They were brilliantly written, but one was more conscious of the excellence of the manner than in any of their other works. The essay is also remarkable for the passage in which they set down once and for all the true canons for the treatment of dialect.
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Pronunciation and spelling, as they point out, are, after all, of small account in its presentment:—. The shortcoming is, of course, trivial to those who do not suffer because of it, but want of perception of word and phrase and turn of thought means more than mere artistic failure, it means want of knowledge of the wayward and shrewd and sensitive minds that are at the back of the dialect.
The very wind that blows softly over brown acres of bog carries perfumes and sounds that England does not know; the women digging the potato-land are talking of things that England does not understand. The question that remains is whether England will ever understand. Another is noticeable for a passage on the affection inspired by horses. When Johnny Connolly heard that his mistress was driven to sell the filly he had trained and nursed so carefully, he did not disguise his disappointment:. I never seen a sight of her till three years afther that, afther I coming home.
Be dam, but I had to cry. And if horses are irresistible, so are Centaurs. But we have not yet done with Irish women humorists. She lets us behind the shutters of Irish country shop life in a most convincing manner, and the characters drawn from her Toomevara are as true to type as those of Miss Barlow. Malcolm Cotter Seton. Miss Purdon has plenty of independence, but it is not the frigid impartiality of the student who contemplates the vagaries and sufferings of human nature like a connoisseur or collector.
She shows her detachment by giving us a faithful picture of Irish peasant society without ever once breathing a syllable of politics, or remotely alluding to the equipment and machinery of modern life.
That is the true and artistic method. But Miss Purdon is much more than a collector or coiner of picturesque and humorous phrases. She has a keen eye for character, a genuine gift of description and a vein of pure and unaffected sentiment; indeed, her whole volume is strangely compounded of mirth and melancholy, though the dominant impression left by its perusal is one of confidence in the essential kindliness of Irish nature, and the goodness and gentleness of Irish women. The contrast between his methods and those of the joint authors discussed above is apparent at every turn.
He maintains the impartiality which marked his serious novels in his treatment of all classes of the community, but it is the impartiality not of a detached and self-effacing observer, but of a genial satirist. His knowledge of the Ireland that he knows is intimate and precise, and is shown by a multiplicity of illuminating details and an effective use of local colour. But the co-operation of non-Irish characters is far more essential to the development of his plots than in the case of the novels of Miss Somerville and Miss Martin.
The mainspring of their stories is Irish right through. Canon Hannay depends on a situation which might have occurred just as well in England or America, while employing the conditions of Irish life to give it a characteristic twist or series of twists. But it is ungrateful to subject to necessarily damaging comparisons an author to whom we owe the swift passage of so many pleasant hours. His strange friendship with Major Kent, a retired English officer, a natty martinet, presents no difficulties on the principle of extremes meeting, and thus from the start we are presented with the spectacle of the reluctant but helpless Major, hypnotised by the persuasive tongue of the curate, and dragged at his heels into all sorts of grotesque and humiliating adventures, and all for the sake of a quiet life.
When the process brings the curate and the Major into abrupt conflict with two disreputable adventurers, he defends resort to extreme methods on grounds of high morality. Burglary, theft and abduction become the simple duty of every well-disposed person when viewed as a necessary means of preventing selfish, depraved and fundamentally immoral people from acquiring wealth which the well-disposed might otherwise secure. A simple-hearted innocent kind of man has a better chance. The man was clad in a very dirty white flannel jacket and a pair of yellowish flannel trousers, which hung in a tattered fringe round his naked feet and ankles.
The hair and beard were both unkempt and matted.
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But the man held himself erect and looked straight at the strangers through great dark eyes. His hands, though battered and scarred with toil were long and shapely. His face had a look of dignity, of a certain calm and satisfied superiority. Men of this kind are to be met with here and there among the Connacht peasantry. They are in reality children of a vanishing race, of a lost civilisation, a bygone culture. They watch the encroachments of another race and new ideas with a sort of sorrowful contempt.
The most attractive person in the story, however, is Lord Manton, a genially cynical peer with highly original views on local government and the advantages of unpopularity. Thus, when he did not want Patsy Devlin, the drunken smith, to be elected inspector of sheep-dipping, he strongly supported his candidature for the following reasons:—. They have plenty of power, more than they ever had, if they only knew how to use it.
All I have to do if I want a particular man not to be appointed to anything is to write a strong letter in his favour to the Board of Guardians or the County Council, or whatever body is doing the particular job that happens to be on hand at the time.
Excellent, too, is the digression on the comparative commonness of earls in Ireland, where untitled people tend to disappear while earls survive, though they are regarded much as ordinary people. Canon Hannay makes great play as usual with the humours of Irish officialdom, and his obiter dicta on the mental outlook of police officers are shrewd as well as entertaining.
