Arland Ussher (1899-1980)

[Percival Arland Ussher] b. Battersea, London; grew up in Cappagh, Co. Waterford; ed. Abbotsholme Sch., Derbyshire and TCD, and St. John’s College, Cambridge; settled in Waterford at the family farm, which he managed and where he learned Irish; issued the first trans. of Merriman’s Midnight Court (1926), with a Preface by W. B. Yeats; translated Eachtra Ghiolla an Amaráin of Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Conmara as ‘Adventures of a Luckless Fellow’ (1929), printed together with The Midnight Court (1929);
he was friendly with Samuel Beckett in the 1930s, and was offer a land agency by Lord Rathdowne, conveyed to him by Beckett, but rejected it for fear that his own father might not bequeath the family estate to him, 1937; contrib. ‘The Contemporary Thought of Ireland’ to Dublin Magazine, 1947; issued The Magic People (1950) - on the Jews; contrib. ‘Meditation on Marx’ to University Review (1955), and was attacked in same by Rev. Dermot O’Donoghue; philosophical and hermetic works incl. Journey Through Dread (1955), on Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre; also Sages and Schoolmen (1967), on Platonic philosophers;
issued The Face and Mind of Ireland (1949) and Three Great Irishmen (1952), on Shaw, Yeats and Joyce - reach reflecting his Anglo-Irish background and Irish sympathies; 12 years president of MIAL; issued Spanish Mercy (1959), a diary of a journey in Spain; later works The XXII Keys of Tarot (Dublin 1977); The Juggler (1982), journal extracts, with Eros and Psyche (q.d.), an untimely and apparently anti-feminist essay on the complementarity of the sexes; had early and later marriages; latterly lived on Green Rd., Dublin; a funeral oration was spoken by Mervyn Wall [Eugene Welply], 29 Dec. 1980; extracts of his 14 vol. diary, 1943-77 are From a Dark Lantern (1978) and The Juggler (1982), both edited by Roger Parris; there is a head by Marjorie Fitzgibbons in the RDS; his correspondence with Robert Hogan is held at the Univ. of Southern Illinois (Carbondale). DIB DIW DIL KUN OCIL

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  • Postscript on Existentialism and Other Essays (Dublin: Sandymount; London: Williams & Norgate 1946), 70pp.;
  • The Twilight of Ideas and Other Essays (Dublin: Sandymount 1948), 52pp.
  • The Face and Mind of Ireland (London: Gollancz 1949) 142pp. [3rd imp. by 1950]; Do. [another edn.] (NY: Devin-Adair 1953), 160pp. [Chaps.: Bernard Shaw: Emperor and Clown; W. B. Yeats: Man into Bird; James Joyce: Doubting Thomist and Joking Jesuit];
  • The Magic People (London: Gollancz 1950), 158pp.;
  • Three Great Irishmen: Shaw, Yeats, Joyce (London: Gollancz 1952), Do. (NY: Devin-Adair 1953), and do. [rep. edn.] (NY: Biblo & Tannen 1968), 127pp. [Preface, 9; Bernard Shaw: Emperor and Clown, 13; W. B. Yeats: Man Into Bird, 63; James Joyce: Doubting Thomist and Joking Jesuit, 115 - see extracts]
  • An Alphabet of Aphorisms [XXV, 12] (Saggart: Dolmen Press [1953]), [8pp.] ill. linocuts by Michael Morrow];
  • The Thoughts of Wi Wong (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1956), [16]pp., ill.;
  • with Carl von Metzradt, Enter These Enchanted Woods: An Interpretation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, preface by Padraic Colum (Palma de Mallorca 1955; Dublin; Dolmen Press 1957, 1966), 63pp., ill. by Tate Adams [incls. Servant as Hero; Versions of Goose Girl, Snow White, Lettuce Girl, Juniper Tree, Cinderella, Goldilocks, Rumpelstiltskin, Sweetheart Roland, Hansel and Gretel];
  • Journey Through Dread (London: Darwen Finlayson 1955), 160pp. [on Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre];
  • The Thoughts of Wi Wong (Dublin 1956) [pamph.];
  • The XXII Keys of Tarot, the designs drawn by Leslie MacWeeney ([S.l.; s.n.] Dolmen Press 1957), and Do. [reset edn.] (Chester Springs, Pa: Dufour 1969), 54pp.;
  • Spanish Mercy: An Account of a Tour in Spain (London: Victor Gollancz 1959), 221pp.
  • Sages and Schoolmen [Dolmen,  Dolmen XXV, 112] (Dublin: Dolmen 1967), 71pp.;
  • Eros and Psyche (Runa P. 1977);
  • ed., Caint an tSean-Shaoghail / Arland Ussher do scríobh ó sheanchas Thomáis Uí Mhuirthe (Baile Átha Cliath [Dublin]: Oifig an tSoláthair [1942]), ill. [port.]; ?Do. as Cursai an tSean-Shaoghail / Arland Ussher do scríobh ó sheanchas Thomáis Uí Mhuirthe (Baile Átha Cliath: Oifig an tSoláthair 1948), q.pp.

