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FROM THE MONTHLY REVIEW.
Sketches of History, Politics, and Manners, taken in Dublin and the North of Ireland, in the Autumn of 1810. 8vo. 294. pp. 8s. Boards. Cradock & Joy. 1811.
OUR countrymen are, in general, so much less acquainted with Ireland than with the rest of the empire, that the production of a tourist who professes to enlighten them on its politics and manners' appears entitled to early attention. The obstacles to travelling on the continent, however deeply to be regretted on other accounts, have at least the advantage of inducing us to become more accurately acquainted with our own island; and though Scotland affords occupation to the greater proportion of our wanderers, the number of those who visit Ireland seems likewise to be on the increase. That the diffusion of accurate information regarding our sister isle, is most ardently to be desired, must be apparent to all who have observed the errors which prevail in respect to that country, in those assemblies on whose legislative acts it suffering or its well-being so materially depend; as long, therefore, as we are thus circumstanced, it is incumbent on us to receive information from the report even of second-rate travellers, and to affix a value on the book which exhibits a candid exposition of facts, though hastily put together, and seldom indicative of profundity of research.
The author of the present work represents himself as leaving London under the pressure of sickness, in hopes of finding relief from pain in distant and rural scenes. He has concealed his name: but he appears to have been born in the North of Ireland, to have studied medicine at Edinburgh, to have served some time in a medical capacity in the army, and to have re-visited his native country after an absence of several years. Liverpool being the place chosen by him to embark for Dublin, and a contrary wind having detained him there some time, his readers are favoured with a communication of his opinion of that bustling sea-port. Whether it was owing to the vexatious circumstance of detention, or to his habitual dislike of the scenes of maritime occupation, he discovers a much smaller share of good humour on this occasion than during the sequel of his journey. He terms Liverpool, very unjustly in our opinion, little better than a 'respectable Wapping or Rotherhithe;' and he goes the length of asserting that the smell of tar assails the passenger in Castlestreet and the squares, as well as in the docks.' Admitting that the part of the town adjoining the water is confined and irregular, and that the want of an original plan is too often apparent, it was
incumbent on him to have paid a warmer compliment to the appearance of the new streets to the eastward; and to have acknowledged the advantages, both for health and beauty of prospect, of the extent of rising ground on which a future city may be expect ed to stand. He omits, likewise, to take notice of the elegance and magnitude of the public rooms for the purposes of business, of literary recreation, and of civic meetings; accommodations in which Liverpool is second to no city in the kingdom.-The wind having at last become fair, the vessel in which he embarked passed quickly along the rocky and dangerous coast from Liverpool to Holyhead, and landed the passengers on Irish ground, in the space of twenty-six hours. Having been a sufferer from sea-sickness, the author appears anxious to contribute towards diminishing the inconvenience of it to others. He advises the novice in sailing to keep, as long as it is in his power, on deck; and, when compelled to quit it, to stretch himself as much at length as possible, with his head low and firmly pressed to the pillow, endeavouring to lose all motion of his own and to accommodate himself to that of the ship.'
After an account of the landing, and the conveyance of the passengers in the long-coach to Dublin, the traveller enters on a description of the city; which, as it is free from the fantastic effusions scattered through the greater part of the book, will afford a favourable specimen of his composition:
"There is something inexpressibly graceful in the appearance of this town to a stranger; he is forcibly struck with the strong likeness it bears to London, of which it is a beautiful copy-far more beautiful in miniature, than the gigantic original-like a watch set in a ring, it charms with its fairy distinctness, its light and airy construction: the streets are wide and commodious, the houses uniform, lofty and elegant: Sackville street is a noble avenue, a hundred and twenty feet wide, terminated by the rotunda, and public gardens-nor do I know any square in London, that equals Merrion Square for beauty and uniformity of appearance: the river is open to the view, in the whole of its course through the city, and the quays, when properly embanked, will form a walk superior, perhaps, to any thing of the kind in the universe. The Liffy, however, is but an inconsiderable stream, and only remarkable for having the metropolis seated on its banks.
