a collection of essays, which takes an extremely high rank. In 1764 his poem, The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society, made its appearance; and in 1766 he gave to the world his famous novel, The Vicar of Wakefield. His reputation as a writer was now established; he was received into Johnson’s circle and was a member of the Literary Club; Reynolds and Burke were proud to call him friend. In 1768 he had his comedy, The Good Natured Man, produced at Covent Garden Theatre, where it achieved a fair measure of success and brought him in £400. In 1770 he repeated his triumph as a poet with The Deserted Village. He wrote a History of Animated Nature, a History of England, and a History of Rome, all compilations couched in that easy style of which he was master. He also wrote a Life of Parnell and a Life of Bolingbroke. Finally, in 1773, his great comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, was staged at Covent Garden, and met with wonderful success. A little more than a year later Goldsmith died of a nervous fever, the result of overwork and anxiety, and was buried in the burial ground of the Temple Church. His unfinished poem, Retaliation, a series of epigrams in epitaph form on some of his distinguished literary and artistic friends, was issued a few days after his death, and added greatly to his reputation as a wit and humorist, a reputation which was still further enhanced when, in 1776, The Haunch of Venison made its appearance. In the latter year a monument, with a medallion and Johnson’s celebrated Latin epitaph attached, was erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey.
Goldsmith’s renown, great in his own day, has never since diminished. His essays, his novel, and his poems are still read with avidity and pleasure; his comedy is still acted. It is his statue that stands along with Burke’s at the entrance gate to Trinity College, Dublin, the alma mater seeking to commemorate in a striking manner two of her most distinguished sons by placing their effigies thus in the forefront of her possessions and in full view of all the world. Personally, Goldsmith was a very amiable and good-hearted man, dear to his own circle and dear to that “Mr. Posterity” to whom he once addressed a humorous dedication. He had his faults, it is true, but they are hidden amid his many perfections. Everyone will be disposed to agree with what Johnson wrote of him: “Let not his frailties be remembered; he was a very great man.”
Edmund Burke (1729-1797), born in Dublin, the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother whose name was Nagle, was educated first at a Quaker school in Ballitore, Co. Kildare, and afterwards at Trinity College, Dublin. He became a law student in London, but he did not eventually adopt the law as a profession. He brought out in 1756 a Vindication of Natural Society, in which he so skilfully imitated the style and the paradoxical reasoning of Bolingbroke that many were deceived into the belief that the Vindication was a posthumously published production of the viscount’s pen. In the following year Burke published in his own name A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which attracted widespread attention, was translated into German and French, and brought its author into touch with all the leading literary men of London. He was instrumental with Dodsley the publisher in starting the Annual Register in 1759, and for close on thirty years he continued to supply it with the “Survey of Events.” He entered public life in 1760 by accompanying “Single-Speech” Hamilton to Dublin when the latter was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland. In 1765 he was made private secretary to the prime minister, the Marquis of Rockingham, and, as member for Wendover, entered parliament, where he speedily made a name for himself. During Lord North’s long tenure of office (1770-1782) Burke was one of the minority and opposed the splendid force of his genius to the corruption, extravagance, and mal-administration of the government. To this period belong, in addition to lesser works, his great speeches On American Taxation (1774) and On Conciliation with America (1775), as well as his spirited Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (1777). He had been elected member of parliament for Bristol in 1774, but he lost his seat in 1780 because he had advocated the relaxation of the restrictions on the trade of Ireland with Great Britain and of the penal laws against Catholics. In the second administration of Rockingham (1782) and in that of Portland (1783) he was paymaster of the forces, a position which he lost on the downfall of the Whigs in the latter year, and he never again held public office. His speech on the impeachment of Warren Hastings in 1788 is universally and justly ranked as a masterpiece of eloquence. When the French Revolution broke out, he opposed it with might and main. His Reflections on the French Revolution (1790) had an enormous circulation, reached an eleventh edition inside of a year, was read all over the continent as well as in the British Isles, and helped materially not only to keep England steady in the crisis, but also to incite the other powers to continue their resistance to French aggression. He continued his campaign in Thoughts on French Affairs and Letters on a Regicide Peace. He was given two pensions in 1794, and would have been raised to the peerage as Lord Beaconsfield, had not the succession to the title been cut off by the premature death of his only son. He himself died in 1797 and was buried at Beaconsfield, where, as far back as 1768, he had purchased a small estate.
