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I thought that the general movement of
literature must be such a reversal, men being there displayed in casual,
temporary, contact as at the Tabard door. I had lately read Tolstoy's
_Anna Karenina_ and thought that where his theoretical capacity had not
awakened there was such a turning back: but a nation or an individual with
great emotional intensity might follow the pilgrims as it were to some
unknown shrine, and give to all those separated elements and to all that
abstract love and melancholy, a symbolical, a mythological coherence. Not
Chaucer's rough tongued riders, but rather an ended pilgrimage, a
procession of the Gods! Arthur Symons brought back from Paris stories of
Verhaeren and Maeterlinck, and so brought me confirmation, as I thought,
and I began to announce a poetry like that of the Sufi's. I could not
endure, however, an international art, picking stories and symbols where
it pleased. Might I not, with health and good luck to aid me, create some
new _Prometheus Unbound_; Patrick or Columbkil, Oisin or Fion, in
Prometheus' stead; and, instead of Caucasus, Cro-Patric or Ben Bulben?
Have not all races had their first unity from a polytheism, that marries
them to rock and hill? We had in Ireland imaginative stories, which the
uneducated classes knew and even sang, and might we not make those stories
current among the educated classes, rediscovering for the work's sake what
I have called "the applied arts of literature," the association of
literature, that is, with music, speech, and dance; and at last, it might
be, so deepen the political passion of the nation that all, artist and
poet, craftsman and day-labourer would accept a common design? Perhaps
even these images, once created and associated with river and mountain,
might move of themselves and with some powerful, even turbulent life, like
those painted horses that trampled the rice fields of Japan.


XXIV

I used to tell the few friends to whom I could speak these secret thoughts
that I would make the attempt in Ireland but fail, for our civilization,
its elements multiplying by division like certain low forms of life, was
all-powerful; but in reality I had the wildest hopes. To-day I add to that
first conviction, to that first desire for unity, this other conviction,
long a mere opinion vaguely or intermittently apprehended: Nations, races,
and individual men are unified by an image, or bundle of related images,
symbolical or evocative of the state of mind, which is of all states of
mind not impossible, the most difficult to that man, race, or nation;
because only the greatest obstacle that can be contemplated without
despair, rouses the will to full intensity.

A powerful class by terror, rhetoric, and organized sentimentality, may
drive their people to war but the day draws near when they cannot keep
them there; and how shall they face the pure nations of the East when the
day comes to do it with but equal arms? I had seen Ireland in my own time
turn from the bragging rhetoric and gregarious humour of O'Connell's
generation and school, and offer herself to the solitary and proud Parnell
as to her anti-self, buskin following hard on sock, and I had begun to
hope, or to half hope, that we might be the first in Europe to seek unity
as deliberately as it had been sought by theologian, poet, sculptor,
architect, from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. Doubtless we must
seek it differently, no longer considering it convenient to epitomize all
human knowledge, but find it we well might could we first find philosophy
and a little passion.




BOOK II

IRELAND AFTER THE FALL OF PARNELL





_IRELAND AFTER THE FALL OF PARNELL_


I

A couple of years before the death of Parnell, I had wound up my
introduction to those selections from the Irish novelists with the
prophecy of an intellectual movement at the first lull in politics, and
now I wished to fulfil my prophecy. I did not put it in that way, for I
preferred to think that the sudden emotion that now came to me, the sudden
certainty that Ireland was to be like soft wax for years to come, was a
moment of supernatural insight. How could I tell, how can I tell even now?

