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

IX. Anglo-Irish Literature

§ 8. Le Fanu

A writer of the Sheridan blood nearer to present day literary tastes than James Sheridan Knowles was Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Sheridan’s great grand-nephew. T. W. Rolleston does not say too much in Le Fanu’s praise as a master of the mysterious and terrible when he thus writes of him:

  • In Uncle Silas, in his wonderful tales of the supernatural, such as The Watcher, and in a short and less known but most masterly story, The Room in the Dragon Volant, he touched the springs of terror and suspense, as perhaps no other writer of fiction in the language has been able to do. His fine scholarship, poetic sense, and strong, yet delicate handling of language and of incident give these tales a place quite apart among works of sensational fiction. But perhaps the most interesting of all his novels is The House by the Churchyard, a wonderful admixture of sentimentalism, humour, tragedy, and romance.
  • To this may be added the belief that, in Le Fanu’s verse and, notably, in his drama Beatrice, the qualities above indicated are often conveyed with a finer touch, and, at times, with extraordinary directness of suggestion. Again, the lurid terror of his poetical narratives is happily relieved by interludes of such haunting beauty of colour and sound, that we cannot but lament the lateness of this discovery of his highest artistic self. Indeed, our literature can ill afford to lose lyrical dramas with such a stamp of appalling power upon them as is impressed on Beatrice, or old-world idylls so full of Gaelic glamour as The Legend of the Glaive, or so terrible a confession by a drunkard of how he had fallen irrevocably into the toils of the enchantress drink as The Song of the Bottle and such stirring Irish ballads as Shamus O’Brien and Phaudrig Crohoore.

    William Drennan was one of the founders and the literary champion of “The Society of United Irishmen”; for his Letters of Orellana drew a large number of Ulstermen into its ranks, while his fine lyrics The Wake of William Orr and Erin, admired by Moore, earned him the title “The Tyrtaeus of the United Irishmen.” Mary Tighe, born Blachford—notable, like Mrs. Hemans, for her beauty, poetical talent and unhappy marriage—was the authoress of Psyche, adapted from the story of Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass of Apuleius—a long, harmonious, fanciful and unaffected poem, in the Spenserian stanza, which had a wide circulation in its day, influenced the work of Keats and won Moore’s praise in his lyric Tell me the witching Tale again.