Augustine Birrell (1850-1933)

[K.C.]; ed. Cambridge; Quain Professor of Law, London, 1896; issued Obiter Dicta (1884) containing light essays on Browning, Cellini, Carlyle, Falstaff, et al.; life of Charlotte Brontë (1887); MP West Fife and other constituencies; Chief Sec. for Ireland 1907-16; established National University of Ireland and Queen’s University, Belfast, by Irish Universities Act, 1908;
also Land Purchase Act, 1909; considered good natured but indolent; advised by John Redmond; unprepared for Rising of 1916, and was on holiday in Britain when it occurred; his advice as to the ill-advisedness of martial law in the wake of the Rising overlooked; resigned directly after; known as witty writer; quit politics in 1918; called ‘amiable and inefficient’ by D. D. Sheehan (Ireland Since Parnell, 1921). ODNB KUN DIH OCEL FDA OCIL

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Obiter Dicta
(1906 & eds.); More Obiter dicta (1924); A Rogue’s Memoirs, &c. [Three essays, extracted from Obiter Dicta. (London: A. L. Humphreys 1912), vii, 83pp., 16o.; The Collected Essays and Addresses of the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, 1880-1920 (London 1922).

Bibl. details
More Obiter dicta (London: W. Heinemann 1924), viii, 212pp. [incls. Preface; Anti-humbug; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Cardinal Newman; Miss Ferrier; “Elementary Jane ...”, et al.]

Also, Numerous lives incl. John Wesley, and editions of the English poets; edns. of Boswell’s Dr. Johnson; edn. of R. B. Sheridan, The rivals (1896, 1908); papers on points of law. [See COPAC, infra.]

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Leon Ó Broin, The Chief Secretary: Augustine Birrell in Ireland (London: Chatto & Windus 1969), viii, 232pp., ill., 12 pls.; see also Bence-Jones, Twilight of the Ascendancy [account of his personality and gifts].

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Oscar Wilde
: Wilde cites Augustine Birrell in “The Critic as Artist” where he writes: ‘People sometimes say that actors give us their own Hamlets, and not Shakespeare’s; and this fallacy - for it is a fallacy - is, I regret to say, repeated by that charming and graceful writer who has lately deserted the turmoil of literature for the peace of the House of Commons, I mean the author of Obiter Dicta [viz., Birrell. In point of fact, there is no such thing as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If Hamlet has something of the definiteness of a work of art, he has also all the obscurity that belongs to life. There are as many Hamlets as there are melancholies.’ (For longer extract, see RICORSO Library, Irish Classics > Wilde, via index or direct.]

Maurice Headlam (Irish Reminiscences, 1947), records the story told by a Mrs. Bagwell during Easter Week 1916 that Birrell had been seen looking worried and saying, ‘This might be a bad business for me’, with the comment, ‘a story ben trovato, if not true.’ (p.173.) Further, Headlam quotes a letter from Hamilton Cuffe, Lord Desart (‘I cannot for the life of me see what claims Birrell has to sympathy. The dead and wounded and the very sstones of Dublin cry out against him’), and adds: ‘I could not understand why people I knew and respected in London could pity him’ (p.177); elsewhere Headlam refers to the ‘nerveless administration of Mr. Birrell’ leaving extremism unchecked as the cause of the Rising.’ (p.197.)

Vivian Mercier, ‘Irish Literary Revival’, in W. E. Vaughan, ed., A New History of Ireland: Ireland under the Union II, 1870-1921, Vol. VI (Clarendon Press 1996) [Chap. XIII]: ‘The danger of making generalisations about literary movements is shown by the comment of Augustine Birrell, explaining why the Easter Rising took him by surprise: “the ABBEY theatre made merciless fun of mad political enterprises, and lashed with savage satire some historical aspects of the Irish revolutionary.’ (Royal Commission on the rebellion in Ireland: minutes of evidence [… &v.], p.21; Cd 8311, House of Commons, 1916, xi, p.205; Mercier, p.374; with remark, he was thinking primarily, no doubt, of Conal O’Riordan and Lennox Robinson.’ (p.375)

Leon Ó Bróin, The Chief Secretary (1969); registers the destruction of his career at 1916, ‘personally smashed to pieces,’ and has been called ‘the chief casualty of Easter Week’ by Ó Bróin; advised Asquith that the men of 1916 were unrepresentative of Irish feeling and might become martyrs, but nevertheless urged that they should be shown ‘short shrift’, thus endorsing General French’s stupid policy of executions.

