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

IX. Anglo-Irish Literature

§ 24. Later writers

John D’Alton was a principal contributor to Hardiman’s Irish Minstrelsy, and, in 1814, published Dermid or Erin in the days of Boroimha, a metrical romance in twelve cantos, written in smooth verse and showing a real knowledge of the times described, for he was an antiquary of note. In addition, he wrote a series of historical works of value, including The Annals of Boyle and The History of County Dublin.

John Mitchel is a very significant figure in Anglo-Irish literature. The son of a nonconformist minister who had been a United Irishman in 1798, Mitchel had the rebel in his blood. He was a student of Trinity college, Dublin, and, afterwards, more or less of a constitutionalist as writer and contributor to The Nation (of which, at a later date, he became editor); and he was especially subdued in tone in his preface to the Life of Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, a work included in Gavan Duffy’s first Irish Library. But he drew apart from the moderate section of repealers headed by Daniel O’Connell, and started The United Irishman with the avowed object of fanning into rebellion what he described as “the holy hatred of English Rule.” His utterances in this organ finally became so dangerously violent that it was suppressed, and he was prosecuted and found guilty of treason felony. He was sentenced to undergo fourteen years transportation, but, five years afterwards, escaped from Tasmania, and, after many adventures, graphically described in his Jail Journal, reached California, and, later, settled in New York. During the American civil war, in which he espoused the cause of the south, and gave the lives of his two sons to that cause, he conducted The Richmond Examiner. In 1867, he started The Irish Citizen in New York and, in 1875, he was elected member for Tipperary. Mitchel was a writer who showed undoubted genius when the fit was on him; but much of his work, in his History of Ireland, is slovenly and not a little even of the Jail Journal is rhetorical and long drawn out.

William McCullagh Torrens, eldest son of James McCullagh, assumed his maternal name for family reasons. A successful practitioner at the Irish, then at the English, bar, he entered parliament for Finsbury, and successfully promoted measures for the amelioration of the lower classes. He wrote biographies of Sheil, Sir James Graham and lord Melbourne, and several important works on political science. He had a distinct literary gift, of which his interesting and brightly written Life of Melbourne is a typical example.

John Francis Waller, a Trinity college, Dublin, man, and long a contributor to, and afterwards editor of, The Dublin University Magazine, was best known in his day by his poems, appearing under the nom-de-plume Jonathan Freke Slingsby. Not a few of these lyrics, such as The Song of the Glass, The Spinning Wheel Song, Kitty Neil, have become popular by their grace and sparkle, and, occasionally, he succeeds in more serious verse. Waller also wrote many of the articles in The Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography, and, generally, superintended the production of this work.

John Francis O’Donnell drifted from the south of Ireland to London, where, for a while, he was editor of The Tablet, and his verse contributions were welcomed by Dickens to his magazines. Many of his poems were also published in Chambers’s Journal. He wrote in The Lamp a novel entitled Agents and Evictions. He will, however, be best remembered by his lyrics and, more especially, by A Spinning Song, which has found its way into most recent anthologies of Irish verse.

Francis Davis, “the Belfast man,” as he is called, was the son of a soldier of Ballincollig, county Cork; but, to his mother, a woman of good Scottish Highland family and fine intellectual and moral gifts, he owed the influences which made him a man of mark at the times of catholic emancipation, and later. He lost her, however, when but a boy, and his father then consigned him to the care of a rich but miserly relative, for whom he worked at the loom, suffering much hard treatment at his hands. On his father’s death, he escaped from this drudgery to Belfast, where

  • As the weaver plied his shuttle,
  • Wove he, too, the mystic rhyme.
  • Here, he became the Ebenezer Elliott of the northern popular movement. About 1830, he travelled through England and Scotland, earning his living by his trade, and writing poems all the while, and, at the same time, studying French, Latin, Greek and Gaelic. Later, he left the loom for the editorial chair of The Belfastman’s Journal, and then became a contributor to many periodicals. There is a distinctly Scottish strain in Davis’s poems, probably due to his mother’s blood and early influences upon him. His political verse is pointed and spirited, but inferior to his countryside songs, which are simple and picturesque and full of unaffected feeling, though they often need the pruning hook.

    Bartholomew Simmons, who held an appointment in the London excise office till his death in 1850, was a popular contributor to leading English magazines. Of his Napoleon’s last look, Maga’s critic thus wrote:

  • Simmons, on the theme of Napoleon, excels all our great poets. Byron’s lines on that subject are bad; Scott’s poor, Wordsworth’s weak; Lockhart and Simmons may be bracketted as equal; theirs are good, rich and strong.
  • This tribute cannot be said to be undeserved, though Simmons’s verses just miss perfection by their somewhat unrestrained rhetoric, and his fine ballad, The Flight to Cyprus, has too much of Irish exultation about it.

