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Art. II.-JOHN BANIM.
PART III. FIRST PLAN OF “TALES BY THE O'HARA PAMILY." MICHAEL
BANIN'S SHARE IN THEM. THEIR DESIGN, JOHN BANIM's MARRIAGE REMOVAL TO LONDON. LETTERS. HINTS TO NOVELISTS. LITERARY STRUGGLES. LETTERS. ILLNESS. LITERARY EMPLOYMENT. ILLNESS OF MRS. BANIM. LOVE OP HOME. LETTERS. PLAYS. HIS OPINIONS OF LITERARY MEN. ACQUAINTANCE WITH WASHINGTON IRVING. CONNECTION WITH DRURY-LANE THEATRE. LETTERS. PROGRESS OF FIRST SERIES OF “TALES BY THE O'HARA FAMILY.” CONNECTION WITH ARNOLD AND THE ENGLISH OPERA HOUSE. OPINIONS OF KEAN, MISS KELLY, WASHINGTON IKVING AND OTHERS, LETTERS, ACQUAINTANCE WITH GERALD GRIFFIN. THEIR FRIENDSHIP. MISUNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THEM. LETTERS. ILLNESS. PUBLISHES REVELATIONS OF THE DEADALIVE;" EXTRACTS. OBTAINS PUBLISHER FOR TALES BY THE O'HARA FAMILY.” LETTERS.
In the first and second parts of this Biography of John Banim,* we placed, carefully and honestly, before the reader, the whole life of the man, with all its strength and weakness all its love, and hope, and energy, from his birth to his twentyfourth year,--and we closed our last paper by recounting the circumstances and facts connected with his first success as a Poet and as a Dramatist.
Whilst visiting his family, after the production of Damon and Pythias, Banim frequently wandered away through the lovely scenery of the county Kilkenny; he generally resided, on these occasions, with some friend of his father, and was always accompanied by his brother, Michael. Few counties in Ireland can present scenery more varied or picturesque than Kilkenny. Thomastown, Jerpoint, and Kells, possess monuments of older days, interesting and valuable to the antiquary : Inistiogue, and Woodstock, once the residence of the authoress of Psyche, are glowing in all the pride of leafy loveliness; and every feature of sylvan beauty is enhanced by the proximity of the bright, pure, gentle-flowing Nore. Banim's favorite spot, amidst these scenes, is thus described in The Fetches :
• See Irisa QUARTERLY Review, Vol. IV. No. 14, p. 270; and No. 15, p. 527.
“It rises from the edge of the Nore, at about thirteen miles from Kilkenny, into curves and slopes, hills and dales, piles of rock, and extensive spreads of level though high ground ; hills and dales are thickly or wildly planted ; and mountain streams, made rough and interesting by the stony impediments in their course, seek their way through the bending and shivered banks and fantastic woods ; sometimes leaping over an unusually steep barrier. The waterfalls send their chafings among the woods and hollows, which on all sides, and at a distance, reply ; and these voices of nature, together with the nearly similar noise of the rustling trees, or the crackling of their knotted arms in the blast, are the only, or the overmastering sounds that disturb the solitude.
Extrinsic interest has lately attached to this fine scenery, on account of its having been the last residence on earth of a lady not unknown in the literary world. In fact, the present proprietor is a Mr. Tighe ; and here the gentle author of Psyche,' that gentleman's aunt by marriage, breathed the last notes of her femininely sweet song, and the last breath of a life she was almost too good and pure to have longer breathed, in a bad and gross world. Here she sang, in sighings of the heart, her last melancholy farewell to the • Odours of Spring'; and, alas, the flowers she addressed had not wasted their perfume till they were tranplanted to her grave. A beautiful girl, long the humble protégée of the minstrel, culled them with her young hands, and in recollection of notes that the silent tongue had once murmured, placed them on her bed of clay, and thus in the tears of beauty and of youthful sorrow, they were there nurtured. The grave is one of many in the church-yard of the village that skirts the domain. The river runs smoothly by: The ruins of an ancient abbey, that have been partially converted into a church, reverently throw their mantle of tender shadow over it : simple primroses and daisies now blossom round. It is a place for the grave of a poetess.
But, when Tresham visited this district, it had, for him, the single yet abundant interest of its own beauty. Even as he approached it, the introductory scenery grew fair and enchanting. The country outside of Kilkenny was uniform ; but at last, from the highest point of a rough, mountain-road, his eye was at once flung over a semicircular extent of hill, dell, and mountain, broken into every desirable shape of the picturesque, and thrown and tossed about, as if in the awful sportiveness of the creating hand. Hill bestrode hill, the guardian giants of the race appearing pale and mysterious in the distance ; while through the midst, in the depths of a spacious valley, the lady Nore curved on her graceful course.
It was the first approach of an unusually fine evening in September, and the red sun, setting over an extreme vista at Tresham's back, lackered all the opposite scene with gold : producing, at the same time, those stretching shadows that make evening the painter's best hour for the study of his chiaro-scuro. At every turn of this road the scene only changed into another mode of beauty. From a nearer point appeared the lowly village of Inisti. ogue ; a few white cottages, glinting, like white stones, at the bases, and in the mighty embrace of hills, richly planted. Its light and not inelegant bridge spanned the crystal river, groups and groups of trees massing behind it; and, over all, the high grounds of Woodstock rising in continued and variegated foliage. Tears of pleasure filled Tresham's eyes. He felt it was happiness to live in so fair a world; alas lhe enjoyed the scene as if he had been doomed to enjoy it."
