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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. We
were now important, had our Committee room in the Mansion House, and I
remember that the old Mansion House butler recognised our importance so
fully, that he took us into his confidence once in every week, while we
sat waiting for a quorum. He had seen many Lord Mayors, and remembered
those very superior Lord Mayors who lived before the extension of the
municipal franchise, and spoke of his present masters with contempt. Among
our persons of authority, and among the friends and followers they had
brought, there were many who at that time found it hard to refuse if
anybody offered for sale a pepper-pot shaped to suggest a round tower with
a wolf-dog at its foot, and who would have felt it inappropriate to
publish an Irish book, that had not harp and shamrock and green cover, so
completely did their minds move amid Young Ireland images and metaphors,
and I thought with alarm of the coming of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy; while
here and there I noticed that smooth, smiling face that we discover for
the first time in certain pictures by Velasquez; all that hungry,
mediaeval speculation vanished, that had worn the faces of El Greco and in
its place a self-complacent certainty that all had been arranged, provided
for, set out in clear type, in manual of devotion or of doctrine. These,
however, were no true disciples of Young Ireland, for Young Ireland had
sought a nation unified by political doctrine, a subservient art and
letters aiding and abetting. The movement of thought, which had in the
'fifties and 'fourties at Paris and London and Boston, filled literature,
and especially poetical literature with curiosities about science, about
history about politics, with moral purpose and educational
fervour--abstractions all--had created a new instrument for Irish
politics, a method of writing that took its poetical style from Campbell,
Scott, Macauley, and Beranger, with certain elements from Gaelic, and its
prose style--in John Mitchell, the only Young Ireland prose writer who had
a style at all--from Carlyle. To recommend this method of writing as
literature without much reservation and discrimination I contended was to
be deceived or to practice deception. If one examined some country
love-song, one discovered that it was not written by a man in love, but by
a patriot who wanted to prove that we did indeed possess, in the words of
Daniel O'Connell, "the finest peasantry upon earth." Yet one well-known
anthology was introduced by the assertion that such love-poetry was
superior to "affected and artificial" English love-songs like "Drink to me
only with thine eyes"--"affected and artificial," the very words used by
English Victorians who wrote for the newspapers to discourage capricious,
personal writing. However, the greater number even of those who thought
our famous anthology, _The Spirit of the Nation_, except for three or four
songs, but good election rhyme, looked upon it much as certain enlightened
believers look upon the story of Adam and Eve and the apple, or that of
Jonah and the whale, which they do not question publicly, because such
stories are an integral part of religion to simple men and women. I, upon
the other hand, being in the intemperance of my youth, denied, as publicly
as possible, merit to all but a few ballads translated from Gaelic
writers, or written out of a personal and generally tragic experience.


The greater number of those who joined my society had come under the seal
of Young Ireland at that age when we are all mere wax; the more ambitious
had gone daily to some public library to read the bound volumes of Thomas
Davis's old newspaper, and tried to see the world as Davis saw it. No
philosophic speculation, no economic question of the day, disturbed an
orthodoxy which, unlike that of religion had no philosophic history, and
the religious bigot was glad that it should be so. Some few of the younger
men were impatient, and it was these younger men, more numerous in the
London than in the Dublin Society, who gave me support; and we had been
joined by a few older men--some personal friends of my own or my
father--who had only historical interest in Thomas Davis and his school.
Young Ireland's prose had been as much occupied with Irish virtue, and
more with the invader's vices, than its poetry, and we were soon mired and
sunk into such problems as to whether Cromwell was altogether black, the
heads of the old Irish clans altogether white, the Danes mere robbers and
church burners (they tell me at Rosses Point that the Danes keep to this
day the maps of the Rosses fields they were driven out of in the 9th
century, and plot their return) and as to whether we were or were not once
the greatest orators in the world. All the past had been turned into a
melodrama with Ireland for blameless hero and poet, novelist and historian
had but one object, that we should hiss the villain, and only a minority
doubted that the greater the talent the greater the hiss. It was all the
harder to substitute for that melodrama a nobler form of art, because
there really had been, however different in their form, villain and
victim; yet fight that rancour I must, and if I had not made some head
against it in 1892 and 1893 it might have silenced in 1907 John Synge, the
greatest dramatic genius of Ireland. I am writing of disputes that
happened many years ago, that led in later years to much bitterness, and I
may exaggerate their immediate importance and violence, but I think I am
right in saying that disputes about the merits of Young Ireland so often
interrupted our discussion of rules, or of the merit of this or that
lecturer, and were so aggravated and crossed by the current wrangle
between Parnellite and anti-Parnellite that they delayed our public
appearance for a year. Other excited persons, doubtless, seeing that we
are of a race intemperate of speech, had looked up from their rancours to
the dead Lord Mayors upon the wall, superior men whose like we shall not
see again, but never, I think, from rancours so seemingly academic. I was
preparing the way without knowing it for a great satirist and master of
irony, for master works stir vaguely in many before they grow definite in
one man's mind, and to help me I had already flitting through my head,
jostling other ideas and so not yet established there, a conviction that
we should satirize rather than praise, that original virtue arises from
the discovery of evil. If we were, as I had dreaded, declamatory, loose,
and bragging, we were but the better fitted, that once declared and
measured, to create unyielding personality, manner at once cold and
passionate, daring long premeditated act; and if bitter beyond all the
people of the world, we might yet lie, that too declared and measured,
nearest the honeyed comb:--

