16 SEPTEMBER 1871, Page 20


THERE is a curious mixture of the apologetic and complacent tone in Mr. Gibson's prefatory description of his "attempt to write history in the attractive form of Historical Portraits," and his warning that "there are periods of history which can be read by the light or illumination of romance only." His drift is to intimate that the authentic materials of his narrative are mostly dry and meagre, that the public consequently take too little in- terest in the subject, and that it is desirable to conciliate their attention to it by an admixture of fiction and gossip, or, in sub- stance, by loading it with the legends of various periods, new novelistic details, and even, faute de ndeux, with the school- boyish orations that have been made for the chiefs by old Welsh or English chroniclers. Of these elements the legends alone have some value and interest, and these are related in a fettilleton style which has too little dignity or shrewdness to be quite agreeable to us. The opening chapters, moreover, are com- piled in a painfully abrupt and desultory manner, though for this defect the imperfection of the documents might again have been pleaded. As to the general scope and limits of the work, we are studiously left unaware of what we should expect until we end the llittorical Portraits of Irish Chieftains and" Anolo-Nortnan Knights. By the Bev.

Charles B. Ulbsou, Loudon: Lontonaus, Oreen, and Co. 1571.

volume. Indeed the author avows at the outset that it is hard to ascertain when the conquest of Ireland was completed, or even whether the people are yet subdued. However, he has not taken advantage of this doubt to declare his series of " Portraits " inter- minable ; on the contrary, he terminates it in the time of Elizabeth (a late period certainly in which to distinguish Anglo-Norman Knights) ; but to this queen's reign from her father's he has leapt with a politic impetuosity which enables him to omit all reference to the religious and hierarchic questions that so much contributed to

revive the first contest of nationalities. The romancer's licence claimed by our author must be supposed to cover a large amount of inaccurate citation and slovenly recital in it, that will soon be observed by any one consulting him in a serious temper.

It is not often easy to confront Mr. Gibson with his authorities, in order to ascertain how far he has read them by the light of imagination ; but we notice a bit of Tacitus where it is hardly a "scientific use" of this faculty which is evinced, as well in the translation as in the unconscious inferences. By good luck it is only for the sake of a loose historical parallel that the passage has been brought before us. Mr. Gibson writes :—

"There is an old saying that history repeats itself. About 700 years before this, an Irish provincial King, in somewhat similar circumstances. to those of Dermot, King of Leinster, went to the Roman General then com- manding in Britain, to invite him to undertake the conquest of Ireland."

There is perhaps a misprint in the figures "700," for more nearly eleven centuries than seven intervened between the life- time of Agricola and the expatriation of Diarmaid. But let that pass :—

" The circumstance is thus recorded by Tecitus. 'Agricola had re- ceived one of the petty kings of that nation, who had been expelled for some domestic sedition. He detained him for some time. I have often heard/rem him that Ireland might be conquered and retained by one Roman legion and moderate supplies; and that, as it regards Britain, it would be an advantage if both Roman arms and liberty were removed from their sight."

We found this last clause quite unintelligible, and were even startled at the notion of a king expelled for a domestic sedition, though imagination prompted us to infer that he had violated those inalienable rights of national sovereignty, or perhaps of the Materfamiliae, which the Irish even in those remote times may possibly have been well acquainted with. But even the transla- tion before us, defective as it will appear, fails to show that the petty king went to Agricola "to invite him to undertake the con- quest of Ireland." Why should so large a project have spontane- ously entered the brain of this unpatriotic genius ? It is more likely- all his depositions as to its feasibility were first wormed from him by the experienced Roman General. But let us proceed to look at the Latin text (J. Agric. Vita, c. 25) :— "Agricola expuleum seditione domestica unum ox regulis gentle. exceporat, ao specie amioitite in oecasionem retinehat. Sa3pe ex so audivi, legiono et modicie auxiliis debollari obtinerique Hiberniam posse. Idque damn advereus Britsuniam profuturum, ei Romana ubique arms, at volut c conepeetu libertas tolleretur."

