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Art. II.-JOHN BANIM.
LIFE IN FRANCE. ILLNESS. LETTERS. DISPUTES WITH PUB
LISHERS. COMPOSITION OF "THE SMUGGLER,” AND OF THE DWARY BRIDE." WRITES DRAMATIC PIECES FOR THOMAS ARNOLD. “THE DEATH PETCH, OR THE STUDENT OF GOITINGEN," REPRESENTED AT THE ENGLISH OPERA HOUSE : STRICTURES OF THE TIMES” ON ITS PLOT. LETTERS. ILLNESS OF BANIM'S MOTHER: BEAUTIFUL TRAITS OF HER LOVE FOR JOIN.' LETTERS, DEATH OF OLD MRS. BANIM. LETTERS. KINDNESS OF FRIENDS IN BOULOGNE. TROUBL.IS OP AUTHORSHIP. DISPUTES WITH, AND LOSSES BY, PUBLISIIERS. WRITES FOR THE ANNUALS.” LETTERS. ILL HEALTH AND PECUNIARY EMBARRASSMENTS. A SON BORN. SICK OF THE CHOLERA; A RELAPSE. PUBLICATION OF THE CHAUNT OF THE CHOLERA. PUBLICATION OF THE MAYOR OF WINDGAP,” AND OF MISS MARTIN's CANVASSING, IN NEW SERIES OF “TALES BY THE O'HARA FAMILY."
LETTERS. VISIT OF MRS. BANIM TO LONDON. DEBT AND EMBARRASSMENT. AFFECTING LETTER. APPEAL ON BANIM'S BEHALF IN "THE SPECTATOR,” AND BY STERLING, "THIE THUNDERER, IN “THE TIMES." LETTER FROM BANIM TO THE TIMES.” MEETINGS IN DUBLIN, CORK, KILKENNY, AND LIMERICK, IN AID OF BANIM. REPORT OF THE DUBLIN MEETING: MORRISON'S LARGE ROOM GIVEN FREE OF CHARGE FOR THE MEETING : THE LORD MAYOR PRESIDES : SHEIL'S SPEECH : THE RESOLUTIONS AND NAMES OF SUBSCRIBERS AND COMMITTEE. COMMITTEE ROOM OPENED AT MORRISON'S HOTEL: P. COSTELLOE AND SAMUEL LOVER APPOINTED HONORARY SECRETARIES. LIBERALITY OF THE LATE SIR ROBERT PEEL. LETTERS. À SON BORN. REMOVAL TO PARIS. LETTERS. LINES TO THE COLOSSAL ELEPHANT ON THE SITE OF THE BASTILE.' ILL HEALTH ; COPY OP OPINION ON HIS CASE BY FRENCH AND ENGLISH SURGEONS. VIOLENT REMEDIES : THEIR UNHAPPY RESULT. LETTERS. ANXIETY TO RETURN TO KILKENNY. THE JOURNEY FROM PARIS TO BOULOGNE ; MISHAPS BY THE WAY : LINES,—"THE CALL FROM HOME.”
" Whether Hope and I shall ever become intimate again in this world, except on the pilgrimage to the next, is very doubtful," wrote Robert Southey to Henry Taylor, when grief and sickness were upon him ; so it was now with poor John Banim, praying, amidst strange scenes and ways of life in his French home, that he, and Hope, might once again " become intimate." Like Southey, he never ceased or paused in his labor; it was a sweet labor which duty sanctified, and thus hoping against hope, and working despite physical pain, his first months of residence in Boulogne were passed. And what months of suffering were these! Months in which the whole past of life, with all its griefs and joys; with all its aspirations and longings---come to fruition or to failure-seemed but as the dreams of a fevered sleep, and nothing was, but the present with its woes, nothing to be, but a future at whose entrance frowned sickness, and want, and disappointment. When hope seemned brightest, when fame and fortune were about to bless him, sickness prostrates him, and, in all the bitterness of bitter grief, he felt the truth of Tennyson's thought, and knew “That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier
things.” Ill health was not, however, the only misfortune darkening his life at this period. He had, whilst residing at Eastbourne, commenced the composition of a novel entitled The Smuggler. In this work he entered upon new scenes of life, all the characters being English, the action being placed in the neighbourhood of Eastbourne; and the scenery being described from the landscape around his residence. The manuscript of this novel was placed in the hands of the publisher in the month of December, 1829, and the book was to have appeared early in the following year; but Banim was sick and helpless in France; disputes as to terms arose between author and publisher; wearying and violent letters passed between them; no progress as to final terms was made, and so, for a time, the matter rested.
He was not, amidst all these troubles, idle; but it seemed as if Providence had ordered that all his efforts to keep his name before the reading portion of the nation should fail. Whilst the disputes relating to The Smuggler continued, Banim wrote another tale, entitled The Dwarf Bride, but the publisher in whose hands it was placed for publication, became bankrupt before the printing had been commenced, and all efforts to discover the manuscript amongst his papers were vain.
