« PreviousContinue »
I will be ready with a tale in three volumes by Christmas, and I propose you should be prepared for the next trial. For my tale I will visit every necessary spot in the north and south. Derry, Lough Neagh-thence to the Boyne, and then to Limerick. I have christened the tale before its birth. It is to be called The Boyne Water.' I have sent you all the criticisms-in no case have we got a drubbing. We have yet to undergo the scrutiny of the monthly and quarterly periodicals. This I can tell you to inspirit you-the good Belles Lettres critic of the Quarterly has read our volumes and has deigned to praise them in high quarters.
Man alive, hold up your head and have courage."
A few days after the date of this letter, John Banim sailed for Ireland, and reaching Dublin safely, he at once set out for Belfast. His occupations in the North were thus described, in a letter to Michael:
"Coleraine, May 28, 1825.
My dear Michael,
Lest you should be uneasy at my staying longer than I proposed, I write to say I am well, and have only been delayed by the uninterrupted interest of my route from Belfast. I walked a great part of the way along the coast to this town: having forwarded all my baggage, trusting to him who feeds the sparrow and the raven for a meal and a bed. My adventures have been considerable in the way of living alone. I sometimes slept in a sheebeen house, sometimes in a farmer's house, and sometimes in a good inn; and only I thought myself too ill-dressed a fellow, I might have shared the hospitality of a certain lady of high rank.
But what scenery have I beheld-grand, exquisite: the Causeway, from which I have just returned the best part of it. You may look out for me towards the end of the next week. One thing is certain-I will meet a hearty welcome at the old house where I first saw the light."
Back to "the old house," and to his mother came "her own graw bawn," with love as warm and heart as true as in the past-by days of childhood, when he stole from his playmates to watch over her safety, fearing that "Farrell the Robber" might carry her away. And here, the student of
literary biography will, doubtless, observe how beautifully this man's nature shines, unchilled by adversity and pain, unspoiled-so unspoiled-by success, and by the golden hopes of the brighter future.
One can fancy this deep-hearted man returned to "the old house" where he "first saw light," and where he had known such joys and sorrows, such real cares and such cloud-land visions as, happily, few men experience in their darker phases: Joanna and Michael rush forth to greet him, and the more sober, but not less intense joy of the father and mother need no word-painting. It must have been the realization of a dream vision, one of those glimpses of paradise, fading as the morning arises, and leaving but a regretful memory of joys never to return again.
Thinking thus, we addressed Michael Banim, and added,— "tell us how you all received John when he came to you from his northern tour;" and Michael answered us-" You may be sure the absentee received a hearty welcome in the old house. On a Sunday evening he came amongst us, the evening of all others we could best enjoy ourselves. There was the family board, with something more choice, even than the usual Sunday fare, to mark the event. The well known faces were all around it once more. No one absent. There was the new comer, in the identical chair, and on the same spot, he used to occupy. There was the dinner prolonged unreasonably, by questions and answers, interruptive of mastication. When the table was at length cleared, there was the jerking of chairs into as close contact as possible. And there was the cheerful glass, in which to hob nob with the restored struggler. Truth to tell, I fear that three of the circle, the old man, and his two sons, dipped somewhat deeper than discretion or respect for the Sabbath evening warranted.
This meeting of kindred after separation, bore likeness to a gushing fountain, one of whose channels had been interrupted; the others insufficient to carry off the waters; the temporary obstacle removed, the whole affluence came forth babbling and sparkling in the sunshine. There was no cloud that we could see, on that Sunday evening, over us. There was frequent laughter, ringing out, and without rhyme or reason. There was a tautology of endearing epithets. There was the voluble enjoyment that marked a jubilee.”
Banim did not continue long in "the old house;" and
early in July he was back once more in London at his desk, engaged in that ceaseless round of work; truly "Twilight saw him at his folios, Morning saw his fingers run, Labouring ever, Weary never,
Of the task he had begun."
His visit to Kilkenny had not been entirely one of pleasure. He had planned, with Michael, the outlines of future novels, plays and poems. He had now no doubts or fears, and the great prizes of genius, that is, such prizes as England gives, golden wreaths, were all, he fancied, within his grasp, to be secured by industry. Within three years he had made, for himself, a reputation by honorable, but unflinching work; and he looked upon it but as the stepping place, the mound which should be raised before his hopes could blossom in complete fruition.
"Time, the subtile thief of youth,"
had never yet affrighted him; the past was but a dead past; all life, and the bliss of prosperity were in the future-and that life and bliss were to be wrought out of the life and labor of the present.
