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


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Birth of Laurence Sterne, Humorist & Author

laurence-sterneLawrence Sterne, Anglican clergyman, humorist, and author of the experimental novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is born on November 24, 1713 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Though popular during his lifetime, he becomes even more celebrated in the 20th century, when modernist and postmodernist writers rediscover him as an innovator in textual and narrative forms.

Sterne is born to a British military officer stationed in County Tipperary. Following his father’s postings, the family moves briefly to Yorkshire before returning to Ireland, where they live largely in poverty and move frequently throughout the rest of Sterne’s youth. When the elder Sterne is dispatched to Jamaica, where he would die in 1731, he places his son with a wealthy uncle who supports the boy’s education.

Sterne attends Jesus College, Cambridge, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Richard Sterne, who had been Master of the College. After being ordained as an Anglican priest, he takes up the vicarship of Sutton-on-the-Forest, where he marries Elizabeth Lumley. The couple lives there for the next 20 years.

Through his paternal family line, Sterne is connected to several powerful clergymen. His uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, encourages him to contribute to Whig political journals, and consequently he writes several articles supporting Sir Robert Walpole. However, when his political fervency fails to match his uncle’s, prompting him to abandon the role of political controversialist, Jacques Sterne cuts ties with his nephew and refuses to support his career. Nevertheless, Sterne continues writing.

Sterne’s first long work, a sharp satire of the spiritual courts entitled A Political Romance, makes him as many enemies as allies. Though the work is not widely distributed, and indeed is burned at the request of those targeted by its Swiftian-style criticism, it represents Sterne’s first foray into the kind of humorous satire for which he would become famous. At age 46, he steps back from managing his parishes and turns his full attention to writing.

Sterne begins what becomes his best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, at a moment of personal crisis. He and his wife are both ill with tuberculosis and, in the same year that the first volumes of his long comic novel appear, his mother and uncle Jacques die. The blend of sentiment, humour and philosophical exploration that characterises his works matures during this difficult period. Tristram Shandy is an enormous success, and Sterne becomes, for the first time in his life, a famous literary figure in London. Still suffering from tuberculosis, he leaves England for Continental Europe, where his travels influence his second major work, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768).

Sterne’s narrator in A Sentimental Journey is Parson Yorick, a sensitive but also comic figure who first appears in Tristram Shandy and who becomes Sterne’s fictive alter ego. In A Sentimental Journey, Parson Yorick wears a “little picture of Eliza around his neck,” and in the last year of his life Sterne writes the autobiographical Journal to Eliza under the pseudonym Yorick. Eliza is Eliza Draper, the wife of an East India Company official, and the literary and emotional muse of Sterne’s final years. After Draper returns to India, the two continue to exchange letters, some of which Draper allows to be published after Sterne’s death in the volume Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

In early 1768, less than a month after A Sentimental Journey is published, Sterne’s strength fails him and he dies in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street in London on March 18, 1768, at the age of 54. He is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Hanover Square Church.

(Pictured: Laurence Sterne painted in watercolour by French artist Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, ca. 1762)

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Birth of Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan

charles-edward-trevelyanSir Charles Edward Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, KCB, British civil servant and colonial administrator, is born in Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdom on April 2, 1807.

Trevelyan is the son of a Cornish clergyman, the Venerable George Trevelyan, who becomes Archdeacon of Taunton, and his wife Harriet, daughter of Sir Richard Neave. As a young man, he works with the colonial government in Calcutta, India. In the late 1850s and 1860s he serves there in senior-level appointments.

Trevelyan’s most enduring mark on history may be the quasi-genocidal anti-Irish racial sentiment he expresses during his term in the critical position of administrating relief to the millions of Irish peasants suffering under the Great Famine, an Gorta Mór, as Assistant Secretary to HM Treasury (1840–1859) under the Whig administration of Lord John Russell.

During the height of the famine Trevelyan deliberately drags his feet in disbursing direct government food and monetary aid to the Irish due to his strident belief in laissez-faire economics and the free hand of the market. In a letter to an Irish peer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, he describes the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God” and writes that “The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”

Trevelyan never expresses remorse for his comments, even after the full dreadful scope of the Irish famine becomes known. His defenders claim that other factors than Trevelyan’s personal acts and beliefs are more central to the problem.

Sir Charles Trevelyan dies at the age of 70 at 67 Eaton Square, London, on June 19, 1886.

Trevelyan is referred to in the modern Irish folk song The Fields of Athenry about an Gorta Mór. For his actions, or lack thereof, during the Great Famine, he is commonly considered one of the most detested figures in Irish history, along with the likes of Oliver Cromwell.


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Alan Brodrick Appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench

alan-brodrickAlan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton, a leading Anglo-Irish lawyer and politician of the early eighteenth century, is appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench on December 24, 1709. He is a man of great gifts, but so hot-tempered and passionate that even Jonathan Swift is said to have been afraid of him.

Brodrick is the second son of Sir St. John Brodrick of Ballyannan, near Midleton in County Cork, by his wife Alice, daughter of Laurence Clayton of Mallow, County Cork. His father receives large land grants during The Protectorate, and thus the family has much to lose if the land issue in Ireland is settled to the satisfaction of dispossessed Roman Catholics. He is educated at Magdalen College, Oxford and the Middle Temple, being called to the English bar in 1678. He and his relatives flee Ireland during the Glorious Revolution. They are attainted under the rule of King James II in Ireland. In exile in England, Brodrick argues for a speedy reconquest.

In 1690 Brodrick returns to Dublin and is given the legal office of Third Serjeant. He also becomes Recorder of Cork. He is dismissed as Serjeant in 1692, apparently on the ground that there is no work for him to do. While complaining bitterly about his dismissal, he admits privately that his post has been a superfluous one.

As a prominent Whig supporter of the outcome of the Glorious Revolution he is not always in agreement with court policies in Ireland, which he considers too lenient on the Jacobites. The dismissal of the First Serjeant, John Osborne, at the same time as Brodrick is due to his even stronger opposition to Court policy. Despite this he often holds Irish government offices and aspires to manage the Irish Parliament for English ministers. He represents Cork City in the Irish Parliament, which meets in 1692 and holds this seat until 1710. He is a vocal opponent of court policies, until the new Whig Lord Deputy of Ireland, Lord Henry Capell, decides to appoint him Solicitor-General for Ireland in 1695. He promotes penal laws against Catholics, whilst also supporting greater powers for the Irish Parliament.

Brodrick is Speaker of the Irish House of Commons from September 21, 1703. After promoting resolutions critical of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland he loses his post as Solicitor-General in 1704. From 1707 until 1709 he is Attorney-General for Ireland. He becomes Chief Justice of Ireland in 1710 and is replaced as Speaker on May 19, 1710, but again holds the office in the next Parliament (November 25, 1713 – August 1, 1714), where he also represents Cork County. He is appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1714 and is ennobled in the Peerage of Ireland in 1715, as the 1st Baron Brodrick. He is advanced to the rank of 1st Viscount Midleton in 1717.

Brodrick feuds with his successor as Speaker William Conolly, as they are rivals to be the leading figure in Irish politics. Despite intrigues in England, he loses out and resigns as Lord Chancellor in 1725. He leaves behind him a legacy of bitterness and ill-will for which he is not really responsible as the Irish peers choose to blame him for the loss of their powers under the Sixth of George I, rather than their own misjudgment in imprisoning the Barons of the Exchequer.


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Death of James Napper Tandy, Irish Revolutionary

James Napper Tandy, Irish revolutionary and member of the Society of United Irishmen, dies in Bordeaux, France on August 24, 1803.

A Dublin Protestant and the son of an ironmonger, Tandy is baptised in St. Audoen’s Church on February 16, 1739. He attends the Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, County Kildare. He starts life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he becomes a member of Dublin Corporation and is popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.

Tandy and John Binns persuade Dublin Corporation to condemn by resolution William Pitt the Younger‘s amended commercial resolutions in 1785. He becomes a member of the Whig club founded by Henry Grattan, and he actively co-operates with Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Society of United Irishmen in 1791, of which he becomes the first secretary.

Sympathy with the French Revolution is rapidly spreading in Ireland. A meeting of some 6,000 people in Belfast vote a congratulatory address to the French nation in July 1791. In the following year, Tandy takes a leading part in organising a new military association in Ireland modelled after the French National Guard. Tandy also, with the purpose of bringing about a fusion between the Defenders and the United Irishmen, took the oath of the Defenders, a Roman Catholic society whose agrarian and political violence had been increasing for several years.

Tandy is about to be tried in 1793 for distributing a seditious pamphlet in County Louth when the government discovers he has taken the oath of the Defenders. Being threatened with prosecution for this step, and also for libel, he takes refuge by changing his Dublin address often until he flees to the United States in 1795, where he remains until 1798. In February 1798 he goes to Paris, where a number of Irish refugees are assembled and planning rebellion in Ireland to be supported by a French invasion, but quarrelling among themselves over tactics.

Tandy accepts the offer of a corvette, the HMS Anacreon, from the French government and sails from Dunkirk accompanied by a few United Irishmen, a small force of men and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition for distribution in Ireland. He arrives at the isle of Arranmore, off the coast of County Donegal, on September 16, 1798.

Tandy takes possession of the village of Rutland, where he hoists an Irish flag and issues a proclamation. He soon discovers that the French expedition of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert to aid the Irish rebellion has failed. He sails his vessel around the north of Scotland to avoid the British fleet. He reaches Bergen in safety having brought with him a British ship captured along the way. Tandy then made his way with three or four companions to the free port of Hamburg but a peremptory demand from the British government to detain the fugitives was acceded to despite a counter-threat from the French Directory. In 1799 HMS Xenophon, under Commander George Sayer, brings Tandy and some of his associates back to England as state prisoners.

On February 12, 1800, Tandy is put on trial at Dublin and is acquitted. He remains in prison in Lifford Gaol in County Donegal until April 1801, when he is tried for the treasonable landing on Rutland Island. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to death although he is reprieved and allowed to go to France.

In France, where his release is regarded as a French diplomatic victory, he is received, in March 1802, as a person of distinction. When he dies on August 24, 1803 in Bordeaux, his funeral is attended by the military and an immense number of civilians. James Napper Tandy is buried in his family’s burial crypt, St. Mary’s churchyard, Julianstown, County Meath. His fame is perpetuated in the Irish ballad The Wearing of the Green.


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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.


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Birth of Edmund Burke, Political Writer & Orator

edmund-burkeEdmund Burke, one of the greatest political writers and orators in history, is born in Arran Quay, Dublin, on January 12, 1729. British statesman, parliamentary orator, and political thinker, he plays a prominent part in all major political issues for about thirty years after 1765, and remains an important figure in the history of political theory.

Burke is the son of a mixed marriage – his father, a solicitor, is protestant, his mother is Roman Catholic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin in 1744, and studies law at Middle Temple in London in 1750. He fails to secure a call to the bar and instead begins a literary career. He writes several books and is editor of the The Annual Register before entering politics. Burke’s A Vindication of Natural Society is published in 1756 and in 1757 A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful appears. Also on March 12, 1757, Burke marries Jane Nugent, the daughter of Christopher Nugent, an Irish Catholic doctor.

His political career begins in 1765 when he becomes the private secretary of one of the Whig leaders in the Parliament of Great Britain, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham. Burke soon proves to be one of the main characters in the constitutional controversy in Britain under George III, who at the time is trying to establish more actual power for the crown. Although the crown has lost some influence under the first two Georges, one of the major political problems in 18th century Britain is the fact that both the king and Parliament have considerable control over the executive. Burke responds to these affairs in his pamphlet Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), in which he argues that although George’s actions are legal in the sense that they are not against the letter of the constitution, they are all the more against it in spirit. In the pamphlet Burke elaborates on his famous and new justification of a party, defined as “a body of men united on public principle, which could act as a constitutional link between king and parliament, providing consistency and strength in administration, or principled criticism in opposition.”

Concerning the imperial controversy at the time, Burke argues that the British government has acted in a both unwise and inconsistent manner. Again, Burke claims that Britain’s way of dealing with the colony question is strictly legal and he urges that also “claims of circumstance, utility, and moral principle should be considered, as well as precedent.” In other words, if the British, persistently clinging to their narrow legalism, are not to clash with the ideas and opinions of the colonists on these matters, they will have to offer more respect and regard for the colonies’ cause. Burke calls for “legislative reason” in two of his parliamentary speeches on the subject, On American Taxation (1774) and On Moving His Resolutions for Conciliation With America (1775). However, British imperial policy in the controversy continues to ignore these questions.

Burke’s view of the revolution in France is a much different story. He publishes Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790, attacking the revolution’s motives and principles. Many writers oppose his views, the most famous being Thomas Paine in his Rights of Man. Burke is a consistent advocate of Catholic emancipation, which politically damages him, but he is never an advocate of self-rule for the Irish.

Edmund Burke dies in London on July 9, 1797. Many quotes from his writings and orations have come down through the years, perhaps one is most applicable to the situation in Ireland today: “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”