Sydney Owenson, The Wild Irish Girl: A National Tale (1806)

Chapter Index

LETTER XXVII

TO J.D. ESQ. M.P.

The priest is gone on his embassy. The rain which batters against the casement of my little hotel prevents my enjoying a ramble. I have nothing to read, and I must write or yawn myself to death.

Yesterday, as we passed the imaginary line which divides the province of Connaught from that of Ulster, the priest said, ‘As we now advance northward, we shall gradually lose sight of the genuine Irish character, and those ancient manners, modes, customs, and language with which it is inseparably connected. Not long after the chiefs of Ireland had declared James the First universal monarch of their country, a sham plot was pretended, consonant to the usual ingratitude of the House of Stuart, by which six entire counties of the north became forfeited, which James with a liberal hand bestowed on his favourites; [1] so that this part of Ireland may in some respects be considered as a Scottish colony; and in fact, Scotch dialect, Scotch manners, Scotch modes, and the Scotch character almost universally prevail. Here the ardor of the Irish constitution seems abated, if not chilled. Here the cead-mile falta of Irish cordiality seldom lends its welcome home to the stranger’s heart. The bright beams which illumine the gay images of Milesian fancy are extinguished; the convivial pleasures, dear to the Milesian heart, scared at the prudential maxims of calculating interest, take flight to the warmer regions of the south; and the endearing socialities of the soul, lost and neglected amidst the cold concerns of the counting-house and the bleach green, droop and expire in the deficiency of that nutritive warmth on which their tender existence depends. So much for the shades of the picture, which however possesses its lights, and those of no dim lustre. The north of Ireland may be justly esteemed the palladium of Irish industry and trade, where the staple commodity of the kingdom is reared and manufactured; and while the rest of Ireland is devoted to that species of agriculture, which, in lessening the necessity of human labour, deprives man of subsistence; while the wretched native of the Southern provinces (where little labour is required, and consequently little hire given) either famishes in the midst of an helpless family, or begs his way to England, and offers those services there in harvest time, which his own country rejects. Here, both the labourer and his hire rise in the scale of political consideration: here more hands are called for than can be procured; and the peasant, stimulated to exertions by the rewards it reaps for him, enjoys the fruits of his industry, and acquires a relish for the comforts and conveniences of life. Industry, and this taste for comparative luxury, mutually re-act; and the former, while it bestows the means, enables them to gratify the suggestions of the latter; while their wants, nurtured by enjoyment, afford fresh allurement to continued exertion. In short, a mind not too deeply fascinated by the florid virtues, the warm overflowings of generous and ardent qualities, will find in the Northerns of this island much to admire and more to esteem; but on the heart they make little claims, and from its affections they receive but little tribute.’ [2]

‘Then in the name of all that is warm and cordial,’ said I, ‘let us hasten back to the province of Connaught.’

‘That you may be sure we shall (returned father John): for I know none of these sons of trade; and until we once more find ourselves with the pale of Milesian hospitality, we must set up at a sorry inn, near a tract of the sea coast, called the Magilligans, and where one solitary fane is raised to the once tutelar deity of Ireland; in plain English, where one of the last of the race of Irish bards shelters his white head beneath the fractured roof of a wretched hut.’ Although the evening sun was setting on the western wave when we reached the auberge, yet, while our fried eggs and bacon were preparing, I proposed to the priest that we should visit the old bard before we put up our horses. Father John readily consented, and we enquired his address.

‘What the mon wi the twa heads ? said our host. I confessed my ignorance of this hyrdra epithet, which I learnt was derived from an immense wen on the back of his head.

‘O!’ continued our host, ‘A wull be telling you weel to gang tull the auld Kearn, and one of our wains wull shew the road. Ye need nae fear trusting yoursels to our wee Willy, for he os an uncommon canie chiel.’ Such was the dialect of this Hibernian Scot, who assured me he had never been twenty miles from his ‘aine wee hame.’

We however dispensed with the guidance of wee Wully, and easily found our way to the hut of the man ‘wi the twa heads.’ It stood on the right hand by the road side. We entered it without ceremony, and as it is usual for strangers to visit this last of the ‘Sons of Song,’ his family betrayed no signs of surpize at our appearance. His ancient dame announced us to her husband. When we entered, he was in bed; and when he arose to receive us (for he was dressed, and appeared only to have lain down from debility), we perceived that his harp had been the companion of his repose, and was actually laid under the bed-clothes with him. We found the venerable bard cheerful [3] and communicative, and he seemed to enter even with an eager readiness on the circumstances of his past life, while his ‘soul seemed heightened by the song,’ with which at intervals he interrupted his narrative. How strongly did those exquisitely beautiful lines of Ossian rush on my recollection: ‘But age is now on my tongue, and my mind has failed me; the sons of song are gone to rest; my voice remains like a blast that roars loudly on a sea-surrounded rock after the winds are laid, and the distant mariner sees the waving trees.’

So great was my veneration for this ‘bard of other times,’ that I felt as though it would have been an indelicacy to have offered him any pecuniary reward for the exertions of his tuneful talent; I therefore made my little offering to his wife, having previously, while he was reciting his ‘unvarnished tale,’ taken a sketch of his most singularly interesting and striking figure, as a present for Glorvina on my return to Inismore. While my heart a thousand times called on hers to participate in the sweet but melancholy pleasure it experienced, as I listened to and gazed on this venerable being.

Whenever there is a revel of the feelings, a joy of the imagination, or a delicate fruition of a refined and touching sentiment, how my soul misses her! I find it impossible to make even the amiable and intelligent priest enter into the nature of my feelings; but how naturally, in the overflowing of my heart, do I turn towards her, yet turn in vain, or find her image only in my enamoured soul, which is full of her. Oh! how much do I owe her. What a vigorous spring has she opened in the wintry waste of a desolated mind. It seems as though a seal had been fixed upon every bliss of the senses and the heart, which her breath alone could dissolve; that all was gloom and chaos until she said, ‘let there be light.’