A few days after his return to London, he wrote thus to Michael:
London, July 16, 1825.
My dear Michael,
I am stripped to the shirt sleeves the weather is so hot, not scampering abroad, but in my oven-like study, plying the skreeking pen, might and main, for it is a terrible atmosphere here: the glass up to fever heat, and, except the rabid, who appear now and then, not a canine frequenter of the streets visible. The race of dogs seemeth extinct."
Whilst "plying the skreeking pen, might and main," he learned from Mrs. Banim that she was now sufficiently restored to health to bear the atmosphere of England; and, accordingly on the 24th of August he set out for France, and returned with her to his new home in Mount-street; and Gerald Griffin succeeded him in the occupation of the old lodgings in Brompton Grove.
All his unoccupied time was now devoted to the completion of The Boyne Water. Gerald Griffin visited him frequently, and was fully acquainted with all the details of the
work. He wrote to his brother, William, "Banim has been all over the north of Ireland, and has brought here the world and all of materials for his new novel. He has spent an immense deal of labour and study in acquiring a perfect knowledge of all the historical records of the period, and procured a great deal of original information, and other matters, during his ramble." In weaving these materials, so gathered, into his novel, Banim seemed to forget even the friends in "the old house," and Michael wrote anxiously to Mrs. Banim, requesting that she would correspond with him, as John seemed lost to all honesty in paying epistolary debts. Mrs. Banim's reply was as follows, and it reminds one of Dora Copperfield's experiences of the "pursuits of literature."
"London, September 30th, 1825.
John is so much occupied at present, that I scarcely ever see his face from nine o'clock in the morning to six in the evening-when, after rapping for some time at the ceiling, for he works over head, I go up to his door, put on the most hungry face I can, and complain of my starving state: then only can I get him to come down.-When he issues forth, he is the true picture of stupidity. He has himself denied to all visitors, since our arrival from France, and the whole, long, long day, he is shut up, with his plaguy Water.'"
Nearly a month after the date of this letter, Michael received the following from John, and in it we perceive the first indication of doubt as to the politics of The Boyne Water:
"London, October 25th, 1825.
My dear Michael,
You have made me shake and shiver, by bringing before my eyes the ticklish ground on which I stand, with respect to the present novel and you have almost driven me to despair, by telling me to look for increased reputation-orI almost give up the hope of realizing the wishes you have formed, of what I ought to produce. No writer can pronounce on his own realization of his conceptions. Unfortunately we often value a production according to the pains and care we bestow on it-hence we are indifferent judges of ourselves-I have good materials, if I can but use them
to advantage. Your notes on Limerick and the contiguous country, have gone beyond my expectation-I return you my thanks for all you have done. Apart from the matter I wanted, your memoranda are rich, and suggestive to me of a continuance of such things by both of us conjointly, to be followed, some time or other, by the publication of Walks Through Ireland, By the O'Hara Family."
At length, as the novel advanced towards completion, he seems to have become still more nervous on the subject of its probable success. Michael had warned him that in adopting the political tone so strongly coloring the tale, he was endangering its popularity with a large section of readers and truly it was most dangerous ground. Gerald Griffin, however, did not participate in, or encourage these fears-but then he never feared any thing; his soul was like a lark, always soaring. He wrote to his brother, William, thus:-"I dined with Banim last week, and found him far gone in a new novel, now just finished, The Boyne Water,' (good name?) which is far superior, in my humble judgment, to the O'Hara Family:" that he spoke to Banim as he wrote to his brother, there can be little doubt,and John seems to have regained his self-reliance, and to have taken to himself the counsel he had offered to Michael, when he wrote-" Man a live, hold up your head and have courage."
The following letter, written a few days after that last inserted, is very interesting: the anxiety that Michael should correct freely; the humble confidence in his brother's judgment; the holy spirit of belief, from which, however much, in one point, a worshipper of another creed might dissent, yet none can refuse to admire in the man,-all render this letter worthy of the true-hearted writer :
"London, November 6th, 1825.
My dear Michael,
With this you will receive the first vol. of The Boyne Water.' I expect to go to press in a month from this day, so read it immediately and return it, as promptly as you can.
Be very candid in your remarks, because I ought to be made to know myself: and don't, you at least, through a false delicacy, let me lead myself astray-every man's vanity blinds himself, to himself, of himself.
This morning (Sunday) going to early Mass to accompany Ellen to Communion, I was delighted with the fair and beautiful