AMONGST all the elements that have mixed and worked together to quicken and kindle the ancient British and Anglo-Saxon into the present English race, nothing is more remarkable than the influence of the Norsemen.
They come into the world at a time when the old races are fast decaying, for they have reached their dark ages.
The storehouses of rude strength are opened up in the North, and nature goes back to the primal elements for a fresh vigour that shall vitalize the world.
A new race is wanted, who have had hardship for their teacher, and whose thews and sinews have been developed to wrestle with
difficulty,—a race that shall conquer such rough facts as the Greeks have shunned, and become the world's greatest workers; a race of builders as well as battlers, who can plant as well as plunder, colonize as well as conquer, and triumph where the Romans failed; a race that shall start up into Protestant attitude in the presence of all oppression and wrong, and live and breathe only under such national laws as give room for evolving the noblest nature of the individual.
It was from the cold and stormy north that the Creator called forth the kindling energy of a robuster race.
These Norsemen came to infuse their Scandinavian blood into our veins, tingling with electric fire, such as the fiercest glow of the East can never match.
They were the ocean-born children of Liberty; and to this day, in whatever race the Norse influence works, in whatever blood it quickens, that race will be found true to the ancient mother, fighting for liberty still.
The Norsemen were born Protestants—haters of the Romish Church—hated it almost as soon as they heard of it.
They were known to us in our boyhood as the 'Bloody Danes,' ever since they were so painted by the Anglo-Saxon monks who saw their terrible warships hovering round the shores, and their faces gleaming in the red light of burning monasteries.
This Norse power, then, after innumerable endeavours to open the doors which were held and defended against it with desperate tenacity, passed into the English race, with its indomitable pluck, its enduring hardihood, and all its hunger for enterprise, lust of danger, and longing for new fields of action.
It did the same with the Lowland Scotch. And we look upon this Norse Conquest as one of the great wedding influences of the two peoples. It ranges us on the
same side of the world in politics and religion; it gives us the same delight in the sea, and brotherhood in battling; gives us a mutual feeling so strong that it fuses us into one.
The Celtic race in Ireland fought strenuously to resist the infusion of Norse influence, and were more successful in their efforts to keep it, out.
The older brother, already and for long in possession of the land, and priding himself on his direct lineage, looked with dark suspicion on this younger, ruddy, blue-eyed, and fair-haired fellow, who had been to sea, and who came with courage and daring to set his sea-king's throne high over all the thrones or the earth.
The Norsemen who came to stir the plodding AngloSaxon, and make him lift up his brow in the light of a new dawn, and quicken his footsteps in the onward march of national life, was utterly rejected by the Celt; rejected with all his might in battle, and by his strongest predilections of race.
The Norse spirit swam to the shores of Ireland, was continually driven to sea again, but effected a landing in England and Scotland.
There was no such wide difference betwixt the Anglo-Saxons and the Irish before the Norse blood got into the British race.
The Anglo-Saxons were over-ridden by the Romish Church, and the people were degenerating in the stifling shadow that crept over them, in place of the pure light that shone when Christ was born.
These men asserted in their life and looks their thoughts and deeds, that great principle which was afterwards identified with the name of Luther.
They maintained the right of private judgment in religion, and the right of representation in government; and whereas the Celtic affection is most successfully appealed to in fighting for a person, the Norse ambition is to fight for a principle.
This illustration alone is sufficient to show how far the Norse influence must have differentiated the Anglo-Saxon in England from the Celtic race as found in Ireland.
We derive from the Norsemen many of those characteristics which we now call
'so English.' Our love of the sea; our aptitude for self-government; the large, clear sincerity of men who have been accustomed to look stern realities full
in the face; the open-air freshness of look, flesh-and-blood warmth of grip; the frankness and simplicity as of sailors; and a resolute earnestness of being and
doing,—were all traits of our Scandinavian ancestors.
There was a heartiness in the Norse nature, a breadth in the Norse imagination, which
out-distance anything we can find in the Celt. In giving honour, let us also do justice.
Our Irish friends have so often done injustice to the inoffensive Anglo-Saxons, so much have they nursed
a mistaken feeling of hatred, that the term 'Saxon' has become a sufficient mark for the wormwood bitterness of their blackest blood.
It is the Norsemen they mean. It was the Norsemen who were their born enemies and natural antagonists.
It was the Norsemen and Anglo-Normans who so often attempted the conquest of Ireland.
We are not aware that history makes mention of more than one national raid under an Anglo-Saxon king, and that is apocryphal.
But the poor 'Saxon' has had to suffer in the Irish imagination for all that the Norsemen and the Normans have done.
It was the Norsemen who first ravaged the shores of Ireland in their many Viking expeditions.
In the middle of the ninth century, a king of Norway, proud and fierce, had made himself master of half Ireland.
From that time the spirit of the country was kept continually insurgent against the Norsemen. And yet to this day it is the name of the peaceable, home-loving Saxon that erects the porcupine feeling at a thousand points.
The Irish race appears to us to lack many elements of that new force which the Norsemen came to
supply,—that tempering influence and balancing power which sets an Englishman more firmly on his feet, gives him a good grip of the bridle-hand over the horse-power within him, and strength to keep
the caloric of temperament shut up at will in a granite calm. One would think that there was also a defect in the Irish mind which incapacitates it for taking a real possession of the present, and working out of the present a better future.
It puts the future first, when in the hopeful mood, and whilst trying to climb up into its lofty and spreading shelter to make its nest there, it will carelessly trample down all those lowly and quiet undergrowths about its feet, those compensations of the present which might fill the heart, with comforting thoughts, and life with some sweet satisfaction and peace of possession. Or, if in the mournful mood, it invariably turns to the past, when, according to the natural order of things, it should be looking to a cheerier and brighter future.
It turns to some far past, and its poets sing of the bygone days, as though they belonged to a race which has a splendid past, but a hopeless future.
Their true possessions appear to remain in a far-off land that lies near the dawn, and is only visible in all its glory when looked at across a sea of tears.
They turn to the proud old houses, and the great old times; their chiefs of long and lofty line, and all the fields of victory they
'thrill to name, whose memories are the stars that light long nights of shame.' And while the colours of dawn bloom in the distance, and the glowing reflection flushes their faces, the shadow of sorrow lengthens and darkens, as though all the
visionary splendour was only that of a setting sun going down for ever.
And the voice of the singer has a sound of tears, and is sad as a wind that wails in a graveyard at night over the desolate dead.
In the midst of the bleakest and most shivering present, they will turn to warm the chilled heart at the glory of their golden time, and find warmth and solace in the pictures of their poetry.
While the Ireland of the present may be all dark, as the wings of the famine-fiend overshadow it, and pestilence breathes in the face of the people till they turn blue and ghastly, and the land is a wilderness of graves, and only the last groan of breaking hearts, or the wild cry of rebel men, startles the more horrible stillness of
despair,—they will fly to some realm of fancy, or
region of whisky-world, and find a land where they can walk entranced in the light of a sun that shines on lustrous fields of harvest gold, and ruddy fruits that come up out of the
earth without planting, because the clime is so balmy; and the princes have a loving, noble aspect, the people are
radiant with a happy look, plenty reigns, and content rejoices, because the time is so blessed.
Poor Mangan's vision of the past was undoubtedly seen in whisky-world.
But Irish poetry has more authentic, if less amazing, reports of a splendid past.
In 'Prince Aldfrid's Itinerary through Ireland,' a poem still extant in the Irish
language, and attributed to Prince Aldfrid, afterwards king of the Northumbrian Saxons, we have a glowing account of Ireland in the seventh century.
Unless we look upon the Prince merely as a 'finder,' in the sense of the Mediævals, who called the poet by that name, it must have been a wonderful time of day indeed for Ireland, and we cannot marvel that it should yet dazzle the native imagination.