As we rode back to our auberge by the light of a cloudless but declining moon, after some conversation on the subject of the bard whom we had visited, the priest exclaimed, ‘Who would suppose that that wretched hut was the residence of one of that order once so revered among the Irish; whose persons and properties were held sacred and inviolable by the common consent of all parties, as well as by the laws of the nation, even in all the vicissitudes of warfare,and all the anarchy of intestine commotion; an order which held the second rank in the state; [4] and whose members, in addition to the interesting duties of their profession, were the heralds of peace and the donors of immortality? Clothed in white and flowing robes, the bards marched to battle at the head of the troops, and by the side of the chief; and while by their martial strains they awakened courage even to desperation in the heart of the warrior, borne away by the furor of their own enthusiasm, they not unfrequently rushed into the thick of the fight themselves, and by their maddening inspirations decided the fate of the battle: or when victory descended on the ensanguined plain, hung over the warrior’s funeral pile, and chaunted to the strains of the national lyre the deeds of the valiant, and the prowess of the hero; while the brave and listening survivors envied and emulated the glory of the deceased, and believed that this tribute of inspired genius at the funeral rites was necessary to the repose of the departed soul.’

‘And from what period,’ said I, ‘may the decline of these once potent and revered members of the state be dated?’

‘I would almost venture to say,’ returned the priest, ‘so early as in the latter end of the sixth century; for we read in an Irish record, that about that period the Irish monarch convened the princes, nobles, and clergy, of the kingdom, to the parliament of Drumceat; and the chief motive alleged for summoning this vast assembly was to banish the Fileas or bards.’

‘Which might be deemed then,’ interrupted I, ‘a league of the Dunces against Wit and Genius.

‘Not altogether,’ returned the priest. ‘It was in some respects a necessary policy. For strange to say, nearly the third part of Ireland had adopted a profession at once so revered, and so privileged, so honoured and so caressed by all ranks of the state. — Indeed, about this period, such was the influence they had obtained in the kingdom, that the inhabitants without distinction were obliged to receive and maintain them from November till May, if it were the pleasure of the bard to become their guest; nor were there any object on which their daring wishes rested that was not instantly put into their possession. And such was the ambition of one of their order, that he made a demand on the golden broach or clasp that braced the regal robe on the breast of royalty itself, which was unalienable with the crown, and descended with the empire from generation to generation.’

‘Good God!’ said I, ‘what an idea does this give of the omnipotence of music and poetry among those refined enthusiasts, who have ever borne with such impatience the oppressive chain of power, yet suffer themselves to be soothed into slavery by the melting strains of their national lyre.’

‘It is certain,’ replied the priest, ‘that no nation, not even the Greeks, were ever attached with more passionate enthusiasm to the divine arts of poesy and song, than the ancient Irish, until their fatal and boundless indulgence to their professors became a source of inquietude and oppression to the whole state. The celebrated St Columbkill, who was himself a poet, became a mediator between the monarch already mentioned and the “ tuneful throng;” and by his intercession, the king changed his first intention of banishing the whole college of bards, to limiting their numbers; for it was an argument of the liberal saint’s, that it became a great monarch to patronise the arts; to retain about his person an eminent bard and antiquary; and to allow to his tributary princes or chieftains, a poet capable of singing their exploits, and of registering the genealogy of their illustrious families. This liberal and necessary plan of reformation, suggested by the saint, was adopted by the monarch; and these salutary regulations became the prominent standard for many succeeding ages: and though the severity of those regulations against the bards, enforced in the tyrannic reign of Henry VIII as proposed by Baron Finglas, considerably lessened their power; [5] yet until the reign of Elizabeth their characters were not stript of that sacred stole, which the reverential love of their countrymen had flung over them. The high estimation in which the bard was held in the commencement of the empire of Ireland’s arch-enemy is thus attested by Sir Phillip Sydney: “In our neighbour country,” says he, “where truly learning goes very bare, yet are their poets held in devout reverence.” But Elizabeth, jealous of that influence which the bardic order of Ireland held over the most puissant of her chiefs, not only enacted laws against them, but against such as received or entertained them: for Spenser informs us that, even then, “their verses were taken up with a general applause, and usually sung at all feasts and meetings.” Of the spirited, yet pathetic, manner in which the genius of Irish minstrelsy addressed itself to the soul of the Irish chief, many instances are still preserved in the records of traditional lore. A poem of Fearflatha, family bard to the O’Nials of Clanboy, and beginning thus: — “O the condition of our dear countrymen, how languid their joys, how acute their sorrows, &c. &c.” the prince of Inismore takes peculiar delight in repeating. But in the lapse of time, and vicissitude of revolution, this order, once so revered, has finally sunk into the casual retention of an harper, piper, or fiddler, which are generally, but not universatlly, to be found in the houses of the Irish country gentlemen; as you have yourself witnessed in the castle of Inismore and the hospitable mansion of the O’D—s. One circumstance, however, I must mention to you. Although Ulster was never deemed poetic ground, yet when destruction threatened the bardic order in the southern and western provinces, where their insolence, nurtured by false indulgence, often rendered them an object of popular antipathy, hither they fled for protection, and at different periods found it from the northern princes: and Ulster, you perceive, is now the last resort of the most ancient of the surviving of the Irish bards, who, after having imbibed inspiration in the classic regions of Connaught, and effused his national strains through every province of his country, draws forth the last feeble tones of his almost silenced harp amidst the chilling regions of the north; almost unknown and undistinguished, except by the few strangers who are led by chance or curiosity to his hut, and from whose casual bounties he chiefly derives his subsistence.’

We had now reached the door of our auberge; and dog of the house jumping on me as I alighted, our hostess exclaimed, ‘Ah Sir! our wee doggie kens you uncoo.’ Is not this the language of the Isle of Sky? The priest left me early this morning on his evidently unpleasant embassy. On his return we visit the Giants’ Causeway, which I understand is but sixteen miles distant. Of this pilgrimage to the shrine of Nature in her grandest aspect, I shall tell you nothing; but when we meet will put into your hands a work written on the subject, from which you will derive equal pleasure and instruction. At this moment the excellent priest appears on his little nag; the rain no longer beats against my casement; the large drops suspended from the foliage of the trees sparkle with the beams of the meridian sun, which, bursting forth in cloudless radiancy, dispels the misty shower, and brilliantly lights up the arch of heaven’s promise. Would you know the images now most buoyant in my cheered bosom; they are Ossian and Glorvina: it is for him to describe, for her to feel, the renovating charms of this interesting moment. Adieu! I shall grant you a reprieve till we once more reach the dear ruins of Inismore.