"Notwithstanding its antiquity, Dublin has few ancient edifices, either public or private; the massy labours of our fathers having given place to the lighter works of their sons: the houses have almost all the appearance of being built within the last century, and even the churches, with the exception of Christ Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral, are of modern construction. The castle of Dublin, nominally an ancient, is in reality a modern building; it was formerly moated and flanked with towers, but the ditch has been long since filled up, and the old buildings rased: the chapel and wardrobe tower excepted, which still remain.
"Though Dublin Castle is pretty, and even magnificent in some of its parts, it is deficient as a whole; it has no uniformity of plan, and as it is so scattered that the eye can take little of it in at once, it has no dignity of appearance-it bears too evident marks of the various repairs it has undergone, and like Sir John Cutler's worsted stockings; so often darned with black silk that they changed their original nature, it has lost all traces of its venerable origin, in the grotesque embellishments of modern art.-The College Library, which I saw for the first time to day, struck me, as I think it must every stranger, with its superb and lofty magnificence. It is built of hewn stone, with an elegant Corinthian entablature, crowned with a ballustrade and ornamented windows, and consists of an extensive centre and two advanced pavillions. In the western pavillion are the librarian's apartments, and the grand stair-case, from which, by folding doors, you enter the Library, by much the finest room in the three kingdoms, appropriated to such a purpose: the galleries are adorned with the busts of many illustrious writers and literary characters, executed in white marble, by the ablest masters; and on the shelves are to be found an admirable collection of the best writers on every subject, in number exceeding forty-six thousand volumes, which is also daily increasing."
In the course of his perambulations through Dublin, the author represents himself as accidentally meeting with Mr. Curran, of whom he speaks with little favour, in regard either to the moral or the physique. Of Mr. Grattan, whom he is next said (p. 34,) to observe in the street, he gives a very different report, pronouncing him to be a steady and inflexible patriot; who, regardless of ephemeral and evanescent popularity, has held, during a period of thirty years, "the even tenour of his way." Although the eulogy on Mr. Grattan's oratory, which follows this cordial testimony to his loyalty, is somewhat highly coloured, it contains an admission that he is neither a fluent nor a frequent debater on the common business and details of parliament. It is on a grand question of justice or morality,-a question involving the happiness of the present and of succeeding generations,—that the powers of Mr. Grattan become conspicuous, and display with effect that capacity of generalizing which is possessed by so few of his brother members. The author is evidently an Anti-Pittite, and by no means satisfied with the course of policy observed, either in the present or in former ages, by England towards her sister kingdom: but he approves of the Union, and ridicules the gloomy predictions of those who alleged that it would tend to the depopulation of Dublin.