He tells us that he 'travelled its fruitful provinces round,' and he found plenty of gold and silver, food in abundance, apparel in plenty.
He found God's people rich in pity.
'I also found in Armagh, the splendid,
Meekness, wisdom, and prudence blended.'
What a different version Irish
representatives give now-a-days!
'I found the good lay monks and brothers
Ever beseeching help for others,
And in their keeping the holy word
Pure as it came from Jesus the Lord.
I found in Munster unfettered of any,
Kings and queens, and poets a-many.'
This will, perhaps, account for the numbers that claim royal descent, still
'unfettered of any' misgivings in making their claim, or scruples in putting it forward.
'I found strict morals in age and youth,
I found historians recording truth.'
Can testimony to national veracity go further, or say
more? The writer could not have known what force that statement would acquire for us.
But, as though he had a fear lest he might not be believed in after times,
he tells us that he did find all these things 'I have written sooth.'
Another bard gives us a pleasant picture of Ireland in the past.
How much of its light-heartedness, happy health, and generous nationality, comes from the heart of its translator, Mr Ferguson, and how much may be found in the original Irish, we know not; but it is as richly stored with delightfulness as a breast full of milk for a babe, gracious and satisfying as Spencer's description of
'A plenteous place is Ireland for hospitable cheer,
Where the wholesome fruit is bursting from the yellow barley
There is honey in the trees where her misty vales expand,
And her forest paths in summer are by falling waters fanned;
There is dew at high noontide there, and springs in the yellow
On the fair hills of holy Ireland.
'Large and profitable are the stacks upon the ground;
The butter and the cream do wond'rously abound;
The cresses on the water and the sorrels are at hand,
And the cuckoo's calling daily his note of music bland,
And the bold thrush sings so bravely his song i' the forests
On the fair hills of holy Ireland.'
In all this turning back to the past, we are continually reminded of a race that has seen better days.
There is a total want of the fine old Norse spirit of self-reliance, and of making the best
possible of the present. On the contrary, among the Irish bards we find a wild wailing set up continually for the expected Deliverer who is to come and restore this golden time.
Ireland is sleeping, and her people are dreaming, with all things in a general state of pause, awaiting for the
coming-to of Cathaleen Ni Houlahan. Or Ireland is cowering underground,
'Neath the sod lying low,
Expecting King James with the crown on his brow.'
Ireland is mostly represented allegorically.
The poet often wanders abroad in the purple of dawn, the gold of evening, or green of the day, and he sees in splendid vision a maiden wondrously fair, meek as a vestal, yet grand as a queen.
Her eyes are as the stars of heaven, her teeth are smiling pearls, her gold tresses are
ringleted and reaching to the knee; but never mortal kissed the lily hand, never did mortal brow rest on
the beautiful bosom. This is Ireland, as she sits, perhaps, on the sea-shore, looking wistfully with her wide blue eyes to see if her Deliverer is coming over the sea to free her where she is bound, like another Andromeda, mourning melodiously.
One of these bards sings:—
'We love the antique and the olden,
We gladly glance back to the golden
And valourful times of our sages and heroes,
But those shall no more be beholden.'
His conclusion is, indeed, a settler, and startingly literal:—
'The armies of Britain wield ample
Resources to vanquish and trample;
Charles Stuart's o'erthrow, should be venture o'er hither,
Will be dreadful beyond all
One of the most familiar of Irish legends relates
that a troop of O'Neill's horse lies in magic sleep in a cave under a hill.
There they only wait to have the spell broken by courage, in order that they may rise to help their country, and overthrow her
oppressors. The legend tells us how one man wandered into the cave, and saw the men lying beside their horses, bridle in one hand, and broadsword in the other.
One of the troopers raised his head, and asked, 'Is the time come?' The man was too frightened to reply; and so the soldier, receiving no answer, fell once more into the charmed slumber.
Nearly twenty years ago, there arose in Ireland a band
of young men, passionate lovers of their country, and jealous guardians of her proudest traditions.
They conceived the idea of awakening this deliverer, who should stretch forth his
hand and take the sword they would forge ready for his clutch. They would breathe a new breath of life into Ireland.
'Ireland for the Irish' was the motto on their banner. Around this banner thronged eager spirits, burning high with hope and ardour, who set about fighting the battle of nationality by press and pen, picture and speech,
with all the fervour of those three hundred Spartans who sold their lives so dearly in the red pass of Thermopylæ.
Among them was the usual mixture of human dross, but there was also immortal metal. They strove to put a new soul into the great body of the people through the opening eyes, the listening ears, or, if need were, the tingling finger-tips that clasped the
sword-hilt, and in every way inspire them to lift up the bended brow, and walk erect, straight through some gate
of glory into their new kingdom of liberty and light. Some hearts were broken, some lives were wasted, many waves of strength dashed on the wrong shore, failed and fall back worn out and weary.
For one thing, they sought what is known in Scotland as the 'Good Man's Croft,' or the
'Devil's Acre.' This is that portion of a farm or estate which will never repay
the cost of cultivation. Yet it appears to be satanically endowed with power to
tempt the unlucky victim into a wilful determination of conquering its stubbornness, until he wastes his time, money, strength, life, and will spend all the profit yielded by the rest of the land in this mad endeavour to overcome natural sterility.
'Repeal of the Union' was the 'Good Alan's Croft' or 'Devil's Acre' of these young, enthusiastic, and wilful Irishmen.
Thomas Davis was the great man of the Young Ireland party.
His name is one not often heard in England. It finds no record in Scotland, to judge by the new
'Encyclopædia Britannica,' in which no mention of him can be found.
Even Ireland does not yet know what a true lover and faithful son she
lost in him. Ten years ago a complete edition of the works of Thomas Davis was proposed by Mr Duffy, a, publisher, of whom his country should be
proud; but it was never called for, and has not been issued. Yet the name of Thomas Davis is one never to be forgotten when ballad poetry is spoken of, no matter in what country.
And it is a name for Ireland to cherish in her heart of hearts. Countries as well as writers often do not know when they have produced their best.
We hold that Ireland, the nation of many sorrows, suffered one of her greatest bereavements when she lost him.
The reader may recollect, in a note of Lord Jeffrey to Mrs Empson, to be found in Lord Cockburn's Life of Jeffrey, that the critic says he has just read,
'A very interesting little volume of "Irish Ballad Poetry,"
published by that poor Duffy of the Nation, who died so prematurely the
other day. There are some most pathetic and many spirited pieces, and all, with scarcely an exception, so entirely national.
Do get the book and read it. I am most struck with "Soggarth Aroon," and a
long, racy, authentic sounding dirge for the Tyrconnel Princes. But you had better begin with the "Irish Emigrant" and the
"Girl of Loch Dan," which will break you in more gently to the wilder and more impassioned parts.'
The 'poor Duff y of the Nation' should have been written Thomas Davis.
Davis was pre-eminent amongst his fellows for his large-heartedness, his capacity for
work, his loveableness, his chivalry, invincible as that of the knights of old.
He was one of those gallant spirits that start in the race of life with the proudest hopes and aspirations, eager to do, daring to suffer, and mighty to overcome, a martyr and hero in one, but who never accomplish a third of the work that
was in them; and so, when we hear the report of friends, who stood about them in a pleasant glow and hush of expectation, and who speak to us of them
after they are gone, the report appears extravagant. But, high over a heart as warm as the youngest and most passionate patriot, a heart like a
'holy well,' running over with waters of life, Thomas Davis bore the clear
head of a calm statesman. He was no mere hot-brained fighting man; no mere madcap and feather-triumph patriot. He was as kingly in council as fervid
in song. We may differ with him, as we do, about the supposed benefit of a repeal of the
Union—for one reason, that we have lived to see more than he saw.