Thus, twice baffled in the pursuit of fame, and in neither in
stance through his own fault, (and how he felt this forced absence of his name from before the public the reader knows-he feared it as a step towards oblivion) there was yet a deeper source of regret, and one which neither money nor facile publishers could remove his mother was dying-dying, and her own "graw bawn” far away, and never more in life was she to see him. She had been ill during all the year 1829, and at the commenceinent of 1830, she was only able to move, with assistance, from her bed chamber to a little sitting room adjoining. She loved to linger in this latter room, as in it John used to sit; here he had sketched for her a portrait of himself, which now hung upon the wall, and was so placed that it was the first object on which her eye could rest on entering the apartment. And, in this humble room, daily there might be witnessed one of the most touching scenes that the fancy could form. Moving slowly from her bed chamber, the mother tottered to a chair placed before John's portrait ; she sat, and gazed upon it, lost in thoughts--in those thoughts which have been so truly called “ bitter sweet,”—then she bent her head as if in deep communion with God, and gazing still upon the picture, she “blessed herself,” and commenced her morning praver, during which she never moved her eyes from the portrait ; and as she prayed, tears rolled down her face; thus, she looked, and prayed, and wept, and exemplified that exquisite reflection of Cowper
“And while the wings of Fancy still are free,
Thyself remov'd, thy pow'r to soothe one left." During the closing months of her life, Mrs. Banim was unable to leave her bed, and then the portrait was placed in her room, where she could look upon it constantly. John longed to see her once more, but his health was not sufficient to enable him to bear the fatigue of the journey, and he wrote to Michael as follows:
“ Boulogne, May 2nd, 1830. My dear Michael,
I am now a paralysed man, walking with much difficulty. I move slowly and cautiously, assisted by a stick, and any good person's arm charitable enough to aid me. It is add to your trouble that I thus describe myself, I only tell you to prepare you at home for the change. I look well, and my spirit is yet uncrippled. Go to my mother's bed-side as soon as you receive this, and say what you can for me. I think she need not know that I am so lame.”
In the month of June, 1830, just seven weeks after the date of this letter, old Mrs. Banim died, and the announcement of her death came with a crushing effect upon the already weakened energies of her son—a son who might most truly proclaim himself, “tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.” He declared that he had never before known sorrow, and was quite unmanned and prostrated by the crowd of calamities which had gathered around and burst upon him, in his time of sorest and most pressing need ; and in a paroxysm of grief and disappointment, he thus wrote to Michael:
Boulogne, July 4th, 1930. My dear Brother,
You will naturally ask yourself, "Why has not John written? My dear Michael, I could not, and I have no explanation, only, I could not. And now I have not a single word to the purpose to say, although after a fortnight's silence, I do write. The blow lias not yet left me master of myself. A blow indeed it was.
Your letter was suddenly thrust into my hand, and the color of the wax told me, at a glance, that my mother had left me. I fell to the ground, without having opened it; I anticipated the contents. You tell me to be tranquil. It is in vain. I never felt anguish before. Yet it is true, that the certainty of the spiritualised lot of our mother, is a grand consolation; so also is the certainty that she died in the arms of those she loved and who loved her.
Not a very long time shall elapse, if I live, till we meet in Kilkenny. My wanderings, with God's leave, must end
Time healed this wound; with some slight return of health his spirits revived. The quarrel with the publisher of The Smuggler was arranged, and it was agreed that the book should appear early in the year 1832 ; employment as a contributor to the Annuals and Magazines was obtained, and now as ever, Thomas Arnold was ready to accept Banim's little pieces for the English Opera House.
These pieces were light and ephemeral, and, though generally successful, were not of a character to secure a place
amongst the stock plays of the theatre. One, however, entitled The Death Fetch, or The Student of Gottingen, was very successful. It was an adaptation of The Fetches, in the first series of Tales by the O'Hara Family, and The Times thus commented upon it. We must, however, bear in mind that these strictures would now appear out of place, schooled as we have been, by the diablerie and double-shuilling of The Corsican Brothers. The critique is as follows:
“It is a dramatic resurrection of the story of The Fetches,' which is to be found in the • Tales of the O'Hara Family,' and has been introduced to the stage by Mr. Banim, the author of those tales. Considering that it is exceedingly difficult, through the medium of a dramatic entertainment, to impress the minds of an audience with those supernatural imaginings, which each individual may indulge in while reading a volume of the mysterious and wonderful, we think Mr. Banim has manifested considerable adroitness in adapting his novel to the stage. We think, at the same time, that his abilities might have been much better employed. The perpetuation of the idea of such absurd phantasies as fetches and fairies—witches and wizards-is not merely ridiculous, but it is mischievous. There was scarcely a child (and we observed many present) who last night witnessed the “fetch' or double of the Gottin. gen student and his mistress, and who recollects the wild glare of Miss Kelly's eye, (fatuity itself, much less childhood, would have marked it,) that will not tremble and shudder when the servant withdraws the light from the resting-place of the infant. Such scenes cannot be useful to youth; and, leaving the skill of the actor out of the question, we know not how they can give pleasure to age. This theatre was ostensibly instituted as a sort of stay and support to levimitate • English opera ;' and we feel convinced that one wellwritten English opera, upon the model of the old school—that school so well described by General Burgoyne, in his preface to his own excellent work, The Lord of the Manor,' would do more credit to the proprietor of this theatre, and bring more money to his treasury, than wilderness of Frankensteins and Fetches.'"*
The assistance derived from his pay as a play-wright and Magazine contributor was not, as the reader may readily understand, sufficient to support him in his illness; and thus embarrassments became more involved. During the greater part of the year 1830, and during the whole of 1831, bis letters, though few, were entirely occupied by complaints of his sicknesses and of his poverty. A son was born to him in
“ The Death Fetch" was performed in Boulogne, during Banim's residence there : it was translated into French by a friend ; during the performance of the piece all children were removed from the theatre.