Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The New Atheism Seems Well and Truly Over


I saw this poster in UCD. I'm rather pleased secularists are giving up on the hard sell and going for the soft sell. I could actually answer two of the three questions in the affirmative. (Click on the image to enlarge the text.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

But, But, But...

Here is the second part of the interview I mentioned in my previous post. In this segment, Bishop Barron argues that "the Church is radical in its demands and radical in its mercy", citing Pope Francis as an example of this outlook. He also says that the Church should not dial back its demands because people find them excessive, giving just war theory as an example.

Bishop Barron has spoken admiringly of Amoris Laetitia, pretty much using the same formulation-- that you can't just "drop the truth on people".

The trouble is...the problematic interpretations of Amoris Laetitia do seem to be a case of the Church dialling back its demands, not of the Church extending its mercy. It's not a case of priests telling those in immoral situations: "You've failed to live up to the Church's demands. God understands and forgives. Go and try again." It really does seem to be a case of priests saying (or being encouraged to say): "Don't even try to live up to these demands if you find them too difficult."

I really wish figures like Bishop Barron would come out and explicitly support the teaching of St. John Paul II in this regard. I do feel a sense of disappointment that they don't. And a deep sense of admiration for those prelates who have had the courage to do so.

There seems to be such a mismatch between the importance of this controversy (which Edward Feser describes as a doctrinal crisis) and the lack of interest in it in the media, or even amongst many Catholics. This is way more important than Donald Trump or Brexit. 

A Wonderful Example of Respectful Discussion between an Atheist and a Catholic

Dave Rubin interviews Bishop Robert Barron, and they actually talk to each other rather than past each other.

I've had good things to say about Michael Voris recently, after having criticised him for years. I think he's doing good work. 

However, I think he's harsh on Bishop Barron. Sometimes I think the good Bishop goes a bit too far trying to find "seeds of holiness" in the culture, but I'm a big fan on the whole.

I'm glad the New Atheist moment is past. Yes, I think polemic is often justified, and I think political correctness needs to be squashed mercilessly. But, for preference, I would always prefer a civilised debate with those who disagree with me.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Some Sweet Reason from Fr. Dwight Longenecker...

...on the question of whether immigration and asylum-seeking is a prolife issue, and on the question in general.

Contrast it with the increasingly hysterical rhetoric from Mark Shea, who I used to admire. It's worrying seeing so many of his fanboys agree wtih him in the comment box. I won't link to his blog.

In the last year or so, I have realised with increasing dismay that there is a very powerful left-wing contingent in the Catholic church, even amongst people with whom I had previously thought myself to be more or less on the same wavelength. Now I realise that, though we are brothers and sisters in Christ, I am very deeply in disagreement with them on most other matters. And, quite often, I even believe them to be in error on what constitutes orthodoxy and what does not.

They look to politicize the Faith, which I think is very wrong, and they seek to elevate prudential matters to matters of solid doctrine-- while, ironically, they are very often less-than-enthusiastic about defending orthodoxy itself. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing them for their left-wing views. I'm criticizing them for suggesting that not agreeing with those views makes me a bad Catholc.

Now, on this blog I present many views which are my own and for which I don't claim warrant from my religious faith. I was very enthusiastic to see the UK leave the European Union, for instance. That is my own view. I don't expect other Catholics to share it. My dislike of free-verse poetry is another example. There are any number of other examples. I always try to be clear on this distinction.

I must admit that this experience-- of realising just how insidious and pervasive this left-wing current amongst Catholics really is-- has truly shaken me. I had come to think of the Church, even taken as a human institution, as a sanctuary from the secular world. Now I find myself, instead, pondering on St. Teresa of Avila's wonderful image of the Christian: a warrior who must keep his weapons beside him even as he sleeps, so long as he remains on Earth.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Kitsch and Tack


This is a picture of a plastic mug which exactly resembles a mug one of my colleagues drinks from. Every time I see it, I wince. It symbolises so much of what I hate about the modern world-- or should I say, the post-modern world?

I'm not complaining about the message. I've nothing at all against recycling, and I'm just as opposed to the 'throwaway culture' as Pope Francis. (Unlike the Maltese bishops and Cardinal Kasper, I'm also against the 'throwaway culture' when it comes to marriage.)

No, what really bothers me about this mug is the wasted opportunity that it represents. William Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, famously wrote: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." It seems like a good principle to me. I'd go even further-- we should try to make everything beautiful, even the useful things. And not only beautiful, but meaningful.

Cave paintings were the first intentional mark that humans left on the world, and since then our species has been notable for its tendency to decorate every surface available to it. And we don't just love decoration for its own sake; we like to make a statement, whenever we get an opportunity. It might be naming a pet, choosing a keyring, putting a backround on our computer screens, picking a ringtone, or any number of other things. We turn almost everything into an opportunity for self-expression and proclaiming allegiance.

T-shirts are my favourite example. I''m always irritated when I see someone in a plain t-shirt. T-shirts can be so gloriously anti-utilitarian. You can put anything on a t-shirt; it's the ideal space. OK, it's embarrasing to see someone clad in a "This would look nice on your bedroom floor" t-shirt, or an "If found, return to the pub" t-shirt. But there are lots of very witty, fetching and intriguing t-shirt captions and designs.

Most of all, I like tasteful t-shirts. In fact, I like everything to be tasteful.

And here we hit a complication, and the real subject of this blog post. Because I reckon that there are basically two concepts which you might take as the opposite to 'tasteful', and which one you choose will say a lot about your personality and view of the world. You might consider the opposite of tasteful to be kitsch, or you might take the opposite of tasteful to be tacky-- or its back-formation, tack.

 I consider the mug pictured at the top of this article to be a supreme example of tack. It makes no effort to be picturesque, harmonious, graceful or decorative whatsoever.

Here, on the other hand, is a mug that many people would consider to be kitsch:



I very much wish my colleague used a mug like this, rather than the mug he uses. I don't think this mug is kitsch at all. I think it's tasteful and elegant.

The terror of kitsch is a terrible affliction on today's society, in my view. It so often scares us away from any visual display that is florid, grandiose, solemn, poetic, cosy, or sublime.

 I wrote an essay-poem on modern society's fear of solemnity. The fear of kitsch is closely related. (Indeed, the image I use to illustrate my essay-poem is Monarch of the Glen, a majestic painting which is frequently dismissed as kitsch.)

If contemporary society fears kitsch, it seems to have no fear at all of tack. Tackiness is especially common in advertising, where loud noises, silliness, irony, 'quirkiness', and deliberate ugliness abound. But it's also prevalent in many other aspects of life, such as television production-- take for instance those very annoying sequences where some activity, such as painting a room or cooking a dinner, is speeded up to a comical degree, to show the passage of time. Or the practice of having cut-away shots of an interviewee standing cross-armed, staring at the camera moodily. Common to all this is a lack of dignity and sobriety.

I can barely watch television any more, because of this.

Another example; I am frequently annoyed by the sight of a removals truck with a picture of two matchstick men on its side, with the caption: "Two Guys and a Truck". Doubtless they thought it was quirky and self-deprecating. But it's just ugly and contemptuous, in my view.

A final example of tack, encountered today: I saw a house with the name "Wit's End". My first reaction was to smile, but my second reaction was to think how tacky it was. A house deserves a serious name. Would you rather use that very rare opportunity to make a joke, or to honour a saint?

Funnily enough, my own attitude towards 'kitsch' is quite the opposite of the attitude which seems prevalent today. The general attitude today seems to be that kitsch is bad if you don't realise it's kitsch, but allowable if you do realise it's kitsch. If you do realise it's kitsch, you might put it up anyway-- either out of irony, or out of sheer bloody-mindedness. But if you don't realise it's kitsch, then you're showing yourself up as a dolt, a person of execrable taste.

My own view is that kitsch is OK as long as you don't think of it as kitsch. In fact, I don't thhink anything is kitsch as long as it's meant seriously. The awareness of kitsch, and the anxiety about kitsch, is a loss of innocence, a corruption. Kitsch meant sincerely is beautiful, just as a semi-illiterate love poem full of clichés is beautiful. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

Our contemporary horror of kitsch bothers me especially, since I'm nostalgic for a Catholic and nationalist Ireland whose visual iconography is often dismissed as kitsch.

Who hasn't heard of Catholic kitsch? The Church has fought with iconoclasts throughout much of its history, and much of Catholic art-- high and popular-- is notable for its ornateness, extravagance, and floridity.

I did a Google image search for 'Catholic kitsch' and this was one of the first results that came up. I see nothing wrong with this.



