17 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 22


AN ENTHUSIAST.* Corzasonserrosr between the two " Irish cousins " was ended by the death of " Martin Ross," but the inspiration of their long and fruitful partnership remains in the new novel from the pen of the survivor. There is no falling off in workmanship, in the unerring choice of the right word and turn of phrase ; and the continuity of spirit is shown perhaps most of all in the hand- ling of the thorny problems of Irish politics, hitherto either eschewed or only lightly touched on in the joint work of the collaborators. In her brief preface Miss Somerville notes the difficulty of adopting an impartial attitude. And it is doubly difficult in Ireland, where it has been said (though not by Miss Somerville) that there is no room for a moderate man. Yet she has chosen this hard road ; her characters all view Ireland from a different angle ; they speak for themselves, not for her : " On one point only are we all agreed—in love for the country that bore us, that ardent country in which the cold virtue of impar- tiality is practically unknown." There is no coldness in this recital, but impartiality is maintained. The dramatis personae include Sinn Feiners, active and passive ; opportunists, vision- aries, pessimists, coercionists ; but they are all Irish. Even Lord Ducarrig, the most repellent of the Unionists who appear in these pages, could not keep away from the country that appealed to his aesthetic sense while he despised and distrusted its people.

The scene is laid in Connaught; the time is the spring and summer of 1920 ; the neighbourhood is one in which, though raids were not uncommon and barracks and court-houses were

• An Enthusiast. By Ti. (. Somerville. London : Longman. [as. ad. net.

being burned down, the destruction of private houses had not yet begun. It was a time of civil war, of suspense and suspicion and uncertainty, yet life went on pretty much as usual. The scene at the funeral of old Colonel Palliser showed that the " Old Stock " were not yet given up. Dan Palliser, his only son, who had served and been wounded in the war, was a landless landlord, yet found the position more endurable than his father did because he was an enthusiast for agricultural reform. He finds a tenant for Monalour in Lord Ducarrig, an ex-Colonial Governor, but declining the advice of a family council that he should let the dower house and migrate to London, resolves to stay on and farm-the demesne. He had studied at an agricultural college ; he saw the one panacea for Ireland's troubles in the doctrine of " Speed the Plough," in motor-tractors and creameries and co- operation. Dan was a zealot, a reformer, and an enthusiast, but he was also human and impatient. His first difficulties were not political, but grew out of the prehistoric methods of his men and their prejudice against novelties. Even James Ryan, the prosperous farmer and horse-breeder, who admired Dan and espoused his cause, advised him to stick to the old ways his men knew. A far more formidable obstacle was Nicholas Coyne, the evil genius of the plot ; contractor, storekeeper, profiteer, who stood in with Sinn Feiners and loyalists ; a master of the labyrinthine and tortuous intrigues of local politics, whose governing principle was that all votes on the Union of Eskragh must be paid for, even if it was only by half a crown. Dan is elected to the Rural District Council, but only by the manoeuvring of Ryan, who pledges Dan, without his knowledge, to the support of Coyne's tender for the coal contract. At the election of a Clerk to the Union, Dan's nominee is defeated by Coyne's bribery, to his great disgust, but he still has great hopes of the local Agricultural Society, of which he is President. He finds v kindred soul in the gentle priest, Father Hugh, another lover of Ireland, though his hopes of her redemption are based on spiritual, not material, progress. Yet, by the irony of fate, it was Father Hugh who' was the innocent cause of Dan's undoing. At the priest's suggestion he meets him at the house of a Sinn Fein farmer in the hope that good may come of bringing together the two enthusiasts. Eugene-the- Talk " is an extremist in theory only, and fully alive to the mingled brutality and levity of his associates, but he is under the observation of the police, and their arrival and his arrest at the time of Dan's visit lay the latter under suspicion, latent, but not openly revealed at the subsequent " motor-tractor meet " organized by Dan to show off his new toy. The machine is recalcitrant and only " functions " after most of the visitors have gone. Still, Dan is exhilarated, only to fall into a deeper' trough of the wave when, riding off to call on an old tenant of his father, he finds him in despair over the death of his son, shot in an attack on a neighbouring police barrack. The impact of this tragedy, the spectacle of Patrick Curtin's grief, impels Dan then and there to dedicate himself to Ireland.

But the path of renunciation, for so it proved, was hard : already the conflict between love and duty had begun. The mariage de convenance with a well-dowered cousin, planned by his mother, a devoted but exacting woman, had failed without provoking any disappointment, except in Mrs. Palliser. But Dan had already fallen deeply in love with Lady Ducarrig, the wife of his tenant, a beautiful woman, married from the schoolroom to a man more than twice her age, long estranged from him, yet hitherto preserved from the breath of scandal partly by fastidiousness, partly by conscience, partly by a certain coolness of temperament which made her overestimate her powers when once confronted with a strong and ardent nature. For Lady Ducarrig was no vulgar scalp-huntress ; she made conquests of women as well as men ; she sang divinely, and Dan was " flat- tered by music's golden tongue " when the taste of the singer happened to fall in with his own. Dan's case was all the harder because the gradual change of his feelings from a hopeless adoration into the final certainty that his love was returned, coincided with a steady weakening of his influence over the farmers and men whom he had striven to unite on a non-political basis. Even those who sought to do him a good turn—Father Hugh, James Ryan, and his groom—only played into the hands of his enemy, Nicholas Coyne, Honest dealing, co-operation, and the elimination of the middleman were alike anathema to this astute intriguer and stimulated his malignity. Himself the most double-faced of men, he contrived to convict Dan of the offence of facing both ways, until, disillusioned and discouraged, the " enthusiast " resigns his Presidency of the Agricultural Society at a stormy meeting, in which he rouses the farmers to impotent fury by his vehement denunciation of their cowardly opportunism. Estranged from his mother, with no strong counsellor to turn to for help or advice, Dan is further tempted to abandon his life-work by a not =chivalrous desire to rescue Lady Ducarrig from an intolerable husband, whose jealousy was only a mask for furthering his release from his wife and taking another. Yet, after much torment, vacillation, and perplexity, Dan had finally nerved himself to keep his vow of dedication when he loses his life in the attempt to beat off a night raid on Monalour, falling, by a specially cruel irony of fate, not to one of the _gunmen, but to a shot from the chief defender.

It is an end in keeping with all that has gone before, for Dan, though he knew it not, was In the succession of martyrs, and suffered the common lot of the idealist who tries to live his ideals in a country which stones her prophets. Dan was neither a Sinn Feiner nor a Unionist. The murders of policemen and soldiers were brutal, cowardly, and senseless, yet he denied that they were personal or done for private interests. He passion- ately assailed the view that because outrages were committed all Irishmen were blackguards, and incurred the hostility of his own class and his relations by associating with Sinn Foiners in the effort to build up the prosperity of Ireland by co-opera- tive industry, and by refusing to share in the pessimistic denun- ciations of loyalist " after-dinner warriors." The chief villain of the plot is Coyne, whose " principles "are those of the gombeen- man, the informer, the middleman. He has no political convic- tions, but keeps a foothold in both camps. Greed is his ruling passion. Dan, as we have seen, was non-political, but his motive was goodwill to all, though he came to be distrusted by both parties. Miss Somerville has given us a sad but illumi- nating story. Though it ends in tragedy, yet it is not the tragedy of unrelieved despair when so wise and dispassionate an observer, who knows Southern and Western Ireland intimately and has lived there throughout the black years since the war, is still ready to declare that all the people she has so faithfully depicted, whatever their class, creed, or politics, are united in their love for the country that boro them, though united in nothing else.