See also Yeats and the Municipal Gallery (1959) [called by A. N. Jeffares ‘the best introduction’ to ‘Municipal Gallery Revisited’; see New Commentary, 1984, p.399.]

  • trans. The Midnight Court [by B. Merriman] and The Adventures of a Luckless Fellow [by Denis Macnamara, the Red]. With a Preface by William Butler Yeats [... &c.] (London: Jonathan Cape 1926), 79pp.
Journal extracts
  • From a Dark Lantern, ed. Roger Nyle Parisious [otherwise Parris] (Dublin: Cuala Press 1978), 78pp. [ltd. edn. of 350];
  • The Juggler: Selections from a Journal by Arland Ussher [“Being the second series of From a Dark Lantern”], with a memoir by Mervyn Wall (Mountrath: Dolmen Press; N.J.: Atlantic Highlands 1982), 110pp.

QueryJournal of Arland Ussher (Dublin: Raven Arts 1980).

Articles (sel.)
  • ‘Meditation on Marx’, in University Review (Summer 1955), pp.3-17;
  • ‘The Contemporary Thought of Ireland’, in Dublin Magazine, 22 (July-Sept. 1947), pp.24-30;
  • ‘Arland Ussher’ [autograph entry], in Stanley Kunitz, ed., Twentieth-century Authors: a Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature (NY: H. W. Wilson & Co. 1967 Edn.)

Introduction to J. P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man (London: Neville Spearman, [1958]), xii, 292pp.

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Edward Sheehy, review of Postscript on Existentialism, in The Dublin Magazine, Vol. XXI, [n.s.] No. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 1946), pp.48-50; Mervyn Wall [funeral oration], in Journal of Irish Literature, ‘A Wall Number’, Vol. XI, No.1 & 2 (January-May 1982); Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature, London: Pluto Press 1998), pp.204-07 [see extract].

See also under Brian Merriman [q.v.] for W. B. Yeats’s Preface to Ussher’s trans. The Midnight Court (1926).

Note: his works were regularly reviewed in The Dublin Magazine - those in Irish by Liam Ó Briain [see NLI catalogue]

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Samuel Beckett, ‘Recent Irish Poetry’ (1944), cites Ussher in [as Usher], calling him one of the ‘others’ who represent the progressive tendency of those that celebrate the ‘cold comforts of apperception’ and demonstrate that ‘it is the act and not the object of perception that matters.’ In return, Ussher chose Murphy as an example of a ‘the lack of synthesising philosophy of life’, in his 1947 address, ‘The Contemporary Thought of Ireland’. Ussher finds the same contradiction - flight into madness because he hates the ordered world - in Synge’s Well of the Saints. Also, ‘it is hard to believe that Ireland has become a No-Man’s-Land of the mind, or that she has grown provincial at the moment when she is, for the first time after centuries, a nation.’ (Dublin Magazine, 22, July Sept. 1947), pp.24-30. In reporting this, John Harrington comments, Ussher is particularly helpful in his emphasis on the excruciating reality of the moment as a local problem, not a cosmopolitan or metaphysical construction of reality. (The Irish Beckett, Syracuse UP 1991, pp.30, 103, &c.)

W. J. McCormack, ‘The Biographia Literaria of Vivian Mercier’, in Bullán, 2, 1 (Summer 1995), p.95, giving an account of the attack by Rev. Dermot O’Donoghue on Arland Ussher’s references to Marx, Malton [?Malthus], and British University Grants, and calling for a strict return to Thomas Aquinas in all matters relating to Irish society.’ (Irish University Review, Winter 1955).

Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature, London: Pluto Press 1998, pp.204f., remarks on Ussher’s challenge to the discursive boundaries bewtween Irish and non-Irish experience, with quotations: ‘The Irishman, as I seem him, is something of a realist and something of a mystic. In his literature he wavers continually between fantasy and [204] farcicality; his most successful genre - from the Cuchulain epic to Ulysses - is a sort of surreal extravaganza which has no precise parallel elsewhere.’ (p.32; cited in Smyth, pp.204-05.); ‘an Irishman by birth and … by choice also’; [I have] never been able to associate myself completely with any Irish or Anglo-Irish group’ (Foreword, Three Great Irishmen, 1949); Note remarks on the similarity between passages he cites [see also infra] and ‘the system that will become known as “deconstruction”’ (p.206.); ‘reflect[s] ironically on the very concept of national identity’ (p.206); ‘There is nothing overtly scholarly about the discourse - no bibliography or indices, footnotes kept to a minimum - yet it is raised above mere bellelettrism by the author’s adherence to a central thesis and his employment of a wide range of literary and philosophical sources in support of that thesis. […] The critical text, that is, is acknowledged as a text, as an event in its own right; it has an argument, but does not try to conceal the contingent nature of that argument by appealing to the “evidence of the “primary” text. […] while continuing to deal with issues of national identity, he refuses to consider the debate on its own terms, and this disruptive strategy of simultaneous acceptance and refusal points to those modes of critical engagement which might signal the onset of a genuine postcolonial politics of displacement.’ (p.207.)