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Leon Ó Bróin, Protestant Nationalists (1985), for remarks on Birrell and the Irish Universities Bill; warns Nathan against Alice Green; informed of Rising; condemned by Plunkett; arrives in Dublin; resignation of; at Royal commission of Enquiry [‘I always thought that I was very ignorant of what was actually going on in the minds, and in the cellars if you like, of the Dublin population.’ (p.120). He wrote, ‘How can I, for the first time in our long Irish connexion secure that Ireland should be on our side, and provide willingly and under democratic conditions, hundreds of thousands of fighting Irishmen to man our regiments?’ (p.125). Ó Bróin reflect that his vague and imprecise testimony shows him unwilling to confess, as he did in his private correspondence [cited above], that he had used the passing Irish unity on the war issue to help recruiting for the forces. (Idem.)

F. X. Martin, ‘Myths and Reality of 1916,’ Irish Hist. Studies (1967), ‘An Englishman who largely understood and sympathised with the people he was ruling’; Chf. Sec., 1907-1916; Bibl. Things Past Redress (London 1937) shows Birrell as the most ‘peripatetic Englishman in Ireland ever’, and asking sympathetically ‘whither the enfranchised Ireland tending?’ FDA2, cited in Casement’s ‘Speech from the Dock’ as admitting that the Arms Proclamation of 4th Dec. 1913 was based on an illegal interpretation of law, 298; reference in Eimar O’Duffy’s The Wasted Island (1919), in a Tory response to the ‘Sin Fainar’ rising, “What can you expect with a man like Birrell”, 1132.

George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (?1932; and rev. ed. 1972), writes that Birrell was ‘a genial little gentleman, of a literary turn of mind, who treated the problems of Ireland with such engaging levity that he was known in that island as The Playboy of the Western World.’ (p.257.)

Patricia Boylan, All Cultivated People, a History of the United Arts Club (1988) makes reference to the sensation of the stolen ‘Crown Jewels’ at King Edward’s visit, shortly after Birrell’s appointment [19]; for which occurrence, see also documentary and fictional accounts in Mark Bence-Jones, Twilight of the Ascendancy, and James Plunkett, Strumpet City. Birrell also participated in the campaign for the acknowledgement and acceptance of Hugh Lane’s gallery (p.49.)

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Good sense & good feeling

He urged them not to attach importance to all they had heard about “civil war”, and declared that it was their duty to see that Mr. Asquith was not interfered wtih or thwarted by dissolution or anything of that sort until a measure the full justice of which they were prepared to maintain became law, subject to such exclusions good sense and good feeling might induce people to accept.

(Irish Independent, 25 July 1914 - report of Birrell’s speech to 3-day Irish Conference of Unionists & Nationalists at Mebourn, Cambridgeshire 24th July, 1914.) NB: World War I broke out on 28 July with the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia. [Given at Irish History Podcast, via Facebook, 24 Juy 2015.]

Easter 1916 (Royal Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland, HM Stat. Off., 8311 of 1916): ‘This period was also marked by a genuine literary revival in prose, poetry and drama, which has produced remarkable books and plays and a school of acting, all characterised by originality and independence of thought and expression quite divorced from political party, and all tending towards a feeding latent desires for, some kind of separate moral existence.’ (Quoted in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal, Gill & Macmillan 1977, p.4.) Note, Costello comments that Birrell typifies the failure of British authorities to see what effect the revival might have on politics [&c.]

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Liberalism: ‘Liberalism is not a creed but a frame of mind’ (cited in Viscount Samuel’s Book of Quotations, 2nd edn.; London: James Barrie 1954).

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Dictionary of National Biography remarks that he failed to recognise danger of Sinn Féin.

R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (1988), p.431; Pres. Board of Education, 1906; Chf. Sec., 1907; introduced Irish Council Bill, 1907; est. Irish National University and Queen’s University, Belfast, 1908; secured 1909 Land Act; failed to counter the growth of Sinn Féin; resigned 1916.

