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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Philanthropist Vere Foster

Vere Henry Louis Foster, English educationist and philanthropist is born in Copenhagen on April 25, 1819.

Foster is the third son of Sir Augustus John Foster, 1st Baronet and his wife, Albinia Jane, daughter of George Vere Hobart, and granddaughter of George Hobart, 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire. He is educated at Eton College, and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on May 30, 1838.

Leaving Oxford without a degree, Foster joins the diplomatic service. From 1842 to 1843 he is attached to the diplomatic mission of Sir Henry Ellis in Rio de Janeiro, and from 1845 to 1847 to that of Sir William Gore Ouseley in Montevideo.

In 1847 Foster visits a family estate in County Louth, Ireland at the time of the Great Famine, with his eldest brother, Sir Frederick George Foster. They become involved in famine relief. In 1848 their father dies and Foster undergoes a crisis in his life, and he comes to concentrate on philanthropy in Ireland.

Foster makes three voyages to the United States as a steerage passenger in a ship of emigrants, finding the accommodations bad, and the treatment of emigrants exploitative. Through his cousin Vere Hobart, Lord Hobart, he is able to influence parliament and the Passengers Act 1851. He also takes practical steps to promote Irish emigration to the United States.

Later, Foster takes up the improvement of education in Ireland. This is a time of Catholic suspicion of the national education system introduced by Richard Whately. Foster contributes to the provision of better school accommodation and apparatus, and gives grants in aid of building several hundred new school-houses. He agitates for improved wages and conditions for teachers, and develops the “Vere Foster copy-books” to improve and standardise the teaching of writing. The immense popularity of these texts draw him to the Belfast printing firm Marcus Ward & Company, and into personal friendship with John Ward, one of the firm’s owners.

In 1867, Foster settles permanently in Belfast where he continues to work as the president of the Congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. He fundraises for the Royal Belfast Hospital, and helps to establish a school of art in the town, while continuing to promote emigration.

In 1879, with the Land War in Ireland, Foster concentrates on promoting female emigration to the United States and the British colonies. He is supported in his projects by both Catholic and Protestant clergy.

Vere Foster dies, unmarried, in Belfast on December 21, 1900. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.


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Birth of Sir Richard Steele, Writer & Politician

sir-richard-steeleSir Richard Steele, Irish writer and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine Tatler, is born in Dublin on March 12, 1672.

Steele is born to Richard Steele, an attorney, and Elinor Symes (née Sheyles). He is largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay. A member of the Protestant gentry, he is educated at Charterhouse School, where he first meets Addison. After starting at Christ Church, Oxford, he goes on to Merton College, Oxford, then joins the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William’s wars against France. He is commissioned in 1697, and rises to the rank of captain within two years. Steele leaves the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, Robert Lucas, which limits his opportunities of promotion.

Steele’s first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempts to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while he serves in the army, it expresses his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction. The Christian Hero is ultimately ridiculed for what some thought was hypocrisy because Steele did not necessarily follow his own preaching.

Steele writes a comedy that same year entitled The Funeral. This play meets with wide success and is performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, Steele writes The Lying Lover, one of the first sentimental comedies, but a failure on stage. In 1705, he writes The Tender Husband, and later that year writes the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh.

In 1706 Steele is appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He also gains the favour of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, is first published on April 12, 1709, and appears three times a week. Steele writes this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gives Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality. Steele describes his motive in writing Tatler as “to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behavior.”

The Tatler is closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that has come under Tory attack. Addison and Steele then found The Spectator in 1711 and also The Guardian in 1713.

Steele becomes a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge. He is soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favour of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain comes to the throne in the following year, Steele is knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He returns to parliament in 1715, for Boroughbridge.

While at Drury Lane, Steele writes and directs the sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers, which is an immediate hit. However, he falls out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retires to his wife’s homeland of Wales, where he spends the remainder of his life.

Steele remains in Carmarthen after his wife Mary’s death, and is buried there, at St. Peter’s Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull is discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.