As an orator and a deep political thinker, Burke holds a foremost place among those of all time who distinguished themselves in the British parliament. His keen intellect, his powerful imagination, his sympathy with the fallen, the downtrodden, and the oppressed, and his matchless power of utterance of the thoughts that were in him have made an impression that can never be effaced. His wise and statesman-like views on questions affecting the colonies ought to endear him to all Americans, although, if his counsels had been hearkened to, it is probable that the separation from the mother country would not have occurred as soon as it did. For his native land he used his best endeavors when and how he could, and although, as her defender, he was faced by obloquy as well as by the loss of that parliamentary position which was as dear to him as the breath of his nostrils, he did not flinch or shrink from supporting her material and spiritual interests in his own generous, manly, whole-hearted way. Trinity College, Dublin, has done well in placing his statue at her outer gates as representing the greatest Irishman of his generation.
A political associate of Burke’s for many years was Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). Of Co. Cavan descent, Sheridan was born in Dublin, and was educated partly in his native city and partly at Harrow, and the remainder of his life was spent in England. He was distinguished first as a playwright and afterwards as a parliamentary orator. In 1775 his comedy, The Rivals, was produced at Covent Garden Theatre; his farce, St. Patrick’s Day, or the Scheming Lieutenant, and his comic opera, The Duenna, were staged in the same year. His greatest comedy, The School for Scandal, was acted at Drury Lane Theatre in 1777, and it was followed in 1779 by The Critic. His last dramatic composition was the tragedy, Pizarro, produced in 1799. Elected to parliament in 1780, Sheridan was made under-secretary for foreign affairs in the Rockingham administration of 1782, and in 1783 he was secretary to the treasury in the Coalition Ministry. He sprang into repute as a brilliant orator during the impeachment of Warren Hastings, 1787-1794. His speech on the Begums of Oude was one of the greatest ever delivered within the walls of the British parliament. In 1806, on the return of the Whigs to power, he was appointed treasurer in the navy. In 1812 his long parliamentary career came to a close when he was defeated for the borough of Westminster. He died in 1816, and was honored with a magnificent funeral in Westminster Abbey.
To give an idea as to how Sheridan’s oratorical powers impressed his contemporaries, it is perhaps enough to repeat what Burke said of his second speech against Warren Hastings, namely, that it was “the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and wit united of which there is any record or tradition”, and to add that when, after three hours of impassioned pleading, he brought his first speech against Hastings to an end, the effect produced was so great that it was agreed to adjourn the house immediately and defer the final decision until the members should be in a less excited mood. As a dramatist Sheridan is second in popularity to Shakespeare alone. The School for Scandal and The Rivals are as fresh and as eagerly welcomed today as they were a hundred and forty years ago. Like Burke, he was true to the land of his birth and his oppressed Catholic fellow-countrymen. Almost his last words in the house of commons were these: “Be just to Ireland. I will never give my vote to any administration that opposes the question of Catholic emancipation.”
Sheridan belonged to a family that was exceptionally distinguished in English literature. Among those who preceded him as litterateurs were his grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Sheridan, D.D.; his father, Thomas Sheridan; and his mother, Frances Sheridan. Rev. Dr. Sheridan (1684-1738), the friend and confidant of Dean Swift, kept a fashionable school in Dublin, edited the Satires of Persius in 1728, wrote a treatise on The Art of Punning, and figures largely in Swift’s correspondence. Thomas Sheridan (1721-1788) was at first an actor of considerable reputation, both in Dublin and in London; was next a teacher of elocution; and finally came forward with an improved system of education, in which oratory was to have a conspicuous part. In this connection he published an elaborate Plan of Education in 1769, but his ideas, some of which are in accord with modern practice, were not taken up, He also compiled a pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language, with a prosodic grammar, and in 1784 published an entertaining Life of Swift. Frances Sheridan (1724-1766), wife of Thomas and mother of Richard Brinsley, who as Frances Chamberlaine had been known as a poetess, wrote after her marriage two plays, The Discovery and The Dupe, and two novels, The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulph, which was a great success and was translated by the Abbé Prévost into French, and The History of Nourjahad, an Oriental tale. In 1775 the singular spectacle was presented of the son’s play running at Covent Garden while the mother’s was being acted at Drury Lane.