H.M.

Adieu!

LETTER XXVIII

TO J.D. ESQ. M.P.

Plato compares the soul to a small republic, of which the reasoning and judging powers are stationed in the head as in a citadel, and of which the senses are the guards or servants.

Alas! my dear friend, this republic is with me all anarchy and confusion, and its guards, disordered and overwhelmed, can no longer afford it protection. I would be calm, and give you a succinct account of my return to Inismore; but impetuous feelings rush over the recollection of trivial circumstances, and all concentrate on that fatal point which transfixes every thought, every emotion of my soul.

Suffice to say, that our second reception at the mansion of the O’D’s had lost nothing of that cordiality which distinguished our first; but neither the cheerful kindness of the parents, nor the blandishments of the charming daughters, could allay that burning impatience, which fired my bosom to return to Glorvina, after the tedious absence of five long days. All night I tossed on my pillow in the restless agitation of expected bliss, and with the dawn of that day on which I hoped once more to taste ‘ the life of life,’ I arose and flew to the priest’s room to chide his tardiness. Early as it was I found he had already left his apartment, and as I turned from the door to seek him, I perceived a written paper lying on the floor. I took it up and, carelessly glancing my eye over it, discovered that it was a receipt from the prince’s inexorable creditor, who (as father John informed me) refused to take the farm off his hands: but what was my amazement to find that this receipt was an acknowledgment for those jewels which I had so often seen stealing their lustre from Glorvina’s charms; and which were now individually mentioned, and given in lieu of the rent for that very farm, by which the prince was so materially injured. The blood boiled in my veins. I could have annihilated this rascally cold-hearted landlord; I could have wept on the neck of the unfortunate prince; I could have fallen at the feet of Glorvina and worshipped her as the first of the Almighty’s works. Never in the midst of all my artificial wants, my boundless and craving extravagance, did I ever feel the want of riches as at this moment, when a small part of what I had so worthlessly flung away, would have saved the pride of a noble, an indignant spirit, from a deep and deadly wound, and spared the heart of filial solicitude and tender sensibility, many a pang of tortured feelings. The prince, I understood, was three years in arrear; yet, though there were no diamonds, and not many pearls, I should suppose the jewels worth more than the sum for which they were given. [6]

While I stood burning with indignation, the paper still trembling in my hand, I heard the footstep of the priest; I let fall the paper; he advanced, snatched it up, and put it in his pocket book, with an air of self reprehension that determined me to conceal the knowledge so accidentally acquired. Having left our adieux for our courteous hosts with one of the young men, we at last set out for Inismore. The idea of so soon meeting my soul’s precious Glorvina banished every idea less delightful.

‘Our meeting,’ said I, ‘will be attended with a new and touching interest, the sweet result of that perfect intelligence which now for the first time subsisted between us, and which stole its birth from that tender and delicious glance which love first bestowed on me beneath the cypress tree of the rustic cemetery.’

Already I beheld the ‘air-lifted’ figure of Glorvina floating towards me. Already I felt her soft hands tremble in mine, and gazed on the deep suffusion of her kindling blushes, the ardent welcome of her bashful eyes, and all that dissolving and impassioned languor, with which she would resign herself to the sweet abandonment of her soul’s chastened tenderness, and the fullest confidence in that adoring heart which had now unequivocally assured her of its homage and eternal fealty. In short, I had resolved to confess my name and rank to Glorvina, to offer her my hand, and to trust to the affection of our fond and indulgent fathers for forgiveness.

Thus warmed by the visions of my heated fancy I could no longer stifle my impatience; and when we were within seven miles of the castle, I told the priest, who was ambling slowly on, that I would be his avant-courier, and clapping spurs to my horse soon lost sight of my tardy companion.

At the draw-bridge I met one of the servants to whom I gave the panting animal, and flew, rather than walked, to the castle. At its portals stood the old nurse, she almost embraced me, and I almost returned the caress; but with a sorrowful countenance she informed me that the prince was dangerously ill, and had not left his bed since our departure; that things altogether were going on but poorly ; and that she was sure the sight of me would do her young lady’s heart good, for that she did nothing but weep all day, and sit by her father’s bed all night. She then informed me that Glorvina was alone in the boudoir. With a thousand pulses fluttering at my breast, full of the ideal of stealing on the melancholy solitude of my pensive love, with a beating heart and noiseless step I approached the sacred asylum of innocence. The door lay partly open; Glorvina was seated at a table, and apparently engaged in writing a letter. I paused a moment for breath ere I advanced. Glorvina at the same instant raised her head from the paper, read over what she had written, and wept bitterly; then wrote again, and again paused; sighed, and drew a letter from her bosom — (yes, her bosom) which she perused, often waving her head, and sighing deeply, and wiping away the tears that dimmed her eyes, while once a cherub smile stole on her lip (that smile I once thought all my own); then folding up the letter, she pressed it to her lips, and consigning it to her bosom, exclaimed, ‘First and best of men!’ What else she murmured I could not distinguish; but as it the perusal of this prized letter had renovated every drooping spirit, she ceased to weep, and wrote with greater earnestness than before.