But, right or wrong in object, he set about using the right means.
His advice was, to cease wailing and begin working. Any one can
destroy; let us see if we cannot create. Study the nation's history, and train up men who shall be worthy
of wearing what we are toiling to win. Look no longer to France or Spain for hope and succour, or to any Utopia whatever for the deliverer, but trust to your own
heads, hearts, and hands. Educate, that you may be free. Give the little ones in schools the best available knowledge of literature, art, and science.
Everything must be Irish—everything done for Ireland by the Irish.
He would have the dull made thoughtful, the thoughtful made studious, the studious wise, and the wise crowned with power.
He would have every parish penetrated and permeated with a knowledge of what Ireland had been, was, and might yet become.
He would have the people turned on the land in small proprietorships; the bogs drained, and set on fire in the shape of fuel; railways on the
land, mills on the streams, and fisheries on the sea. He was as eloquent. on the nature of soils as of races, on duties as on rights, on national commerce as on national song.
Among other schemes, he planned the publication of one hundred shilling books, to be printed in Duffy's Library for Ireland, and to consist of history, biographies, etc., the materials for which were to be sought in the State Paper Office, London, the MSS. Trin. Col. Library, and the
valuable papers still preserved in Irish convents at Rome, Salamanca, and other places.
To infuse a larger spirit of nationality into the people, it was proposed to commence the
Nation newspaper, and the projectors determined to make use of popular poetry as an agent.
There being none at hand suited to their purpose, they had to set about making their own poetry for themselves.
This was the origin of most of that beautiful rebel verse, now known as the
'Spirit of the Nation.'
Such was the patriotic heat of the time glowing at the heart of each and all, acting and reacting on one another, that men stood for the moment transfigured in the brightness of faculties new found.
Brains formed for solid work, and stiffened into shapes that should be able to wrestle with figure and fact, became fluent at a touch, and poetry flowed from them in vital streams.
To refer to one example: we believe that the following poem was the first and last attempt at verse-making on the part of the writer, but it is the most perfect gem of all the Young Ireland
verse—an epitome of Irish history—a picture of Ireland the exile—a poem that is anonymous so long as its author lives, but a poem that will make known his name for ever after:—
'THE MEMORY OF THE DEAD.
Who fears to speak of Ninety-Eight?
Who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the Patriot's fate,
Who hangs his head for shame?
He's all a knave, or half a slave,
Who slights his country thus;
But a true man, like you, man,
Will fill your glass with us.
We drink the memory of the brave,
The faithful and the few;
Some lie far off beyond the wave,
Some sleep in Ireland too.
All—all are gone—but still lives on
The fame of those who died;
All true men, like you, men,
Remember them with pride.
Some on the shores of distant lands
Their weary hearts have laid,
And by the stranger's heedless hands
Their lonely graves were made.
But tho' their clay be far away
Beyond the Atlantic foam,
In true men, like you, men,
Their spirit's still at home.
The dust of some is Irish earth,
Among their own they rest;
And the same land that gave them birth
Has caught them to her breast.
And we will pray that from their clay
Full many a race may start
Of true men, like you, men,
To act as brave a part.
They rose in dark and evil days,
To right their native land;
They kindled here a living blaze
That nothing shall withstand.
Alas! that Might can vanquish Right—
They fell and passed away;
But true men, like you, men,
Are plenty here to-day.
Then, here's their memory—may it be
For us a guiding light,
To cheer our strife for liberty,
And teach us to unite!
Through good and ill, be Ireland's still,
Tho' sad as theirs your fate;
And true men be you, men,
Like those of Ninety-Eight.'
One marvels whether that shaft hit the mark by accident, like the boy's in the Persian legend.
The king's archers were a11 shooting at the ring, and not one could send the shaft through.
A boy, sitting on a house-top near, tried with his bow, and by accident the arrow went through the ring. Wonderful marksman! cried the
soldiers; come down and do that again. But the boy was wise, and
would not risk his fame. Is this ungracious, Mr Nameless?
Well, you who can write so, ought to have written more!
Up to the time of starting the Nation newspaper, in conjunction with
Mr Duffy, Thomas Davis is said to have never written poetry. He tried, and produced a ballad, full of Irish pathos, on the death of Owen Roe O'Neill.
All of a sudden it seemed that a national lyrist had, aloe-like, burst into full bloom.
There was a genuine lyrical leap of the soul into song in Thomas Davis
ballads; more so than could have been anticipated from one who was a late beginner, and who began to write verse from external necessity to teach, rather than from internal necessity to sing.
He sang at the call of his country, rather than at the voice of his own soul.
It was Pegasus in historical harness, helping to draw the people along a heavy road, full of ruts and furrows, rather than proudly bearing a poet up the steeps of
Parnassus. But it matters little whence the incentive comes, so that it quickens a fruitful nature.
Possibly, if Davis had lived, the politician might have killed out the
poet; but he had only written verse for three years, when the chords of his Irish
harp were stilled by the dull hand of Death. He died also when only a few volumes of the projected Library of Ireland had
been printed. He died of fever, in September 1845, most probably from
over-work,—died at his post, and with his armour on, but without getting a glimpse of the better times that have
dawned for Ireland. But Thomas Davis did not live or die in vain.
The movement into which he flung his life as an impulse, did not end in a cabbage-garden.
After the chief was gone, the soldiers fought, rashly, wildly, and ended lamentably.
But the spirit of inquiry that Davis woke has not died out. His own spirit is with Ireland still.
His words—when speaking of Ireland's wants—still work on, and the men who remember them.
'It is not a gambling fortune made at Imperial play that Ireland w ants.
It is the pious and stern cultivation of her faculties and her virtues, the acquisition of faithful and exact habits, and the self-respect that rewards a dutiful and sincere life.
To get her peasants into snug homesteads, with well-tilled fields and placid
hearths—to develop the ingenuity of her artists, and the docile industry of her artizans—to make for her own instruction a literature wherein our climate, history, and passion shall
breathe—to gain conscious strength and integrity, and the high post of holy freedom;— these are Ireland's wants.'
We quote a few lines from a poem on the death of Thomas Davis, written by Samuel Ferguson to a music peculiarly national.
The poem is not to be met with in the usual collections of Irish poetry:—
'And, alas! to think but now and thou art lying,
Dear Davis, dead at thy mother's knee;
And I, no mother near, on my own sick-bed,
That face on earth shall never see!
I may lie and try to feel that I am not dreaming—
I may lie and try to say, "Thy will be done!"
But a hundred such as I will never comfort Erin
For the loss of the noble son.
But my trust is strong in God, who made us brothers,
That He will not suffer those right hands,
Which thou hast joined in holier rites than wedlock,
To draw opposing brands.
Oh! many a tuneful tongue that thou mad'st vocal
Would lie cold and silent then;
And songless long once more should often-widowed
Mourn the loss of her brave young men.
Oh, brave young men! my love, my pride, my promise,
'Tis on you my hopes are set,
In manliness, in kindliness, in justice,
To make Erin a nation yet:
Self-respecting, self-relying, self-advancing,
In union, or in severance, free and strong.
And if God grant this, then, under God, to Thomas Davis
Let the greater praise belong.'
The life of Thomas Davis has not been written. His correspondence was to have been given to the world by Owen
Maddyn, if he had lived. Alas! how many grand promises made to Ireland have depended on such an
'if!' We have not many facts of the biographic kind, and we do not feel very generous about giving what we have to those encyclopædists who ought to
have collected them for us. Thomas Davis was born at Mallow, Ireland, in the year 1814.
He graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1835; was called to the Irish bar in 1838, made his first essay in political writing in
1840, helped to start the Nation in 1842, died in 1845, and numbered 30 or 31 years on his coffin lid.
