« PreviousContinue »
IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW.
No. XX.-DECEMBER, 1855.
Art. I.-A QUARTETTE OF IRISH POETS. 1. The Poems of Thomas Davis. Now first collected. With
Notes and Historical Illustrations. Dublin : Published by James Dully, 7, Wellington-quay. London : Simpkin,
Marshall and Co., Stationers' Hall Court. 1553. 2. The Poetical Works of Gerald Griffin, Esq. London :
Simms and MʻIntyre, Paternoster-row; and Donegall-street,
Belfast. 1951. 3. The Poems of J. J. Callanan. A New Edition, with a
Biographical Introduction and Notes. Cork: Messrs.
Bolster, 70, Patrick-street. 1917. 4. Miscellaneous Poems and songs. By Francis Davis, (the
“ Belfast Man.") Belfast: Printed and Published by John Henderson, Bookseller to the Queen. Dublin : James M'Glashan, D'Olier-street. London: E. Farrington, 16, Bath-street, Newgate-street. Glasgow : Griffin and Co.
1852. Though true it is that the poets whom we have chosen to form the subject of this review are already known, in a superficial way, to a small portion of Irish readers, it is also certain that the public of this country are very far from having an adequate acquaintance with their beauties, or from forming a just appreciation of their literary inerits. There is not a puny little volume of English verse, with the name of an English author on the back, and the evidence of a Della Cruscan intellect in the unrivalled neatness of its gilded cover, which we may not easily find upon the tables of the salon or the boudoir; but should we not seek in vain in the same abodes VOL. V, -NO, XX.
of fashion, O candid reader ! for books with such titles as the head of our opening page presents to view? Yet it may very fairly be questioned whether England, at the present day, can produce three poets any of whom could be mentioned in the saine breath with either Thomas Davis, Griffin, or Callanan, for genius, moral worth, or proud nobility of purpose! It is for this reason that we now intend to introduce to the particular notice of our readers these Irish poets, and also another of their confraternity, Francis Davis, (the Belfast man,] as we are determined to make an effort, at least, to rescue them from the comparative oblivion into which they have apparently fallen, and to excite a more general desire to cultivate their acquaintance.
It is truly astonishing that with all the imaginative talent which Irishmen possess there is so little poetry written by them. Every journal in the country teems with the speeches
. of men whose minds must evidently be strongly imbued with poetic feeling. Let us instance the orations made at public meetings; how full they are of lofty images, bold or beautiful, set forth in the choicest and most captivating language! How picturesque or dramatic, as the case may be, the metaphors appear! what verve and spirit characterize the whole discourse ! what wonderful fluency and command of impassioned language is evident throughout! In these particulars an Irishman can easily outrival the native of any country in Europe ; but, unfortunately, some of these qualities, though excellent in the abstract, are not those suited to the purpose to which they are turned by our lively countrymen. If, by proper training or natural inclination, Irishmen would direct their intellectual powers to the cultivation of literature, instead of wasting them in the desultory and useless exercise to which we have alluded, it is not difficult to conceive how much brilliant success must attend their efforts. The incentives, however, should be great and manifold which could induce men to follow literature in a country where avocations, so contrary in their nature, have been prosecuted for such a length of time, and it is very much to be feared that we cannot expect to see such a blissful consummation effected, until the great brood of evils which afflict our unfortunate land have disappeared from amongst us.
It is unreasonable to expect that anything solid, or becoming the minds of an enlightened and intellectual people, can be regu. larly carried on while distracting passions are at work, and
even those most eminently capacitated must be excused from paying that attention to those studies which require such undivided care, and such concentrated vigor both of mind and body, when we call to mind the chilling influences which repel exertion.
The contemplation of this deplorable state of society becomes maddening when we reflect on the many incentives to the cultivation of poetry which Irishmen possess.
The scenery of Ireland, as we all know, is just the very kind of scenery suited to the inspiration of the muse. Its towering mountains enveloped in mystic mist, its glorious lakes and rivers, its valleys and plains of incomparable verdure, the romantic character of its peasantry, the numerous interesting legends and historic associations which are connected with its lovely scenes, the fairy rath, the mountain cairn, the round tower, the ivy-mantled castle, the ruined abbey, almost everything both in nature and in art which is most calculated to awaken the poetic feeling has its home in our delightful country; and when with these we join the poetical turn of mind of the people themselves, to which we have already alluded, it is impossible to prevent ourselves from seeing that Nature intended Ireland to be a land of song rather than of sorrow. There is nothing that would tend more surely to improve the national mind than a general cultivation of poetry: the more we would see our old traditions enlarged and decked out in poetic dress, the more, naturally, we should value them, and the more strongly attached we should become to the localities which gave them birth : the example given by a few would be quickly followed by others ; hundreds would vie with each other in publishing them to the world, until the genius of the country would be employed, like that of Germany, in immortalizing them.