Motionless, transfixed, I leaned for support against the frame of the door until Glorvina, having finished her letter and sealed it, arose to depart; then I had the presence of mind to steal away and conceal myself in a dark recess of the corridor. Yet though unseen, I saw her wipe away the traces of her tears from her cheek, and pass me with a composed and almost cheerful air. I softly followed, and looking down the dark abyss of the steep well stairs, which she rapidly descended, I perceived her to put the letter in the hands of the little post-boy, who hurried away with it. Impelled by the impetuous feelings of the moment I was — yes, I was so far forgetful of myself, my principles and pride, of every sentiment save love and jealously, that I was on the point of following the boy, snatching the letter, and learning the address of this mysterious correspondent, this ‘ First and best of men.’ But the natural dignity of a vehement, yet undebased, mind saved me a meanness I should never have forgiven: for what right had I forcibly to possess myself of another’s secret? I turned back to a window in the corridor and beheld Glorvina’s little herald mounted on his mule riding off, while she, standing at the gate, pursused him with that impatient look so strongly indicative of her ardent character. When he was out of sight she withdrew, and the next minute I heard her stealing towards her father’s room. Unable to bear her presence, I flew to mine; that apartment I had lately occupied with an heart so redolent of bliss — an heart that now sunk beneath the unexpected blow which crushed all its new born hopes, and I feared annihilated for ever its sweet but short-lived felicity. ‘And is this then,’ I exclaimed, ‘the fond re-union my fancy painted in such glowing colours?’ God of heaven! at the very moment when my thoughts and affections forced for a tedious interval from the object of their idolatry, like a compressed spring set free, bounded with renewed vigour to their native bias. Yet was not the disappointment of my own individual hopes scarcely more agonizing than the destruction of that consciousness which, in giving one perfect being to my view, redeemed the species in my misanthropic opinion.

‘Oh, Glorvina!’ I passionately added, ‘if even thou, fair being, reared in thy native wilds and native solitudes, art deceptive, artful, imposing, deep ,deep in all the wiles of hypocrisy; then is the original sin of our nature unredeemed; vice the innate principle of our being — and those who preach the existence of virtue but idle dreamers, who fancy that in others to themselves unknown. And yet sweet innocent, if thou “art more sinned against against that sinning:” if the phantoms of a jealous brain — oh, ’tis impossible! The ardent kiss impressed upon the senseless paper, which thy breast enshrined!!! was the letter of a friend thus treasured! When was the letter of a friend thus answered with tears, with smiles, with blushes, and with sighs? This, this, is love’s own language. Besides, Glorvina is not formed for friendship; the moderate feelings of her burning soul are already divided in affection for her father, and grateful esteem for her tutor; and she who, when loved, must be loved to madness, will scarcely feel less passion than she inspires.’

While thought after thought thus chased each other down, like the mutinous billows of a stormy ocean, I continued pacing my chamber with quick and heavy strides; forgetful that the prince’s room lay immediately beneath me. Ere that thought occurred, some one softly opened the door. I turned savagely around — it was Glorvina! Impulsively I rushed to meet her; but not impulsively recoiled: while she, with an exclamation of surpize and pleasure, sprung towards me, and by my sudden retreat would have fallen at my feet, but that my willing arms extended involuntarily to receive her. Yet it was no longer the almost sacred person of the once all-innocent, all-ingenuous Glorvina they encircled; but still they twined round the loveliest form, the most charming, the most dangerous, of all human beings. The enchantress! — With what exquisite modesty she faintly endeavoured to extricate herself from my embrace; yet with what willing weakness, which seemed to triumph in its own debility, she panted on my bosom, wearied by the exertion which vainly sought her release. Oh! at that moment the world was forgotten — the whole universe was Glorvina! My soul’s eternal welfare was not more precious at that moment that Glorvina! while my passion seemed now to derive its ardour from the overflowing energy of those bitter sentiments which had preceded its revival. Glorvina, with an effort, flung herself from me. Virtue, indignant yet merciful, forgiving while it arraigned, beamed in her eyes. I fell at her feet; I pressed her hand to my throbbing temples and burning lips. ‘Forgive me,’ I exclaimed, ‘for I know not what I do.’ She threw herself on a seat, and covered her face with her hands, while the tears trickled through her fingers. Oh! there was a time when tears from those eyes — but now they only recalled to my recollection the last I had seen her shed. I started from her feet and walked towards the window, near that couch where her watchful and charitable attention first awakened the germ of gratitude and love which has since blown into such full, such fatal existence. I leaned my head against the window-frame for support, its painful throb was so violent; I felt as though it were lacerating in a thousand places; and the sigh which involuntarily breathed from my lips seemed almost to burst the heart from whence it flowed.

Glorvina arose: with an air tenderly compassionate, yet reproachful, she advance and took one of my hands. ‘My dear friend,’ she exclaimed, ‘what is the matter? has any thing occurred to disturb you, or to awaken this extraordinary emotion? Father John! where is he? why does he not accompany you? Speak! — does any new misfortune threaten us? does it touch my father? Oh! in mercy say it does not ! but release me from the torture of suspense.’

‘No, no,’ I peevishly replied; ‘set your heart at rest, it is nothing; nothing at least that concerns you; it is me, me only it concerns.’

‘And therefore, Mortimer, is it nothing to Glorvina,’ she softly replied; and with one of those natural motions so incidental to the simplicity of her manners, she threw her hand on my shoulder, and leaning her head on it, raised her eloquent, her tearful eyes to mine. Oh! while the bright drops hung upon her cheek’s faded rose, with what difficulty I restrained the impulse that tempted me to gather them with my lips; while she, like a ministering angel, again took my hand, and applying her fingers to my wrist said with a sad smile, ‘You know I am a skilful little doctress.’

Glad, for the present, of any pretext to conceal the nature of my real disorder, I confessed I was indeed ill, (and, in fact, I was physically as well as morally so; for my last day’s journey brought on that nervous head-ache I have suffered so much from;) while she, all tender solicitude and compassion, flew to prepare me a composing- draught. But I was not now to be deceived: this was pity, mere pity. Thus a thousand times I have seen her act by the wretches who were first introduced to her notice through the medium of that reputation which her distinguished humanity had obtained for her among the diseased and the unfortunate.

I had but just sunk upon the bed, overcome by fatigue and the vehemence of my emotions, when the old nurse entered the room. She said she had brought me a composing-draught from the lady Glorvina, who had kissed the cup, after the old Irish fashion, [7] and bade me drink it for her sake.

