11 DECEMBER 1880, Page 16


AMONG the curiosities of Irish art, literature, and antiquity which were brought to light by the energy and research' of the late Sir William Wilde, there is, perhaps, not one more unfamiliar to the world of the present day than the subject of this highly interesting Memoir. It was while ardently pursuing his own investigation of Irsh art and arclueology, that Sir William Wilde came upon traces of one who had preceded him with a similar purpose, and he at once- set to work to disinter and reconstruct Gabriel Beranger. It needed no little resolution and patience to accomplish this, for the traces were few. Here is the author's enumera- tion of them :—" A tradition among antiquaries and men of letters that there was a French artist in Dublin ninety years ago named Beranger ; the mention of his name in old volumes of the Gentleman's Magazine and the Hibernian Magazine, some inquiries about him in Notes and Queries, a reference in Dr. Petrie's work on the Round Towers, and 13eranger's signa- ture to some of the original drawings of antiquities published by Vallancey." Sir William Wilde was, however, a Leather- stocking of literature, untiring and unerring on the trail, and he gradually accumulated material for the present Memoir, which is the sole existing record of Beranger, but which the- author did not live to finish. The task of its completion has fallen to a hand as competent as his own—that of Lady Wilde- -and consequently the reader of this work gains from it at once knowledge of the learned antiquarian and accomplished artist of the last century, and also of the man who did more- than any other in our own time to preserve the mementos and to promote the study of Irish art and archa3ology. That which the writer of this Memoir—in itself a valuable- contribution to antiquarian knowledge—could not say of himself, it well becomes his wife to say of him, and she has done this with heartfelt admiration and. dignified eloquence, which lend to the second part of the volume a singular and. pathetic charm.

Sir William Wilde collected all the information concerning- Beranger—who had lived to ninety years of age, and had not a single blood-relation left at the time of his death—that could be procured from connections of his family. He succeeded also in obtaining the manuscripts in Beranger's own writing descriptive of his various tours through Ireland, and certain. volumes of water-colour sketches taken by him while travelling for the Antiquarian Society. In reference to these sketches, Lady Wilde justly remarks :—" They have now a peCulier value beyond even their artistic interest, as many of the castles and monuments he drew with such minute accuracy of detail have since fallen to ruins or disappeared entirely."

Beranger was born at Rotterdam, and came to Ireland in

• Mande. of Gabriel Beranger, and of his Labours In the Cause of Irish Are and Antiquitteedroin 1760 to 1780, By Sir William Wilde, M.D. Diehltir:. M. H.Gla and. Bon.

1750, where a branch of his family was settled. He was an artist by profession, no doubt a poor one, for there was not much art patronage in Dublin 130 years ago, and he kept a print-shop for some years. This supplementary industry was probably not very profitable either, for we find that his patrons, Colonel Burton Conyngham and General Vailancey, procured for him the post of assistant-ledger-keeper in the Government Exchequer Office, which he held for many years. He was not, however, destined to furnish an example of the struggle of taste and will with difficulty and poverty, for long before he was an old man he inherited a handsome competency from a portion of the fortune of his brother-in-law, Colonel Mestayer, who had gone out to India, in the days when the pagoda-tree grew high and palmy. His first essays in antiquarian research had the Irish capital and its environs for their direction, and the subjects of his earliest drawings were the two Cathedrals, the Round Tower of St. Michael's, the archiepiscopal palaces of St. Sepulchre's and Tallaght, Bagotrath Castle, and St. John's Tower. Even in Beranger's time, the relics of the ancient grandeur of Dublin were very few,and now they have so entirely perished that there is probably no European city in which the visitor finds it so difficult to summon up the past to his mind's eye. Here is a striking description of the vanished greatness, whose former local habitation Beranger assisted to define :—

" The temporal as well as ecclesiastical power of the early Arch- bishops of Dublin, if measured by the extent of territory and the magnificent architectural structures over which they ruled, must be regarded as immense. The palatial residence at Swords was prob- ably the oldest, as it certainly was the most extensive. Such were its dimensions, that while still capable of entertaining the Archbishop and his suite, it found accommodation for the Chief Governor and the Lords and Commons of Ireland, who held a Parliament within its walls. From Swords we pass to the Liberties of Saint Sepulchre, in the City of Dublin, where, under the shadow of the noble pile that bears the name of our patron (St. Patrick), within the Close, and surrounded by its kindred ecclesiastical structures, the Deanery, Marsh's Library, &c., stood the ancient palace of the spiritual lords of Dublin, which is now a police barrack ! It must have occupied the site of the original palace, or it may have been that absolutely inherited by Lawrence O'Toole, Henry the Londoner, and other prelates down to the days of Pitzsimon, Kirwan, Loftus, the learned Narcissus Marsh, and the patriotic King, until it was sold to the Government, and abandoned for a more fashionable locality."