There was a little Irish Society of young people, clerks, shop boys, and
shop girls, called "The Southwark Irish Literary Society," and it had
ceased to meet because the girls got the giggles when any member of the
Committee got up to speak. Every member of it had said all he had to say
many times over. I had given them a lecture about the falling asunder of
the human mind, as an opening flower falls asunder, and all had professed
admiration because I had made such a long speech without quotation or
narrative; and now I invited the Committee to my father's house at Bedford
Park, and there proposed a new organization, "The Irish Literary Society."
T. W. Rolleston came to that first meeting, and it was because he had much
tact, and a knowledge of the technical business of committees, that a
society was founded which was joined by every London-Irish author and
journalist. In a few months somebody had written its history, and
published that history, illustrated by our portraits, at a shilling. When
it was published I was in Dublin, founding a society there called "The
National Literary Society," and affiliating it with certain Young Ireland
Societies in country towns which seemed anxious to accept its leadership.
I had definite plans; I wanted to create an Irish Theatre; I was finishing
my _Countess Cathleen_ in its first meagre version, and thought of a
travelling company to visit our country branches; but before that there
must be a popular imaginative literature. I arranged with Mr. Fisher Unwin
and his reader, Mr Edward Garnett--a personal friend of mine--that when
our organization was complete Mr Fisher Unwin was to publish for it a
series of books at a shilling each. I told only one man of this
arrangement, for after I had made my plans I heard an alarming rumour. Old
Sir Charles Gavan Duffy was coming from Australia to start an Irish
publishing house, and publish a series of books, and I did not expect to
agree with him, but knew that I must not seek a quarrel. The two societies
were necessary because their lectures must take the place of an educated
popular press, which we had not, and have not now, and create a standard
of criticism. Irish literature had fallen into contempt; no educated man
ever bought an Irish book; in Dublin Professor Dowden, the one man of
letters with an international influence, was accustomed to say that he
knew an Irish book by its smell, because he had once seen some books whose
binding had been fastened together by rotten glue; and Standish O'Grady's
last book upon ancient Irish history--a book rather wild, rather too
speculative, but forestalling later research--had not been reviewed by any
periodical or newspaper in England or in Ireland.

At first I had great success, for I brought with me a list of names
written down by some member of the Southwark Irish Literary Society, and
for six weeks went hither and thither appealing and persuading. My first
conversation was over a butter-tub in some Dublin back street, and the man
agreed with me at once; everybody agreed with me; all felt that something
must be done, but nobody knew what. Perhaps they did not understand me,
perhaps I kept back my full thoughts, perhaps they only seemed to listen;
it was enough that I had a plan, and was determined about it. When I went
to lecture in a provincial town, a workman's wife, who wrote patriotic
stories in some weekly newspaper, invited me to her house, and I found all
her children in their Sunday best. She made a little speech, very formal
and very simple, in which she said that what she wrote had no merit, but
that it paid for her children's schooling; and she finished her speech by
telling her children never to forget that they had seen me. One man
compared me to Thomas Davis, another said I could organise like Davitt,
and I thought to succeed as they did, and as rapidly. I did not examine
this applause, nor the true thoughts of those I met, nor the general
condition of the country, but I examined myself a great deal, and was
puzzled at myself. I knew that I was shy and timid, that I would often
leave some business undone, or purchase unmade, because I shrank from
facing a strange office or a shop a little grander than usual, and yet,
here was I delightedly talking to strange people every day. It was many
years before I understood that I had surrendered myself to the chief
temptation of the artist, creation without toil. Metrical composition is
always very difficult to me, nothing is done upon the first day, not one
rhyme is in its place; and when at last the rhymes begin to come, the
first rough draft of a six-line stanza takes the whole day. At that time I
had not formed a style, and sometimes a six-line stanza would take several
days, and not seem finished even then; and I had not learnt, as I have
now, to put it all out of my head before night, and so the last night was
generally sleepless, and the last day a day of nervous strain. But now I
had found the happiness that Shelley found when he tied a pamphlet to a
fire balloon.


II

At first I asked no help from prominent persons, and when some clerk or
shop-assistant would say "Dr So-and-so or Professor So-and-so will have
nothing to do with us" I would answer, "When we prove we can gather sheep
shepherds will come." Presently, come they did, old, middle-aged, or but
little older than myself, but all with some authority in their town: John
O'Leary, John F. Taylor, and Douglas Hyde, and Standish O'Grady, and of
these much presently; Dr. Sigerson who has picked a quarrel with me and of
whom I shall say nothing that he may not pick another; Count Plunkett,
Sinn Feiner of late and Minister of Dail Eireann; Dr. Coffey, now head of
the National University; George Coffey, later on Curator of the Irish
Antiquities at the Museum of the Royal Dublin Society; Patrick J. McCall,
poet and publican of Patrick Street, and later member of corporation;
Richard Ashe King, novelist and correspondent of _Truth_, a gentle,
intelligent person, typical of nothing; and others, known or unknown.



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