‘Then I pledge her,’ said I, ‘with the same truth she did me,’ and I eagerly quaffed off the nectar her hand had prepared. Meantime the nurse took her station by my bed side, with some appropriate references to her former attendance there, and the generosity with which that attendance was rewarded; for I had imprudently apportioned my donation rather to my real than apparent rank.

While I was glad that this talkative old woman had fallen in my way; for though I knew I had nothing to hope from that incorruptible fidelity which was grounded on her attachment to her beloved nursling, and her affection for the family she had so long served, yet I had every thing to expect from the garrulous simplicity of her character, and her love of what she calls Seanachus, of telling long stories of the Inismore family; and while I was thinking how I should put my jesuitical scheme into execution, and she was talking as usual I know not what, the beautiful ‘Breviare du Sentiment’ caught my eye lying on the ground: Glorvina must have dropped it on her first entrance. I desired the nurse to bring it to me; who blessed her stars, and wondered how her child could be so careless: a thing too she valued so much. At that moment it struck me that this Breviare, the furniture of the boudoir, the vases, and the fragment of the letter, were all connected with this mysterious friend, this ‘first and best of men.’ I shuddered as I held it, and forgot the snow-drops it contained; yet assuming a composure as I examined its cover, I asked the nurse if she thought I could procure such another at the next market town.

The old woman held her sides while she laughed at the idea; then folding her arms on her knees with that gossiping air which she always assumed when in a mood peculiarly loquacious, she assured me that such a book could not be got in all Ireland; for that it had come from foreign parts to her young lady.

‘And who sent it?’ I demanded.

‘Why, nobody sent it,’ she simply replied; ‘he brought it himself.’

‘Who?’ said I.

She stammered and paused. —

‘Then, I suppose,’ she added, ‘of course you never heard’ —

‘What?’ I eagerly asked with an air of curiosity and amazement. As these are two emotions a common mind is most susceptible of feeling and most anxious to excite, I found little difficulty in artfully leading on the old woman by degrees, till at last I obtained from her almost unawares to herself, the following particulars:

On a stormy night, in the spring of 17—, during that fatal period when the scarcely cicatrized wounds of this unhappy country bled afresh beneath the uplifted sword of civil contention; when the bonds of human amity were rent asunder, and every man regarded his neighbour with suspicion or considered him with fear; a stranger of noble stature, muffled in a long dark cloke, appeared in the great hall of Inismore, and requested an interview with the prince. The prince having retired to rest, and being then in an ill state of health, deputed his daughter to receive the unknown visitant, as the priest was absent. The stranger was shewn into an apartment adjoining the prince’s, where Glorvina received him, and having remained for some time with him retired to her father’s room; and again, after a conference of some minutes, returned to the stranger, whom she conducted to the prince’s bedside. On the same night, and after the stranger had passed two hours in the prince’s chamber, the nurse received orders to prepare the bed and apartment which I now occupy for this mysterious guest, who from that time remained near three months at the castle; leaving it only occasionally for a few days, and always departing and returning under the veil of night.

The following summer he repeated his visit; bringing with him those presents which decorate Glorvina’s boudoir, except the carpet and vases, which were brought by a person who disappeared as soon as he had left them. During both these visits he gave up his time chiefly to Glorvina; reading to her, listening to her music, and walking with her early and late, but never without the priest of the nurse, and seldom during the day.

In short, in the furor of the old woman’s garrulity (who however discovered that her own information had not been acquired by the most justifiable means, having, she said, by chance overheard a conversation which passed between the stranger and the prince), I found that this mysterious visitant was some unfortunate gentleman who had attached himself to the rebellious faction of the day, and who being pursued nearly to the gates of the castle of Inismore, had thrown himself on the mercy of the prince; who, with that romantic sense of honour which distinguishes his chivalrous character, had not violated the trust thus forced on him, but granted an asylum to the unfortunate refugee; who, by the most prepossessing manners and eminent endowments, had dazzled the fancy and won the hearts of this unsuspecting and credulous family; while over the minds of Glorvina and her father he had obtained a boundless influence.

The nurse hinted that she believed it was still unsafe for the stranger to appear in this country, for that he was more cautious of concealing himself in his last visit than his first; that she believed he lived in England; and that he seemed to have money enough, ‘ for he threw it about like a prince.’ Not a servant in the castle, she added, but knew well enough how it was; but there was not one but would sooner die than betray him. His name she did not know; he was only known by the appellation of the GENTLEMAN. He was not young, but tall, and very handsome. He could not speak Irish, and she had reason to think he had lived chiefly in America. She added, that I often reminded her of him, especially when I smiled and looked down. She was not certain whether he was expected that summer or not; but she believed the prince frequently received letters from him.

The old woman was by no means aware how deeply she had been betrayed by her insatiate passion of hearing herself speak; while the curious and expressive idiom of her native tongue gave me more insight into the whole business than the most laboured phrase of minute detail could have done. By the time, however, she had finished her narrative, she began to have some ‘compunctious visitings of conscience:’ she made me pass my honour I would not betray her to her young lady; for, she added, that if it got air it might come to the ears of the Lord M—, who was the prince’s bitter enemy; and that it might be the ruin of the prince; with a thousand other wild surmises suggested by her fears. I again repeated my assurances of secrecy; and the sound of her young lady’s bell summoning to the prince’s room, she left me, not forgetting to take with her the ‘ Breviare du Sentiment.’