Admittedly, there are examples of Catholic 'kitsch' which are much more out there. We've probably all seen the huge luminous statues of our Lord or our Blessed Mother, or the holographic renditions of Leonardo's Last Supper. But even those have a certain charm-- and I don't mean the charm of irony or quaintness. I mean genuine, straightforward charm. It's charming because it expresses devotion and reverence.

Similarly, Irish cultural nationalism has traditionally made use of symbols and conventions which are now, sadly, seen as only fit for the tourists. I'm talking about round towers, Irish wolfhounds, St. Bridget's crosses, harps, Celtic spirals, shamrocks, thatched cottages, rugged rocky islands, old men in cloth caps smoking pipes, etc. Granted, some of these are cornier than others, and many are archaic now. People don't really live in thatched cottages anymore. But I see no reason why they shouldn't continue to be used as symbols, as evocations.

Or take this poem, "The Exile's Return" by John Locke, a nineteenth century writer. I'll only quote the first verse. ("T'anam chun Dia!" pretty much means, "By God!")

T’anam chun Dia! but there it is –
The dawn on the hills of Ireland,
God’s angels lifting the night’s black veil
From the fair sweet face of my sireland.
Oh! Ireland isn’t it grand you look,
Like a bride in her fresh adorning,
And with all the pent-up love of my heart
I bid you the top of the morning.


Now, Irish people have an intense hatred of the phrase "top of the morning", since nobody has used it in living memory. But it seems it was once used. And John Locke was indeed an Irish exile and a nationalist, so presumably he used it with some authority.

As for the poem itself....I'm not going to claim it's great poetry, though it's perfectly competent. It frequently made me cry in my teens. But who would dare to write poetry like this today? Not even the most unabashed throwback.

We often hear the advice "be a tourist in your own country". I think we could take it to heart in many ways, including a kinder attitude towards "tourist kitch", and a willingness to have it in our own kitchens, on our own walls, and in our own bookshelves.

What symbols of Irishness do we have today? Well, there is always the Millennium Spire of Dublin. A huge steel spike that means nothing, commemorates nothing, and is downright ugly. Here is the victory of tack.


All in all, I think our society could do with a lot more kitsch and a lot less tack. Or at least, if we don't get over our fear of kitsch-- our fear of being sentimental, our fear of being corny, our fear of being clichéd, our fear of being trite--- we're just going to get more and more tack.

Happy Chinese New Year


I doubt I have any Chinese readers (but who knows?). Nevertheless, Happy New Year to you if you are reading.

I took this photograph about two weeks ago, to put on this blog. It interests me for two reasons:

1) I really like it as an advertisement. I like its simplicity and sobriety. I've only realised now that it does have a gimmick; the food is made to look like fireworks. Nevertheless, it's still admirably restrained and tastseful. I wish there were more advertisments like that. I hope to write something about kitsch and tackiness soon.

2) I've often written that I'm a cultural nationalist and I think the culture of the majority should be, to put it bluntly, hegenomic. But this doesn't mean I'm against ethnic minorities, or that I don't think they should celebrate their own traditions and practice their own culture. In fact, I think it would be a shame if they didn't.

I remember when a Chinese restaurant, the Mandarin Kitchen, opened in Ballymun, when I was a kid. I remember my family members looking at the menu they posted through the door, which included information on the Chinese horoscope. I thought it was the most exotic thing in the entire world. (I'm pretty psyched to have been born in the Year of the Snake, too. Much better than a rat or a rabbit.)

Sometimes I say to my colleagues in the library: "I wish all the students were Asian." I don't really wish that, but they are extraordinarily polite and reasonable. Ultimately, though, I'm rather more drawn to Japanese culture than to Chinese culture, though I don't know a whole lot about either of them.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Good Article on Snopes's New Liberal Bias

Here.

Snopes-- a website about urban legends, whose name comes from the fiction of William Faulkner--  was once my favourite website. I have happy memories of discovering it, the first Christmas I worked in UCD university library. I spent hours clicking its 'randomize' button, reading story after story. I'm very interested in folklore in almost all its guises. In fact, nearly everything that interests me has some "folkish" aspect to it. It was also a good website in which to savour the many-sidedness and giddy diversity of life. (I love anything like that-- Ripley's Believe It or Not, Trivial Pursuit, general interest magazines, film almanacs, and so forth.) The site was very nicely laid out-- its bright primary colours took me back to low babies and high babies (as we call junior and senior infants class in Ireland). And finally, its main contributor Barbara Mikkelson was a fine and witty writer, who had a good sense of how an article should be structured and paced.

That Christmas, someone gave me a Kriskindle gift of a book called Can Reindeers Fly? The Science of Christmas, which showed Santa's silhouette sled against a huge full moon. And I was drinking a lot of Coke. I chugged so much Coke in my twenties and early thirties, much of it in the cinema, that eventually I had to call halt altogether.

All those images run together in my mind and form an idyll of that particular Christmas.

More recently, however, Snopes has gone to hell. First of all, they changed the look of the site, so it was less reminiscent of infants' school and more reminiscent of a CIA file (I guess). They seem to have reverted closer to the original look now, but that doesn't help the more significant change-- it's become a liberal soapbox, where once it had been fairly non-partisan.

My favourite website is now TV Tropes. Maybe I only like websites that rhyme with soaps, dopes, ropes and popes.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Greatness of W.B. Yeats

(This is an article I've just submitted to Annals Australasia magazine, who have published quite a few of my articles, including some articles on poetry. As I doubt many Annals readers read this blog, I am making bold to post it here.)


Over the last year or so, I have been writing a series of articles on great poems for Annals Australasia. So far, I have not included any poem by William Butler Yeats, despite the fact that I consider Yeats to be easily the greatest English language poet of all time. The problem is that I find it very difficult to choose one poem from Yeats. There is no one Yeats poem which stands above all the others. ‘The Lake Isle of Inishfree’ is the popular favourite, but, although it is a fine poem, it hardly deserves its eminence. Yeats himself was not especially fond of it. At poetry readings, he would read this poem first, “to get it over with”. It would be difficult even to compile a list of Yeats’s dozen best poems, so constant is the standard of excellence in his works.

I imagine that most Annals readers will be familiar with Yeats’s story, so I will keep my biographical information brief. He was born in Dublin in 1865 and he died just before the Second World War. He was a poet, dramatist, occultist, Senator and public man. He lived at a time of extraordinary political and cultural excitement in Ireland, and he was a central actor in the drama. He was a great poet, a great man, and a great Irishman.

G.K. Chesterton is my favourite writer, and the writer who has had the biggest influence on my opinions and my view of the world. Yeats, however, is the writer whose words haunt me most persistently. I can’t even hazard a guess at how often a Yeatsian phrase swims into my mind. Time and again, Yeats expresses an idea so perfectly, and so lyrically, that the idea will never again enter your head without being clothed in Yeats’s words.

Here is one example. All my life I have been a fan of speculative fiction—an umbrella term used for fantasy, science fiction and horror. Many people consider such fiction to be a waste of time, mere escapism. Those of us who love these genres, however, often feel a positive need for fictional words which never were, and which never will be, and which provide a momentary refuge from the weight of the real world. Yeats, who often drew on mythological landscapes for his poetry, supplies us with the perfect explanation of this appeal: “lands that seem too dim to be burdens on the heart.”

I’m not the only one who finds Yeats’s words unforgettable. Writing about his poem ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’, one woman admitted she never went outdoors for a breath of fresh air without thinking of the poems opening lines:

I went into the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head…

Note the simplicity of those words: “a fire was in my head”. It's like something a six year old might say. Yeats always seems to strive for the simplest and most direct way of expressing something. His language could be lush and gorgeous, as in this stanza from ‘The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland’:

He stood among a crowd at Dromahair;
His heart hung all upon a silken dress,
And he had known at last some tenderness,
Before earth took him to her stony care;
But when a man poured fish into a pile,
It seemed they raised their little silver heads,
And sang what gold morning or evening sheds
Upon a woven world-forgotten isle
Where people love beside the ravelled seas;
That Time can never mar a lover's vows
Under that woven changeless roof of boughs:
The singing shook him out of his new ease.

There is no telegramese here, no ostentatious “muscularity”, no artificial abhorrence of adjectives or of ‘literary’ words such as ‘ravelled’ or ‘world-forgotten’. And yet, even here, Yeats displays his determination to use the most direct language. “When a man poured fish into a pile” is as matter-of-fact a construction as could be imagined. In all his poetry, and especially in that written in his later years, Yeats seeks after this spontaneity, this naturalness of expression. Only very rarely did it lead him into bathos.

Sometimes his sublime simplicity is entirely on the surface:

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye.
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift my glass to my mouth
I look at you, and I sigh.

I treasure the anecdote of a meeting between Oscar Wilde and the young W.B. Yeats, in which Wilde read out this line from one of his essays: “The world has grown sad because a puppet was once melancholy”. Yeats, rather precociously, suggested Wilde should replace ‘melancholy’ with ‘sad’. He was not afraid of repetition or apparent crudity. And indeed, when we read him, there is nothing jarring about his simplicity or directness or repetition. We don’t find ourselves thinking: “Here is Yeats’s trademark audacity”. Yeats has already judged the effect on the ear perfectly, and the poem flows smoothly.

If Yeats was simply a master of language, a lyricist par excellence, he would deserve a high place in the poetic pantheon. But he was more. He was a deep thinker, a man who used his poetry to grapple with very elevated themes; the patterns of history, the idea of immortality, God and the soul, the nature of art, the nature of the self, and so on. He was a great poet because he was not content to be simply a poet. He never stagnated in the slough of art for art’s sake. Though he had a very high conception of the dignity and importance of the artist, he did not isolate art, or poetry. from the rest of life. The currents of politics, family, mysticism, history, friendship, the theatre, and many other aspects of existence, course through his work, and give it life. He sometimes cursed this attraction towards the hurly-burly:

The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There's something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day's war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I'll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

If Yeats had remained on Olympus, however, he would have been a much lesser poet. When he was a young man, the word “hammer your thoughts into a unity” came into his head; and indeed, he spent the rest of his life trying to unify the many preoccupations of his life in a poetic vision.

If he sought unity, however, it was not by suppressing doubts, tensions, or oppositions. Quite the opposite is true. “Our of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric”, he wrote, “out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” The poetry of Yeats is full of self-questioning, of dramatized internal conflict. He was the furthest thing from a ‘party man’. Although he was an Irish nationalist, and a pioneer in drawing on Irish mythology and history for literary inspiration, he fought bitterly against those who would reduce Irish literature to a sort of cultural propaganda. Similarly, although he was instrumental in founding The Abbey Theatre in order to bring theatre to the masses, he was no populist. Ironically, this most popular of modern poets was a passionate believer in aristocracy, including the aristocracy of taste. “I am as anarchic as a sparrow”, he admitted in later life.

Some of Yeats’s best poetry arises from this refusal to be pigeon-holed, notably ‘The Coat’:

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.

This lordly independent-mindedness certainly enriched Yeats’s poetry. But what about Yeats the thinker, and what about Yeats the man? Here, I think it was less beneficial. Yeats’s anarchism, outside the context of his poetry, led him into dilettantism, and ultimately made him a crank. He was willing to dabble in all the religions of the world, but unwilling to consistently embrace any of them. After years of consorting with occultist charlatans such as Madame Blavatsky, he constructed his own arcane cosmology and theology which, aside from its influence on his poetry, is of absolutely no value whatsoever.

Not only this, but the ‘Yeatsian pose’ has had a dreadful effect on Irish cultural life. You can’t throw a canapé at any Irish cultural event without hitting some poet, novelist or painter who proudly refuses to be restricted to any particular aesthetic or worldview. But anarchy is a dead end. Yeats could only draw from folk stories and folk ballads because generations of Irish peasants transmitted them faithfully and even monotonously. The world needs mediocrity as much as it needs genius. Perhaps it needs mediocrity more.

The Irish public of Yeats’s own day did not always take him seriously as a public figure. He was a favourite of cartoonists. His aristocratic pretensions were mocked (“Yeats has grown so aristocratic he’s evicting imaginary tenants”, one wit remarked). He was derided as “pensioner Yeats” when he accepted a pension from the British Prime Minister, despite his nationalist beliefs. There were riots in the theatre he helped to create when ordinary Dubliners, much to his disgust, found one of its plays too racy for their liking. And yet—as his biographers attest—his contemporaries were aware, even when he was hardly out of boyhood, that he was a very great poet and a very great man.

All in all, I think it could be said that the Irish got Yeats right from the beginning.

Torture is Always Wrong

I've been critical of a lot of the hysterical liberal and PC backlash against Donald Trump and his election, especially in the Irish media. In a letter published in The Irish Times, I asked Irish people to remember he was democratically elected, and that he didn't enter the White House in a convoy of tanks. I'm encouraged by how emphatically he's presented his prolife beliefs, although it remains to be seen whether he follows through on this (he has, at least, made a start). I have no problem at all with "America First". Indeed, I think it's a natural reaction to globalisation and to the empire-building of globalising elites. I don't have any problem with the wall. A country has a right to protect its borders.

But his recent approval of torture should be denounced in the strongest terms.

I don't believe torture works. But even if it did work, I think it's always wrong. There are things civilized people should not do even when combating savages. It's very disappointing that the President said this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Exceptions and Anarchy

This passage from G.K. Chesterton's The Well and the Shallows (1935), is interesting in the light of recent debates in the Church. (The reference to "doing a bolt" is to Chesterton's previous membership of the Church of England.)
 
Any man with eyes in his head, whatever the ideas in his head, who looks at the world as it is to-day, must know that the whole social substance of marriage has changed; just as the whole social substance of Christianity changed with the divorce of Henry VIII. As in the other case, the externals remained for a time and some of them remain still. Some divorced persons, who can be married quite legally by a registrar, go on complaining bitterly that they cannot be married by a priest. They regard a church as a peculiarly suitable place in which to make and break the same vow at the same moment. And the Bishop of London, who was supposed to sympathise with the more sacramental party, recently submitted to such a demand on the ground that it was a very special case. As if every human being's case were not a special case. That decision was one of the occasions on which I should have done a bolt, if I had delayed it so long. But the general social atmosphere is much the most important matter. Numbers of normal people are getting married, thinking already that they may be divorced. The instant that idea enters, the whole conception of the old Protestant compromise vanishes. The sincere and innocent Victorian would never have married a woman reflecting that he could divorce her. He would as soon have married a woman reflecting that he could murder her. These things were not supposed to be among the daydreams of the honeymoon. The psychological substance of the whole thing has altered; the marble has turned to ice; and the ice has melted with most amazing rapidity. The Church was right to refuse even the exception. The world has admitted the exception; and the exception has become the rule.

To me, this is a debate about the integrity of doctrine, more than pastoral practice. Don't we all realise that a large proportion of the congregation at nearly any Catholic church are knowingly offending against the Church's sexual teaching, and also receiving Communion? How many people in the pews are using contraception, using pornography, having sexual relations outside of marriage, committing adultery, and so forth, with no intention of repentance?

Who sits in judgement on them-- not upon their actions, but on them? I don't. I don't think I'm any better than anyone else in the church begging forgiveness for their sins. God knows the pressures of modern life, of modern expectations, of the cultural messages we are all being bombarded with night and day, the hyper-sexualisation, the lack of guidance from bishops, the lack of clear signals on these matters from most pulpits. It's not that I think this situation is OK or that the sexual immorality of our age should not be addressed. It should, but that's an enormous project. I'm not going to make any presuppositions about any particular person's culpability.

But surely there is all the difference in the world between this situation, and the situation of a priest in confession telling laypeople that they can commit adultery if their conscience allows it? And indeed, the priest having his bishop's approval in this? A person might follow his conscience and do something contrary to a moral absolute, either through a misguided moral sense or through not understanding Church teaching. But how can he do so with the approval of a priest? Surely that should be where the buck stops, where an uninformed conscience becomes an informed conscience? The Church may forgive such behaviour, but how can it condone it?

Happy Feast Day of the Conversion of Saint Paul

As I've mentioned before, "the road to Damascus" is one of my favourite phrases in the whole world. It's up there with "softly falling snow", "the cold light of day", "down Memory Lane", and other phrases in which I can lose myself.

I'm also very interested in conversion. Some years ago an editor from a publishing house contacted me, suggesting we work on a book proposal for his editorial board. He was particularly taken with this post, on my idea of a man, and suggested fleshing it out to book length.

I didn't like that idea. In my work in a university library, I've recently found myself handling a lot of books about masculinity, and (even worse) "masculinities". They're the new thing, and they make me cringe a little. (The men's conference I posted about recently was my little joke. I think I underplayed the joke as everybody seems to have taken me seriousy.) A blog post about masculinity is one thing. A whole book is a horrible thought. Feminism and women's studies are bad enough. Masculinism and men's studies are to be strenuously resisted! (Which is no criticism of those groups which exist to counter man-bashing in the media, universities and legal system.)