It is needless to say what a beneficial effect this movement would have on the national character : a morally independent feeling would of necessity be inculcated, and everything which we are taught to consider as arising from virtuous principles and elevated views, all the blessings of freedom, in a word, would spring up and bless our people. Let us hope for the best : we have inen of genius among us yet; men of generous hearts and determined energies, who would gladly agree to devote their lives to that which would ensure lasting benefits to their country. Let but the example be set, and we hesitate not to say that many a valuable recruit will be added to the ranhs, and that if a system be founded which may be well adapted to the contemplated end, fruits will follow whose beneficent nature the most sanguine imagination cannot conceive, and whose practical effects will do more for “the poor old country” than all the orators of tenant right and Repeal could ever achieve, were their labours spread over the space of centuries. Indulging in the hope of seeing this most enviable result, we shall now proceed to examine tlie productions of some of those who have carried out most successfully, in their own persons, the principles regarding which we have been efpressing our opinions. There are none of them, indeed, who can be reprehended for their voluminous turn, or for that failing commonly ternied bookmaking; but they have, buih one and all, the very strongest claims upon our adiniration, and, indeed, our love, for the thorougli nationality which is apparent throughout all their writings, for the unremitting assiduity with which they have applied themselves to the revivifying of our ancient traditions, and for the diligent de termination with which they endeavored to give the impress of nationality, both by peculiarity of phrase, vigor of language, and character of allusion, to the offspring of their gouius. The fame of some of them as ballad writers has been long since acknoise lenyed, and they ought to rank with those of any country in the world in that species of poetry. They possess, indeed, everything which ballad poetry ought to possess; a certain happy elasticity of rytlım, irrepressible animation, energetic and appropriate phraseology, and a racy tone which is ruly the literary counterpart of the conversational character of the Irish peasantry.
The long narrations which are very frequent throughout, are almost all remarkable for very great beauty, and are well worthy of the fine old legends which they clothie. One great advantage which belongs to many of the smaller pieces is their adaptation to Irish Music, to which numbers have been wedded, some indeed by their Authors, this necessarily tending to promote a circulation of the sentiments which typify them, and naturally heightening considerably the interest attaching to their beauties. The clar method in which their thoughts are generally conveyed is highly creditable to their taste as Poets, as also the complete absence of mystification by which they are distinguished, and the siinple, easy flow of language
which characterizes them. In this and in the absence of op. pressive ornament, and florid expression, they have decidedly the advantage of their English brethren of the present gener. ation, and it is curious and interesting to remark, that though intense luxuriance of imagination is alwłost inseparable from the prose etlusions of Irishmen, we have so many instances in the poetry of the country, of charming simplicity, and almost fastidious purity in the use of language. This peculiarity will be abundantly evident in the extracts which the following pages will contain, and to the examination of which, with many apologies for our obtrusive remarks, we now humbly invite the reader to accompany us.
No Irish Poet has ever equalled Davis in burning nationality, forcible expression, or in the wonderful capacity of impressing the reader with the conviction that his Poetry is the genuine eranation of his heart. There is something quite entrancing in his manly aspirations, conveyed in such vigorous, withal uncommon phraseology, and someihing intensely satisfactory in the unsliackled form in which his noble imaginings become developed. Unworthy of his country must he be who can read the inspiring lyrics of Davis without feeling his heart beat high with patriotic emotion, and withont experiencing animated impulsive sympathy with many of the heroic sentiments which they breathe. And can we believe it ! he who has endowed his country and the world wiil those magnificent lyrics, this inappreciable volume of Poetry, in which the “afflatus divinæ aurae” is so apparent, he, who by their electric power, astounded, dazzled, and carried by storm, the hearts and souls of eight millions of people, did not commence his poetical life until he was in bis :25th year ! and the great majority of the poeins now before us, were finished in the first year in whichi liis muse commenced to sing.
Davis has furnished more than ainple evidence of his towering genius in statesmanlike qualities, and was besides a brilliant original essayist, with every likelihood of becoming a remarkable historian. With these latter attributes of his prolitic mind, we have nothing to do, beyond remarking the extraordinary combination of such different capacities, all of which Davis possessed in such an exalted degree. If ever there was a a Poet gifted with power to awaken a nation to a sense of its own position, or to fill the mind of a people with a proud consciousness of the glory which belongs to them, and of that