Again abandoned to my wretched self, the succeeding hour was passed in such a state of varied perturbation, that it would be as torturing to retrace my agonizing and successive reflections as it would be impossible to express them. In short, after a thousand vague conjectures, many to the prejudice and a lingering few to the advantage of their object, I was led to believe (fatal conviction!) that the virgin rose of Glorvina’s affection had already shed its sweetness on a former, happier lover; that the partiality I had flattered myself in having awakened was either the result of natural intuitive coquetry, or, in the long absence of her heart’s first object, a transient beam of that fire which once illumined is so difficult to extinguish, and which was nourished by my resemblance to him who had first fanned it to life. — What! I to receive to my heart the faded spark, while another has basked in the vital flame? I contentedly gather this after-blow of tenderness, when another has inhaled the very essence of the nectarious blossoms? No! like the suffering mother, who wholly resigned her bosom’s idol rather than divide it with another, I will, with a single effort, tear this late adored image from my heart, though the heart break with the effort, rather than feed on the remnant of those favours on which another has already feasted. Yet to be thus deceived by a recluse, a child, a novice: — I who, turning revoltingly from the hackneyed artifices of female depravity in that world where art for ever reigns, sought in the tenderness of secluded innocence and intelligent simplicity that heaven my soul had so long, so vainly panted to enjoy! Yet, even there — No! I cannot believe it! She! Glorvina, false, deceptive! Oh! were the immaculate spirit of Truth embodied in a human form, it could not wear upon its radiant brow a brighter, stronger trace of purity inviolable, and holy innocence, than shines in the seraph countenance of Glorvina! Besides, she never said she loved me. Said ! — God of heavens! were words then necessary for such an avowal ? Oh, Glorvina! thy tender sighs, thy touching softness and delicious tears; these, these are the sweet testimonies to which my heart appeals. These at least will speak for me, and say, it was not the breath of vain presumption that nourished those hopes which now, in all their vigour, perish by the chilling blight of well-founded jealousy and mortal disappointment.

Two hours have elapsed since the nurse left me, supposing me to be asleep; no one has intruded, and I have employed the last hour in retracing to you the vicissitudes of this eventful day. You, who warned me of my fate, should learn the truth of your fatal prophesy. My father’s too; but he is avenged! and I have already expiated a deception, which, however innocent, was still deception.

In continuation

I had written thus far, when some one tapped at my door, and the next moment the priest entered: he was not an hour arrived, and with his usual kindness came to enquire after my health, expressing much surprise at its alteration, which he said was visible in my looks. ‘But it is scarcely to be wondered at,’ he added: ‘a man who complains for two days of a nervous disorder, and yet gallops, as if for life, seven mils in a day more natural to the torrid zone than our polar climate, may have some chance of losing his life, but very little of losing his disorder.’ He then endeavoured to persuade me to go down with him, and take some refreshment, for I had tasted nothing all day, save Glorvina’s draught; but finding me averse to the proposal, he sat with me till he was sent for to the prince’s room. As soon as he was gone, with that restlessness of body which ever accompanies a wretched mind, I wandered through the deserted rooms of this vast and ruinous edifice, but saw nothing of Glorvina. The sun had set, all was gloomy and still. I took my hat, and in the melancholy maze of twilight wandered I knew not, cared not, whither. I had not, however, strayed far from the ruins, when I perceived the little post-boy galloping his foaming mule over the draw-bridge, and the next moment saw Glorvina gliding beneath the colonnade (that leads to the chapel) to meet him. I retreated behind a fragment of the ruins, and observed her take a letter from his hand with an eager and impatient air: when she had looked at the seal, she pressed it to her lips, then by the faint beams of the retreating light, she opened this welcome packet, and putting an inclosed letter in her bosom, endeavoured to read the envelope; but scarcely had her eye glanced over it, than it fell to the earth, while she, covering her face with her hands, seemed to lean against the broken pillar near which she stood for support. Oh! was this an emotion of overwhelming bliss, or chilling disappointment. She again took the paper, and, still holding it open in her hand, with a slow step and thoughtful air, returned to the castle; while I flew to the stables, under pretence of enquiring from the post-boy if there were any letters for me. The lad said there was but one, and that, the post-master had told him, was an English one for the lady Glorvina. This letter then, though it could not have been an answer to that I had seen her writing, was doubtless from the mysterious friend, whose friendship, ‘ like gold, though not sonorous, was indestructible.’

My doubts were now all lost in certain conviction; my trembling heart no longer vibrated between a lingering hope and a dreadful fear. I was deceived, and another was beloved. That sort of sullen firm composure, which fixes man when he knows the worst that can occur, took possession of every feeling, and steadied that wild throb of insupportable suspense, which had agitated and distracted my veering soul; while the only vacillation of mind to which I was sensible, was the uncertainty of whether I should or should not quit the castle that night. Finally resolved to act with the cool dertermination of a rational being, not the wild impetuosity of a maniac, I put off my departure till the following morning, when I could formally take leave of the prince, the priest, and even Glorvina herself, in the presence of her father. Thus firm and decided, I returned to the castle, and mechanically walked towards that vast apartment when I had first seen her at her harp, soothing the sorrows of parental affliction; but now it was gloomy and unoccupied; a single taper burnt on a black marble slab before a large folio, in which I suppose the priest had been looking; the silent harp of Glorvina stood in its usual place. I fled to the great hall, once the central point of all our social joys, but it was also dark and empty; the whole edifice seemed a desart. I again rushed from its portals, and wandered along the sea-beat shore, till the dews of night, and the spray of the swelling tide, as it broke against the rocks, had penetrated through my clothes. I saw the light trembling in the casement of Glorvina long after midnight. I heart the castle clock fling its peal o’er every passing hour; and not till the faintly awakening beam of the horizon streamed on the eastern wave, did I return through the castle’s ever open portals, and steal to that room I was about to occupy (not sleep in) for the last time: a light and some refreshment had been left there for me in my absence. The taper was nearly burnt out, but by its expiring flame I perceived a billet lying on the table. I opened it tremblingly. It was from Glorvina, and only a simple enquiry after my health, couchd in terms of common-place courtesy. I tore it — it was the first she had ever addressed to me, and yet I tore it in a thousand pieces. I threw myself on the bed, and for some time buried my mind in conjecturing whether her father sanctioned, or her preceptor suspected, her attachment to this fortunate rebel. I was almost convinced they did not. The young, the profound deceiver; she whom I had thought

‘So green in this old world.’

