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LETTERS TO A FRIEND.
We have found out a sweet retreat for the summer season, in shade and solitude, on the banks of the Boyne, which sends out a beautiful stream to supply a lake in front of our cottage. We have bow-windows to the ground, from whence the view is enchanting : I greatly enjoy the quiet scenery, unruffled water, rich foliage of trees standing alone in unrivalled luxuriance, and the deeper green of the more distant woods. We have sloping hills and rocks and rivers-every thing, in short, which can give beauty and brightness to the landscape, each feature of which you must arrange according to your own fertile imagination. Minute description is not my forte: I can never satisfy myself in any attempt to pourtray the eloquently-speaking combination of hills and dales-rippling rivers, rocks and mountains, &c. My sensations are unutterable, while I sit silently contemplating the wonders by which I am rounded. In all this phenomena of nature I am taught to view the God of nature-none but a power supreme could have planned it; none but a hand divine could have formed it, and none but Almighty, everliving and overflowing Beneficence could dispense such innumerable blessings.
One object, the most delightful of all, I must not
omit—the lofty spire of the church pointing upwards, as if it would lead the thoughts to pierce through the clear canopy of heaven to the more magnificent brightness round about the throne of God.
Beyond the broad expanse of water, on a sloping eminence, stands the holy edifice, surrounded by the umbrageous foliage of well-grown trees. I love to see the temple dedicated to His praise who gives us “all things richly to enjoy.” “ Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me.” It is a cold, insensible heart indeed which continued and universal benevolence cannot warm.
“Thou crownest the year with thy goodness, and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness; and the little hills rejoice on every side : the pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn: they shout for joy, they also sing.” “It is a joyful and pleasant thing to be thankful.” The Lord takes pleasure in the prosperity of his saints. It is his will and wish that we should rejoice in the works of his hands : it can bring no harm to the soul to indulge in such reveries as they produce. I sit silently watching the stately swans, with head erect and round white bosom, sailing along the smooth surface, in proud superiority over the lesser denizens of the lake. The pretty, timid water hens, and the wild dacks which float for a moment, and again dip into their hiding-places amid the rushy margin ; or, if unalarmed, they bask in the beams of the sunshine, where the trout springs upon its prey, and the wants of all are liberally provided for. No sportsman is here permitted to level his piece, nor fisherman to spread his net, that the harmless te
nantry of the wood and water may revel out their little span in unmolested enjoyment.
In this peaceful retirement, where my time is neither occupied with household affairs, nor broken in upon by visitors, I hope to comply with my dear Emily's oft-repeated request, that I would search into Irish history, and let her have the fruits of my industry for the benefit of those dear children whose instruction is her first object in life.
You have neither time nor patience, you say, to wade through the dry volumes which you have met with, and which are very unsatisfactory, inasmuch as they are mingled with fabulous legends. You wish to have a separation made between truth and fable, that the ardent desire of your children to learn the early history of their native isle may be satisfied. The task is difficult, from the reason you assign, namely, the mystery and fable which must involve every attempt of the kind.
But is Ireland the only exception? In all which concerns the earliest history of the different nations what records are to be found, save those of holy writ, which bear the impress of truth? Very few indeed that can be depended upon : then let us be as indulgent to our own ancient records as we are to those of other countries.
In my account of Ireland, I shall glean from different histories such particulars as may instruct and amuse your children, without entering into details which I find impossible to connect.
In all which concerns the first introduction of Christianity, I shall chiefly confine myself to the accounts of Mr. Anderson and Henry Monck Mason, Esq., men of truth and candour, who may be relied on for
admitting nothing in their details which will not bear the strictest investigation.
Most of the old Irish books and manuscripts were destroyed by the incursions and devastations of different hordes of enemies; yet many were rescued, and some have even been found in Ireland; from whence, it is said, were derived the chief materials of Irish history. It is well ascertained that in the seventh and eighth centuries there were Irish missionaries in Ireland.
• Before Ireland was inhabited by the Norwegians, there were men whom the Norwegians called Papas, and who professed the Christian religion, and are thougbt to have come by sea from the west; for there were left by them Irish books, bells, and crooked staves, and several other things were found which seemed to indicate that they were west-men.' 1
In the fifth century of the Christian era Ireland was indisputably the most celebrated country in the western world for civilization and learning. At this period the western and southern parts of the Roman empire being overrun by the Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks, and other barbarians, partly German, partly Scythic, all kinds of learning, wherever they came, they destroyed; for which reason many of those who loved learning, and retirement from the noise and din of arms, took refuge in Ireland, a country which it was well known had never been under the Roman yoke, and therefore the barbarians made no attempt upon it. Ireland then stood alone, the seminary of literature, when all the western world had grown illiterate, barbarous, and rude. As the venerable
1 Antiquitat. Scando-Celt.' –See Moore's History of Ireland, vol. ii. p. 3.
Bede has left on record, the Saxons flowed over to Ireland as to the mart of good literature; and it was a common expression, when any one went there, • He is gone to Ireland to be bred : 'as is this distich in the life of Fulgentius ;
• Exemplo patrum commotas amore legendi,
All the Irish Chronicles tell us of four great universities in Ireland-Ardmagha, Cashil, DundeeCathghlas, and Lismore.
Both by Camden and Spencer it is asserted, that in Ireland the ancient Saxons or English first learned the art of forming letters in writing.
But if the Irish were celebrated for learning from the year of our Lord 432 until the year 820, when the heathen Danes and Norwegians first made inroads, much more ought their sanctity to be celebrated and admired. Tbe many who devoted themselves to a religious life is almost beyond credibility.
St. Bernard, in his life of Malachias, relates that Ireland sent forth whole swarms of saints into other parts of the world.
Eric of Auxerre writeth thus to the emperor Charles the Bald : 'What shall I speak of Ireland, which, setting by the dangers of the sea, flitteth all of it well nigh with whole flocks of philosophers unto our shores? Of whom so many as are more skilful and learned than the rest, do voluntarily banish themselves to attend dutifully on the wise Solomon, and be at his command.'
The learned and ingenious antiquary Camden, in speaking of the Irisb, says: This monastic profession was far different in those days from that of our