We can now understand that the king was expelled bg the sedition,. and that, as regards Britain, it would have been an advantage had the Roman arms been everywhere, and liberty, as it were, removed out of sight. The ambiguity of "heard from him" (from Agricola, or the Hibernian) may be certainly laid to the charge of Tacitus's curt Latin. But it was not the part of an imaginative historian to find in the sonorous phrase "ac specie amicitias in occasionem retinebat " nothing more signified than. "he detained him for some time." A not unoccupied reader may detain any book for some time, but it is another thing to retain. one for an occasion. We should be loth, for instance, to keep Mr. Gibeon's by us for any reference that we may hereafter require on Irish history ; it is too full of incongruous details, undigested references, and inexhaustible misprints, mispunctuations, and clerical errors, which might all be expanded by the next unwary or romance-loving compiler into serious blunders. And after all, we soon come to the end of the chapters that have any pretension to be impressive, amusing, or even "graphic," and come to an irregular epitome of obscure registers in which no merit can be looked for if accuracy is wanting. It might, nevertheless, be interesting, when we have fairly entered into the campaigns of Henry II.'s time, to follow our author in various particulars which. are omitted, or unduly compressed by the English historians ; but he has really a hugger-mugger way of bringing forward circum- stances and documents which is most trying to the memory and. attention. Take, for instance, this short passage in chap. xviii., and let us pass over its grammatical deficiencies :— " Henry, when landing on the Irish shore, might say with Julius Cresar Voni, vidi, vioi.' Diarmaid MacCarthy, King of Desmond or Cork, was one of the first, if not the first, Irish Prince who wont to Henry, ta

Waterford, and. swore fealty. The affair is thus graphically described

in Ilanmer's Chronicle:—' Dermot MacCarthy, Prince of Cork, became tributary, swore faith, truth, and loyalty to the King of England. The King thereupon gave Cork to Fitz-Stephen and Miles do Cogan. Han- mor must have road Giroldus Cambrensis very carelessly to see that he made this grant thereupon, for Henry did not grant the kingdom take theCork to Fitz Stephen and Do Cogan till five or six years after. T

the kingdom of Cork at once (torn MacCarthy, and give it to a Norman, would have been an unwise return for tbia Irish king's early submission."

No doubt of it, but what on earth is there so graphic or relevant in Hannter's second-hand statement, that the reader need be allowed to receive from it a false impression of an anticipated event, before he is led to a more authentic source of information? For another instance of method, compare two portraits of the ad- venturer Maurice Fitzgerald, which are successively quoted as from his nephew, Giraldus Cambrensis, on pp. 71 and 123 :— "This Maurice was a man of dignified aspect and modest bearing, of a roddy complexion and good features. Ho was of the middle height, neither tall nor short. In him, both in person and temper, moderation was the rule ; tho one was well-proportioned, the other equable."

"Maurice was an honourable and modest man, with a face sun-burnt and well-looking, of middle height, well modelled in mind and body."

Here we have only, as will be guessed, two different interpreta- tions of a Latin passage, beginning, no doubt quaintly, " Erat autem Mauricius vir venerabilis et verecundus, vultu colorato deoentique, mecliocri quadam modicitate tam mediocribus [? pro- eerie] minor gleam modicis major ; vir tam anima quam corpore rnodifleato, nee illo elate, nee hoe dilatato." But not content with this multiplication of Giraldus Cambrensis, Mr. Gibson has else- where quoted him again in the diction of an imitator, ejaculating,

"Giraldus gives the following beautiful description of his uncle, Maurice Fitzgerald. We quote from Hollingshed;—' A man he was, both honest and wise, and for truth and valour very noble and famous. Well coloured and of good countenance, &c"

Thus the portrait comes out "of a ruddy complexion," "with a sunburnt face," and at last "well coloured." Is there no author known to have turned Hollingshed into Latin, that by retranslat- ing him Mr. Gibson might pick up a fourth epithet for the com- plexion which thus varies under the light of his historical imagination?