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Robert Hogan, ed., A Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979) has a particularly unbridled entry on this author.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3: citation in ‘Recent Irish Poetry’ [1934]: In ‘Man Poem’ (1919) Mr Percy Usher [sic], best known as translator of Merriman’s ‘Midnight Court’, deals with himself and the vacuum in a manner that abides no question. One would like to see this work, before it is improved out of existence, safely between the boards; [ed. note, Percy Ussher, self-taught Irish scholar and philosophical belle-lettrist, 1889-1980], 247; Liam de Paor, ‘Ireland’s Identities’ (in Crane Bag 1979) cites his epigraph for The Face and Mind of Ireland, itself taken from Montegut: ‘this race is at the same time inferior and superior to the rest of humanity ..’ [see infra]; also, Ussher’s remark in same: ‘The Irishman is a bohemian and a j’m’enfoutiste in his way of living, somewhat the play-actor (or ‘playboy’) alike in sanction and passion, seeing existence as a show - while remaining as far as possible uninvolved’ (p. 659).

Libraries and Sundry Booksellers: Belfast Public Library holds Journal of Arland Ussher (Dublin: Raven Arts 1980).Hyland Catalogue 219 (Oct. 1995; do. 1999) lists an uncorrected proof copy of Spanish Mercy (1st edn. 1959) erroneously entitled ‘Spanish Money’ throughout.

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Three Great Irishmen: Shaw, Yeats, Joyce (1952; 1968 edn.): ‘I use here again the method which, in The Face and Mind of Ireland, I called “the continually shifting viewpoint”. It is not merely that onel lieks and dislikes, but that one praises and censures, for partly the same reasons. This “ambivalent” approach should need no apology in the age [203] of psychoanalysis and relativity; and it would seem especially well adapted to the study of three characters who, whatever their degree of divergences, were all of them masters of irony - even of “romantic” irony. Nevertheless it is an approach which is still apt to disconcert when employed in philosophy and literary criticism (and philosophy is properly criticism applied to existences itself as art-object.)’ (pp.10-11; quoted in Smyth, op. cit., 1998, p.206.)

The Anglo-Irish [characterising the mentality of the class into which he was born]: ‘The males seemed to be every one of them a captain, a major or a colonel: Ireland was the land of colonels as Hungary was a land of counts. From the conversation of these people, whenever it strayed from sport or the iniquity of the Asquith Government, there emerged a far-from-flattering picture of the “natives”. No Irishman, it appeared, could be trusted so much as half a yard; their language, the Erse, contained no word for “gratitude”; they were taught by “their priests” that it was not wrong to lie or steal, and such of them as were members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (a harmless friendly-society) took an oath that they would murder Protestants whenever they got a chance; more than this, there were those among them who were not above shooting a fox; and at the same time every word and action of an Irishman was somehow inimitably, incredibly funny. Young as I was, it struck me that the Irish were a patient people, to put up with the things that were said about them.’ ( in The Face and Mind of Ireland, Gollancz 1949; quoted in Brian Fallon, An Age of Innocence Irish Culture 1930-1960, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1998, p.175.)

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Three Great Irishmen (1952) - “James Joyce”: ‘[...] In the Portrait the only protagonist is the youthful Stephen, who view himself and his early escapades without irony - indeed with not a little “ninetyish” romanticism. The interest of the Portait is that the artist drew it when he was still very much of a young man, and it is full of the rather portentous morbidity of adolescence; its emotions are not remembered - and falsified - in a Goethean tranquillity. For in fact our ’teens are always “ninetyish”, and the age of Peter Pan was the age of Dorian Gray. Joyce had, I believe, escaped from the selva obscura by the time Ulysses was written; he had imagined a healthily pagan Vergil in Leopold Blook - an anti-self or “mask” in the Yeatsian sense - and could describe the lower regions with the almost tourist-like detachment of a Dante. Bloom certainly saved James Joyce - if he only gave rather passing ministrations to Stephen Dedalus. But in the Portrait he is indeed in Hell; and owing to the peculiar conditions of Catholic Dublin it was a medieval Hell. James Joyce was one of the few great men of this century who really in youth encountered religious dogma - in the old blood-and-thunder sense. It has some curious results - one of which was that he arrived at “father-fixation” by way of the theology of Nicaea. [133].

