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He would have hated _The Playboy of the Western World_,
and his death a little before its performance was fortunate for Synge and
myself. His articles are nothing, and his one historical work, a life of
Hugh O'Neill, is almost nothing, lacking the living voice; and now, though
a most formidable man, he is forgotten, but for the fading memory of a few
friends, and for what an enemy has written here and elsewhere. Did not
Leonardo da Vinci warn the imaginative man against pre-occupation with
arts that cannot survive his death?


VI

When Carleton was dying in 1870, he said there would be nothing more about
Irish Literature for twenty years, and his words were fulfilled, for the
land war had filled Ireland with its bitterness; but imagination had begun
to stir again. I had the same confidence in the future that Lady Gregory
and I had eight or nine years later, when we founded an Irish Theatre,
though there were neither, as it seemed, plays or players. There were
already a few known men to start my popular series, and to keep it popular
until the men, whose names I did not know, had learnt to express
themselves. I had met Dr. Douglas Hyde when I lived in Dublin, and he was
still an undergraduate. I have a memory of meeting in college rooms for
the first time a very dark young man, who filled me with surprise, partly
because he had pushed a snuffbox towards me, and partly because there was
something about his vague serious eyes, as in his high cheek bones, that
suggested a different civilization, a different race. I had set him down
as a peasant, and wondered what brought him to college, and to a
Protestant college, but somebody explained that he belonged to some branch
of the Hydes of Castle Hyde, and that he had a Protestant Rector for
father. He had much frequented the company of old countrymen, and had so
acquired the Irish language, and his taste for snuff, and for moderate
quantities of a detestable species of illegal whiskey distilled from the
potato by certain of his neighbours. He had already--though intellectual
Dublin knew nothing of it--considerable popularity as a Gaelic poet,
mowers and reapers singing his songs from Donegal to Kerry. Years
afterwards I was to stand at his side and listen to Galway mowers singing
his Gaelic words without knowing whose words they sang. It is so in India,
where peasants sing the words of the great poet of Bengal without knowing
whose words they sing, and it must often be so where the old imaginative
folk life is undisturbed, and it is so amongst schoolboys who hand their
story books to one another without looking at the title page to read the
author's name. Here and there, however, the peasants had not lost the
habit of Gaelic criticism, picked up, perhaps, from the poets who took
refuge among them after the ruin of the great Catholic families, from men
like that O'Rahilly, who cries in a translation from the Gaelic that is
itself a masterpiece of concentrated passion--

"The periwinkle and the tough dog-fish
Towards evening time have got into my dish."

An old rascal was kept in food and whiskey for a fortnight by some
Connaught village under the belief that he was Craoibhin Aoibhin, "the
pleasant little branch," as Doctor Hyde signed himself in the newspapers
where the villagers had found his songs. The impostor's thirst only
strengthened belief in his genius, for the Gaelic song-writers have had
the infirmities of Robert Burns, "It is not the drink but the company,"
one of the last has sung. Since that first meeting Doctor Hyde and I had
corresponded, and he had sent me in manuscript the best tale in my _Faery
and Folk Tales_, and I think I had something to do with the London
publication of his _Beside the Fire_, a book written in the beautiful
English of Connaught, which is Gaelic in idiom and Tudor in vocabulary,
and indeed, the first book to use it in the expression of emotion and
romance, for Carleton and his school had turned it into farce. Henley had
praised him, and York Powell had said, "If he goes on as he has begun, he
will be the greatest folk-loreist who has ever lived"; and I know no first
book of verse of our time that is at once so romantic and so concrete as
his Gaelic _Abhla de'n Craoibh_; but in a few years Dublin was to laugh
him, or rail him, out of his genius. He had no critical capacity, having
indeed for certain years the uncritical folk-genius, as no educated Irish
or Englishman has ever had it, writing out of an imitative sympathy like
that of a child catching a tune and leaving it to chance to call the tune;
and the failure of our first attempt to create a modern Irish literature
permitted the ruin of that genius. He was to create a great popular
movement, far more important in its practical results than any movement I
could have made, no matter what my luck, but, being neither quarrelsome
nor vain, he will not be angry if I say--for the sake of those who come
after us--that I mourn for the "greatest folk-loreist who ever lived,"
and for the great poet who died in his youth. The Harps and Pepperpots got
him and the Harps and Pepperpots kept him till he wrote in our common
English--"It must be either English or Irish," said some patriotic editor,
Young Ireland practice in his head--that needs such sifting that he who
would write it vigorously must write it like a learned language, and took
for his model the newspaper upon his breakfast table, and became for no
base reason beloved by multitudes who should never have heard his name
till their schoolmasters showed it upon his tomb. That very incapacity for
criticism made him the cajoler of crowds, and of individual men and women;
"He should not be in the world at all," said one admiring elderly woman,
"or doing the world's work"; and for certain years young Irish women were
to display his pseudonym, "Craoibhin Aoibhin," in gilt letters upon their
hat bands.