Having traversed the interior of the Irish metropolis, the traveller availed himself of the opportunity afforded by Palmerston fair, for observing the amusements of the lower orders belonging to Dublin and its neighbourhood. Tired of the jingling of the wheel-cars along the streets, he proceeded to the scene of enter
tainment by the Phoenix park. In his way, he passed the barracks, which are esteemed the largest and most commodious in Europe, consisting of four squares, situated at the west end of the town, on the north side of the river. On the occasion of so numerous and so miscellaneous an assemblage as the fair collected, he could hardly fail to experience considerable annoyance from the beggars who were seated in crowds along the road-side :
"The address of an Irish beggar is much more poetical and animated than that of an English one; his phraseology is as peculiar as the recitative in which it is delivered: he conjures you, for the love and honour of God, to throw something to the poor famished sinner, -by your father and mother's soul, to cast an eye of pity on his sufferings;-he is equally liberal in his good wishes, whether you give him any thing or not; "may you live a hundred years, may you pass unhurt through fire and water, may the gates of Paradise be ever open to receive you;" are common modes of expression, which he utters with a volubility that is inconceivable.-The men and women at the fair in general were decently dressed; the women in stuff and flowered cotton gowns, with ribbands and mob caps: They almost universally wore white thread stockings: when a poor Irish woman wears shoes and stockings, she is always dressed; worsted ones, therefore, are seldom used. The men wore coarse coats of a blue or brown colour; several danced in great coats of gray cloth or frize; though the wea ther was unusually warm, they did not seem inconvenienced either by them or the exercise they were taking. The lower Irish are spare and thin-they are generally dark complexioned, with black hair, and often with thick bushy eye-brows; this gives an expression of countenance very different from that of an English peasant.-There is an air of vivacity and restlessness, of intelligence, and, perhaps, of mischief in the former, totally unlike the fat, contented ignorance of the latter-though not more so than his harsh and disagreeable tones in speaking, to the soft and musical ones of a London accent. We staid about an hour longer, and then went away-the scene which pleased at first by its novelty, lost all its charms along with it; we were kindly pressed to stay dinner by the good lady of the tent where we were sitting-" We should have a hot loin of mutton (she said,) with a cut of salmon, and a rice pudding along with it, in half an hour."-I was anxious to see the kitchen from whence the roast mutton and rice pudding were to issue;-it was a large hole made in the ground, directly behind the tent-there was a blazing turf fire large enough to roast an ox, covered with pots, and several spits before it-I am assured, had we stayed, we should have got an excellent dinner; but as there is often in the evening a course of fighting, the dessert might not have been so agreeable.-The custom of fighting, however, is not near so universal as it was-it is now pretty much confined to single combats with the fist, and does not, as formerly, involve the whole field in a general battle with Shillalahs, made of their native oak:
which, in an Irishman's hand, is not a very gentle weapon, and has no pretensions to one property of a joke-namely breaking no bones."
Though the author visited Dublin in the month of August, when, as in London, all who aspire to the character of persons of condition, make it a rule to be out of town, he is at no loss to form a decided opinion on the state of society in the Irish metropolis. The absence of the nobility from Dublin he attributes to their want of independent feeling, and to their leaning for support on ministerial favour. The men of landed property, likewise appear to consider that their consequence could not be kept up without annual visits to London, Bath, or Cheltenham, and seldom condescend to come among their tenants except for the purpose of raising their rents :-but if the great are personally absent from Dublin, the imitation of their manners remains, and is kept up with no slight degree of emulation by those of inferior rank. The traders give dinners and routs, which may bear comparison with those of the great, in point of splendour as well as in ease of manner; the universal prevalence of good-breeding in Dublin being one of its most conspicuous advantages. It is mixed, however, in the author's opinion, with a tolerable portion of vanity; the usages of this metropolis making it necessary to give dinners at an expense which is often inconsistent with the fortune of the entertainer. This hospitality is, therefore, something like a holiday suit, and is displayed only on state-occasions. The price of it is paid by an habitual retrenchment in private; so that the greatest dread of persons living in this manner is that of being taken unawares at a humble family-meal.-In the absence of the nobility and country-gentlemen, the lead in Dublin-society is taken by the learned professions, particularly by the lawyers; the extent of whose eventual elevation confers a consequence which is unknown in the medical and even in the clerical line. The passage in which the eloquence of the Irish bar is characterized appears to us one of the best in this part of the book :
"The style of the Irish bar is different from the English-it is less solemn and decorous, but more lively and animated, more glowing and figurative, more witty and sarcastic-it reasons less, it instructs less, it convinces less, but it amuses more; it is more ornamented, more dramatic; it rises to the sublime, it sinks to the humourous, it attempts the pathetic-but in all this there is too much the tricks of a juggler. I don't say that an Irish advocate thinks less of his client than an English one, but he appears to think less; he appears to think most of himself-of his own reputation, of the approbation of his brethren, the applause of the spectators, and the admiration of the Court. I dare say I should be most gratified by specimens of eloquence taken at the Irish bar, but was either my life or fortune at stake, I should like to be defended at an-English one."