Of the performances of the antique Irish poets, we are sorry to see no more elevated specimens in this volume than Mr. Gibson has selected for us. He has certainly given some diverting accounts of the maimer in which they were able to rhyme their adversaries to death ; but he proceeds to expatiate on a satire of which the result was much more deplorable. This was the famous composition of an Aenghus O'Dttly, whose date is not clearly specified, but must have been posterior to 15713 ; and it bears 2-eference to the entertainments he had received in the houses of various native chieftains, which he characterizes, with perhaps one exception, as anything but generous and aristocratic. Of this composition Mr. Gibson says :—" It has been translated from the Irish, and annotated by Dr, O'Donovan." He then introduces some quatrains in English doggrel, which we thought at first had been produced by Dr. Donovan, but find presently that we must attribute to "the poet Mangan." The following quatrain is chiefly valuable as an illustration of the licence translators will at times allow themselves :— " O'Oonor brags much of his cattle; their milk, No'ertheless, is enough to half poison that ilk ;

They are poor, skinny, hunger-starved stets, the same cattle; • When they walk, you can hear their dry bones creak and rattle."

For this is corrected by Dr. O'Donovan into :— 4'A handful of meal in a trough in his house Lord save them from hungor, t'would starve a good mouse ! The minstrels the harpstrings do rattle and flitter, With noise like the sow's singing bass to her litter."

But we are more perplexed at the different views that can be

taken of the import of O'Daly's concluding stanza. Mr. Gibson says:--

." The last house visited in Munster, where the poet rhymed or esti- sized himself to death, was that of O'Meagher ; and it is worthy of notice, that Meagher was the only chieftain whom he did not satirize.

"' Last, O'Nfeagher, for yourself, last, tho' Gatos not least You're a prince, and are partial to mirth and the feast. Huge cauldrons, vast fires, with fat sheep, calves, and cows, and Harp-music distinguished your house 'mid a thousand.'"

"The versified .paraphrase of these lampoons by James Clarence Mangan are not [am] always correct translations of the original. The literal translation . . . was as follows :—

" A largo fire in the house of O'M., Men and meat beside it ; A large cauldron of fermented wine-grapes, Under which 011eagher's cow calves.

It is probable that O'Meagher's servant understood the last line as containing a sneer, and that it excited his wrath to plunge a sharp

knife into the poet's nook. Many are the bitter satires I have written,' said the poet, on the nobles and clans of Munster, but none over re- quited me with a blow, till the O'Meaglier gave me my death-wound. I perish, smitten down by a chieftain who:n I eulogized.' " We are tempted to infer that no acknowledgment of that magni- ficence which is so dear to the hearts of the Irish, can atone for a sneer at the higgledy-piggledy character that is sometimes said to intrude itself into their domestic economy. We wish Mr. Gibson had more fully reflected on this ; for he exhibits the same trait in the arrangements of his literary kitchen, to an extent which may almost disparage his zeal in doing justice to his countrymen's chi- valrous virtues. But he is content to wind up this subject by intimating that the poet deserved his fate, if he had been paid by the Viceregal Government to lampoon the Irish generally.

But we quickly perceive as we advance in this work that it is not intended for the readers of history or romance, as such, but rather to suit the predilections of a few titled families and of the persons interested in their pedigrees, the genealogical romance having this privilege, that men are amused not only by reading it, but by vindicating it with some partial appearance of argument and authority. It is only by this view we can understand the air of pretension and pertinacity with which Mr. Gibson stands up for a very puerile legend about a De Courcy, and the exploit by which he earned for his "successors" the privilege of standing covered in the Royal presence. The tale is less amusing and not more likely than one we have already seen in some Irish novel, concerning a warrior who bestrode and protected Henry V. at Agincourt, when they had both, together with their comrades, thrown away their nether garments during the campaign in con- sequence of some cutaneous disorder, and showing how an here- ditary privilege was thus earned of an opposite character to that claimed by Quakers. But Dr. Leland, as we are honestly told, looks upon the De Courcy legend as a myth, because Normandy had been lost by John and won by Philip Augustus before the date of the safe-conduct given to John Couray in order, as it is alleged, that he might assert his master's claim to a certain Norman town by single combat. Mr. Gibson says in reply that King John had other dominions on the Continent besides Normandy ; he had still the large province of roitou, and other towns which might have furnished ground for a feat of arms. Very likely ; but the deponent mentions Normandy, and not Poitou. Shall we say that Susannah was not detected under a mastich tree, nor yet under a holm tree, but that there are other trees in Palestine, and very large ones ? But we might take a different view of the evidence before us if we had been writing with a view to interest the "thirtieth Lord of Kinsale," or others.