Further [Three Great Irishmen - “James Joyce”]: ‘The description of the young Stephen’s transgressions, his repentance, and his brief religion devotionalsm, has a reality which moves and shocks us even through the mawkish “aesthetic” prose in which much of it is written. But one fears that these experiences left the man James Joyce - emotionally and intellectually - a little barren and burnt out. the yougn apostle who set forth in 1902 to smelt his country’s conscience was as incurious and closed against life as any of those “wandering scholars” who in such num bers have left her shores. and so, astonishingly, he was to remain through his long and restless existence - as it were a citizen of some Pompeii of the spirit, inwardly petrified by the lava that had fallen on his heart and brain: different indeed from that other wanderer with a religous - though not a medieval - background, D. H. Lawrence. Only his memories - and his comic sense - were left to him; a handful of remembered characters, like a travelling showman’s puppets, still accompanied him as he passed to and fro across the ancient agitated continent of Europe - [134] indifferent to the its endless human culture and variety. He distended them grotesquely - planned their antics with the precision of a ballet-designer - and gave the word that strange, droll, uncomfortable masterpiece Ulysses. it was, perhaps, a suffient achievement for one life - though it presents only one day, and a dull one.’ (134-35; see extended extracts in RICORSO Library > “Major Authors” > James Joyce - via index, or as attached.)

[ Ussher’s Three Great Irishmen is available in part at Google Books - online; accessed 21.03.2015. ]

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The Twilight of the Ideas and Other Essays (Dublin: Sandymount 1948): 'The doctrine of antiquity that everything which the mind of man can conceive has happened and will happen again in eternal cycles seems to me (besides being metaphysically cogent) to satisfy certain religious aspirations of our nature in a less objectionable manner than Christian or Eastern supernaturalism - those namely for the marvellous, for congruence, and for return.’ (p.46; quoted in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats, London: Methuen 1950, 1965 [Rev. Edn.], p.219, n.1 - concluding his chapter on “A Vision and the Interpretation of History” with the remark: ‘there is a notable passage in Arland Ussher’s The Twilight of the Ideas [... &c.]’).

Irish idiom: ‘As for the expressiveness of the Gaelic folk-idiom, only the “Irish-English” of Synge’s plays can give strangers some idea of it. It is the language, if not of a race of poets (perhaps we are too poetical to be poets, a Wilde said), then at least of a race whcih as “tired the sun with talking,” a language of quips, cajoleries, lamentations, blessings, curses, endearments, tirades - and all very often in the same breadth.’ (In Face and Mind of Ireland, Conn.: Devon-Adair Co. 1950, pp.146-47; quoted in Alan Titley, ‘The Irish Language and Synge’, in Nailing Theses: Selected Essays, Belfast: Lagan Press 2011, p.142.)

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S. L. Goldberg, The Classical Temper: A Study of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (London: Chatto & Windus 1961), enumberates critical attitudes to Joyce including the view of ‘Ulysses as an elaborate joke’ adding that this is ‘hardly favoured outside Dublin itself’. (p.21.) He adds in a footnote that the attitude is ‘well-represented in some of the articles in the Joyce number of Envoy, V, April 1951’ but that ‘Arland Ussher’s lively essay on Joyce in Three Great Irishmen, London, 1952, is of a somewhat different calibre, however.’ (Ibid., p.316.)

Stanley Kunitz, ed.,Twentieth-century Authors: a Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature (NY: H. W. Wilson & Co. 1967 Edn.): ‘Arland Ussher’: ‘The writer professed to attempting to construct an idealist philosophy after the manner of Berkeley.’ [The piece is an autograph entry.]

Robert Greacen, Brief Encounters (Belfast: Lagan Press 1991), notes that Ussher described his essays as ‘philosophical belles lettres’. The articles appeared in New English Weekly, edited by A. R. Orage; cites Three Great Irishmen; The Face and Mind of Ireland, and The Magic People (on the Jews)

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Emile Montégut: Montégut is quoted on the title page of The Face and Mind of Ireland (1949): ‘[T]his race is at the same time inferior and superior to the rest of humanity. One might say of the Irish that they find themselves in a false situation here below. Placed between memory and hope, the race will never conquer what it desires, and will never discover what it regrets.’ (The quotation is also cited in FDA3, no source given.)

Journals: The “Journals of Arland Ussher” are in the possession of Roger Parris [viz., Roger Nyle Parisous] and will shortly reach publication in full. Mr. Parris notes that both The Magician and From a Dark Lantern are more extended selections from the Journals, writing: ‘I hold the manuscripts and hope to publish a comprehensive view as Arland instructed me.’ (Letter to Ricorso Editor, 2002.)

Grim reaper: Ussher apparently experience a stroke at his home in Green Road, leading his wife Peggy to believe him dead, and afterwards came round again to find her dead at the foot of the stairs.

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