Page images
PDF
EPUB

sight of a crowd of other communicants, of every rank and age, clustering to the Sanctuary. Some old Chelsea pensioners were there. The lame, the blind, and the tottering and there were boys and girls of very tender age, mixed with these infirm old men. Leaning down to minister the bread of comfort and of life, to those stumblers on the grave's brink, and those young adventurers on a world of temptation, was a most reverend looking priest-with long white hairs, who to my knowledge, is one of the most zealous, virtuous, simple-minded men alive. My dear Michael, as I looked on, the recollection of our first communion together side by side, and of the devotion and holy awe that filled my heart at the time; and the remembrance of our aged and benevolent parish priest bending down to us with sacrament in his fingers, came refreshingly to me, like the draught from a pure spring; and a long train of innocent days and blissful times, passed before me-with my thoughts recurrent to boyhood."

The Boyne Water was commenced in July, 1825, and at Christmas of that year the three volumes were in the hands of the printer; and early in the year 1826 it was before the critics, who gave it a very severe and rough reception; their criticisms, however, were directed against its politics rather than its literary merit, or its structure of plot and scene.

It was published as a fiction" By The O'Hara Family," but, writes Michael Banim to us,-"With the exception of examining the locality of the Siege of Limerick, (the siege of the violated treaty as it is called,) and the tracing of Sarsfield's route from the beleaguered city, to the spot where he surprised and destroyed the reinforcement of cannon on its way from Kilkenny-I had no direct concern in this tale. It passed through my hands during its progress, and I pruned, and added, and corrected ad libitum."

Roughly, however, as the critics used this book, the reading public were its very warm admirers, but, better than all, to one who wanted money, Colburn offered a very large sum for the next tale by "The O'Hara Family;" and John closing with the proposal commenced to write his novel, The Nowlans.

The northern tour of John Banim was but part of that extended one required to be undertaken and completed, before the entire scenery of the localities introduced in The Boyne Water could be described from actual observation. Time, however, did not permit him to traverse this route himself,

and Michael was enlisted as the note-taker of the southern districts. From the notes so taken the descriptions of Limerick, and the surrounding country,in The Boyne Water, were written.

Michael's tour, however, was remarkable, as an adventure, occurring in its progress, suggested to John the powerfully written, but painful novel, The Nowlans. Michael Banim has, with his usual kindness, written for us the following account of this incident to which we have referred, and it will be observed that John, with consummate ability, wrought out the idea suggested by Michael:

"While pursuing the track of Sarsfield on his route to intercept the reinforcements destined to strengthen the besiegers. of Limerick, I journeyed on foot, through the Slieve Bloom Mountains, tracing my way principally by the traditionary information given by the people. I kept an itinerary as I went along, referable, not only to the purpose of my journey, but descriptive also of the peculiar and impressive scenery around me; and of the existing characteristics of a little known, but, as they appear to me, a very fine people.

My adventures during this excursion were not without interest; and, after it had been ascertained satisfactorily that I was not a guager, coming to spy after potteen sellers and potteen stills, I found courtesy and kindness, and disinterested assistance, all through the mountain range.

[ocr errors]

It was my fate to seek shelter for the night at the house of a farmer named Daniel Kennedy. His warm and comfortable dwelling was in a mountain hollow, known as Fail Dhuiv, or the Black Glen. The peculiarities of this out of the way homestead, the appearance of the dwellers therein, and the details of the unostentatiously hospitable reception given to me, were faithfully reported in my note-book. Extracted thence, almost word for word, my veritable account forms the introduction to the tale of The Nowlans.' There was a sick son on the night of my visit occupying the stranger's bedroom, about whom the good woman of the house and her daughters appeared to be most anxious. I could not, for this reason, be accommodated in the apartment usually reserved for guests, and my bed was made up on the kitchen table. The homemade sheets and blankets white as snow, and redolent of the sweet mountain breeze in which they had been bleached, were most inviting to a weary pedestrian, as I was; and I slept. luxuriously that night on the kitchen table, under the roof of Daniel Kennedy of Fail Dhuiv.

The circumstance of the sick son, who, I could learn, had been away, and who, in his illness, had come home to seek the ministry of his affectionate kindred, gave the idea, and no more than the idea, of John Nowlan the hero of the new tale."*

Whilst John was engaged upon The Nowlans, Michael paid him a long promised visit in London, in the summer of 1826; and then it appeared that John had, in his letters, detailed only the good and cheering facts connected with his life, and had but too well concealed the slow, but certain progress of his malady. Though only in his twenty-eighth, he seemed, at the least in his fortieth year; his hair was grizzled; his face was wrinkled; his limbs were so weak that Michael feared, lest he should fall in the streets as they walked together; and then, during

The broad humor of the following passage from Michael's introductory letter to "The Nowlans," we have always considered quite worthy of Smollett or Fielding. "Abel O'Hara" has been drenched by a heavy shower in the mountains, and returning to Nowlan's house finds that

"All the family stood at the threshold to receive me; exclamations of condolence came from every tongue; and, almost by main force, the old woman, her daughters, and the robust maid-servant, forced me off to a bedchamber, where I was commanded to doff every tack upon me, and cover myself up in a neat little bed, until every tack should be well dried. In vain I remonstrated: Mrs. Nowlan and her handmaid whisked off my coat and vest, even while I spoke; the latter, squatting herself on her haunches, then attacked my shoes and stockings; Peggy appropriated my cravat; and I began to entertain some real alarm as to the eventual result of their proceedings, when away they went in a body, each laden with a spoil, and all renewing their commands that I should instantly peel off my Russia-ducks and my inner garment, drop them at the bedside, and then retiring between the sheets, call out to have them removed.

