The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

IX. Anglo-Irish Literature

§ 14. Carleton

William Carleton and the brothers John and Michael Banim followed Crofton Croker with what Douglas Hyde rightly describes as folklore tales of an incidental and highly manipulated type. William Carleton, one of the most remarkable of Irish writers, was born at Prillisk, county Tyrone, the youngest of the fourteen children of a poor peasant. His father was not only a man of amazing memory, but a walking chronicle of old tales, legends and historical anecdotes, which he loved to recount to his children, and with which he delighted his son William. His mother, too, was specially gifted; for she had a beautiful voice and sang old Irish songs and ballads with great charm. He was intended for the Roman catholic ministry, but his parents were too poor to afford him an education at Maynooth, and, therefore, he passed his time in desultory reading until he secured the appointment of tutor in the family of a well-to-do farmer. Tired of this employment, he made his way to Dublin and, after many vicissitudes, obtained employment from Caesar Otway on his periodical The Christian Examiner. To this, he contributed thirty sketches of Irish peasant life, which were collected and published (1832) in a volume entitled Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry.

Carleton, at the time, was thirty-six years of age; but the success of his book was great and immediate. A second series appeared in 1833, and a kindred volume, Tales of Ireland, was issued in 1834. Some of these sketches and stories appeared in The Dublin Penny Journal as before stated, and later contributions of the kind in The Irish Penny Journal. These stories and sketches, which had a great vogue, are perfectly faithful to the Irish peasant life they depicted, and, for their sudden and surprising alternation of wild humour and profound melancholy, are a unique contribution to folk literature. Challenged by critics who doubted his being able to give the world anything but brief disconnected tales, he replied with Fardorougha the Miser, an extraordinarily powerful, if sombre, story of a man whose soul is divided between passion for money and deep affection for an only son. The women’s characters as well as the men’s are finely conceived. Other, less successful, novels by Carleton are Valentine McClutchy and The Black Prophet. He left behind him an unpublished story, Anne Cosgrave, which contains some remarkable chapters, but which was written when he was in feeble health and broken spirits caused by family bereavement. But he will be best remembered by his descriptions of Irish peasant life, at an unsophisticated period, rather than by his humorous folk-tales, which, though extremely clever, lack the literary touch given to kindred work by Maginn, Crofton and, it may be added, Patrick Kennedy.