District-Inspector Goddard had undoubted social gifts, but he was an inefficient officer, being handicapped by indolence and a great sense of humour. There is something attractive, again, about Miss Blow, the handsome, resolute, prosaic young Englishwoman whose heroic efforts to trace her vanished lover are baffled at every turn. Everybody in Ballymoy told her lies, with the result that they seemed to her heartless and cruel when in reality they wished to spare her feelings.
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However, the initial improbability may be readily condoned in view of the entertaining sequel. At the same time the digressions and irrelevancies are as good as ever.
Canon Hannay excels in the conduct of an absurd or paradoxical proposition, but he needs a word of friendly caution against undue reliance on the mechanism of the practical joke. It may be on this account that he more than once assigns a leading role to an ingenuous young Amazon into whose ken the planet of love will not swim for another four or five years.
During the last thirty years the alleged decadence of Irish humour has been a frequent theme of pessimistic critics. Various causes have been invoked to account for the phenomenon, which, when dispassionately considered, amounted to this, that the rollicking novel of incident and adventure had died with Lever.
At their best they have interpreted normal Irishmen and Irishwomen, gentle and simple, with unsurpassed fidelity and sympathy. But to award them the supremacy in this genre both as realists and as writers does not detract from the success won in a different sphere by Canon Hannay. His goal is less ambitious and aim is less unfaltering, but as an improvisor of whimsical situations and an ironic commentator on the actualities of Irish life he has invented a new form of literary entertainment which has the double merit of being at once diverting and instructive.
But as we believe this volume will sufficiently show, though these three novelists have so far transcended the achievements of contemporary writers on Irish life, they are being followed at no long distance by younger writers, for whom they have helped to find a public and in whose more mature achievements they may have to acknowledge a serious literary rivalry. We have dealt with the women writers to be found in this new group.
It remains for us to criticise the work of the men who belong to it. Plunket-Greene, possesses a whimsical gift, both in prose and verse, which gives fresh evidence of the awakening of an Ulster school of humorists.
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Of course, he is not as old a craftsman as Mr. Shan Bullock, whose dry drollery has given the readers of his novels and stories so much pleasure, and whose serious purpose and close observation of Northern Irish character are so well recognised by all serious students of Irish life.
Finally, in absolute contrast with Mr. The fiction of which this volume consists is in part fabulous in character, in part descriptive of actual Irish life upon its lighter side. The Heroic stories and Folk-tales are, on chronological grounds, printed early in the book and are then followed by extracts from the writings of the Irish novelists of the first half and third quarter of the 19th Century—Maginn, Lever, Lover, and LeFanu. It remains for us to express our cordial obligations to the following authors and publishers for the use of copyright material.
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Macmillan and Miss B. James Nisbet and Co. Somerville and Messrs. Mills and Boon, Ltd. I knew the man well: he lived at the bottom of Hungry Hill. He told me his story thus:—. Well, we had everything of the best, and plenty of it; and we ate, and we drunk, and we danced. To make a long story short, I got, as a body may say, the same thing as tipsy almost. And so, as I was crossing the stepping-stones of the ford of Ballyasheenogh, I missed my foot, and souse I fell into the water.
I began to scratch me head, and sing the Ullagone—when all of a sudden the moon grew black, and I looked up, and saw something for all the world as if it was moving down between me and it, and I could not tell what it was. Down it came with a pounce, and looked at me full in the face; and what was it but an eagle? Little I knew the trick he was going to serve me. Up—up—up, dear knows how far he flew. By my word it would be no joke to be shot this way, to oblige a drunken blackguard that I picked off a cowld stone in a bog.
I bawled after him to stop; but I might have called and bawled for ever, without his minding me. Away he went, and I never saw him from that day to this—sorrow fly away with him!
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I knew him by his bush. So I told him how it was. So I told him how I had taken the drop, and how I came on the island, and how I lost my way in the bog, and how the thief of an eagle flew me up to the moon, and how the man in the moon turned me out. I knew it well, for I saw Cape Clear to my right hand, sticking up out of the water. Long ago a poor widow woman lived down by the iron forge near Enniscorthy, and she was so poor, she had no clothes to put on her son; so she used to fix him in the ash-hole, near the fire, and pile the warm ashes about him; and, accordingly, as he grew up, she sunk the pit deeper.
At last, by hook or by crook, she got a goat-skin and fastened it round his waist, and he felt quite grand, and took a walk down the street.
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When he had it gathered and tied, what should come up but a big joiant , nine-foot high, and made a lick of a club at him. Well become Tom, he jumped a-one side and picked up a ram-pike; and the first crack he gave the big fellow he made him kiss the clod. Well, when the sticks were all burned Tom was sent off again to pick more; and this time he had to fight with a giant with two heads on him.
Begonies , he made the big faggot dance home, with himself sitting on it. The next giant was a beautiful boy with three heads on him. You may come and gather sticks here till little Lunacy Day in harvest without giant or fairy man to disturb you. At last Tom came to one of the City gates and the guards laughed and cursed at him instead of letting him through.
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