I did even as I was bid; and when properly disposed to give the appointed signal, Cauth Flannigan, the maid of all-work, speedily attended to it, re-entering with something on her arm, from which her eye occasionally wandered to my half-seen face, in a struggle, as I thought, and I believe I was not wrong in my reading, between most provoking merriment, and a decent composure of countenance; 'The misthess sent this shirt, Sir-only it isn't a shirt, entirely, bud one belongin' to the misthess, becase it's the washin' week, an' the sickness in the place, an' all, an' the misthess couldn't make off a betther at a pinch and, laying it on the edge of the bed, Cauth strove to hide her giggle and her blushes by stooping to take up the last of my drenched garments. When she had again retired with them, I examined the nicely-folded article she had left with me, and, truly, it was not a shirt entirely-but-what shall I call it, Barnes?-a female shirt, haply; the personal property, as Cauth would have it, of Mrs. Nowlan; yet, from the earnestness with which that zealous Abigail strove to impress the fact upon me, as also from the hasty erasure of an initial, near its upper edge, I had my own doubts, while I put it on, concerning the identity of its owner."-See "The Nowlans," Vol. I. p. 24. Ed. 1827.

Michael's visit, he was witness of one of his brother's paroxysms of pain, and though he had seen, had even been as his nurse during his first illness, after the death of Anne D' yet this attack, though but of a few hours' continuance, frightened him by its violence, although when it passed away, John was gay and hopeful as ever.

Whilst thus working and suffering he once more, through his anxiety to serve Gerald Griffin became estranged from him. It would appear that Banim had induced him to write an operatic piece for the English Opera House, which Arnold accepted through Banim's recommendation, agreeing to give £50 for it, and Gerald wrote to his brother, "Much as I had known of Banim's kindness, I hardly looked for this great promptitude." This piece was entitled The Noyades; but though Griffin received every encouragement to write on from Arnold, yet fearing lest it might be supposed that Banim was in any way his patron, for he had, as his brother states, "an almost morbid horror of patronage," he sent two other pieces under the nom de plume, G. Joseph, to the Manager. He had quite sufficient influence with the latter to secure a favourable reception for his pieces; as, by his essays on the Italian and English Operas, published in The Town, and in which he had endeavoured to excite a taste for purely English music, and characteristic English recitative, he had gained very considerable reputation. The facts of this misunderstanding, within the scope of this portion of Banini's LifeHistory, are thus related by Gerald Griffin's biographer :

"Gerald though fully sensible of Mr. Banim's kindness, and friendly solicitude about him, could not by any effort wholly divest himself of the instinctive reluctance he felt, to place himself under deep obligations to one upon whose good nature he had no other claim, than his own difficulties; and his friend conscious of this feeling, was perhaps too observant of the least expression which betrayed it. The consequence was as soon as an opportunity of rendering Gerald a service occurred-some unhappy misconception on both sides. After the former misunderstanding, Mr. Banim far from losing interest in Gerald's welfare, sought anxiously to render him services in the only manner he saw they would be accepted, by procuring him a market for his labours. Aware of his dramatic talent, he was continually urging him to write for the theatres, and especially for the English Opera House, where from his own intimacy with Mr. Arnold, he was sure any recommendation of his would meet with attention. He at last obtained a piece from Gerald, to be presented at the English Opera House, out of which some time after arose the following correspondence.

Thursday, August 18th, 1826.

MY DEAR SIR,-Yesterday, I handed your piece to Mr. Arnold. He read it instantly, and agreed with me in thinking it one of a high order. Here and there however, I suspect you will have to cut and alter-and perhaps your songs must be re-written, and appear with less poetry, and more set-ableness about them. I conclude that your little drama will be produced this season, and some day soon I'm to have the pleasure of introducing you to Mr. Arnold, who thinks very highly of your dramatic power, I assure you, and whom you will find possessed of all the technical acquirements calculated to mature My dear Sir, faithfully yours, JOHN BANIM.

it.

Thursday Evening, August, 1826.

MY DEAR SIR,-I shall be obliged to go into the city to-morrow, so that I must take this opportunity of mentioning, that I have just seen Mr. Arnold. I gave him the piece with the alterations, of which you spoke to me, and he said he would read it again, and supposed he should have the pleasure of seeing you in a day or two. Talking of money matters-for he spoke of the mode of payment, though he said nothing decisive.-I'm such a stupid awkward fool, that I could scarcely understand the business properly; but I thought there appeared to be some feeling on his part,,of unwillingness to incur risk, or some such thing. If this was at all the case, I certainly should not take any remuneration, previous to its being produced. My feeling on the subject, is a great deal that of indifference, but if the piece were found profitable to the theatre, I should by no means be content that it should be otherwise to meand that is all I feel about it. I should be perfectly satisfied to let the piece be played, and let Mr. Arnold calculate its worth by its success. I trouble you with this, my dear Sir, in the hope that you may make use of it, as far as you think proper, in case Mr. Arnold should speak to you on the matter as he said he would. A far greater object than any payment in specie to me would be the being enabled to take my trial soon. How can I apologize to you for all I am, my dear Sir, yours sincerely, GERALD GRIFFIN.

this?

It is evident that the feeling of indifference' which Gerald expresses in this letter, related entirely to the mode of payment, as to whether it should be absolute and unconditional, or dependent upon the success of the piece. Mr, Banim, however, seems unfortunately to have formed some misconception of the expression, as appears by the following letter.

Tuesday Morning, August 23rd, 1826.

MY DEAR SIR,-Yesterday, after calling another day without seeing him, Mr. Arnold spoke to me finally about your piece. He is well disposed towards it, and if you permit will act it. I could see none of the indecisiveness you mentioned in your last, nor did he say a word that could make me believe he thought he ran any risk in the matter. Perhaps you mistook him in your interview. He

« PreviousContinue »