Page images

were set down to their dinner at the kitchen table. They had a most abundant one. It consisted of milk, butter, potatos, and greens, pounded together, and oaten cake. This is Wednesday, or else, in addition to the milk and butter, they would have had bacon, or hung beef. Wednesdays and Fridays are perpetual fasts of the church of Rome, and no luxury or dainty could tempt the poor Irish peasant to eat flesh-meat, on either of those days, or during the whole course of Lent. Admirable forbearance ! when the hardship of his situation is considered, and admirable must the religion be which so strongly inculcates it. Let others talk of the doctrines of the church of Rome, I love it for its observance of Lent. What is the value of every doctrinal point of every religion in the universe, compared to that blessed one, which twice a week, and for six weeks in every year, preaches peace and good will, not to man alone, but to the birds who carol in the air, to the beasts which bound on the lawn, which preserves the turtle to his dove, the lark to his song, and saves from slaughter the helpless chicken, and the sportive lamb, to which it is the perfection of innocence to be compared.

As soon as the kitchen was cleaned up after tea, the maids sat down to their wheels; the fire was, if possible, made more blazing, and the fire-place more cleanly swept. I seated myself in a corner, and pretended to fall asleep. The maiden's song makes the hum of the wheel an instrument of wild music, and I wished that it should flow free and unconstrained.

I continued sleeping, and the spinners continued singing for several hours. To say that I was gratified, would be saying little. I was delighted. I was rivetted as it were by a spell, and regretted when a summons to supper (a day-light supper, and soon finished, as I write this after it), compelled me to waken. I do not deny, however, but that a part of the pleasure I received, may have depended on my being well acquainted with the tunes. Music is an emanation from heaven, and partakes of the unperishable nature of its origin.


3 B

It owes none of its charms to novelty, but grows more and more delightful by time and association. Yet, I think it im possible but that the simple pathos, and melancholy wildness of Irish music, even when first heard, must find their way to the heart of every person of sensibility. To me there are times when its plaintive wailings seem scarcely human, and resemble rather the noise of the wind, mournfully complaining through the vallies, or the subdued sounds of murder and woe. as fancy forms them, when in dreams we wander alone, and at midnight, on some waste heath.

I speak here of Irish music in its original state, not in the form in which Sir John Stevenson has thought proper, lately, to present it to the English world. I respect Sir John's talents as a general composer ; but he appears to me, to be totally unfitted to do justice to Irish music. In almost every instance, he seems to have substituted in place of the wonderful charm of melody, the ostentation of science, and mere trick of execution. Nor has Mr, Bunting, I think, succeeded much better. They have both built on an entire wrong foundation. It is wonderful, indeed, how any men who have hearts in their bosoms, should be so far misled by the ear, as not to perceive that native Irish music would lose its charm, the instant that it was shackled by the symphony and accompaniment of modern art. It is like taking the lark from the forest, and bidding it pour forth its “ wood notes wild” in a cage. Shall I give a stronger illustration? It is like putting a madınan in a strait-waistcoat, when, if we wish to contemplate him in his grandeur, we must see him alone, and baying at the moon.

The wild melancholy of Irish music has been remarked by all, and attempted to be explained by many. An elegant Friter attributes it to the depressing influence of the English invasion. “ Sinking beneath the weight of sorrow, the bards became a prey to melancholy, and the sprightly Phrygian (to vhich they were before wholly inclined), gave place in all their subsequent compositions to the grave Doric, or soft Lydian measure.”

This is ingenious, and probably, in a degree, (a small degree is true.) But I have doubts whether ever Irish music was essentially other than grave Doric, or soft Lydian. Melancholy is its essence, and incidents could do no more than heighten it. Climate, soil, and descent, must have combined with events to give it this character. Were I too seek another cause, I should, perhaps, find it in the great susceptibility of the passion of love in the native Irish. Some of their songs breathe the soul of tenderness and affection, and would do honour to any age or nation. It would be well for many writers of the present day, who give the debasing ravings of desire, instead of the ennobling passion of love, could they catch a portion of the pure spirit that prevades them Would it be believed that the beautiful song in the Duenna

How oft, Louisa, hast thou said is a literal translation of an old Irish ballad, and that Mr. Sheridan even borrowed with it, the air to which it was sung?

The narrative here closes abruptly, but a sufficiency has been given to convey to our readers the estimate which Mr. O'Connell formed of the Irish character and manners.


From those scenes of quietude and relaxation, we follow Mr. O'Connell to the great theatre of his principal actions, and where he took upon himself the enacting of a part, which required a genius of the first order, to do justice to, and which could only be accomplished by the most unflinching courage and perseverance.

The Catholic Association was at this period, just bursting into life, and it will be easily perceived, that the breadth of basis on which it was founded, gave it the vast power it possessed. It was not a mere meeting of a party to urge the legislature to be liberal to that party. The millions of the Catholic people in Ireland, felt a personal interest in its transactions. It did not merely exclaim against Orange despotism ; but it observed where that despotism was practised in its most minute forms, and a powerful arm was interposed to protect the peasant. The Ascendency party were met and battled with, from the government down to the Orange magistrate and constable. If any act of injustice was committed, it was no longer exposed by the mere voice of an indignant peasantry, or avenged by retaliation. A sound, able headed lawyer, versed in the technicalities of his profession, opposed it; or, if he could not do so, shewed, practically, the injustice of the law, and shame sometimes interfered for the protection of the Catholic peasant. Mr. O'Connell's vast influence has not rested alone on his powers as an orator or a lawyer. It has been part of his system, and among the chief exertions of bis laborious life, to enter into the personal grievanccs of every Irishman, and to use all means of redressing them, either by himself or others. Hence the cottager saw a real and efficient protecting hand held out towards him, and he willingly paid, out of his hard-won earnings, a small sum to assist in securing himself from injustice. The rent was a tas brought back to its first principles. A tax is commonly de-fined as a general levy over the whole country, to supply the government with the means of defending the country, and aaministering justice. Now, so truly was it felt, that this tax accomplished the proper end of taxation, that it was given voluntarily and to an amount which answered the purpose.

The sum raised was comparatively small at first, owing to the difficulty of framing a system for its collection, and was for some time confined chiefly to the towns. Provincial meetings. however, being appointed, in connection with the Central Association, to each of these an inspector was attached, whe was empowered to appoint five assistants to each county, after having divided his country in five districts or parishes. Το each parish a churchwarden was also attached, who was to be subject to the direction of the clergyman, and, besides collecting the rent, to assist “in all affairs relating to the temporal concerns of the parish and its schools.” The duties of these persons, as afterwards more minutely assigned to them, on a plan suggested by Mr. O'Connell, proved of essential service to the Association. They were to collect the rent at the church door, on "one Sunday every month ;-to give any information they might think important to the local inspectors as to the collection of the rent ;-to make monthly reports as to the numbers of freeholders registered and unregistered, with their political bias, &c. ;-of the state of education in their parishes; as to any grievances; and as to the state of the parish in relation to tithes, parish cess, and county rates. The committee also strongly recommended to all persons connected with the collection of the rent, to prevent, as far as they could, the existence of White Boy disturbances, secret societies, illegal caths, and party feuds; and “to promote peaceable and moral conduct, and universal charity and benevolence, among all classes."

The Catholic Association, established on so wide a popular basis, brought other elements within its sweep. Some of the

« PreviousContinue »