He was a sincere Protestant, but beloved in both camps. He was not married.
His intellect was solid, as his life was brief and brilliant. His poems are collected in a little
shilling hook. His essays are the merest sparks struck out of the grindstone of hard daily
toil; but there is in them a touch of the true Promethean fire—ample proof that here was a good
and a great man. We give but one specimen of his poetry; but it is a model of ballad verse: in its way, it is perfect as
one of Campbell's battle-ballads, although written with the more numerous detail as of our
pre-Raphælite painters, whereas Campbell used the brush more after the manner of the old masters.
It is the 'Battle of Fontenoy,' where, as the old Scottish song says, the French for
'ance won the day.' It was the day of the famous English column, whose rolling fire, the French courtier wrote, was
'really infernal,' and the English officers laid their canes across the muskets to make the men fire low; and so fatal was their fire, that the one English volley on the hill-top cost the desperate Irish brigade one-fourth of
their officers and one-third of their men. George II., on hearing bow the Irish
fought, is said to have uttered that imprecation on the penal code: 'Cursed be the laws which deprive me of such
'Thrice at the huts of Fontenoy, the English column failed,
And twice the lines of St Antoine the Dutch in vain assailed;
For town and slope were filled with fort and flanking battery,
And well they swept the English ranks and Dutch auxiliary,
As vainly, thro' De Barri's wood, the British soldiers burst,
The French artillery drove them back, diminished and dispersed.
The bloody Duke of Cumberland beheld with anxious eye,
And ordered up his last reserve, his latest chance to try.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, how fast his generals ride!
And mustering come his chosen troops, like clouds at eventide.
Six thousand English veterans in stately column tread,
Their cannon blaze in front and flank, Lord Hay is at their head;
Steady they step adown the slope—steady they climb the hill;
Steady they load—steady they fire, moving right onward still,
Betwixt the wood and Fontenoy, as thro' a furnace blast,
Thro' rampart, trench, and palisade, and bullets showering fast;
And on the open plain above they rose, and kept their course,
With ready fire and grim resolve that mocked at hostile force,
Past Fontenoy, past Fontenoy, while thinner grew their ranks,
They break, as broke the Zuyder Zee thro' Holland's ocean banks.
More idly than the summer flies, French tirailleurs rush round;
As stubble to the lava tide, French squadrons strew the ground;
Bomb-shell, and grape, and round-shot tore; still on they marched
Fast from each volley grenadier and voltigeur retired.
"Push on my household cavalry!" King Louis madly cried:
To death they rush, but, rude the shock—not unavenged they died.
On thro' the camp the column trod—King Louis turns his rein:
"Not yet, my liege," Saxe interposed, "the Irish troops
And Fontenoy, famed Fontenoy, had been a Waterloo,
Were not those exiles ready then, fresh, vehement, and true.
"Lord Clare," he says, "you have your wish, there are your Saxon
The Marshal almost smiles to see, so furiously he goes.
How fierce the look those exiles wear, who're won't to be so gay!
The treasured wrongs of fifty years are in their hearts to-day—
The treaty broken ere the ink wherewith 'twas writ could dry,
Their plundered homes, their ruined shrines, their women's part-
Their priesthood hunted down like wolves, their country over
Each looks as if revenge for all were staked on him alone.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, nor ever yet elsewhere,
Rushed on to fight a nobler band than these proud exiles were.
O'Brien's voice is hoarse with joy, as, halting, he commands—
"Fix bayonets "—charge!—like mountain-storm, rush on those
Thin is the English column now, and faint their volleys grow,
Yet, mustering all the strength they have, they make a gallant show,
They dress their ranks upon the hill to face that battle wind—
Their bayonets the breakers' foam, like rocks the men behind.
One volley crashes from their line, when, thro' the surging smoke,
With empty guns clutched in their hands, the headlong Irish broke.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, hark to that fierce huzza!"
Revenge! remember Limerick! dash down the Sassenagh!"
Like lions leaping at a fold, when mad with hunger's pang,
Right up against the English line the Irish exiles sprang:
Bright was their steel, 'tis bloody now, their guns are filled with
Thro' shattered ranks, and severed files, and trampled flags they
The English strove with desperate strength, paused, rallied, stag
The green hill-side is matted close with dying and with dead;
Across the plain and far away passed on that hideous wrack,
While Cavalier and Fantassin dash in upon their track.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, like eagles in the sun,
With bloody plumes the Irish stand—the field is fought and won.'
This poetry of the Nation school could not be of the highest kind; poetry written for political purposes never can be: the highest can only be struck from the eternal strings of the human heart.
Nor did it come as the natural crown that blossoms out of great national action, for life must be lived before a literature can be written.
The spoken word may incite to action. The minstrel Tallifer may help to win a battle of Hastings, but the greatest actions must be accomplished before the greatest
song will be sung. Only out of a strong and healthy national life can a national literature spring; only out of the lion of this
strength cometh the full sweetness of poetry. Still, they did some true things in poetry; and one of the very best things done by these young men was the very memorable one of breaking up
that huge and foolish swindle, the 'Repeal Association. Poor O'Connell was their bitter enemy, for he felt they had shortened his days in the land, and found that they were too much for him.
We have now to speak of other Irish poets not necessarily connected with the
Nation school. These do not properly come under the title of our article, but may be embraced
in the same view, as belonging to the last twenty or thirty years of Irish
poetry. The name and fame of Clarence Mangan and Samuel Ferguson were made before the rise of the 'Young
Ireland' school. The father and founder of an earlier and more purely
literary school of Irish writers was Dr Petrie. In 1832, four very remarkable young men might be found working in his study in Dublin, and, under his instruction and inspiration, working, we believe, on the
'Ordnance Survey Memoir of Ireland' (a great work nipped in the bud, for fear of exciting too strong a feeling of nationality).
These were, O'Donovan, Curry, O'Keefe, and Mangan. Petrie was at this time editing the
Dublin Penny Journal, the first two volumes of which contain writings of great elegance, and include some of Mangan's best earlier translations.
At the same time, or probably a little earlier, the Rev. George Fox (now the Principal of an English College in Demerara) had gathered about him a little band of devoted young disciples in Belfast, and amongst these were Hogan, M'Clean, and Samuel Ferguson.
These young men owed much to their teachers, to whom they looked up with love and gratitude.
It was Dr Petrie who corrected, by the influence of a refinement of mind and sentiment acting insidiously, the early faults of Mangan's style.
The chief fault which Petrie corrected for the time was poor Mangan's affectation of a
gamin-like jauntiness and knowingness. He also conquered his repugnance to Irish material.
For Mangan had to work on literal translations from the original language, and could with difficulty be brought to melt into music the bald, disjointed English which Curry and his other companions put before him.
James Clarence Mangan was born in Dublin in 1803, of poor parents.
His father is said to have been of a restless disposition, and unfortunate in business.
His boyhood was most probably spent in the streets, where the precocious child would be an industrious sweeper-up of peculiar information respecting the world
in general, and that of poverty in particular. Before he was fifteen, he obtained a situation in a scrivener's office, which he kept for seven years, and was then a solicitor's clerk for three
years. Those who knew him in after years speak of his mother, sister, and brother as still
living; and these must for long have partly lived on Mangan's scanty earnings.
He himself has written of his early days in the lawyer's office:—
'I was obliged to work seven years of the ten from five in the morning, winter and summer, to eleven at night; and during the three remaining years, nothing but a special providence could have saved me from suicide.
The misery of my own mind; my natural tendency to loneliness, poetry, and
self-analysis; the disgusting obscenities and horrible blasphemies of those associated with me; the persecutions I was obliged to endure, and which I never avenged but by acts of kindness; the close air of the room, and the perpetual smoke of the
chimney,—all these destroyed my constitution. No! I am wrong; it was not even all these that destroyed me.
