Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

an inviting prospect. Some importance is attached to the possibility of making a profitable deal with the United States for payment of half the cost of the Welland Ship canal, to enable Canada to complete the Hudson Bay route. Better leave the northern project unfinished than get the money in this manner. The presentation of such an argument indicates that someone is quite unacquainted with the psychology and independent spirit of the Canadian people. The financial situation gives good reason for the hope that conditions are on the upward move. The day is not far distant when Canada will be able to finance the St. Lawrence undertaking if it is considered advisable to proceed with it. Meantime, it is

in order to make the best of the facilities available and continue to investigate the problem, and associated international questions, and the solution and best course for action will appear in the clearer light of the new day.

J. ALEX. AIKIN.

IT

MODERN IRISH LITERATURE: A STUDY IN

NATIONALITY.

T is late in the day to be talking of new national literatures, for, although self-determination and nationalism hold the field, it is a simpler task in any age to make a nation than to begin to create its literature. Three centuries of very varied experiences have failed to produce any distinctive and great North American literature, and in the British dominions poetry has hardly yet appeared above the horizon. Even in Scotland, where for centuries a rich vernacular literature was produced, the separate identity of Scottish writers has now been absorbed into the larger world of British literature. It may savour of paradox then to expect from a people, troubled and tempest-tossed as the Irish have been, and influenced by all the sapping forces of modern English civilization, any such independence and autonomy in literature as they have achieved in politics. Whatever it may be in politics, Home Rule in Irish literature seems at first almost an impossibility.

In the inquiry which follows, the main assumption is that the three-fourths or four-fifths of Ireland which distinguishes itself from the Ulster Scottish, and the English of the ascendency, is for practical purposes the nation; with this modification, that at certain periods of high importance for Ireland, the Irish ranks received powerful reinforcements from the North and East-the recruits accepting, however, the sympathies and standards of the so-called Celtic party which they assisted. In the inquiry itself, two questions must be answered. Has the racial blend, to which the name of Celt is given, registered itself distinctly enough in life and letters to be recognized as truly national? Does it promise to maintain its separate identity, more especially in literary and intellectual matters?

Whoever the Firbolgs, the Tuatha De Danann and the Milesians were, and whatever elements they had in common with the inhabitants of Britain, the final blend was something distinctly unique. There sprang up in Ireland a race clearly distinguished in usages and civilization from Britons and Saxons. They served gods whose names were unknown across the Irish Sea. Their heroic legends were their own, except where they lent them to their kinsfolk in Western Scotland.

Their Brehons administered laws which borrowed nothing from Teutonic usages, and their occupation of the land refused to take on the feudal form which gave system to the English land laws. From first to last the Irish have interested and irritated their neighbours by their national idiosyncrasies. Neither Plantagenet rigour, nor Tudor energy, nor the many expedients of the modern parliamentary system could reshape or correct Irish ways; and modern history has seen an English government which refused to believe in anything but strict contract, and radically distrusted a national system of small peasant proprietors, first admit the principle of tenant-right, and then surrender unconditionally to an Irish love of land, different from anything in England, and something on which the nation based its claim to separate identity. Founded then on a different racial civilization, Ireland has always cherished a curious agricultural culture all her own. Her children have been sons and daughters of the soil, with the habits, usages, beliefs of a primitive land-loving folk. They have made themselves into a national community as distinctive as that of the English themselves; and unlike the Scottish Highlanders they have continued to defend the existence of that national community against the most formidable attacks. Patriotism here. is not merely a sentiment; it is the physical product of a unique racial stock, and the love of country is as concrete as the little plots of land which stand to each Irish peasant as Ireland in summary.

The peasant feeling, too, is made available for literature by the wonderful richness of the Irish peasant vocabulary. Dr. Hyde wrote down a vocabulary of 3000 words from people in Roscommon who could neither read nor write, and he thinks he fell short by 1000 words of the vocabulary in actual use.1 To J. M. Synge's use of this vocabulary in art reference will be made later. Both in his writings, and in those of Padraic Colum, there are transcripts from peasant life and language which do not even require pruning to justify themselves to art, as in the quaint charm of this sentence from an Irish weaver holidaying with his boy: 'And we showed Manus the wood and the lake, the squirrel gathering up its store, and the

facts.

1See Padraic Colum's My Irish Year, from which I have taken these

crane rising out of the tufts, and the badger coming out of its hole. Then came the rise of the year, and Manus and myself made the start for home, well satisfied with ourselves, though indeed the kindly people weren't satisfied that we should go.'

The history of the community, like that of their Highland Scottish cousins, has added a strongly individual note to it; but where the accidents of history wrecked the Highlands, even if it wrung from them a folk-literature, the Irish community, suffering no doubt from the strain, still persists, and seems almost to have gained in distinctiveness from the trial. To that chapter of history called the sufferings of Ireland a reference only is necessary. Whatever be one's judgement of rights and wrongs, the facts are notorious. Danish conquest and Norman conquest, Tudor butcheries and the great intolerant episode of the Anglican religious reformation in Ireland, Stuart wars and Puritan plantations, and the long twilight of English parliamentary mistakes-all these things have shaped or mis-shaped the Irish character. Since the onslaughts, deserved or not, never quite succeeded, the successive strokes produced a nationalism, not ordinary, but pathological in its strength, and the human passions of hate, love, jealousy, and hope, usually squandered on individual objects, gathered round what Irishmen conceived to be their insulted love of Ireland; and poets in their verses to Cathleen ni Houlihan, or Dark Rosaleen, or the Shan Van Vocht,1 illustrated, in their strange confusion of love song with national ballad, the abnormal form that Irish history had given to Irish national feeling, as in Mangan's famous verses:

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

The same history produced among the Irish a racial melancholy. They talk as foolishly of Irish pathos as they do of the Celtic glamour, for the crowd loves dearly melodrama and falsetto. But in actual fact the real losses and disappointments of history, and the very defects which so often exposed Irishmen to the onset of events, have woven for themselves a literature of grief, and have created, in a temper not naturally sullen, a deep and morbid feeling. One meets it on the threshold of the seventeenth century:

"Children's joy no more rejoices

Fetters silence Song's sweet voices-
Change upon our chiefs, alas!
Bare the altar, banned the mass.
Homes are hearthless, harps in fetters;
Guerdons none for men of letters,
Banquets none, nor merry meetings,
Hill ring not the chase's greetings.” 2

It has deeply affected both the politics and the religion of a people for whom national politics and national religion were proscribed by England; and the reality of the events which created it have given it an objective value. Triflers with the cheerful emptiness of early nineteenth century Irish comedy are now confronted with peasant writers whose mood is a persistent sadness, and no criticism has so often been passed on J. M. Synge's dramas as that they are morbidly melancholy.

But the most characteristic national note produced by Irish history is that of memory. It is a land with a past worthy of remembrance, filled with saints and heroes, bards and scholars, and shining chapters of early civilization. Even before the arrival of misfortune Ireland had a memory. As for the English, they borrowed a national hero who never lived; they took their legends from Wales. They carried little forward from the Saxon regime, but the 'laws that were in King Edward's day,' and their first experiments in literature perished for long from living memory. But Ireland lived still with Finn and his followers, loved Patrick and Brigit and Columcille, as though they had but yesterday vanished, and, knowing no way of cancelling the earlier memories of the

2Sigerson, Bards of the Gael and Gall, p, 223.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »