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peculiar arts and literature of Ireland which have equal relation to the periods we have completed, and that immediately before us.
Manners, Music, "Literature.—In proportion as we go back to earlier times, manners become more difficult to ascertain, and more important. They are more important, because they are more directly the results of the moral state and habits of society; the earliest rude conventions of a people are dictated by the necessities of human nature, together with the accidents of circumstance. And this immediate connexion gives them a lively interest to those who study the natural history of man: as it would also, if adequately known, offer the best and truest solution to the most important difficulties attendant on the study of past events and national changes. But the investigation of the manners of a distant age, when not preserved in a surviving and abundant literature, is a task perhaps beyond the reach of the historian. The features of the day are evanescent, and the most characteristic lights and shadows are the first to fade, and the most irrecoverably lost; the sway of superstitions and prejudices, the absolute dominion of merely social conventions and laws of opinion arising from custom and the expediencies of the day, as well as from the state of real knowledge: the state of knowledge itself, the effects arising from intercourse, from trade, from law, with the numerous and complex refractions, reflections, interferences, condensations, and separations, consequent on the whole, human reason can but approach by a rough and conjectural approximation: and when its part shall have been thus performed, the result is likely to be little available for the use of the historical student and to be received with little toleration, as too subtle or too dull for the ordinary apprehension or patience of most readers; unless when it can be seized by the rare instinct and moulded by the imagination of the poet, into those miraculous creations which are so true to nature, that they seem less like fictions than reflections of reality; such however, are the triumphs of Shakspeare and Scott. To recall the image of a remote generation is not the novelist's actual aim, and is beyond the ordinary historian's power.
There are, however, a few remarkable exceptions to these remarks. In different countries, transition and progress have been either wholly inert, as in China and parts of India: or comparatively slow, as in Ireland. Here, indeed, the rapid changes of the last forty years, have done the work of many generations: but the retrospect of our generation is not wholly beyond our reach; by looking back so far, it is not unlikely that a tolerably clear view might be attained of the real social state of Ireland, for at least four centuries. The materials for such a view are fortunately not deficient, but the fact will of itself explain the propriety of referring the whole of this investigation to the subsequent period, to which these data belong. The memoirs of the earlier portion of the period, on which we are to enter, will exhibit but occasional gleams of private life or merely personal history; and these will for the most part manifest a state of manners, which now must appear unrefined, although formal, elaborate and not without a certain rude magnificence. It will hereafter be our care to present a lively representation of these, and to trace their connexion with the general state of the times to which they are to be referred. The remainder
of this introduction we shall devote to some special topics, which be considered to belong to the beginning of the present period, and more or less to the whole of that which precedes it: we mean those arts and that literature which must be considered as peculiar to Ireland. In our next division a more expansive range of literature will claim our attention. It may at first
fanciful to affirm that there is no monument of Irish antiquity bearing such authentic marks of national origin, or of the genius and character of the people, as our national music; thus, indeed, so far as its antiquity can be traced, offering an indirect but not less convincing testimony to the general claims of the early inhabitants of the land to refinement. The fact deserves consideration.
Every one who possesses in an ordinary degree, the nearly universal faculty of musical perception, is fully aware that music possesses some properties in common with language; these cannot be doubted, because they are proved by the evidence of experience. They are not, it must be admitted so definable, but this is because they are not so much the result of conventional association: the word conveys an idea, with which no one imagines it to have any but an arbitrary connexion, but the music awakens an emotion of which it seems the natural utterance, so closely and inseparably that no ingenuity can detect the connecting link. Ten thousand breasts can be combined by a single state of emotion, one common unutterable sentiment, by a simple air which no ear among the crowd ever heard till the instant that a touch of the musician's hand struck the common and resistless but mysterious chord of human nature. By the same power the utmost variety of emotions are, with unerring accuracy, excited at will; nor does light follow the sun with more constancy, than mirth and melancholy await on the changes of the strain. The same emotions, too, are awakened in the scholar and the illiterate, the courtier and the clown; children catch the inspiration before they learn the more cumbrous communication of words. It is a fact, as commonly known on the same simple testimony of experience, that the ordinary process of association to a considerable extent, modifies the impressions produced by music: and thus it becomes, in another sense, a language, extending its singular, and almost magic power, from the animal to the intellectual nature, incorporating with sweet and measured variations of sound, all that survives in the memory of the affections. Thus, by a chain of fine, but yet perceptible links, is it combined with human character, so that the reasoning observer who looks below the surface of human nature, and watches the phenomena of the mind, may, with not much difficulty, infer the natural connexion between the music and the constitutional temperament of a people. As a nation advances to a high degree of refinement, the national music is, it is true, likely to acquire the improvement of science and artificial combination. And thus, as in manners, national characteristics, and all of human things that are subject to progress and the law of habit, lose somewhat of peculiarity, under the influence of cultivation and refinement, but even still the native and essential difference will for long periods of change maintain its place, and appear more or less diffused through every successive modification, imparting a tone, style, and shade of sentiment, which, whether explicable or not, remains perfectly sensible to the rudest ear that is cognizant of musical expression. Thus, then, not only the national character of an air is at once known, but the age
and period can be at least approximately conjectured within certain limits. A limit can, with considerable certainty, be ascertained between the ancient and the modern, while the essential properties of both remain the same beyond the scope of reasonable doubt.
If these observations shall be allowed to be just, there is, as we have said, no vestige of antiquity more truly interesting, or more decisive of national character than the remains of ancient Irish music. Of its genuineness there is strong and indeed curious evidence in the known fact, that the most eminent composers have often confessed the impossibility of a perfect imitation: in all such attempts, the form of the melody and the technical adoption of the artifice of sound, has failed to catch the spirit and produce the effect, as obviously and palpably as the cleverest rhymer of the modern periodicals would fail to succeed in the versification of Pope, or a modern composer of Greek exercises write the Iliad: the fact is stated and admitted by the best musicians. The mind, or rather state and tone of mind, of which all characteristic melody is an emanation, must first be reproduced. And yet, strange to think, this subtle and unattainable grace and power, far as it is beyond the reach of art or even genius to borrow, is the first and simplest perception of the untaught ear; as surely speaking to the breast of the peasant on the hill
, as to the highly trained ear of the refined adept who can command and appreciate the luxuries of instrumental skill.
We shall not here dwell on the inductive analogy which confirms these remarks; the same is more or less applicable to the music of every country known to have a native melody. However corrupted or refin, ed by the perversions or improvements of modern skill, it is ever obseryable and uniformly national in character; and not merely this, but perceptibly indicative of the tastes and habits of sentiment of each respective nation. The Italian with its luxury of sound, and breathing of passion—the French with its tasteful lightness, its graceful romance that breathes and passes like a sigh—the German with its deeper and less transient flow of grand and sombre sentiment—these are at least traceable with sufficient uniformity to illustrate the principle. But in all these instances, long cultivation has produced, to some extent, its equalizing effects. The nationality of poetry or music must much, perhaps chiefly, depend on the aggregate constitution of a people: the musician, like the orator, has before him the consciousness of his audience; without this high faculty, no great popular effect is ever produced. In Ireland, as we trace back to the period of its latest music, there appears a state peculiarly favourable to the full development of the operations of this faculty. Our music was not the high wrought product of refined art, designed to solicit the applause of the mingled circle of fashion and cultivated taste, drawn together from every country in Europe; it was the presiding spirit of the rude and hospitable hall, where the hunter and the warrior chief sat listening in the circle of his family, guest, and people; rude but fervid, and fraught with all the strong tincture of sentiment to this day as observable in the people of Ireland as in their ancient music.
But there are other considerations much more likely to interest the reader's curiosity. The musical history of Ireland, offers those peculiar indications by which it appears traceable to a very remote antiquity, and even casts no feeble reflection on the question of our race and origin as a people. The earliest known airs of Irish music are wild and simple dirges, such as are generally known to have been the principal music of the most ancient nations of antiquity. The ancient instrument was the harp, peculiar to Ireland, though borrowed by
her neighbours the Britons, and descendants the Scottish Celts. The music of ancient Egypt was similarly appropriated to the solemn rites of funerals and religious ceremonies, and its chief instrument is known to have been the harp.* Similarly it is known on the most authentic authority, that the harp was a principal instrument of the Israelites, and that their music was unquestionably devotional and ritual in its main uses.
The Phænician descent of Irish civilization and language, to affirm no more, suggests the obvious link that connects the ancient music of Ireland so far as its origin is concerned, with the most ancient music known to have existed. These remarks might lead to further conclusions, were we not desirous to avoid even the appearance of refining, and therefore think it here necessary to go no further than the common feeling of our readers may confirm. We shall only, therefore, before quitting the subject, notice such recent facts as may tend to illustrate this department of our history.
It is now several years since the labours of Mr Bunting collected and gave a permanent form to a considerable portion of the remains of our ancient music. These labours, or their invaluable results, do not appear to have ever been appreciated according to their worth by the public. Public opinion, never just, but as it reflects the tone of its critical guides and authorities, was in this instance splendidly decided by a brilliant combination of lyrical genius and musical skill in the well-known Irish melodies, the joint labour of Mr Moore and Sir John Stevenson. It is surely no wish of ours to depreciate a work in itself so rich an acquisition to society, and so honourable to Irelandwe for our part would not wish it other than it is; but we speak of it as related to our music. While the magic of Mr Moore's beautiful lyrics gave this work a circulation and a permanency of reputation which music by itself could not attain, it is as little to be doubted, that it had the effect of setting aside the native music which it pretended to represent. Nor are we less decided in the assertion, that the service of having given fashionable vogue to many of our sweetest airs, is unhappily countervailed by alterations which have refined away
their native spirit and deprived them of their essential mind: for this Mr Moore is not responsible. Of his portion of the task it does not belong to us to say any thing here, and as our labours are confined to the departed, we trust to close our work many years before attaining so undesirable a privilege. But the occasion of Mr Bunting's meritorious labours should
Mr Wilkinson's researches seem to have put these facts beyond doubt.
from memory and song
not be here unnoticed. Strong enthusiasm of character, and much national feeling seem to have been combined in this gentleman with musical talent of a very high order, and to have devoted him at an early period of his life to the study and preservation of that native music, which had long been silent in the chieftain's hall, and was passing away
with a few aged men, the survivors of the harp of ancient days. In the close of the last century this venerable order was nearly extinct; but a few aged and venerable harpers still continued to bend their infirm steps from home to home, among the children of those who saw their brethren of the tuneful craft, and knew them in their better days. They were but few and old, with them the music of Ireland must to a great extent have perished. Of this there seems to have been a strong sense excited at the time, and meetings of the harpers, and of those who felt interest in their art, took place in different towns-of which the best known and most effective was held in Belfast in 1792. At this many of the old minstrels attended, and astonished their hearers by the display of their skill and affluence in the ancient music of the country. Among the crowds drawn from all quarters by the interest of such a meeting, Mr Bunting could not have been wanting; he has given an interesting and minute account of the principal performers, which we should copy here at length, but that it occurs in the prospectus to an unpublished work, and we hold it to be unfair that the author should be thus anticipated from his own pages.
paper here noticed, Mr Bunting commemorates Hempson, O'Neill and Fanning, with seven others, “ the least of whom,” he says in the language of strong feeling, “ has not left his like behind.” Of Hempson he also observes, that he “realized the picture drawn by Cambrensis, nearly 700 years ago, for he played with long crooked nails, and in his performance the tinkling of small notes under the deep notes of the bass’ was distinctly audible.” He was the only one of them who, says Mr Bunting, played the very old, the aboriginal music of the country. In reading the prospectus* from which these particulars are drawn, we were struck with a pleasing confirmation of a very old recollection of our own, which lay like a remembered dream among the fading images of childish days. . Living in the west of Ireland in the termination of the last century, we can indistinctly recall the occasional visits (annual perhaps,) of an old blind harper named Freney, whose music has left the wildest tone, and whose person the most picturesque image on our memory. As we have on a former occasion written all that we could recall of this old man, we shall here content ourselves with an extract of the facts of which we can no further be certain, than that such is our recollection, and that they seem in some degree confirmed by the unquestionable description of Mr Burting:—“The writer can vividly, though perhaps not with very great accuracy, recall the personal appearance of a very old man named Frene or Freney, who was something more than thirty years since, a welcome visitor in every respectable family, through many of the western counties. Frene could not then have been less than ninety years old. He was about the middle size, but much bent by age,