Among Sheridan’s descendants who earned a niche in the temple of literary fame were his grand-daughters, the Countess of Dufferin (1807-1867) and the Hon. Mrs. Norton, afterwards Lady Stirling Maxwell (1808-1877), and his great-grandson, the first Marquis of Dufferin and Ava (1826-1902). Lady Dufferin’s Lament of the Irish Emigrant (“I’m sittin’ on the style, Mary”) has moved the hearts and brought tears to the eyes of countless thousands since it was published more than fifty years ago.
Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818), born in Dublin, was the son of a clergyman of like name who attained some literary eminence as the translator of Horace and as a political writer. After filling various important government positions, Philip Francis, the son, was in 1773 made a member of the Council of Bengal, where his relations with the governor-general, Warren Hastings, were of an extremely strained character, amounting at times almost to a public scandal. He returned to England in 1781, entered parliament, made a name as a speaker, took part in the impeachment of Hastings, and composed numerous political pamphlets. He is generally supposed to have been the writer of the celebrated Letters of Junius, which appeared at intervals in the Public Advertiser between January 21, 1769, and January 21, 1772. These letters are distinguished for their polished style, their power of invective, their galling sarcasm, their knowledge of state secrets, and their unparalleled boldness. Every prominent man connected with the government was attacked: even the king himself was not spared. As revised by their pseudonymous writer in a reprint made in 1772, they number 70; a later edition, in 1812, contained 113 more. Their authorship has been the subject of much controversy, nor is the question yet finally settled. In his Essay on Warren Hastings, written in 1841, Macaulay went to considerable trouble to prove, by the cumulative method, that Francis was the writer, and since then that opinion has been generally, but not universally, maintained.
Isaac Bickerstaffe (c. 1735-c. 1812) was an Irishman, whose name, strange to say, had no connection with the nom de guerre of the same style under which Swift had masqueraded in his outrageously satirical attacks on Partridge the almanac maker, or with the more celebrated imaginary Isaac Bickerstaffe under cover of whose personality Steele conducted the Tatler. The real Bickerstaffe was a prolific playwright. His best known pieces are The Sultan, The Maid of the Mill, Lionel and Clarissa, and Love in a Village. In the last-mentioned occurs the famous song, beginning “We all love a pretty girl–under the rose.”
William Drennan (1754-1820), who has been called the Tyrtaeus of the United Irishmen, was the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, was born in Belfast, and was educated at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, taking a medical degree from the latter. He practised his profession in the north of Ireland. When the Irish Volunteers were established, Drennan entered heart and soul into the movement. Removing to Dublin in 1789, he associated with Tone and other revolutionary spirits, and became one of the founders of the Society of United Irishmen, the first statement of whose objects was the product of his pen. His Letters of Orellana helped materially to enlist the men of Ulster in the ranks of the Society. He also wrote a series of stirring lyrics which, voicing as they did the general sentiment in Ireland at the time, became extremely popular and had a widespread effect. These were afterwards (1815) collected under the title of Fugitive Pieces. All his political hopes being blasted with the failure of the rebellion of 1798 and of Emmet’s insurrection in 1803, Drennan returned in 1807 to Belfast and there founded the Belfast Magazine. “The Wake of William Orr”, a series of noble and affecting stanzas commemorating the judicial murder of a young Presbyterian Irish patriot in 1798, is one of his best known pieces. He also celebrated the ill-fated brothers Sheares. His song “Erin” was considered by Moore to be one of the most perfect of modern songs. It was in this piece that he fixed upon Ireland the title of the Emerald Isle:
When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood, God bless’d the green island, and saw it was good; The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone– In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
Mary Tighe (1772-1810), whose maiden name was Blachford, was born, the daughter of a clergyman, in Co. Wicklow. She contracted an unhappy marriage with her cousin who represented Kilkenny in the Irish house of commons. By all accounts she was of great beauty and numerous accomplishments. She wrote many poems: her best, and best known, is Psyche, or the Legend of Love, an adaptation of the story of Cupid and Psyche from the Golden Ass of Apuleius. The metre she employed in this piece was the Spenserian stanza, which she handled with great power, freedom, and melody. Psyche, which first appeared in 1795, had a wonderful vogue, running rapidly through edition after edition. Among others to whom it appealed and who were influenced by it was Keats. Mrs. Tighe’s talent drew from Moore a delicate compliment in “Tell me the witching tale again”; and in “The Grave of a Poetess” and “I stood where the life of song lay low”, Mrs. Hemans bewailed her untimely death.