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COPAC lists Actors (1899); Alfred Tennyson, Frederick Locker and Augustine Birrell. A talk given to the Rowfant Club by Sir Charles Tennyson on 28 September 1962 (1965)); Andrew Marvell (1905, 1965, 1978); Andrew Marvell 1621-1678: tercentenary Tributes [and others] ed. ...); by Wm. H. Bagguley ed. (1922); Aphorisms on Authors and their Ways); with some general observations on the humours, habits, and methods of composition of poets-good, bad, and indifferent. Diligently collected from Johnson's 'Lives' by A. B. [i.e. Augustine Birrell], etc. MS. corrections [by A. Birrell] (1917); An appendix to the Rowfant library: A catalogue of the printed books, manuscripts, autograph letters etc / collected since the printing of the first catalogue in 1886 by the late Frederick Locker Lampson (1900); An Appreciation of John Wesley's Journal. [by] Augustine Birrell 1902, 1905, 1926); A Birthday Greeting to the Right Hon. Augustine Birrell, etc. [A menu of a dinner given in his honour] (1920); Book-buying by Birrell (1962); The Book-Hunter in Paris. ['Bouquinistes et Bouquineurs'] .., with a preface by A. Birrell. [by] Uzanne, Octave (1893); Boswell's Life of Johnson / edited by Augustine Birrell (1896, 1901, 1912); The Chief Secretary: Augustine Birrell in Ireland. [by] Ó Broin, Leon (1969); Collected essays (1899 (1902); as The collected essays & addresses of the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, 1880-1920 (1922); The Collected Essays & Addresses of the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, 1880-1920 [with a portrait] (1922); Contrib. to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, with annotations and a general introduction by Sidney Lee (1906); Concerning solicitors, by one them / With a preface by the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, K.C (1920); Crowned Masterpieces of Eloquence, representing the advance of civilization. As collected in the world's best orations from the earliest period to the present time. David J. Brewer ... editor, with special introductions by Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell ... Sir Gilbert Parker. (Victoria edition.) [With plates, including a portrait] [by] Brewer, David Josiah (1910); The Duties and liabilities of trustees: six lectures delivered in the Inner Temple during the Hilary Sittings, 1896, at the request of the Council of Legal Education); The Education Bill, 1906: a speech delivered by the Right Hon. A Birrell, M.P. (president of the Board of Education) on the introduction and first reading in the House of Commons, on April 9th, 1906 (1906); Emerson. A lecture.; Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1903); England's Helicon / edited from the edition of 1600 with additional poems from the edition of 1614 by Hugh Macdonald (1949, 1950); Essays about men, women, and books (1894, 1895, 1897, 1901, 1906); Essays. (Carlyle, Milton, Pope, Johnson, Gibbon.) (1912); The essays of Elia by Charles Lamb); edited by Augustine Birrell); with etchings by Herbert Railton (1888, 1890, 1892, 1893, 1895, 1897, 1899, 1900, 1906); Essays of to-day and yesterday / [Ed. by F.H. Pritchard] (1926); Et Cetera. A collection, &c. (1930); Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Bill [signed A. B., i.e., Augustine Birrell, the Chief Secretary for Ireland] England, B.P.2/6.(7.) (1907); Four lectures on the law of employers' liability at home and abroad (1897); Frederick Locker-Lampson. A character sketch with a small selection from letters addressed to him and bibliographical notes on a few of the books formerly in the Rowfant Library [with plates, including a portrait]; Locker-Lampson, Frederick (1920); Henry Broadhurst, M.P. The story of his life from a stonemason's bench to the Treasury bench told by himself, with an introduction by Augustine Birrell [with a portrait] [by] Broadhurst, Henry (1901); Home letters / written by Lord Beaconsfield 1830-1852); with an introduction by Augustine Birrell (1928); Home letters. Written by Lord Beaconsfield, 1830-1852, with introduction by the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell. [by] Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield, Disraeli, Ralph (1928); Home rule for Ireland: a speech .. (1911 (1911); Home Rule for Ireland. A