Page images
PDF
EPUB

Of novelists, both men and women, the Irish Revival can, in the words of “Father O'Flynn”, offer a charming variety, and among their novels and short stories are some books of high quality and not a few in a high degree interesting and entertaining. To Standish O'Grady we turn for tales, with a kind of bardic afflatus about them, of the hero age of legendary Ireland-tales which drew attention to the romantic Celtic past of myth and saga, and must have been an inspiration to more than one writer of the younger generation. In contrast to the broad epic sweep and remote romantic backgrounds of O'Grady, are the stories of Jane Barlow, whose genre pictures of peasant life in the west of Ireland, like her poems mentioned above, show how sympathetically she understands the ways of thinking, feeling, and acting of her humble compatriots. A like minute and faithful knowledge is evident in the work of two story-tellers of the north, Seumas MacManus and Shan Bullock. The former's outlook is humorous and pathetic. He tells fairy and folk tales well, and is a past master of the dialect and idiom that combine to give his oldwives' yarns an honest smack of the soil. Let him who doubts it read Through the Turf Smoke or Donegal Fairy Stories. If Shan Bullock walks the same fields as Seumas MacManus, he does so with a different air and with a more definite purpose. Sometimes he turns to the squireens, small farmers, or small country gentry, and lays bare the hardness and narrowness that are a part of their life. Or, again, in pictures whose sadness and gloom are lightened, to be sure, with humor or warmed with love, he studies the necessitous life of the poor. The Squireen, The Barrys, and Irish Pastorals are some of his representative books.

In the novel as in poetry the ladies have worked side by side with their literary brethren. Miss Hermione Templeton, in her Darby O'Gill, and elsewhere, has written pleasantly and gracefully of the fairies. In a very different vein are the novels of the collaborators, Miss Somerville and "Martin Ross" (Miss Violet Martin), over which English and American readers have laughed as heartily as their own fellow countrymen. The Experiences of an Irish R. M. remains, perhaps, their best book. The work of these ladies, be it said by the way, is in the line of descent from that group of older Irish novelists who wrote in the spirit of the devil-may-care gentry, the novelists from Maxwell to Lover and Lever, who were ever questing “divilment and divarshion,” and who in their moods of boisterous fun forgot the real Irishman, and presented in his place a caricature-him of the Celtic screech and the exhilarating whack of the shillelagh, the famous stage Irishman who has made occasional appearances in English literature from the time of Shakespeare's Henry V., on through the works of Fielding and the plays of Sheridan, to the present moment of writing.

Of a very different stripe from the work of the collaborating ladies just mentioned are the novels of the recently deceased Canon Sheehan-notable among them Luke Delmege and My New Curate-rambling, diffuse, and a trifle provincial from the artistic standpoint, but interesting as studies of manners, and for the pictures they afford of the priesthood of modern Ireland in the pleasantest light. If the stories of Miss Somerville and “Martin Ross" are related to the comic stories of the old novelists of the gentry, those of Canon Sheehan must be associated with the work of the older novelists who wrote more or less in the spirit of the peasantry, that is, with Gerald Griffin, the Banim brothers, and William Carleton, less famous than he deserves to be by his Traits and Stories and a long line of novels and tales.

No survey of Irish novelists, however brief, can afford to forget the Rev. James Owen Hannay (“George A. Birmingham"), canon of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, whose work is as distinctively Protestant in its point of view as Father Sheehan's is Catholic. His more substantial novels are a careful transcript of the actualities of Irish life today, and in them one meets, incognito but easily recognizable, many Irishmen now prominent in literature or politics in Ireland. Of his numerous books may be mentioned The Seething Pot, Hyacinth, and Northern Iron.

Finally there is George Moore, whose enlistment in the Revival was responsible for the novel The Lake and the short stories of The Untilled Field, and for a largely autobiographic and entirely indiscreet trilogy entitled Hail and Farewell, the separate volumes appearing as Ave, Salve, Vale, and the last of them as late as 1914. George Moore's anti-Catholic bias is strong, but his is the pen of an accomplished artist. He has the story-teller's beguiling gift, and he bristles with ideas which his books cleverly embody and to which the dramatic moments of his novels give point and relief.

Not the least important work of the Irish Literary Revival has been done by translators, who have put into English the old Gaelic romances and the folklore still current among the little remnant of Irish-speaking country folk. Dr. Dougias Hyde is in the forefront of this group. He it was who organized the Gaelic League, a band of enthusiasts zealous for the revival of the Irish language both as a spoken tongue and as the medium for a national literature, and eager, also, to breed up a race of Celtic scholars. The lyrics in his Love Songs of Connacht are full of grace, tenderness, and fire, and indicate the kind of gems which he and his fellow laborers have added to the treasury of poetry in English. But it is Lady Gregory, especially in her Cuchulain of Muirthemne and Gods and Fighting Men, who more than any other has found a way to stir the blood of readers of to-day by the romantic hero tales of Ireland. From the racy idiom of the dwellers on or about her own estate in Galway, she happily framed a style that gave her narratives freshness, novelty, and a flavor of the soil. Upon the work of scholars she drew heavily in making her own renderings, but she has justified all borrowings by breathing into her books the breath and the warmth of life, and her adaptation to epic purposes of the dialect of those who still retain the expiring habit of thinking in Gaelic was a real literary achievement. She has, indeed, in sins of commission and of omission, taken liberties with the old legends, but this may render them not less, and perhaps more, delightful to the general reader, however just complaints may be from the standpoint of the scholar.

Even so brief a sketch as this may suffice to bring home to those not already aware of it a realization of the delights to be drawn from the creations of a living literary movement, which is perhaps the most notable of its generation, and which has gathered together a remarkable group of poets, novelists, and dramatists, who, as men and women, are a most interesting company-a fact to which even George Moore's Hail and Farewell, with its quick eye for defects and foibles and its ironic wit, bears abundant testimony.

REFERENCES :

Brooke and Rolleston: Treasury of Irish Poetry (New York and London, 1900); Krans: William Butler Yeats and the Irish Literary Revival (New York and London, 1904); Yeats: Ideas of Good and Evil (London, 1903); Moore: Hail and Farewell, 3 vols. (Lon. don and New York, 1912-1914); Lady Gregory: Our Irish Theatre (New York and London, 1913); Weygandt: Irish Plays and Playwrights (New York, 1913); Yeats: Introduction to Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (London, 1889), Representative Irish Tales (London, 1890), Book of Irish Verse (London, 1895). There is much of interest, though chiefly as regards the drama, in the reviews, Beltaine (London and Dublin, 1899-1900) and Samhain (London and Dublin, 1901-1903).

IRISH WRITERS OF ENGLISH

By P. J. LENNOX, B.A., Litt.D.

THvolume 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

« PreviousContinue »