THE CENTENARY OF SIR SAMUEL FERGUSON.
LTO THE EDITOR OP THE "SPECTATOR."]
Stn,—The centenary of the birth of Sir Samuel Ferguson, the celebrated Irish poet and archaeologist, will be kept in his native city, Belfast, on March 10th next, and I have been asked by the influential local Committee to state a case for the readers of the Spectator—British, Colonial, and American
— on behalf of the Memorial Fund which has been started to perpetuate Ferguson's memory.
Sir Samuel came of a Scotch family that had emigrated to the North of Ireland about the year 1640. He was educated at the Belfast Academical Institution, which celebrates its centenary in the same year as that of its distinguished alumnus. It may be here noted that the Institution taught not only Lord O'Hagan and Sir JosephLarmor, but James Thomson and his sons James and William, the latter of whom afterwards became Lord Kelvin. At twenty-one Ferguson wrote "The Forging of the Anchor "for Blackwood, a poem attributed to "Christopher North," but which Professor Wilson when crediting it to Ferguson rightly estimated as the firstfruits of poetical genius. Ferguson maintained his connexion with Maga and the Blackwoods as contributor and friend for full fifty years. But he resolutely turned his back upon his reputa- tion as a writer of purely English verse. His mind was on flower with Irish heroic legends, and he devoted his remarkable gift as a dramatic ballad writer to what he regarded as his patriotic duty to this field of literature. He had an increasing following amongst the more cultivated of his fellow-country- men; but he wrote at a time when politics absorbed the attention of the bulk of his compatriots, who were for that reason only sensible to the appeal of the rhetorical verse of the Young Irelanders. The great body of that political verse is forgotten, while Ferguson's Irish poems have been gradually growing in popular favour in his own country. So far, how- ever, they have only impressed a few of the leading English and Scotch and American and foreign thinkers and critics. Yet Swinburne called Sir Samuel Ferguson's "Welshmen of Tirawley " one of the finest ballads in the English language. Sir Theodore Martin speaks of "The Lays of the Western Gael" as "good strong wine full of glow and fragrance." Thomas Aird, author of "The Devil's Dream on Mount Aksbeck," Aubrey de Vere, William Allingham, Roden Noel, John Greenleaf Whittier, Villemarque, and Professor Dowden, of those competent to criticise such poetic work as Ferguson's, may be counted among his ardent admirers.
Ferguson received honorary degrees from Dublin and Edinburgh Universities for his contributions to literature and archaeology. He was the first Keeper of the Irish
Records and-1 President of the Royal Irish Academy, and- was knighted in 1878. Besides his "Lays of the Western Gael," which contains such memorable poems as "The Tain Quest," "The Burial of King Cormac," and ." Aideen's Grave," as well as "The Welshmen of Tirawley," and is, prefaced by a fine piece of criticism by Alfred M. Williams, Longfellow's friend, Ferguson produced" The- Epic of COngal," which he regarded as his opus magnum, and a volume of poems which included " Conary " and "Deirdre," the latter in dramatic form, which the critics pronounce his masterpieces, Mr. Yeats, who is an enthusiastic admirer of Ferguson, giving his vote for " Conary."
I have, I trust., shown cause to induce those readers of the Spectator who already know Ferguson's work to support the Memorial Fund now being gathered in Ferguson's honour, and to influence other readers of your journal to whom Ferguson is still unknown to make acquaintance with his writings, which are published by Sealy, Bryers, and Walker, of Dublin, and Edward Bell, of London. The resolutions passed by the Belfast Committee are as follows :—(1) "That a subscr:p- tion list be forthwith opened to raise a suitable Memorial to Sir Samuel Ferguson " ; (2) "That the Memorial should include the establishment of a Ferguson Lectureship or Scholarship in Belfast, and also the execution of a bust to be placed in Belfast Municipal Library." The subscriptions may be paid addressed to the care of R. Kyle Knox, Esq., LL.D., treasurer of the Ferguson Fund, the Northern Bank, Belfast.—I am,
ALFRED PRECEVA.L GRAVES.
Red Branch House, Lauriston Road, Wimbledon.