"Dear Craoibhin Aoibhin,......impart to us,
We'll keep the secret, a new trick to please;
Is there a bridle for this Proteus
That turns and changes like his draughty seas,
Or is there none, most popular of men,
But, when they mock us, that we mock again?"


VII

Standish O'Grady, upon the other hand, was at once all passion and all
judgment. And yet those who knew him better than I assured me he could
find quarrel in a straw; and I did know that he had quarrelled a few years
back with Jack Nettleship. Nettleship's account had been, "My mother
cannot endure the God of the Old Testament, but likes Jesus Christ;
whereas I like the God of the Old Testament, and cannot endure Jesus
Christ; and we have got into the way of quarrelling about it at lunch; and
once, when O'Grady lunched with us, he said it was the most disgraceful
spectacle he had ever seen, and walked out." Indeed, I wanted him among my
writers, because of his quarrels, for, having much passion and little
rancour, the more he quarrelled, the nobler, the more patched with
metaphor, the more musical his style became, and if he were in his turn
attacked, he knew a trick of speech that made us murmur, "We do it wrong,
being so majestical, to offer it the show of violence." Sometimes he
quarrelled most where he loved most. A Unionist in politics, a
leader-writer on _The Daily Express_, the most Conservative paper in
Ireland, hater of every form of democracy, he had given all his heart to
the smaller Irish landowners, to whom he belonged, and with whom his
childhood had been spent, and for them he wrote his books, and would soon
rage over their failings in certain famous passages that many men would
repeat to themselves like poets' rhymes. All round us people talked or
wrote for victory's sake, and were hated for their victories--but here was
a man whose rage was a swan-song over all that he had held most dear, and
to whom for that very reason every Irish imaginative writer owed a portion
of his soul. In his unfinished _History of Ireland_ he had made the old
Irish heroes, Fion, and Oisin, and Cuchullan, alive again, taking them,
for I think he knew no Gaelic, from the dry pages of O'Curry and his
school, and condensing and arranging, as he thought Homer would have
arranged and condensed. Lady Gregory has told the same tales, but keeping
closer to the Gaelic text, and with greater powers of arrangement and a
more original style, but O'Grady was the first, and we had read him in our
'teens. I think that, had I succeeded, a popular audience could have
changed him little, and that his genius would have stayed, as it had been
shaped by his youth in some provincial society, and that to the end he
would have shown his best in occasional thrusts and parries. But I do
think that if, instead of that one admirable little book _The Bog of
Stars_, we had got all his histories and imaginative works into the hands
of our young men, he might have brought the imagination of Ireland nearer
the Image and the honeycomb.

Lionel Johnson was to be our critic, and above all our theologian, for he
had been converted to Catholicism, and his orthdoxy, too learned to
question, had accepted all that we did, and most of our plans. Historic
Catholicism, with all its counsels and its dogmas, stirred his passion
like the beauty of a mistress, and the unlearned parish priests who
thought good literature or good criticism dangerous were in his eyes "all
heretics." He belonged to a family that had called itself Irish some
generations back, and its recent English generations but enabled him to
see as one single sacred tradition Irish nationality and Catholic
religion. How should he fail to know the Holy Land? Had he not been in
Egypt? He had joined our London Irish Literary Society, attended its
committee meetings, and given lectures in London, in Dublin, and in
Belfast, on Irish novelists and Irish poetry, reading his lectures always,
and yet affecting his audience as I, with my spoken lectures, could not,
perhaps because Ireland had still the shape it had received from the
eighteenth century, and so felt the dignity, not the artifice, of his
elaborate periods. He was very little, and at a first glance he seemed
but a schoolboy of fifteen.



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