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


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Death of Sir Richard Steele, Writer, Playwright & Politician

richard-steeleSir Richard Steele, writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine Tatler, dies in Carmarthen, Wales on September 1, 1729.

Steele is born in Dublin on March 12, 1672 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. He leaves the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, Robert Lucas, 3rd Baron Lucas, which limits his opportunities of promotion.

Steele is a member of the Kit-Kat Club. Both Steele and Addison become closely associated with Child’s Coffee-house in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Steele’s first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempts to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while he is serving in the army, it expresses his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction.

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

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, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, first appears on April 12, 1709, and appears three times a week. He writes this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gives Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality. The Tatler is closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that had come under Tory attack.

Steele becomes a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge. He is soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favor 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 in 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 second wife’s homeland of Wales. He remains in Carmarthen after his wife’s death, dying there on September 1, 1729. He 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.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Richard Steele by Jonathan Richardson)

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Death of Statesman Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke, statesman born in Dublin, dies on July 9, 1797 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England. He is also known as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who, after moving to London, served as a member of parliament (MP) for many years in the House of Commons with the Whig Party.

Burke receives his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare. In 1744, he enters Trinity College, Dublin, a Protestant establishment, which up until 1793, did not permit Catholics to take degrees. He graduates from Trinity in 1748. Burke’s father wants him to read Law, and with this in mind he goes to London in 1750, where he enters the Middle Temple, before soon giving up legal study to travel in Continental Europe. After eschewing the Law, he pursues a livelihood through writing.

Burke criticizes British treatment of the American colonies, including through its taxation policies. He also supports the American Revolution, believing both that it could not affect British or European stability and would be an innovative experiment in political development since the Americas are so far away from Europe and thus could have little impact on England.

Burke is remembered for his support for Catholic emancipation, the impeachment of Warren Hastings from the East India Company, and for his later opposition to the French Revolution. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, he claims that the revolution is destroying the fabric of good society, and condemned the persecution of the Catholic Church that results from it. This leads to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig Party, which he dubs the “Old Whigs,” as opposed to the pro–French Revolution “New Whigs” led by Charles James Fox.

For more than a year prior to his death, Burke realizes that his “stomach” is “irrecoverably ruind.” Edmund Burke dies in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on July 9, 1797 and is buried there alongside his son and brother. His wife, Mary Jane Nugent, survives him by nearly fifteen years.

In the nineteenth century Burke is praised by both conservatives and liberals. Subsequently, in the twentieth century, he becomes widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.


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Death of Daniel O’Connell in Genoa, Italy

daniel-oconnellDaniel O’Connell, lawyer who becomes the first great 19th-century Irish nationalist leader and is known as “The Liberator,” dies in Genoa, Italy on May 15, 1847. Throughout his life, he campaigns for Catholic emancipation, including the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster Parliament and the repeal of the Act of Union which combines Great Britain and Ireland.

Compelled to leave the Roman Catholic college at Douai, France, when the French Revolution breaks out, O’Connell goes to London to study law, and in 1798 he is called to the Irish bar. His forensic skill enables him to use the courts as nationalist forums. Although he has joined the Society of United Irishmen, a revolutionary society, as early as 1797, he refuses to participate in the Irish Rebellion of the following year. When the Act of Union takes effect on January 1, 1801 and abolishes the Irish Parliament, he insists that the British Parliament repeal the anti-Catholic laws in order to justify its claim to represent the people of Ireland. From 1813 he opposes various Catholic relief proposals because the government, with the acquiescence of the papacy, has the right to veto nominations to Catholic bishoprics in Great Britain and Ireland. Although permanent political organizations of Catholics are illegal, O’Connell sets up a nationwide series of mass meetings to petition for Catholic emancipation.

On May 12, 1823, O’Connell and Richard Lalor Sheil found the Catholic Association, which quickly attracts the support of the Irish priesthood and of lawyers and other educated Catholic laymen and which eventually comprises so many members that the government can not suppress it. In 1826, when it is reorganized as the New Catholic Association, it causes the defeat of several parliamentary candidates sponsored by large landowners. In County Clare in July 1828, O’Connell himself, although as a Catholic ineligible to sit in the House of Commons, defeats a man who tries to support both the British government and Catholic emancipation. This result impresses on the British prime minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, the need for making a major concession to the Irish Catholics. Following the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, O’Connell, after going through the formality of an uncontested reelection, takes his seat at Westminster.

In April 1835, he helps to overthrow Sir Robert Peel’s Conservative ministry. In the same year, he enters into the “Lichfield House compact,” whereby he promises the Whig Party leaders a period of “perfect calm” in Ireland while the government enacts reform measures. O’Connell and his Irish adherents, known collectively as “O’Connell’s tail,” then aid in keeping the weak Whig administration of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, in office from 1835 to 1841. By 1839, however, O’Connell realizes that the Whigs will do little more than the Conservatives for Ireland, and in 1840 he founds the Repeal Association to dissolve the Anglo-Irish legislative union. A series of mass meetings in all parts of Ireland culminate in O’Connell’s arrest for seditious conspiracy, but he is released on appeal in September 1844 after three months’ imprisonment. Afterward his health fails rapidly and the nationalist leadership falls to the radical Young Ireland group.

O’Connell dies at the age of 71 of cerebral softening in 1847 in Genoa, Italy, while on a pilgrimage to Rome. His time in prison has seriously weakened him, and the appallingly cold weather he has to endure on his journey is probably the final blow. According to his dying wish, his heart is buried at Sant’Agata dei Goti, then the chapel of the Irish College, in Rome and the remainder of his body in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, beneath a round tower.