Life of Gerald Griffin, Esq. By his Brother.
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LIFE OF GERALD GRIFFIN.
FROM want of time, and possibly from want of skill, the chrono- logical narrative of this biography is deficient in arrangement, and abounds too much in verbose reflections. The fraternal relation- ship of the author to the hero has also induced him to magnify considerably the importance of GERALD GRIFFIN, and caused the introduction of minute particulars and personal correspondence,
which could only have possessed attraction n the case of a man about whom public curiosity was very highly excited, and scarcely even then. Passing these faults, the volume contains interesting mate- rials—traits indicative of Irish family life, some characteristic par- ticulars of the subject of the biography, and an account of strug- gles and sufferings in a literary career, to which the life of SAVAGE affords the closest recorded parallel, without the vices or the ne- cessity of SAVAGE, and in an age when authorship is better re- warded.
GERALD GRIFFIN was born in 1803, at Limerick ; where his father, an Irish country gentleman, then resided, having embarked in a brewery which had "caught his fancy," and very shortly induced embarrassments. His childhood and school-days are detailed at some length by his brother, but exhibit nothing par- ticular beyond a cacoethes scribendi ; although the reminiscences afford some glimpses of the strong affection and amiable feelings of Irish domestic life, with its deficiency perhaps in domestic dis- cipline. Pecuniary difficulties caused the emigration of his parents and part of the family to America ; GERALD, with some of the others, remained at home, under the charge of their elder brother, a physician. It was intended that he also should follow the pro- fession; and he served a short probationership to the healing art ; but visions of dramatic glory, the praises of a family-circle, and some little credit and experience he had obtained by writing and report- ing for a Limerick newspaper, determined him to seek his fortune as a literary adventurer in the Metropolis. Accordingly, in 1823, when he was not quite twenty years of age, he started for London, with plans for "rivalling Shakspere " in his head, a tragedy called Aguire in his pocket, a few letters of introduction, and but a
i slender supply n his purse.
With the improvidence of hope and inexperience, the adven- turer took lodgings in Regent Street ; delivered his letters of in- troduction; got acquainted with a sufficient number of people to be invited to read his tragedy in private parties ; and was intro- duced in consequence to an actor, whose name is superseded by four stars. This man took his piece, and promised to consi- der it ; but returned it after four months, in a dirty unsealed wrapper, without any opinion. In the interim, GRIFFIN had acquired the friendship of BANDI, then in the full flood of theatri- cal reputation' from the success of his Caius Gracchus. BANIM blamed him for sending his play to an actor; advised him to finish Gisippus, and undertook to present it to the management. His friendly efforts, like a few that GRIFFIN himself seems to have made in other directions with other pieces, were of no avail. The money he brought with him from home, and some subsequent remit- tances from his brother, were exhausted. He had no other resource than a few articles inserted in magazines, the payment for which was often evaded, and such trifling literary jobs as he could occa- sionally pick up. His descent in the world was gradual, day by day, but rapid measured by other periods. He left his lodgings in Regent Street, and hid himself in small rooms in obscure places : the state of his wardrobe soon induced him to confine himself to the house by day, and only venture out at nightfall, in search of answers to his literary applications, and for needful exercise. The same cause induced him to refuse the invitations of the few ac- quaintances he had : pride, the contrast of his former hopes with his present condition, and a doubt as to the means of his brother, who was ill, prevented him from applying to his family : hunger— absolute want of food, for be often fasted the day through, and sometimes several days together—was undermining his health, and had reduced him to a skeleton : yet literary pride was stronger than starvation. Ream, who had been offended with the frequent re- fusals of his invitations on obviously pretended grounds, and had lost sight of GRIFFIN for some months, was suddenly struck with a suspicion of the truth, and went in search of him. He had much difficulty in ascertaining his address ; but "At length he found the place, a small room in some obscure court, near St. Paul's. Gerald was not at home. He called again next day. He was still out, on his mission perhaps for more drudgery.' He then questioned the Woman who kept his lodgings as to his condition and circumstances. These she spoke of in terms of pity ; represented him as in great distress; said she had never spoken to him on the subject, but she was afraid he denied himself even the commonest necessaries; that he appeared in bad spirits, dressed but indifferently, shut himself up for whole days together in his room, without sending her for any provision, and when he went out it was only at night-fall, when he was likely to meet no one that he knew. This was a very distressing picture, particularly when considered in connexion with his incommunicative- ness, and the silent endurance with which it was going on. Mr. Banim im- mediately returned home and wrote him a very kind letter, offering him some pecuniary assistance until he should be able to get over his present difficulties. As I am not in possession either of this letter or the one written in reply to it, and as all that is characteristic in such things depends more upon the man- ner almost than the matter, it would not be quite fair to attempt to give a version of them here, especially as the account I have had of the transaction was not received from Mr. Banim himself. It is sufficient to say that the offer was rejected, with a degree of heat and sharpness which showed that he had not succeeded in lulling the dangerous feeling to which I have alluded, and that his goodnatured attempt proved so completely abortive that there was evidently no use in pursuing the matter further. The friends did not meet again for some time, and the circumstance occasioned a degree of estrangement which it was not easy to repair."