In seeking to escape from this misery, I had laid the foundation of that evil habit which has proved my
He must have wrought at weaving the web of his wonderful knowledge, assiduously and secretly as any old spider, hid up in the dark of those early years.
It is said that he loved some cold and careless coquette, and that a good deal of his life's lustre was run off in tears, which only served to make her triumph more brilliant.
But all this was suffered in his own shy, sensitive, uncomplaining way.
One who knew him, speaks of there being a gap in his life here; 'an obscure gulf, which no eye has fathomed, into which he entered a bright-haired youth, and emerged a withered and stricken man.'
By the aid of Drs Petrie and Todd, Mangan obtained employment in the great University Library.
The book-worm feasted richly, and then burst into wings of rare splendour.
A strange figure he must have been, with the white halo of bleached hair round his head, the dark halo round his
eyes—eyes of weird blue, as of one who could see spirits; a lighted corpse-like face, with that faint lavender shadow which they wear who eat opium, and dream its dreams.
A strange figure, and yet not startling: a child would not have feared to pull the old brown carmelite coat, climb the offered knee, and kiss the face where queer humour and quaint pathos mingled with an expression such as Cruikshank alone could have
figured; and over all was the affecting touch of a weak will in the mildness of his look, that pained you like the crack in the laugh of age.
One of the most pathetic things in all the mortal life of our Saviour, is His weeping over the doomed city of Jerusalem.
There it lies, full of all uncleanness. It has persecuted the saints, slain the prophets, and stoned the martyrs.
It spurns the Saviour, and hurries on to meet its day of doom and desolation.
Yet, looking on it, the heart yearns over it, the eyes grow tearful; there comes a wave of feeling that would wash out all its sins in forgiveness, followed by the heart-aching, lip-quivering tenderness of the words,
'O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and
ye would not.' There are spirits over whom we yearn in like manner, as far as our nature can follow the feeling of the Divine Master.
We long to embrace them and shelter them from the coming doom, and in our utter helplessness we cannot.
Even so did good and true friends yearn over poor Mangan in his later days, and tried to save him, and he would not.
There was no bravado, no loud recklessness in his fall. It seemed to
be rather from sheer want of will. When set on his legs, there was no power to stand, and down he went, till the image of
God was almost wholly battered out of the poor human face. When sinking lower and lower beyond the reach of help, friends still clung to him as near as they could get.
His kindest friend, the Rev. C. P. Meehan, was with him to the end, trying to smooth the sad pillow where he lay.
With last words, Mangan requested that one of the Catholic penitential hymns might be read; and when it was ended, his spirit had
Passed. He died on the 20th of June 1849, in the Meath Hospital, Dublin.
Mangan has been compared to Poe. There was some likeness at first sight, but this lay more in the outer facts of his life,
and in external characteristics. If we can get at the inmost spirit of the man, we find the likeness only negative.
In weakness of will, in carrying out a good resolution, he was powerless
as Poe. But then he had none of the fierce defiant determination to be bad, and thrust the very worst into the faces of lookers-on, calling aloud to those who would have pityingly
passed by the sad sight. He never gloried in his gutter as Poe did, or played the madman on purpose to mock humanity and
delight the devil. He had not the same ghoulish fondness for digging with lean fingers, and tearing up the secrets of the grave, nor the same morbid lust for creating a creeping horror in
the blood of his readers. Poe showed a malice prepense against himself, and went the way to perdition with a wicked wilfulness.
Poor Mangan slipped down the back way with a shy weakness. Poe seemed to enjoy making your heart ache for him, but
Mangan would not have willingly cost you a tear for all his misery.
Poe was possessed and torn by seven devils of self, whereas it was one cause of Mangan's sad fate, when all had gone wrong, that
he had not a thought about himself. As his best friend says of him briefly and pathetically, Mangan
'had no vice but the one.' Both died in public hospitals in the same year, and within ten weeks of each other.
Another likeness between these two poets opens up a curious subject for speculation on psychical phenomena.
Shakespeare speaks of method in madness: we think there must be strange music in it
too—music that is often unfathomably subtle, or recklessly splendid.
We have seen the insane listening to it, trying to catch it, dancing to it, and breaking off in mournful
failure. Think of the music of Coleridge, of Poe, of Mangan! We cannot help associating it with the opiate and the stimulant.
Coleridge's is the healthiest of the three—he can work the real miracle.
Poe's is the most. unhealthy, and in him we can detect the conjurer.
There is strange music in Mangan, with a sudden breaking in at times of the spirit-world.
Now it is a playful prank of Ariel in the air; now the tiny tinkling music of fairies,
their notes formed from water dropping; now a sudden cry as of a lost soul, warbled instead of wailed, or a horrible laugh thrills
through; now some harbinger of death is going overhead in a cold blood-curdling
air; now there hurries up a swarm of wild ululant discords, like a
chorus of evil spirits hovering round a doomed suicide, as he sits at
midnight with white face by a dark water, urging the despairing soul over
the last ledge of hope, down—down—down!
The real Clarence Mangan is only to be found in his poems, although here it is difficult at times to know when you have him.
It is as though the soul of the man had gone out of him into his books when in Trinity College Library, and the souls of fourand-twenty poets dead and gone, all of different nations, had made use of him.
He was master of a prodigious number of languages, but his translations were sometimes translations only
in name. It is said, that, on being questioned by a friend respecting the genuineness of an ode from the great Persian lyrist,
he admitted that it was only 'half his.' In some alleged autobiographical memoranda which he left behind him, he is stated to have confessed that he frequently fathered on other writers
the offspring of his own brain. And he told a friend of ours, that in German translations he often attributed poems to the
poet 'Selber,' meaning himself. Here is a specimen from the Persian:—
'Thus writeth Meer Djafrit—
"I hate thee, Djaun Bool,
Worse than Màrid or Afrit,
Or corpse-eating ghool.
I hate thee like sin,
For thy mop-head of hair,
Snub nose, and bald chin,
And thy turkey-cock air.
Thou vile Ferindjee!
That thou shouldst disturb an
Old Moslim like me,
With my Khizzilbash turban!
Old fogy like me,
With my Khizzilbash turban.
"I spit on thy clothing,
That garb for baboons!
I eye with deep loathing
Thy tight pantaloons!
I curse the cravat
That encircles thy throat,
And thy cooking-pot hat,
And thy swallow-tailed coat!
Go, hide thy thick sconce
In some hovel suburban,
Or else don at once
The red Moosleman turban;
Thou dog, don at once
The grand Khizzilbash turban."'
He published a series of poems in the Dublin University
Magazine, between September 1837 and January 1846, under the title of
'Literæ Orientales.' These were mostly original poems, disguised by various so-called Persian, Turkish, and other Oriental names, phrases, and choruses; but the mystification is thrown off at times almost derisively, as if in contempt of any one who could be deceived.
In running through these, we have noted here and there an illustrative and characteristic stanza of poems that have never yet been collected.
In the number for September 1837, is a fine poem, full of music, in eleven stanzas, called
'The Time of the Roses.' Here is one:—
'See the young lilies, their scymitar-petals
Glancing like silver mid earthlier metals,
Dews of the brightest in life-giving showers,
Fall all the night on these luminous flowers.
Each of them sparkles afar like a gem,
Wouldst thou be happy and smiling like them?
Oh, follow all counsel that Pleasure
It dies, it flies, the Time of the Roses.'
The second number, March 1838, contains, besides other pieces, a fine lyric
'To Mihri,' of which this is the first stanza:—
'My starlight, my moonlight, my midnight, my moonlight,
Unveil not, unveil not, or millions must pine:
Ah, didst thou lay bare
Those dark tresses of thine,
Even Night would seem bright
To the hue of thy hair, which is black as despair.