Wearied by incessant cogitation, I at last fell into a deep sleep, and arose about two hours back, harassed by dreams, and quite unrefreshed; since when I have written thus far. My last night’s resolution remains unchanged. I have sent my compliments to inquire after the prince’s health, and to request an interview with him. The servant has this moment returned, and informs me the prince has just fallen asleep, after having had a very bad night, but that when he awakens he shall be told of my request. I dared not mention Glorvina’s name, but the man informed me she was then sitting by her father’s bed-side, and had not attended matins. At breakfast I mean to acquaint the excellent father John of my intended departure. Oh! how much of the woman at this moment swells in my heart. There is not a being in this family in whom I have not excited, for whom I do not feel, an interest. Poor souls! they have almost all been at my room door this morning to inquire for my health, owing to the nurse’s exaggerated account: she too, kind creature, has already been twice with me before I arose, but I affected sleep. Adieu! I shall dispatch this to you from M. House. I shall then have seen the castle of Inismore for the last time — the last time!!

H.M.



1. ‘The pretext of rebellion was devised as a specious prelude to predetermined confiscations, and the inhabitants of six counties, whose aversion to the yoke of England the shew of lenity might have disarmed, were compelled to encounter misery in desarts, and, what is perhaps will more mortifying to human pride, to behold the patrimony of their ancestors, which force had wrested from their hands, bestowed the prey of a more favoured people. The substantial view of providing for his indigent countrymen might have gratified the national partiality of James; the favourite passion of the English was gratified by the triumph of protestantism, and the downfal of its antagonists: men who professed to correct a system of peace did not hesitate to pursue their purpose through a scene of iniquity which humanity shudders to relate; and by an action more criminal, because more deliberate, than the massacre of St Bartholomew, two thirds of an extensive province were offered up in one great hecatomb, on the altar of false policy and theological prejudice. Here let us survey with wonder the mysterious operations of divine wisdom, which, from a measure base in its means, and atrocious in its execution, has derived a source of fame, freedom, and industry to Ireland.’ — Vide, A Review of some interesting periods of Irish History.]

2. Belfast cannot be deemed the metropolis of Ulster, but may almost be said to be the Athens of Ireland. It is at least the CYNOSURE of the province in which it stands; and those beams of genius which are there concentrated send to the extremest point of the hemisphere in which they shine, no faint ray of lumination.]

3.The following account of the Bard of the Magilligans was taken from his own lips, July 3d, 1805, by the Rev. Mr Sampson, of Magilligan, and forwarded to the author (through the medium of Dr Patterson, of Derry) previous to her visit to that part of the North, which took place a few weeks after.

Umbrae, July 3d, 1805,
Magilligan.

‘I made the survey of the man with two heads, according to your desire; but not till yesterday on account of various impossibilities. Here is my report —

‘Dennis Hampson, or the man with two heads, is a native of Craigmore, near Garvagh, county Derry; his father, Bryan Darrogher (blackish complexion) Hampson, held the whole town-land of Tyrcrevan; his mother’s relations were in possession of the wood-town (both considerable farms in Magilligan). He lost his sight at the age of three years by the small-pox; at twelve years he began to learn to play the harp under Bridget O’Cahan: “For,” as he said, “in those old times, women as well as men were taught the Irish harp in the best families; and every old Irish family had harps in plenty.” His next master was John C. Garragher, a blind travelling harper, whom he followed to Buncranagh, where his master used to play for Colonel Vaughan: he had afterwards Laughlin Hanning and Pat Connor in succession as masters.

‘All these were from Connaught, which was, as he added, “the best part of the kingdom for Irish music and for harpers.” At eighteen years of age he began to play for himself, and was taken into the house of counsellor Canning, at Garvagh, for half a year; his host, with Squire Gage and Doctor Bacon, found and bought him an harp. He travelled nine or ten years through Ireland and Scotland, and tells facetious stories of gentlemen in both countries: among others, that in passing near the place of Sir J. Campbell, at Aghanbrack, he learned, that this gentleman had spent a great deal, and was living on so much per week of allowance. Hampson through delicacy would not call, but some of the domestics were sent after him; on coming into the castle, Sir J. asked him why he had not called, adding. “Sir, there was never a harper but yourself that passed the door of my father’s house;” to which Hampson answered that, “he had heard in the neighbourhood that his honour was not often at home;” with which delicate evasion Sir J. was satisfied. He adds, “that this was the highest bred and stateliest man he ever knew; if he were putting on a new pair of gloves, and one of them dropped on the floor, (though ever so clean), he would order the servant to bring him another pair.” He says that, in that time he never met but one laird that had a harp, and that was a very small one, played on formerly by the laird’s father; that when he had tuned it with new strings the laird and his lady both were so pleased with his music that they invited him back in these words: “Hampson, as soon as you think this child of ours (a boy of three years of age), is fit to learn on his grandfather’s harp, come back to teach him, and you shall not repent it;” — but this he never accomplished.

‘He told me a story of the laird of Strone with a great deal of comic relish. When he was playing at the house, a message came that a large party of gentlemen were coming to grouse, and would spend some days with him (the laird); the lady being in great distress turned to her husband, saying “What shall we do, my dear, for so many in the way of beds.” “Give yourself no vexation,” replied the laird, “give us enough to eat, and I will supply the rest; and as to beds, believe me every man shall find one for himself;” (meaning that his guests would fall under the table). In his second trip to Scotland, in the year 1745, being at Edinburgh, when Charley the Pretender was there, he was called into the great hall to play; at first he was alone, afterwards four fiddlers joined: the tune called for was, “The king shall enjoy his own again:” — he sung here part of the words following —

”I hope to see the day
When the Whigs shall run away,
And the king shall enjoy his own again.”

‘I asked him if he heard the Pretender speak; he replied — I only heard him ask, “Is Sylvan there;” on which some one answered, “He is not here please your royal highness, but he shall be sent for.” He meant to say Sullivan, continued Hampson, but that was the way he called the name. He says that Captain Mc.Donnell, when in Ireland, came to see him, and that he told the captain that Charley’s cockade was in his father’s house.