The following passage from a letter to his parents in America gives GERALD'S own account of his feelings and condition, front the first failure of his dramatic hopes till his final extrication. 0 This disappointment sent me into the contrary extreme. I before imagined I could do any thing; I now thought I could do nothing. One supposition was just as foolish as the other. It was then I set about writing for those weekly publications; all of which, except the Literary Gazette, cheated me abominably. Then, finding this to be the case, I wrote for the great maga- zines. My articles were generally inserted; but on calling for payment, seeing that I was a poor inexperienced devil, there was so much shuffling and shabby work that it disgusted me, and I gave up the idea of making money that way. I now lost heart for every thing; got into the cheapest lodgings I could make out ; and there worked on, rather to divert my mind from the hor- rible gloom that I felt growing on me in spite of myself, than with any hope of being remunerated. This, and the recollection of the expense I bad put Wil- liam to, and the fears—that every moment became conviction—that I should never be enabled to fulfil his hopes or my own expectations, all came pressing together upon my mind, and made me miserable. A thousand and a thousand times I wished that I could lie down quietly and die at once, and be forgotten for ever. But that, however, was not to be had for the asking. I don't think I left any thing undone that could have changed the course of affairs, or brought me a little portion of the good luck that was going on about me: but good luck was too busy elsewhere. I can hardly describe to you the state of mind I was in at this time. It was not an indolent despondency, for I was working bard, and I am now—and it is only now—receiving money for the labour of those dreadful hours. I used not to see a face that I -knew; and after sitting writing all day, when I walked in the streets in the evening it actually seemed to me as if I was of a different species altogether from the people about me. The fact was, from pure anxiety alone I was more than half dead, and would most certainly have given up the ghost I believe, were it not that, by the merest accident on earth, the literary friend who had procured me the un- fortunate introduction a year before dropped in one evening to have a talk' with me. I had not seen him nor anybody else that I knew for some months, and he frightened me by saying I looked like a ghost. In a few days, however, a publisher of his acquaintance had got some things to do—works to arrange, regulate, and revise; so he asked me if I would devote a few hours in the middle of every day to the purpose for 50/. a year. I did so ; and among other things which I got to revise, was a weekly fashionable journal. After I had read this for some weeks, I said to myself, 'Why, hang it, I am sure I can write better than this at any rate.' And at the same time I knew that the contributors were well paid. I wrote some sketches of London life, and sent them anonymously to the editor, offering to contribute without payment. He inserted the little sketches, and sent a very handsome sum to my anonymous address for them ; desiring me to continue, and he would be always happy to pay for similar ones. This put me in great spirits ; and by the knowledge I had acquired of literary people and transactions altogether, I was enabled to manage in this instance so as to secure a good engagement."
The true account of his start, however, appears to be, that. the friend who called upon him was so shocked at his appear- ance, that he went immediately to Dr. MAGINN, and through his means the employment spoken of was procured. After this his progress to competence was rapid. He procured an engagement as a reporter ; wrote articles and reviews for the literary journals and magazines ; composed a few minor dramas for ARNOLD; and, stimulated by the success of BASIN and others, wrote his volume of Irish tales called Holland-tide. When this was printed he took a journey to Ireland ; and its success enabled him to lessen the labour of periodical composition, and to reside for the most part at home. Here he threw off, and too rapidly for finished composition,
The Tales of the Munster Festivals, The Collegians, The Rivals, The Duke of Monmouth, and Tales of My Neighbourhood, besides writing his posthumous publication Tales of the Jury-Room. But a change was coming over GERALD GRIFFIN. There seems to have been a touch of mysticism in the blood ; besides which, GERALD was subject to freaks of something more than temper. We have seen his behaviour to BASIN: when they were subsequently recon- ciled, their friendship was nearly broken by some singularities on the part of GRIFFIN. One day when in Ireland, he left home secretly without a word or a line, and the first inkling the family had of him was a letter bearing the Calais post-mark, but saying nothing of his designs : it subsequently turned out that he went to Paris, but what he proposed doing or what he did there, no one ever knew, nor was he ever asked, as he seemed to wish it to be a secret. The disappointments and sufferings of his early life in London had perhaps further removed him from the mens sana in corpore sano ; but, whatever was the cause, he resolved to give up profane literature and devote himself to religion. At first he thought of the priesthood ; but be finally joined the Christian Brothers, a lay order, though with the vows and discipline of a con- vent ; having first destroyed all his manuscripts except Gisippus. He did not long survive : he joined the society in September 1838, and died in June 1840, of a slight typhus fever, against which his constitution had not strength to struggle.