Edmund Malone (1741-1813), the son of an Irish judge, was born in Dublin and studied at Trinity College. He was called to the Irish bar in 1767, but coming into a fortune, he abandoned his profession and gave himself over to literary work. In 1790 he brought out an edition of Shakespeare which was deservedly praised for its learning and research. His critical acumen led him to doubt the genuineness of Chatterton’s Rowley Poems, and he was one of the first to expose Ireland’s Shakespearean forgeries in 1796. Among other services to literature he wrote a Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds and edited Dryden. He also left a quantity of materials afterwards utilized for the “Variorum Shakespeare” by James Boswell the younger in 1821.
John O’Keeffe (1747-1833), a Dublin man, was at first an art student, but soon became an actor, and then developed into a playwright. His pen was most prolific; he published a collection of over fifty pieces in 1798. His plays are mostly comic operas or farces, and some of them had great success. Lingo, the schoolmaster in The Agreeable Surprise, is a very amusing character. The Positive Man, The Son-in-Law, Wild Oats, Love in a Camp, and The Poor Soldier are among his compositions. His songs are well known, such as “I am a friar of orders grey”, and there are few schoolboys who have not sooner or later made the acquaintance of his “Amo, amas, I loved a lass”. For the last fifty-two years of his life O’Keeffe was blind, an affliction which he bore with unfailing cheerfulness. In 1826 he was given a pension of one hundred guineas a year from the king’s privy purse.
George Canning (1770-1827), prime minister of England, properly belongs here, for, although born in London, he was a member of an Irish family long settled at Garvagh in Co. Derry. Entering parliament on the side of Pitt in 1796, he was made secretary of the navy in 1804 and in 1812 secretary of State for foreign affairs. He became prime minister in 1827, but died within six months, leaving a record for scarcely surpassed eloquence. In addition to his speeches, he is known in literature for his contributions to the Anti-Jacobin, or Weekly Examiner, which ran its satirical and energetic career for eight months (November, 1797-July, 1798.) Some of the best things that appeared in this ultra-conservative organ were from Canning’s pen. Few there are who have not laughed at his Loves of the Triangles, in which he caricatured Erasmus Darwin’s Loves of the Plants; at The Needy Knife-Grinder; or at the song of Rogero in The Rovers, with its comic refrain of the University of Gottingen.
Like most of the great Anglo-Irishmen of his time, Canning favored Catholic emancipation. It is interesting to note that it was a letter of Canning’s that led to the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine.
Henry Grattan (1746-1820), the hero of Grattan’s parliament, was born in Dublin and studied at Trinity College. His history belongs to that of his country. Suffice it here to say that not only did he by great eloquence and real statesmanship secure a free parliament for Ireland In 1782, but also that he fought energetically, if unavailingly, against the abolition of that parliament in 1800, and that thenceforward he devoted his abilities to promoting the cause of Catholic emancipation. Dying in London, he was honored by being buried in Westminster Abbey. In an age of great orators he stands out among the very foremost. His speeches have become classics, and are constantly quoted.
Another brilliant Irish orator, as well as an eminent wit, of this period, was John Philpot Curran (1750-1817), who, born at Newmarket, Co. Cork, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, achieved a wonderful success at the Irish bar. He defended with rare insight, eloquence, and patriotism those who were accused of complicity in the rebellion of 1798. As a member of Grattan’s parliament, he voiced the most liberal principles, and, though a Protestant himself, he worked hard in the Catholic cause. He held the great office of Master of the Rolls in Ireland from 1806 to 1814. The memory of few Irish orators, wits, or patriots is greener today than that of Curran. His daughter Sarah, whose fate is so inextricably blended with that of the ill-starred Robert Emmet, has been rendered immortal by Moore in his beautiful song, “She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps”.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1759-1797), the first advocate of the rights of women, though born in London, was of Irish extraction. Into the details of her extraordinary and chequered career it is not possible, or necessary, here to enter. Her published works include Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787); Answer to Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution (1791); Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792); and an unfinished Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution (Vol. I., 1794). Having in August, 1797, borne to her husband, William Godwin, a daughter who afterwards became Shelley’s second wife, Mary Godwin died in the following month. Whatever her faults–and they were perhaps not greater than her misfortunes–she had something of the divine touch of genius, and, in a different environment, might easily have left some great literary memento which the world would not willingly let die.
Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), though born at Blackbourton in England, belonged to a family which had been settled in different parts of Ireland and finally at Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford, for nearly two hundred years. She was the daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817), who was distinguished for his inventions, for his eccentricity, and for his varied matrimonial experiences, and who himself figures in literature as the author of Memoirs, posthumously published in 1820, and as the partner with his daughter in Practical Education (1798) and in an Essay on Irish Bulls (1802). Maria had a busy literary career and was before the public for fifty-two years from 1795 to 1847. She wrote Moral Tales; Popular Tales; Tales from Fashionable Life; and Harrington; but she is now best remembered for her three masterpieces dealing with Irish life and conditions, namely, Castle Rackrent (1800); The Absentee (1812); and Ormond (1817). By these works she inspired Scott, as he himself tells us, to attempt for his own country something “of the same kind with that which she had so fortunately achieved for Ireland”, and in a later day she inspired Turgenief to do similarly for Russia. She excels in wit and pathos and gives a true and vivid presentation of the times and conditions as she viewed them.
Andrew Cherry (1763-1821), born in Limerick, became an actor, a theatrical manager, and a playwright. He wrote nine or ten plays, several of which were moderately successful. The one that is now remembered is The Soldier’s Daughter. Some of his songs, such as “The Bay of Biscay”, “Tom Moody, the Whipper-in”, and, especially, “The Green Little Shamrock of Ireland”, bid fair to be immortal.
Other Irish song-writers were Thomas Duffet (fl. 1676), author of “Come all you pale lovers”; Arthur Dawson (1700?-1775), author of “Bumpers, Squire Jones”; George Ogle (1742-1814), author of “Molly Asthore”; Richard Alfred Millikin (1767-1815), author of the grotesque “Groves of Blarney”; Edward Lysaght (1763-1811), author of “Our Ireland”, “The Gallant Man who led the van Of the Irish Volunteers”, and “Kate of Garnavilla”; George Nugent Reynolds (1770?-1802), author of “Kathleen O’More”; Thomas Dermody (1775-1802), author of the collection of poems and songs known as The Harp of Erin; James Orr (1770-1816), author of “The Irishman”; Henry Brereton Code (d. 1830), author of “The Sprig of Shillelah”; Charles Wolfe (1791-1823), author of “If I had thought thou couldst have died”, and of “The Burial of Sir John Moore”; and Charles Dawson Shanly (1811-1875), author of “Kitty of Coleraine”.
Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798), born in Dublin, educated at Trinity College, and called to the Irish bar in 1789, fills a large space in the history of his country from 1790 to his death in 1798. Intrepid, daring, and resourceful, he was one of the most dangerous of the enemies to English domination in Ireland that arose at any time during the troubled relations between the two countries. Taken prisoner on board a French ship of the line bound for Ireland on a mission of freedom, he committed suicide in prison rather than submit to the ignominy of being hanged to which he had been condemned. He sleeps his last sleep in Bodenstown churchyard, in that county of Kildare to which he was connected by many ties. His grave is still the Mecca of many a pilgrimage, and the corner-stone of a statue to his memory has been laid for some years on a commanding site in the city of his birth. He is known in literature for his Journals and his Autobiography, both containing sad, but inspiring, reading for the Irishman of today.
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Here this rapid survey of Irish writers of English must close. To tell in any sort of appropriate detail the story of the English literature of Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would require a separate volume–a volume which is now under way and will, it is hoped, be speedily forthcoming. There is all the less need to attempt the agreeable task here, because in other portions of this book much more than passing reference is made to the chief Irish authors who, in the last hundred and fifteen years, have distinguished themselves and shed lustre on their country. During that period Irish poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists, historians, biographers, humorists, critics, and scholars have fully held their own both in the quantity and the quality of the work produced, and have left an impression of power and personality, of graceful style and vivifying imagination, that in itself constitutes, and must for ever constitute, one of the distinctive Glories of Ireland.
Irish Literature (10 vols., New York, 1904); Chambers’s Cyclopaedia of English Literature (3 vols., Philadelphia and London, 1902-1904); Dictionary of National Biography; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Cambridge History of English Literature; D’Alton: History of Ireland (London, 1910); Lennox: Early Printing in Ireland (Washington, 1909), Addison and the Modern Essay (Washington, 1912), Lessons in English Literature (21st edition, Baltimore, 1913); Macaulay: Essays, History of England; Brown: A Reader’s Guide to Irish Fiction (London, 1910), A Guide to Books on Ireland (Dublin, 1912).
Source: Project Gutenberg