To Beranger, antiquarians are indebted for a drawing of the Round Tower of St. Michael le Pole, which was taken down in 1775, after a great storm, which had so much injured it as to render it unsafe ; and to this drawing Sir William Wilde's readers are indebted for a very interesting summary of the long-waged con- troversy respecting the origin and use of the Round Towers, that has been set at rest by Dr. Petrie's work, but on which Beranger seems to have formed an opinion of his own. In his time, how- ever, information on all such points was scanty, "for," says Sir William Wilde, "the knowledge of architecture had not suffi- ciently advanced, nor that of archteology enlarged, to enable the men of the day to have treated the subject in a philo- sophical and eclectic manner." Beranger also explored and depicted Glendalough, to the great assistance of his learned successors ; and, indeed, until advanced old age, his researches were as indefatigable as his records of them were minute and precise. Accompanied by the Italian artist Bigari, "many of whose beautiful sketches," says Lady Wilde, "are to be found in Grose's Antiquities, he made excursions north and south in search of the antique and the picturesque, and sketched abbeys, castles, cromlechs, forts, mounds, and ruins, as they

journeyed on." The MS. volume descriptive of these tours, is a large quarto of 118 pages, in double columns on one side (and with notes and anecdotes on some of the blank pages), beautifully written in a clear, distinct hand, and con- tains several illustrative sketches. The narrative extends in time from 1773 to 1781. Several extracts from this volume are given in the Memoir, and they are full of vivacity, observation, and knowledge of Irish subjects and Irish writers. "Beranger also left," adds Lady Wilde, "two large volumes of water-colour sketches, and three smaller volumes of sketches, with written de- scriptions of each building appended. These sketches are of great interest now, as showing the architectural condition of Ireland a hundred years ago ; for since then many of the finest castles have become deserted, and the abbeys have fallen to ruins or totally disappeared. Lady Wilde describes Beranger's paint- ings as admirable in effect, clear in outline, and still vivid in colour, but somewhat harsh in treatment, more like mosaic than painting; and the drawings by which the Memoir is illustrated

bear out the justice of the latter remark, though there is no colour to point it. That of the Round Tower of St. Michael le Pole is just like a design for a block of Roman mosaic. Beranger was also a flower painter, and the collection of his drawings of this order is interesting, as showing what the fashionable flowers were a century ago, and the progress made in floriculture since. "So perfect are these coloured drawings, that even the slightest defects in the leaf or flower are shown. He also excelled in the painting of birds, not merely as an artist, but a naturalist; for the illustrations are drawn with ornithological accuracy, to the feather."

Sir William Wilde's own extensive and accurate knowledge of Irish antiquities and localities rendered the writing of a memoir of Beranger a peculiarly suitable and congenial task for him, and lend illustrative vividness and vitality to the narra- tive of the antiquarian and artistic labours of its subject. In particular, the details of Beranger's tour through Ulster and Connaught, which are very interesting, quaintly put, and full of lifelike touches, are admirably supplemented by Sir William Wilde's intimate knowledge of both Provinces. The fourth part of the Memoir, which was the last that the author completed, is concerned with Beranger's exploration of Glendalough and the Seven Churches in 1779. On its varied interest we have not space to dwell, but cau only note the following curious circumstance in connection with it, related by Lady

Wilde :— the Glendalough journal Beranger states I found a curious carved stone at Priestchurch, which escaped Mr. Barton and his com- pany, when encamped there with some gentlemen and artists, as the stone had the carving downwards.' By a singular chance, Sir William Wilde, on his last excursion to Glendalough, happened to find this very stone among the rubbish at Priestchurch. He brought it to Dublin, had it photagraphed and a model taken of it, and it now ap- pears among the illustrations of the Memoir. This interesting frag- ment of early art, which Sir William held to be the oldest sculptured steno at Glendalough, and probably the oldest incised stone in Ireland, has now been given up to the Commissioners of Antiquities, to be replaced by them in its original position, if that can be correctly ascertained."

By dint of much thinking about him, and tracing out of his ways and works, Sir William Wilde had come to have a very complete notion and image of Beranger, and he writes of him with a fresh and pleasant friendliness which is rather camaraderie than the laboured eulogium of the panegyrical biographer. They both loved Ireland, they both loved to turn over the old stones and to poke about in the forsaken places, like Mr. Breton Riviiire's lions on the prowl ; and, at the dis- tance of a century, the modern man of only a, few years ago, with all the modern means and appliances at his command, was moved by a great comprehension of, and sympathy with, the intrepid and persevering worker under difficulties. Here is a sketch of Beranger and his work, which makes them almost as visible to Sir William Wilde's readers as they were to h ims elf : —

" The good old Dutchman was spare in person, of middle height ; he wore his own hair, powdered and gathered into a queue ; he had a sharp, well-cut brow, and good, bushy eyebrows, divided by the special artistic indentation; a clear, observant, square-ended nose, that sniffed humbug, and took in fun ; clear, quick, brown eyes ; a well-cut, playful, dramatic month, eloquent and witty ; his chin was not powerful, but it was quite congruous with the face. Well shaven, no shirt to be seen, but his neck enveloped in a voluminous neck- cloth, fringed at the ends ; a drab, rather Quaker-cut coat and vest for home wear, and when out on sketching excursions, a long, scarlet frock-coat, yellow breeches, top-boots, a three-cornered hat, and in his hand a tall staff and a measuring-tape. He was a keen observer of Nature, men, and manners, a most painstaking artist, and a faithful delineator of antiquarian remains. Be is said to have been self- taught, and this may account for the hardness of some of his draw. jugs; yet no one of his time could draw an old castle, a cromlech, or a round tower better. He failed in trees and green fields. Had his observations and descriptions and his drawings of Irish ssenery and antiquities been published eighty or ninety years ago, they would have caused archaeological study to progress in this country, and perhaps forestalled the opinions of subsequent writers. Most of the drawings of animals introduced into his pictures would appear now-a- days to be caricatures; but then it must be remembered that great changes have taken place for the better, in the shape of our horses, sheep, and oxen. One animal Beranger drew to perfection, and seemed to delight in,—the good old Irish pig, lengthy, thin, leggy, hog-hacked, four-eared, his tail with a twist and a half in it, and bushy at the end, telegraphing to his knowing, half-shut eye, nearly covered by his long, drooping, upper lug, and glancing over his flexible, acute snout. Phil Purcell's pig to the life, before Tonkeys and Berkshires had improved away the riM1148 of old times."