    Miss Casey (E. Owens Blackburne) became blind at eleven years of age, and remained so for many years. After a hard struggle to secure a literary position in London, she succeeded as a novelist and writer of short stories. A collection of the latter under the title A bunch of Shamrocks was published in 1879, and shows her knowledge of Irish peasant life and speech.

    Richard Dowling passed from a business into a literary career. He was on the staff of The Nation, became editor of Zozimus, the Dublin Punch, and, afterwards, was the mainstay of Ireland’s Eye, another Irish humorous periodical, and, yet again, started Yorick, a London comic paper. But he did not find himself, from the literary point of view, till he wrote and published The Mystery of Killard, the central idea of which is “the abnormal nature of a deafmute, which leads him to hate his own child because that child can hear and speak.” The originality of this theme, and the weird skill with which it was worked out, established his reputation as a novelist; but, perhaps, his best claim to literary reputation is his volume of essays, On Babies and Ladders, which is full of quaint fancies.

    Lewis Wingfield, as actor, artist, surgeon, war-correspondent and novelist had a curiously varied career, as may well be believed. When the Franco-German war of 1870 broke out, he served as surgeon on the German side, and was present at the battles of Woerth and Wissembourg, but returned to Paris in time for the first siege, and was then employed both as one of the surgeons in the American hospital, and as correspondent of The Daily Telegraph. Meanwhile, he was not idle with his brush, and one of his pictures was bought by the French government. In 1876, he entered on his career of novel-writing. His first story was Slippery Ground; his second Lady Grizel, dealing with the history of George III, attracted men’s attention. His third effort, My Lords of Strogue, describing Irish affairs at the time of the union, was still more successful. Believing that books on prison life published by ex-convicts are full of misrepresentations and exaggerations, he obtained special facilities from the Home office for studying the inside of prisons, and, as a result, published a novel suggested by these experiences.

    A group of friends, all of whom achieved success as writers on antiquarian subjects, were the earl of Dunraven, James Henthorn Todd, author of a Life of St. Patrick, Sir John Gilbert, author of The History of Dublin, William Stokes and his daughter Margaret Stokes, authors respectively of The Life of George Petrie and Early Christian Architecture in Ireland, bishops Graves and Reeves, and, most noted and versatile of all, Patrick Weston Joyce. Sixty-two years ago he contributed Irish folk-songs, and notes on Irish dances to Petrie’s Ancient Music of Ireland. In his spare hours, when an active teacher, professor and training college principal, he produced what have since become standard works on Irish school method and Irish names of places. Turning his attention to Irish history, he wrote several works on the subject; the most important of which is his Social History of Ireland, two volumes full of valuable learning, yet written with a direct simplicity that at once engages the attention of the reader. His Old Celtic Romances, a series of free translations from old Irish folk-tales, moreover, as has been said above, inspired Tennyson’s Voyage of Maeldune.

    Archbishop McHale, next to O’Connell, exercised a more prolonged influence on the Roman catholic population of his country than any Irishman of his time. Appointed professor of dogmatic theology at Maynooth, he wrote a series of letters chiefly concerned with controversial questions and catholic emancipation, under the signature Hierophilus. His letters showed great vigour of style and this, coupled with the energy of his character and eloquence gained for him from O’Connell the title “The Lion of the fold of Judah.” Appointed archbishop of Tuam, he continued his controversial letters and preached many sermons of note. He was also a renowned Irish scholar, and not only translated sixty of Moore’s melodies into that language, but rendered into Gaelic six books of the Iliad and several portions of the Bible.

    Matthew Russell, S. J., was the younger son of Arthur Russell of Killowen, and brother of Charles, lord Russell of Killowen and lord chief justice of England. A devoted Jesuit priest, father Russell yet found time to gather round him at the office of his Irish Monthly, which he conducted for more than a generation with the utmost zeal and judgment, all the ablest of the young Irish writers of his day. There, Oscar Wilde and Rosa Mulholland and that charming but too short-lived poetess Rose Kavanagh and, indeed, all the rising story-writers and poets and poetesses of the Ireland of his day enjoyed his wise friendship and literary advice. “But the little periodical,” as one of the women contributors to it, now become famous, writes, “has real distinction apart from the names, distinguished and to be distinguished that are ever amongst its contributors.” Much of this was due to the work of its editor, who was a writer of both graceful and moving verse and prose, touched with fine spirituality.