‘Hampson was brought into the Pretender’s presence by Colonel Kelly, of Roscomon, and Sir Thomas Sheridan, and that he (Hampson) was then above fifty years old. He played in many Irish houses; among others, those of Lord de Courcey, Mr Fortescue, Sir P. Belew, Squire Roche; and in the great towns, Dublin, Cork, &c. &c. Respecting all which he interspersed pleasant anecdotes with surprising gaiety and correctness. As to correctness, he mentioned many anecdotes of my grandfather and grand-aunt, at whose houses he used to be frequently. In fact, in this identical harper, whom you sent me to survey, I recognized an acquaintance, who, as soon as he found me out, seemed exhilarated at having an old friend of (what he called) “the old stock,” in his poor cabin. He even mentioned many anecdotes of my own boyhood, which, though be me long forgotten, were accurately true. These things shew the surprising power of his recollection at the age of a hundred and eight years. Since I saw him last, which was in 1787, the wen on the back of his head is greatly increased; it is now hanging over his neck and shoulders, nearly as large as his head, from which circumstance he derives his appellative, “the man with two heads.” General Hart, who is an admirer of music, sent a limner lately to take a drawing of him, which cannot fail to be interesting, if it were only for the venerable expression of his meager blind countenance, and the symmetry of his tall, thin, but not debilitated, person. I found him lying on his back in bed near the fire of his cabin; his family employed in the usual way; his harp under the bed clothes, by which his face was covered also. When he heard my name he started up (being already dressed), and seemed rejoiced to hear the sound of my voice, which, he said, he began to recollect. He asked for my children, whom I brought to see him, and he felt them over and over; — then, with tones of great affection, he blessed God that he had seen four generations of the name, and ended by giving the children his blessing. He then tuned his old time-beaten harp, his solace and bedfellow, and played with astonishing justness and good taste.

‘The tunes which he played were his favourites; and he, with an elegance of manner, said at the same time, I remember you have a fondness for music, and the tunes you used to ask for I have not forgotten, which were Cualin, The Dawning of the Day, Elleen-a-roon, Ceandubhdilis, &c. These, except the third, were the first great tunes, which, according to regulation, he played at the famous meeting of harpers at Belfast, under the patronage of some amateurs of Irish music. Mr Bunton, the celebrated musician of that town, was here the year before, at Hampson’s, noting his tunes and his manner of playing, which is in the best old style. He said, with the honest feeling of self love, “When I played the old tunes, not another of the harpers would play after me.” He came to Magilligan many years ago, and at the age of eighty-six, married of woman of Innisowen, whom he found living in the house of an old friend. “I can’t tell,” quoth Hampson, “if it was not the devil buckled us together, she being lame and I blind.” By this wife he has one daughter, married to a cooper, who has several children, and maintains them all, though Hampson (in this alone seeming to doat), says, that his son-in-law is a spendthrift and that he maintains them; the family humour his whim, and the old man is quieted. He is pleased when they tell him, as he thinks is the case, that several people of character, for musical taste, send letters to invite him; and he, though incapable now of leaving the house, is planning expeditions never to be attempted, much less realized; these are the only traces of mental debility; as to his body, he has no inconvenience but that arising from a chronic disorder: his habits have ever been sober; his favourite drink, once beer, now milk and water; his diet chiefly potatoes. I asked him to teach my daughter, but he declined; adding, however, that it was too hard for a young girl, but that nothing would give him greater pleasure, if he thought it could be done.

‘Lord Bristol, when lodging at the bathing house of Mount Salut, near Magilligan, gave three guineas, and ground rent free, to build the house where Hampson now lives. At the house warming his lordship with his lady and family came, and the children danced to his harp; the bishop gave three crowns to the family, and in the dear year, his lordship called in his coach and six, stopped at the door, and gave a guinea to buy meal.

‘Would it not be well to get a subscription for poor old Hampson? It might be sent to various towns where he is known.

Once more ever yours,

G.V.S.’

ADDENDA

 

‘In the time of Noah I was green,
After his flood I have not been seen,
Until seventeen hundred and two. I was found,
By Cormac Kelly, under ground;
He raised me up to that degree;
Queen of music they call me.’

‘The above lines are sculptured on the old harp, which is made, the sides and front of white sally, the back of fir, patched with copper and iron plates. His daughter now attending him is only thirty-three years old.

‘I have now given you an account of my visit, and even thank you (though my fingers are tired), for the pleasure you procured to me by this interesting commission.

Ever yours,

G.V. SAMPSON.’

In February 1806 the author, being then but eighteen miles from the residence of the Bard, received a message from him, intimating that as he heard she wished to purchase his harp, he would dispose of it on very moderate terms. He was then in good health and spirits, though in his hundred and ninth year.

4. The genuine history and records of Ireland abound with incidents singularly romantic, and of details exquisitely interesting. In the account of the death of the celebrated hero Conrigh, as given by Demetrius O’Connor, the following instance of fidelity, and affection of a family bard is given:– ‘When the beautiful, but faithless, Blanaid, whose hand Conrigh had obtained as the reward of his valour, armed a favoured lover against the life of her husband, and fled with the murderer; Feirchiertne, the poet and bard of Conrigh, in the anguish of his heart for the loss of a generous master, resolved on sacrificing the criminal Blanaid to the manes of her murdered lord. He therefore secretly pursued her from her palace in Kerry to the court of Ulster, whither she had fled with her homicide paramour. On his arrival there, the first object that saluted his eyes was the king of that province, walking on the edge of the steep rocks of Rinchin Beara, surrounded by the principal nobility of his court; and in the splendid train he soon perceived the lovely, but guilty, Blanaid and her treacherous lover. The bard concealed himself until he observed his mistress withdraw from the brilliant crowd, and stand at the edge of a steep cliff; then courteously and flatteringly addressing her, as he approached her presence, he at last threw his arms round her, and clasping her firmly to his breast, threw himself headlong with his prey down the precipice. They were both dashed to pieces.’

5. Item — That noe Irish minstralls, rhymers, thanaghs, ne bards, be messengers to desire any goods of any man dwelling within the English pale, upon pain of forfeiture of all their goods, and their bodies be imprisoned at the king’s will. Harris’ Hibernica, p. 98.

6. I have been informed that a descendant of the provincial kings of Connaught parted not many years back with the golden crown which, for so many ages, encircled the royal brows of his ancestors.

7. To this ancient and general custom Goldsmith alludes in his Deserted Village: —

‘And kissed the cup to pass it to the rest.’

 

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