Amidst these quiet haunts, Banim loved to linger. The first round of life's great ladder of fame was, he fancied, passed, and the jostling crowd who, panting and eager, thronged its foot, were no longer to be feared ; and day dreams, such as only the young poet knows, made bright and joyous the hopeful musings of that autumn after he had seen “one of his sky-rockets go off.” It was not that he felt unwilling still to labor, and fast, and watch, and wait. Fame to him was like that image of Love in Gondibert—and made all and everything bright and sunny
“As if the thing beloved were all a Saint,
And every place she entered were a shrine." The sad times of walking about the streets for lack of lodging-of" whistling for want of a dinner," were past--but the strong will, the earnest love of literature, were true and daring as ever. Plays, Essays, Novels, and Poems were designed, and talked over, with Michael, who was the confident now as ever.
It is a well known fact, that the genius which constitutes the Dramatist is nearly akin to that which forms the Novelist; and in discussing the plans of his future life with his brother, Banim resolved to make his next venture as a writer of Irish fiction. At this period, 1821, Miss Edgeworth was in the full possession of the public taste as the best and only Trish novelist. That reputation which she had obtained through the Tales of Fashionable Life, and through the Moral Tales, was out-topped by the success of the Essay on Irish Bulls, and of Castle Rackrent. These, however, were but the elegant drawing-room portraitures of Irish life and character, which might be represented in conjunction with the performances of that famous bear, in She Stoops to Conquer, who only “ danced to the genteelest tunes.” They wanted vigor and individuality, and were entirely deficient in that dramatic power, without which any (most of all an Irish) novel must be weak. Admirably as Miss Edgeworth's genius might qualify her for the composition
See " Tales By The O'Hara Family," Vol. II. p. 362. Ed. 1825.
of her inimitable fictions inculcating moral precepts ; excellently as she might construct that most difficult of literary labors—a story for children, or for young people,-she wanted many, very many attributes peculiar to that phase of genius which can obtain, and keep secure, the title of the Irish novelist. Banim knew well that his country-woman possessed ability of a very high, and polished order ; he felt that in entering upon the world of literature as a writer of Irish fiction, he should be prepared to take his place beside, if not above one who enjoyed all that strength which is derived, in literary matters, from a pre-occupation in the public mind. He was fully impressed with all the might and force of these facts, but Sir Walter was his ideal of a National Novelist; than this ideal nothing can be more dissimilar than that discoverable in the style and tone of the works of Miss Edgeworth. Banim had known the people of whom he desired to write from childhood; he wished, like Galt, to draw his scenes and plots from the characters and events furnished by the every day world around him. As we shall, hereafter, in this portion of his biography, learn, he thought that from the body of his acquaintances, the “studies” for many novels might be made. The scenery of his native county, and various portions of his native city, were to form his still lifethey but required careful description, to become the external nature of his fictions. The human nature he would find in the humor, in the pathos, in the tender hearts, or in the wild fierce passions of the Irish peasant.
In the year 1821, the Roman Catholics were just com' mencing to make their chains “clank o'er their rags ;" the battle agaiust Tithes was being fought ; O'Connell had not, as Sydney Smith said, “lapsed;" the reign of Captain Rock was flourishing, and all the wild nature of the people was aroused. Banim's feelings were in unison with those which actuated the great mass of his country
In religion and in politics he was with them ; Tithes were an abomination; the Established Church an incubus ; the Penal Laws were meant solely for the suppression of the Roman Catholic faith, as a religious creed, and thinking thus, Banim resolved to attempt that which many others have tried to accomplish to raise the national character in the estimation of other lands, by a portrayal of the people as they really were, but at the same time to vindicate them from the charges of violence and bloodthirstiness, by showing, in the course of the fiction, the various causes which he supposed concurred to draw forth, and foster these evil qualities. He fancied that of the lawlessness of the peasant he could discover the actuating principle, in that bitter thought of Shylock, which teaches that those oppressed will in their turn oppress; and he longed to be their champion. The Irishman had been the blunderer of the stage for years—his stupidity being only equalled by his vulgarity and coarseness :—not alone on the stage was he misrepresented—the novelists had likewise held him up to ridicule-he was their butt or their adventurer—a species of co-iningled Gil Blas and Vanillo Gonzales-speaking a barbarous English with a most abominable brogue—and in the whole range of the drama or of fiction, the only moderately fair portraiture, before the appearance of the Tales By The OHara Family, of an Irishman, is to be found in the Sir Callaghan O'Brallaghan of Macklin's* Love-a-la-Mode, and in the Sir Lucius OʻTrigger of The Rivals. Whether Banim knew these mistakes of former writers, or whether he was incited in his project by the success of the Waverley Novels, is now a question of little moment. Doubtless he knew that half the merit of Sir Walter's wonderful fictions consisted in their nationality, their naturalness, and their truthfulness. Fielding, and Smollett, and Macklin, bad caricatured the Scottish character in precisely the same manner as that adopted towards our own countrymen; yet despite the ridicule of the older wits, Scottish character will be truly understood, and from Oldbuck and Dumbiedikes ; from Baillie Nichol Jarvie-"rest and bless him," and Caleb Balderston—from Rob Roy and Jeanie Deans, from all so dissimilar, and yet so Scottish in their individuality, the world has learned to know Scotland, in her people, and to accomplish such a work as this for Ireland, was the great aim of Banim's efforts—the object which from this period, and at all after times, was ever lionestly before him. We are here writing of the reasons which induced him to become an Irish novelist, and are now but recording the plan and scope of the projected works,-hereafter we shall, in the proper place, discuss the various topics connected with the tone and style of composition marking these excellent fictions.