My starlight, my moonlight, my midnight, my moonlight,
Unveil not, unveil not, or millions must pine.'
In the third number, September 1838, 'The Hundred-leafed Rose' is another of Mangan's curiously versified poems, the one rhyme being kept up all through:—
'O give her the gardens of Peristan,
Where only the musk-wind blows,
And where she need fear nor storm nor man,
The Hundred-leafed Rose.
For the Summer's hand of love and light,
In the luminous flowers it strews
Earth's valleys withal, drops none so bright
As the Hundred-leafed Rose.'
There are several good poems in the fourth number, April 1840; one that flows on very sweetly into its mournful echo—
'All things vanish after brief careering,
Down one gulf life's myriad barks are steering.
Headlong mortal! hast thou ears for hearing?
Pause! believe! the Night, thy Night, is nearing!
Night is nearing.'
Mangan wrote another series in the same magazine, entitled 'Lays from many Lands,' containing translations (so-called) from Irish, Welsh, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swiss, Servian, Romaic, Persian, Russian, Danish, Icelandic, and other languages.
It is as difficult to tell what Mangan did not know, as to identify what he did.
The editor of his poems, however, is wrong in placing the 'Mariner's
Bride' in the 'Apocrypha,' it being an exquisite and faithful rendering of one of Camoens' Spanish Songs (for he wrote in Spanish as well as
Portuguese), beginning, 'Irme quiero, Madre, a aquella galera.' In his translations
proper—his German Anthology, for example—Mangan does not abide by the literal text.
But he frequently does what Coleridge did for Schiller. When his mind kindles and emits a further flash, he gives it, and it is often the finest in the poem.
An instance of this occurs in his translation of Freiligrath's 'Spectre-Caravan,' where he strikes out the magnificent thought—
'Never quail before the shadows?
You are children of the sun!'
He concludes Rueckert's 'Ride round the Parapet' with an amplification of the humour into rich
'And wrinkled Eld
crept on, and still her lot was maidenhood;
And woe! her end was tragic: she was changed, at length, by magic,
To an ugly wooden image they maintain;
She, the Lady Eleanora,
She, the Lady Eleanora von Alleyne.
And now, before the gate, in sight of all, transmogrified;
Stands Lady Eleanora von Alleyne,
Before her castle gate, in sight of all transmogrified;
And he that wont salute her must be fined in foaming pewter,
If a boor; but if a burgher, in champagne,
For the Lady Eleanora,
Wooden Lady Eleanora von Alleyne.
The genius of Mangan was often remarkably happy in the continuation and climax of an author's thought.
Readers who first read some of these German poems in Mangan's rendering, will find the original faint in colour and languid in music
by comparison. In many of his poems from the Irish he has
recreated them successfully as Tennyson has reproduced the beautiful mythology of Arthur, and the poetry of his
'Round Table.' 'Dark Rosaleen' is an instance in kind. The passionate emphasis of the music would of itself have made a new poem.
We quote four of its stanzas:—
'Over hills and thro' dales
Have I roamed for your sake;
All yesterday I sailed with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne, . . , at its highest flood,
I dashed across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen?
My own Rosaleen!
Oh! there was lightning in my blood,
Red lightning lightened thro' my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen.
Woe and pain, pain and woe,
Are my lot night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
Like to the mournful moon.
But yet . . , will I rear your throne
Again in golden sheen;
'Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen! etc.
I could scale the blue air,
I could plough the high hills,
Oh, I could kneel all night in prayer
To heal your many ills!
And one . . . beamy smile from you
Would float like light between
My toils and me, my own, my true,
My Dark Rosaleen, etc.
Oh! the Erne shall run red
With redundance of blood;
The earth shall rock beneath our tread,
And flames wrap hill and wood;
And gun-peal, and slogan-cry,
Wake many a glen serene,
Ere you shall fade, ere you shall die,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
The judgment hour must first be nigh,
Ere you can fade, ere you can die,
My Dark Rosaleen!'
Mangan had the true temperament of the Celt; exaggerated in his case by his own misfortune, just as it has been in his people
by ages of national misfortune. He had the key of the Celtic heart.
He was the natural born of a race whose sorrows and joys seem to have a keener birth-pang of pain and of
pleasure; a sharper cry and a lighter laugh. He had their tenderness, tremulous to
tears—the fire of their warful mood—the music that thrills to the
marrow—the sudden, sharp, short intensity of feeling that goes to the heart with a fire-flash and fills the eyes with
tears—the frolicking and rollicking, the pathos and humour that brighten a storm-gloom with sunburst.
We find the natural antithesis to his earlier Oriental gaieties, the other extreme of a nature lacking balance and perfecting power, in some of his later pieces,
which have a dreariness of desolation, a dark hopelessness that is absolutely frightful.
In his version of 'O'Hussey's Ode to the Maguire,' he has painted a picture of tragic woe made splendid by lightning, to match that of poor old mad Lear appealing to the pitiless heavens with his bare white head and broken
heart. But it is in reference to himself, and his blighted life, that he reaches the blackness of darkness.
How terrible is this from a ballad called the 'Nameless One:'—
'Tell how his boyhood was one drear night-hour,
How shone for him, through his griefs and gloom,
No star of all heaven sends to light our
Path to the tomb.
Go on to tell bow, with genius wasted,
Betrayed in friendship, befooled in love,
With spirit shipwrecked, and young hopes blasted,
He still, still strove.
And he fell far thro' that pit abysmal,
The gulf and grave of Maginn and Burns,
And pawned his soul for the devil's dismal
Stock of returns.
Him grant a grave to, ye pitying noble,
Deep in your bosoms! there let him dwell!
He, too, had tears for all souls in trouble,
Here, and in hell.'
In another piece, called the 'Saw-Mill,' he heard the saw and the 'song of the tree that the saw sawed through,' and this was the burden,—
'"In a few days more, most Lonely One!
Shall I, as a narrow ark, veil
Thine eyes from the glare of the world and sun
'Mong the urns in yonder dark vale,
In the cold and dim
Recesses of yonder dark vale.
"For this grieve not! thou know'st what thanks
The Weary-souled and the Meek owe
To death!" I awoke, and heard four planks
Fall down with a saddening echo.
I heard four planks
Fall all down with a hollow echo.'
Another piece concludes still more mournfully, from the touch of ghastly humour in it.
The poor dreamer sits at midnight amidst the ashes of wasted life:—
Tick-tick, Tick-tick, tick-tick!—not a sound save Time's,
And the wind-gust as it drives the rain—
Tortured torturer of reluctant rhymes,
Go to bed, and rest thine aching brain!
Sleep!—no more the dupe of hopes and schemes,
Soon thou sleepest where the thistles blow:
Curious anticlimax to thy dreams
Twenty golden years ago!'
Alas, what a change from the glow and grace, and musical sweetness of his carols in the
Dawn! He sleeps now where the thistles blow, and no stone marks his nameless grave.
Drop a kindly tear, gentle reader, for the sad fate of poor Clarence Mangan.
The questions of Race and Religion, the continual beating of each other black and blue for the sake of Orange and Green, or indeed on any other colourable
pretext, must put many an Irishman into a similar state of perplexity to that of the poor English peasant, who had lived to see all his old associations uprooted, and the firm ground on which he had fixed himself take life and move off into unknown
seas; the few thoughts he had were all entangled in the revolving wheels of change, and his last words were
these: 'What wi' faith and what wi' works, and what wi' the engines a-buzzin and a-fuzzin, and what wi' one thing and what wi' another,
I'm clean astonied and fairly bet.' We fancy that it was Mr Ferguson, writing some lines to Clarence Mangan in the
Dublin University Magazine, May 1847, who gave goodhumoured expression to something of this feeling of perplexity in regard to the numerous points of divergence with which Ireland bristles all over:—
'I sometimes doubt if I have Irish blood in me,
So often in these mazes do I lose my clue,
Mixing Danes with Milesians, and the clear-faced Saxon
With the hairy-dirty children of Boru.
I have small faith in Punic etymologies,
I sometimes fancy Petrie and St Patrick are the same:
I doubt that Betham knows all the tongues of Babel,
Or that William Smith O'Brien is a Hebrew name.
I don't care a button for "Young Ireland" or "Old Ireland,"
But as between the two I rather like Old Dan;
And I wish the Nation would let the agitation
Die out a humbug as it first began.'
Be this as it may, Mr Ferguson has won a success of a peculiar kind in his happy way of writing Anglo-Irish character, phraseology, and imagery.
The greatest of living Irish poets, and one of the finest lyrists that ever lived, he has made it possible to unite the Irish heart and English
tongue: his own heart being large enough, his love catholic enough, to appreciate England without lessening his feeling for Ireland.
Mr Ferguson has been reviled by the more violent of the
Nation school, because he was not national enough in their way.
But Ireland has no living poet more truly national, nor one of whom she has more reason to be proud.
His early efforts were directed to the formation of a sound literary taste.
His mind, like that of Davis, is richly objective, strong and eager to take that grasp of outward things which has often saved poetry from
decay; often broke up new ground in which to plant the immortal flower.
His ballads are simple, sensuous, and passionate; poems to quote and get
by heart, but not inviting to any critical disquisition. We would
far rather have written his 'Forging
of the Anchor,' than many a long and magniloquent blank verse poem
that might employ a whole academy of critics without ever being licked
into living shape. Here is the brave opening burst!
'Come see the Dolphin's Anchor forged—'tis at a white-heat now:
The bellows ceased, the flames
decreased—though on the forge's
The little flames still fitfully play through the sable mound,
And fitfully you still may see the grim smiths ranking round,
All clad in leathern panoply, their broad hands only bare,—
Some rest upon their sledges here, some work the windlass there.
The windlass strains the tackle-chains, the black mound heaves
And red and deep a hundred veins burst out at every throe:
It rises, roars, rends all outright. O, Vulcan, what a
'Tis blinding White! 'tis blasting bright! the high sun
shines not so!
The high sun sees not on the earth such fiery fearful show;
The roof-ribs swarth, the candent-hearth, the ruddy lurid row
Of smiths that stand, an ardent band, like men before the foe,
As, quivering through his fleece of flame, the sailing monster, slow
Sinks on the anvil—all about the faces fiery grow.
"Hurrah!" they shout, "leap out—leap out;" bang, bang the
Hurrah! the jetted lightnings are hissing high and low—
A hailing fount of fire is struck at every squashing blow,
The leathern mail rebounds the hail, the rattling cinders strew
The ground around: at every bound the sweltering fountains flow,
And thick and loud the swinking crowd at every stroke pant "ho!"
Leap out, leap out, my masters; leap out and lay on load!
Let's forge a goodly anchor—a bower thick and broad;
For a heart of oak is hanging on every blow I bode,
And I see the good ship riding all in a perilous road—
The low reef roaring on her lee—the roll of ocean poured
From stem to stern, sea after sea: the mainmast by the board;
The bulwarks down, the rudder gone, the boats stove at the chains!
But courage still, brave mariners, the bower yet remains,
And not an inch he deigns to flinch, save when ye pitch sky-high;
Then moves his head as though he said, "Fear nothing—here
Mr Ferguson has more of the Norse spirit in him than any other Irish poet.
The absence of the sea-feeling in Irish poetry is remarkable. This must be a matter of race, because other conditions are the same as in England, the sea embracing all round.
The sea has never been a national sentiment with the Irish as it is with us.
This makes the 'Boatman's Hymn,' one of Mr Ferguson's translations from the Irish, all the more noticeable.
Somehow the soul of an old Norse sagaman has got embodiment here!
It is full of the salt and sparkle, the motion and burst of the bounding wave.
The expression, however, in the last stanza betrays the warm Celtic fancy.
A Norseman would have taken it a little more coolly. The appeal to the
rock, and its answer, are also exceedingly characteristic. Wavemotion rocks you to wave-music on that 'tide-top, the tide-top:'
Bark that bears me through foam and squall,
You in the storm are my castle wall;
Though the sea should redden from bottom to top,
From tiller to mast she takes no drop.
On the tide-top, the tide-top,
Wherry aroon, my land and
On the tide-top, the tide-top,
She is the boat can sail go-leor.
She dresses herself, and goes gliding on,
Like a dame in her robes of Indian lawn;
For God has blessed her gunnel and wale,
And, oh, if you saw her stretch out to the gale,
On the tide-top, the tide-top!'
Whillan, ahoy! old heart of stone,
Stooping so black o'er the beach alone,
Answer me well. On the bursting brine
Saw you ever a bark like mine?
On the tide-top, the
Says Whillan, since first I was made of stone,
I have looked abroad o'er the beach alone—
But till to-day on the bursting brine,
Saw I never a bark like thine!
On the tide-top, the tide-top.
'God of the air!' the seamen shout
When they see us tossing the brine about:
'Give us the shelter of strand or rock,
Or through and through us she goes with a shock!'
On the tide-top, the tide-top, etc.
We look to see the seed sown by Mr Ferguson yet bear fruit in Irish poetry, and an extension take place in the direction in which he was going, when, to our great regret, he paused by the way.
The Young Irelanders have discovered that the feat of the rams' horns before Jericho is not to be repeated, and that verse of the declamatory kind is useless without listeners, and
not of much avail even with them. Ireland has set to work in a heartier, healthier way than heretofore, and will lift up a cheerier, nobler song at her labour, no longer satisfied
with having been—determined now to be.
William Allingham is another of the Anglo-Irish poets, whose poems deserve greater fame than they have yet won. Some
half-dozen of his ballads have never been surpassed. They have the pulse of the Irish heart, the idiom of its speech, the colour
of the country. The worst of Mr Allingham is, that he has given up to an over-refined poetic English culture what was
meant for the people of his own land. In his great admiration of Tennyson, he seems to prefer serving in England to reigning
in Ireland. There has always been a lack of heroic fibre in his poetry; but in his range he has the real touch of hearts, and is often exquisitely natural, and thoroughly national.
A little more reliance on the gifts of birth, and a little less on English acquirements will make a greater poet of him yet.
Nothing can be more delightful in its naïveté, earnest gallantry, and homely pathos, than his 'Mary Donnelly:'—
'Oh, lovely Mary Donnelly, it's you I love the best!
If fifty girls were round you, I'd hardly
see the rest.
Be what it may the time of day, the place be where it will,
Sweet looks of Mary Donnelly, they bloom before me still.
Her nose is straight and handsome, her eyebrows lifted up;
Her chin is very neat and pert, and smooth like a china cup,
Her hair's the brag of Ireland, so weighty and so fine:
It's rolling down upon her neck, and gathered in a twine.
The dance o' last Whit-Monday night exceeded all before,
No pretty girl for miles about was missing from the floor;
But Mary kept the belt of love, and O but she was gay!
She danced a jig, she sung a song, that took my heart away.
When she stood up for dancing, her steps were so complete,
The music nearly killed itself to listen to her feet;
The fiddler moaned his blindness, he heard her so much praised,
But bless'd himself he wasn't deaf when once her voice she raised.
And evermore I'm whistling or lilting what you sung;
Your smile is always in my heart, your name beside my tongue;
But you've as many sweethearts as you'd count on both your
And for myself there's not a thumb or little finger stands.