Some regret has been expressed at his having abandoned litera- ture for the Christian Brotherhood, and at the rejection of Gisippus on his first arrival in London. As far as the individual was con- cerned, the regret is well grounded, if, as is probably the case, his debilitated frame was unequal to the privations of the order ; but we cannot think the public loss has been great. What GERALD Glumly might have been had he been a different man, none can
tell : but, taking him as he was—education, temperament, and ex- perience—we suspect that a tale was the highest effort of his mind, and that the then resources of that mind were exhausted by Hol- land-tide, the Tales of the Munster Festivals, and the better por- tions of The Collegians—for this work as a novel was incomplete and incoherent. The Duke of Monmouth was a poor and imitative attempt at historical romance ; and though some of his other Irish tales were good as tales, they exhibited no signs of im- provement, perhaps rather fell off. If his Gisippus stands now as it originally stood, it is a striking example, for a very young man, of a clever imitation of a tragedy, but, as it seems to us, with- out many traces of dramatic power, either in action, incident, cha- racter, or even dialogue. The mere reception of a new tragedy by an audience is no great test of dramatic merit, or we should have a good many more stock plays than we have ; but we believe the applause at Gisippus, as we said at the time, was given to its scenery and getting-up. His poetry, however, especially his lighter verse, was easy and pleasant, but deficient in strength and distinc- tiveness: there are lots of such.
We have indicated the defects of the biography as arising from overdoing—introducing private letters on unimportant matters, large quotations of poetry, which the biographer thinks exhibited the hero's feelings, and over-doses of reflection. There are also some passages which have little relation to the life of GERALD GRIFFIN, but are not devoid of interest,—as part of his journal in Scotland ; and a visit the brothers paid to MOORE, during the height of the Reform excitement, to propose his return for Limerick, which the poet declined. There are also many familiar traits of character, such as only the man himself or any intimate could have portrayed ; and with a few of these we will close our notice of GERALD Gaulle.
THE PROFESSION OF LITERATURE.
This is one of my buoyant days ; but do you know that I am generally most miserable ? The tormenting anxiety of a literary life—such a one as I lead— is beyond all endurance. When I send off my bundle of papers for the evening. I sit down here sometimes to think on my future prospects, and go to bed at last actually feverish with apprehension. There is nothing but doubt and uncertainty about it. No profession, no hold on society, no stamp, no mark, and time rolling on, and the world growing old about one. However, we must only work on as we can.
DECIPHERING-POWER OF LONDON PRINTERS.
You tax me with my illegible writing ; but 1 fear I cannot amend it, for I must not stay to shape my letters, and I have, I believe, got a bad habit from the facility with which the printers here make it out. I verily believe, if I abut my eyes, or flung the pen at the paper so as to make any kind of mark, the London printers would know what I intended to say. They always send me hack my manuscript with my printed proofs for correction; and I actually have repeatedly been unable to make out what I had written, until I had re- ferred to the same articles in print.
He was at the time regularly engaged in writing articles for some of the periodicals, and devoted his spare hours either to the tales afterwards published under the title of" Holland Tide," or to the composition of an opera for Mr. Ar- nold's theatre. Occasionally some newly-published works were sent to him for review, or some manuscript ones for his opinion as to the probability of their success if published. This occupation of reviewing and of passing judgment on unpublished manuscripts gave him little trouble, and the remuneration was liberal. He was often highly amused at receiving from the editor of some periodical three volumes of a newly-published novel, accompanied by a request that he would not cut the leaves. This, which he at first conceived so very ridiculous, and so apparently impossible with any justice to the author, he eventually found was almost a matter of necessity with many of the publications sent to him. They were of so trashy a description, that no one of ordinary taste could possibly get through even the first few chapter& His usual plan was to glance through the early part of a work, so as to obtain some notion of the plot ; a peep here and there in the second volume gave him an idea of the skill with which it was developed; and a slight consideration of the latter end of the third, or slaughter-house as he used to call the concluding part of a disastrous story or fifth act of a tragedy, satisfied him both as to the genius of the author and the merits of the performance. He no doubt made a more intimate acquaintance with his subject when his first hasty supervision gave him reason to believe it was written by a person of more than ordinary talent, and did not appear to feel conscious of having done any injustice during the short period he was engaged as a professional critic.
MODE OF COMPOSING.
When engaged in composition, he made use of a manifold-writer, with a style and carbonic paper, which gave him two and sometimes three copies of his work. One of these he sent to the publisher; the others be kept by him in case the first should be lost. He had his sheets so cut out and arranged, that they were not greater in size than the leaf of a moderate-sized octavo; • and he wrote so minute a hand that each page of the manuscript contained enough of matter for a page of print. This enabled him very easily to tell bow much manuscript was necessary to fill three volumes. His usual quantity of writing WRS about ten of these pages in the day. It was seldom less than this, and I have known it repeatedly as high as fifteen or twenty, without interfering with those hours which he chose to devote to recreation. He never rewrote his manuscript ; and one of the most remarkable things I noticed in the progress of his work, was the extremely small number of erasures or interlineations in it, several pages being completed without the occurrence of a single one. His
practice in writing n London no doubt gave him much facility in this respect. His manuscript being of a very convenient size' be generally put it in his pocket ; and during his rambles took it out on the hill-side, or wherever he had a moment's leisure, and wrote on. It was a singular proof of the great power I have noticed above, to witness the nature of the occupations amid which he was sometimes accustomed to follow his favourite pursuit.