speech delivered ... at Ilfracombe, on October 19th, 1911. (1911); Introductions by Richard Curle, Augustine Birrell [and others] ... to the catalogue of the Ashley Library, 1922-1930, collected by Thomas James Wise. [by] Wise, Thomas James, Curle, Richard Henry Parnell (1934); The Irish Council Bill, 1907. A speech delivered ... on the introduction and first reading in the House of Commons, on May 7th, 1907. (1907); John Bright. A monograph ..., with a preface by the Right Hon. Augustine Birrell, M.P, with portraits and facsimiles. [by] O'Brien, Richard Barry, the Elder); Birrell, Right Hon. John Wesley's journal / abridged by Percy Livingstone Parker with an introduction by Hugh Price Hughes and an appreciation of the journal by Augustine Birrell (1902, 1905, 1915, 1938); Last essays of Elia by Charles Lamb); edited by Augustine Birrell); with etchings by Herbert Railton (1888, 1900 , 1919); Lavengro); the scholar, the gypsy, the priest [with a portrait] [by] Borrow, George Henry); Beckett, Charles E., Groome, Francis Hindes; Knapp, William Ireland; Seccombe, Thomas, M.A.); Shepperson, Claude Allin); Sullivan, Edmund Joseph); Watts-Dunton, Walter Theodore (1851, and edns. to 1906); A letter of enquiry to the reverend fathers of the Society of Jesus / [J. Taylor]); written in the person of a dissatisfied Roman Catholick (1689); A letter to the Craftsmen, upon the change of affairs in Europe by the war that is begun against the Emperour. [by] Hervey, John Hervey, Baron; A.B.; Birrell, Augustine, 1850-1933. (1734); Letters: a selection of important and new letters with introductions and biographical notes by George Eayrs); with a chapter on Wesley, his times and work by Augustine Birrell (1915); Letters on the proposed vote for building churches: which have appeared in the New Times and Courier / [D. Ryder, 1st. Earl of Harrowby] (1824); The Liberal Magazine. [An account of its aims and objects, extracted from the December Number 1893] (1894); Life of Charlotte Brontë (1887); The life of James W. Alsop by his wife; With an introductory chapter by Augustine Birrell); and a note on educational work in Liverpool by C. Sydney Jones (1926); The Lords and the Education Bill: a speech delivered ... at Bristol, on November 13th, 1906); Liberal Publication Department; National Liberal Federation; Liberal Central Association (1906); Love, marriage and chastity by Reverend E. Mersch, S.J., translated with notes by A.B (1939); Men, women, and books (1906, 1910, 1912); More Obiter Dicta. (1924, 1930); Mr. Birrell's Education Bill ... [by] Smith, Sydney Fenn (1906); Mr. Birrell's Education Bill: selections from the objections urged against it. A memorandum ... Second edition); with an appendix. [by] Gallwey, Peter (1906); My Confidences. An autobiographical sketch addressed to my descendants. [Edited by Augustine Birrell] [by] Locker, Frederick, Locker-Lampson, Frederick (1896); The National Liberal Federation, from its commencement to the General Election of 1906 .., with an introduction by the Right Hon. Augustine Birrell. [by] Watson, Right Hon. Robert Spence (1906, 1907); The new Education Bill, 1906 (1906); Obiter dicta (1884, 1885, 1887, 1893, 1894, 1896, 1899, 1902, 1906, 1910, 1st and 2nd series complete (1913, 1923); On a dictum of Mr. Disraeli's and other matters: an address delivered before the University of Glasgow on December 5th, 1912 by the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell .. (1912); [On the constitution of Parliament]: dinner and reception given by the ... Club to the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, President of the Club ... July 25th, 1910, etc [by] Eighty Club); Birrell, Augustine (1910); Oration on the ideal university. Delivered ... to inaugurate the second Foundation week. June 17th, 1898. Lord Reay [etc] (1898); Patchwork [by] Locker-Lampson, Frederick, 1821-1895); Birrell, Augustine, 1850-1933); Sherman, Philip D. (Philip Darrell), 1881-1957); Rowfant Club (Cleveland, Ohio)); Plimpton Press (1927); Poems, by the most deservedly admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, the matchless Orinda. To which is added Monsieur Corneille's tragedies of Pompey and Horace, with several other translations out of French. (1710); Poems of Browning. Selected & with an introduction by the Right Hon. Augustine