Oh, you're the flower o' womankind in country or in town;
The higher I exalt you, the lower I'm cast down.
If some great lord should come this way, and see your beauty
And you to be his lady, I'd own it was but right.
Oh, lovely Mary Donnelly, your beauty's my distress;
It's far too beauteous to be mine, but I'll never wish it less.
The proudest place would fit your face, and I am poor and low;
But blessings be about you, dear, wherever you may go.'
On recurring to the list of books that head our article, we find that our space will
not permit us to do any justice to the deep feeling and stately verse of M'Ghee; the descriptive power and southern richness of Mr Irwin's poetry; the dash and sparkle of Dr Waller; the cleverness, especially in French translation, of the younger Dr Drennan; or the vigour of a bard of the
Nation, Mr Sullivan.
Amongst the collections of Irish ballad poetry, Mr Duffy's little volume is the best, so far as it goes.
Mr Hayes' collection is more complete and ample, but it needs a careful weeding of a great deal of rubbish, and some ballads remain to be added. Mr Mitchell's American edition of Mangan's Poems is disappointing to us, when compared with what it might have been.
But, with all its shortcomings, it is one of the richest and most enjoyable books of lyric poetry in the English language.
Mr Lover proves himself to have been both naturally and artificially unfitted to edit the
Lyrics of Ireland. He is unable to reach any depth of real Irish feeling, and is full of paltry shallow prejudices against those who were amongst the far truer
lovers of Ireland. Thomas Davis, when living and writing in his sincere and hearty way, had told the young verse writers to get at the original melodies of Ireland,
for Moore's version of them was corrupt, and this was even more true of Lover's tunes.
Now, this was a fact patent, even notorious, and very mildly stated.
Thirteen years after Thomas Davis was laid in his early grave, Mr Lover gets his first great chance of wreaking revenge for the slight.
He does it in the meanest spirit. He quotes Thomas Davis falsely; he perverts his meaning, and retorts on the dead man by calling him the 'Bed-maker of the Young Ireland College of
Criticism.' We would laugh if we could, but it is too pitiable. Further, Mr Lover excludes Thomas Davis'
best ballads from the Lyrics of Ireland. Many of the finest Irish ballads are missing, and these mainly belong to the poetry
of Young Ireland. We do not find a single piece of William Allingham's; and, in his great ignorance of his subject, the editor has ascribed the following lyric to Clarence Mangan, and extolled it as possessing that poet's rarest qualities:—
Ah! my heart is weary waiting,
Waiting for the May—
Waiting for the pleasant rambles,
Where the fragrant hawthorn brambles,
With the woodbine alternating,
Scent the dewy way.
Ah! my heart is weary waiting,
Waiting for the May.
Ah! my heart is sick with longing,
Longing for the May—
Longing to escape from study,
To the fair young face and ruddy,
And the thousand charms belonging
the summer day:
Ah! my heart is sick with longing,
Longing for the May.
Ah! my heart is sore with sighing,
Sighing for the May—
Sighing for their sure returning,
When the summer beams are burning,
Hopes and flowers that dead or dying
the winter lay:
Ah! my heart is sore with sighing,
Sighing for the May.
Ah! my heart is pained with throbbing,
Throbbing for the
Throbbing for the seaside billows,
Or the water-wooing willows,
Where in laughing and in sobbing,
Glides the stream away:
Ah! my heart, my heart is throbbing,
Throbbing for the May.
Waiting, sad, dejected, weary,
Waiting for the May—
Spring goes by with wasted warnings,
Moonlight evenings, sunbright mornings:
Summer comes, yet, dark and dreary,
still ebbs away:
Man is ever weary, weary,
Waiting for the
A lovely lyric, and one that will make the reader wish to know more about the author of
it; but it is not Mangan's. It has a sweetness of breath that comes from a sounder health than his.
It was written by D. Florence MacCarthy, a young Irish poet, whose acquaintance is well worth making, for his genuine
musical faculty and lyrical aptitude. Mr Lover has filled up the place of better men with lyrics of his own; but they are not the real thing, only imitations of the true emerald cut in green
glass. No amount of them will compensate for the omission of those which he has left out, any
more than the gain of a hundred Samuel Lovers could repay Ireland for the loss of one Thomas Davis.
We do not feel much more affection for the nationality of Mr Lover, than he himself feels for the 'Young Irelanders.' It is not much in advance of the old 'Teddy my Jewel,' and
'Paddy my Joy' style of representation. We like an Irishman to be an Irishman, a Scotchman to be a Scotchman; but an Irish Cockney, or a Scotchman turned London snob, is to us a mortal abomination.
Be a hot-hearted Repealer, or a hot-headed 'Scottish Rights ' man, if you
please; but don't think to win the favour of a true Englishman by caricaturing your own country for sport in song, or abusing the land you have left in renegade leading articles.
We respect patriotism, even if in the wrong; we do not respect flunkeyism, even if it tries to serve in the
right. Mr Lover cannot sound the depths of the Irish nature; cannot touch it to the quick.
Neither can Lady Dufferin. The 'Irish Emigrant' is an affecting, sentimental ballad,
but very far from the real thing. Let the reader compare it with the poetry of John Keegan, to see the difference.
We know nothing of this author, except that he was a poor man, born and bred amongst the people,
that he wrote for his bread, did not need it long, and died in 1849.
But the reader, if he have any skill in feeling the Irish pulse, will find the Irish heart beating in some of Keegan's ballads, with an intense tenderness
and warmth of nearness to be found in few. In Lady Dufferin's 'Terence's Farewell,' there is an elaborate Irish blunder about
England being 'a beautiful city,' but it fails to make the poem genuine.
Further, Thomas Davis was quite right in stating that Thomas Moore was 'often deficient in vehemence, did not speak the sterner passions, spoiled some of his finest songs by pretty images, and was too refined and subtle in
dialect.' Moore was an exquisite lyrist, and wrote many melodious songs, but they might all have been written by an Englishman.
He does not bring out of the Irish harp that piercing pathos which can work so weirdly in Celtic blood.
He has none of those 'gushes of feeling that smite the heart like the cry of a woman.'
Hit poetry does not weep the bitter tears that fall within, hot and hissing on the heart, nor reach the utter gloriousness of Irish joy.
There are flashes of tenderness in Irish poetry almost equal to the pathos of Scottish ballads. When the flash lightens from the fancy, it is often a splendid extravagance, as when a lover, praising the sweetness of his mistress' voice, asserts that the cattle listening to it 'milked over two-thirds more than was their
wont,'—which is rather strained; but when it comes through the feeling, and gets simple expression, the endearment is often ineffable.
'Ellen Bawn, O Ellen Bawn, you darling, darling dear you,
Sit awhile beside me here, I'll die unless I'm near you.'
That is Irish.
'No aid, bright beloved, can reach me, save God above,
For a blood-lake is formed of the light of my eyes with love.'
That too is Irish. So are the following:
Who in the winter's night,
When the cold blast did bite,
Came to my cabin door,
And, on my earthen flure,
Knelt by me sick and poor,
'Her lips are like roses, her mouth much the same,
Like a dish of ripe strawberries smothered in crame.'
'The music nearly, killed itself to listen to her feet.'
'But O'Kelly still remains to defy and to toil,
He has memories that hell won't permit him to forget.'
'Tho' it break my heart to hear say again the bitter words.'
All these are Irish. Many more instances as apt we might quote, and yet fail to catch the subtle spirit of nationality, which is as
evasive as it is felicitous. We cannot help thinking that very happy things have yet to be done for Irish poetry, in worship of that muse unknown to the Greeks, the muse of the household: the divinities of home, weans, and wife, ought yet to make their noblest appeal to its power of passionate endearment.