"Like the clangour of a bell
Sweet and harsh, harsh and sweet,
That is how he learnt so well
To take the roses for his meat."


There were others with followers of their own, and too old or indifferent
to join our society. Old men who had never accepted Young Ireland, or
middle-aged men kept by some family tradition to the school of thought
before it arose, to the Ireland of Daniel O'Connell and of Lever and of
Thomas Moore, convivial Ireland with the traditional tear and smile. They
sang Moore's _Melodies_, admitted no poetry but his, and resented Young
Ireland's political objections to it as much as my generation's objection
to its artificial and easy rhythm; one, an old commercial traveller, a
Gaelic scholar who kept an erect head and the animal vigour of youth,
frequented the houses of our leading men, and would say in a loud voice,
"Thomas Moore, sir, is the greatest heroic poet of ancient or modern
times." I think it was the Fire Worshippers in _Lalla Rookh_ that he
preferred to Homer; or, jealous for the music of the _Melodies_, denounce
Wagner, then at the top of his vogue; "I would run ten miles through a bog
to escape him," he would cry. Then there was a maker of tombstones of whom
we had heard much but had seen little, an elderly fighting man, lately
imprisoned for beating a wine-merchant. A young member of the London
society, afterwards librarian to the National University, D. J. O'Donohue,
who had published a dictionary of the Irish poets, containing, I think,
two thousand names, had come to Dublin and settled there in a fit of
patriotism. He had been born in London, and spoke the most Cockney dialect
imaginable, and had picked up--probably from London critics--a dislike for
the poetry of Thomas Moore. The tombstone maker invited him to tea, and he
arrived with a bundle of books, which he laid beside him upon the table.
During tea he began expounding that dislike of his; his host was silent,
but he went on, for he was an obstinate little man. Presently the
tombstone-maker rose, and having said solemnly, "I have never permitted
that great poet to be slandered in my presence," seized his guest by the
back of the collar, and flung him out into the street, and after that
flung out the books one after another. Meanwhile the guest--as he himself
told the tale--stood in the middle of the street repeating, "Nice way to
treat a man in your own 'ouse."


I shared a lodging full of old books and magazines, covered with dirt and
dust, with the head of the Fenian Brotherhood, John O'Leary. "In this
country," he had said to me, "a man must have upon his side the Church or
the Fenians, and you will never have the Church." He had been converted to
nationality by the poems of Davis, and he wished for some analogous
movement to that of Davis, but he had known men of letters, had been the
friend of Whistler, and knew the faults of the old literature. We had made
him the President of our Society, and without him I could do nothing, for
his long imprisonment and longer exile, his magnificent appearance, and,
above all, the fact that he alone had personality, a point of view not
made for the crowd's sake, but for self-expression, made him magnetic to
my generation.

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