Birrell [with plates, including a portrait] [by] Browning, Robert, the Poet (1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1903, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1919, 1929, 1951); The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, with portraits. [Edited by the Right Hon. Augustine Birrell and Sir Frederic G. Kenyon] [by] Browning, Robert, the Poet, Kenyon, Sir Frederic George, G.B.E., Director and Principal Librarian of the British Museum (1896); Politics and education / [Augustine Birrell] (1902); Prayers and Meditations. By Samuel Johnson, LL.D. [Published from his manuscripts by George Strahan] A new edition, with notes and an introduction by the Rev. Hinchcliffe Higgins and a preface by Augustine Birrell, K.C. Also some opinions of Dr. Johnson on the Christian religion. [by] Johnson, Samuel, LL.D., Higgins, Hinchcliffe); Strahan, George, Vicar of Islington (1904); Proposed land bill to be introduced on Monday 23rd November. [Signed: A. B., i.e. Augustine Birrell, the Chief Secretary for Ireland] [by] England, England, B.P.2/6.(9.) (1908); A Quaker Post-Bag: letters to Sir John Rodes of Barlbrough Hall, in the County of Derby, Baronet, and to John Gratton of Monyash, 1693-1742. Selected and edited by Mrs. Godfrey Locker Lampson, with a preface by Augustine Birrell, with illustrations. [by] Lampson, Sophie Felicité Locker, Gratton, John); Rodes, Sir John, Bart. (1910); The question of the continuance of state grants to denominational training colleges and secondary schools. [Signed: A. B., i.e. Augustine Birrell, the President of the Board of Education] [by] England (1906); Records of the Rathbone Family ... [Consisting of 'Sketch of the Earlier William Rathbones, their Circle, and the Liverpool of their day,' by A. Birrell, with sundry papers] Edited by Emily A. Rathbone [with portraits]; Rathbone, Emily Acheson); Rathbone, Family of (1913); Rejection by the House of Lords of the clause in the London Government Bill which allowed women to be eligible for the office of alderman or councillors. Speech,: ... Debate in the House of Commons, July 6th, 1899 (1899); Report of a Speech delivered by Mr. Augustine Birrell, K.C. on Wednesday, February 1, 1905. (1905); Res Judicatae / Augustine Birrell, 1892, 1893, 1896, 1910, 1907); A Rogue's Memoirs, etc. [Three essays, extracted from 'Obiter Dicta'] (1912); The school for scandal: and The rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan); with introduction by Augustine Birrell and illustrations by Edmund J. Sullivan (1896, 1908); Selected essays, 1884-1907 (1908, 1909, 1916, 1917, 1926); Self-selected essays: a second series (1916); Seven lectures on the law and history of copyright in books (1899, 1971); Sir Frank Lockwood: a biographical sketch (1865, 1898, 1910); Some Early Recollections of Liverpool, etc [with a portrait] (1924); Some early recollections of Liverpool, in a letter addressed to the Lord Mayor of that city (1924); Speech by Mr. Birrell on the third reading [of the Education Bill]. (1906); The Story of the Bold Pécopin. A legend of the Rhine ... Done into English by Eleanor and Augustine Birrell, with illustrations by H. R. Millar. [by] Hugo, Victor Marie, Viscount); Birrell, Eleanor, Millar, H. R. (1902); Things Past Redress. [An autobiography, with portraits] (1937); Thoughts from Augustine Birrell. Selected by Elsie E. Morton [with a portrait]; Morton, Elsie E. (1913); Three essays: I. Book-buying, II. book-binding, III. the office of literature (1924); Under the Papal Crown); or, 'Birrelism' in Ireland. [by] Harding, Clement (1915); William Hazlitt / Augustine Birrell (1901, 1902, 1922, 1926.)

Booksellers & Libraries
Eric Stevens Books
(Cat. 168, 1992) lists Dramatic Works of John Ford (Murray 1827), with bookplate of Augustine Birrell [. Things Past Redress (1st edn. 1937) [Hyland Dec. 1996]. University of Ulster Library, Morris Collection holds Obiter Dicta (1906); Self Selected Essays, a 2nd Series (1916).

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W. B. Yeats: Birrell was the object of W. B. Yeats’s annoyance at the appointment of Count Plunkett instead of Hugh Lane to the Curatorship of National Museum, 1912. (See A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems, 1984, p.125).

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