Anyway, that's all a digression. I suggested to him instead that we submit a proposal for a book on conversion, and I did a huge amount of work on the proposal. But, alas, they didn't think it would sell. (Maybe better, in the long run. This was a 'progressive' Catholic publisher, which would have been quite a mismatch.)

There is something mysterious about conversion, even when it comes to secular matters. The image of St. Paul dazzled by the light is an appropriate one. There always seems something irreducible about any conversion, something that can't be covered by any explanation, something that even the convert can't fully understand or articulate. One day, perhaps, I will write that book. In the meantime, I pray to St. Paul for many more conversions!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Here's an Interesting Lecture on the Gaelic Revival

"Cúchulain in the General Post Office" by Joep Leerssen.

Of course, the lecturer is burdened by all the cosmopolitan and historicist baggage you would expect. (I've never encountered a single presentation of the Gaelic Revival that was straighforwardly approving. Ever.) But it's still interesting.

At one point, Leerssen says that Yeats opted for English in his play writing (or should that be playwrighting?) because "he had no choice, he had a tin ear, he was tone deaf, he had no talent for languages."

This comment took me aback. Not because I doubt it. I've read several biographies of Yeats and I know all these facts are true. But how is it that a man who had "no talent for languages" was one of the all-time masters when it came to using the English language? Are a lack of musical appreciation and an inability to acquire other languages somehow linked, as Leerssen seems to suggest here?

This is especially interesting to me as my lack of musical appreciation and my difficulties with any language other than English have both weighed on me at different times.   

Friday, January 20, 2017

Americans Love Tradition

Well, today is the day that Donald Trump is inaugurated, and I've been enjoying all the tradition and ceremony, looking in on it every now and again on CNN.


 As I've said before, I think Americans have a deeper appreciation of tradition than Europeans.

Whenever I've been to America, Americans have been almost apologetic when pointing out their historic buildings, never failing to say: "Of course, it's nothing compared to some of the buildings you've have in Ireland."

Old buildings are great, but personally I'm much more interested in living traditions than dead traditions And I think American society is more traditional than European society in terms of actually cherishing its traditions. So far as I can see, this is true of Europeans in general, for all the cultural diversity of the continent. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rosebud

What is the greatest movie ever made? The two movies which tend to be mentioned most often, at least amongst ordinary people in the English-speaking world, are Citizen Kane and Casablanca. I can dig both those choices, not only for their intrinsic merit but for their sense of timelessness, and for the cultural halo that bathes their every frame.


I'd much rather watch Casablanca, because so many of the scenes in Kane are so bleak-- especially the montage showing the dissolution of his marriage and his loneliness in old age. However, many scenes are absolutely haunting. (Spoiler alert immediately ahead, just in case anybody still doesn't know the story.)

Some of the most haunting scenes involve 'Rosebud', the last word Kane utters (before he drops a snowglobe which shatters) and (as the final frame reveals) the name of the sled he was playing with when we see him first, as a little boy. (If those details are slightly wrong, I don't care. That's the essence of it.)

In the final scene, one character suggests: "If you could've found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would've explained everything." Another character dismisses this, calling it "just a missing piece of the jigsaw", and the viewer is left free to make up his own mind on which is right.

Perhaps 'Rosebud' is a symbol of such power because we all have our own 'Rosebuds'-- some image, memory, atmosphere, something at the heart of our whole personality's maze, of our whole life's maze.

I once read that Freud was more of a poet and a storyteller than a scientist. I don't really give much credence to Freudianism as science, but he certainly seems to have tapped into a potent idea; the idea that our deepest secrets, the sources of our mental and emotional life, might be things that seem banal on the face of it, but which are unimaginably significant and poignant to us-- things which might send us to the ends of the earth, or lead us to change the world.



There's something very exciting about the very imagery of Freudianism (perhaps I mean pop Freudianism): excavation, interiority, discovery, and so forth. I've always been captivated by stories of tunnels, attics, caves, trap doors, hidden panels, and so forth. The conjoined attics that Digory and Polly explore in The Magician's Nephew (and which they use as a kind of hideaway) were wildly exciting to me, as was the Wood between the Worlds which they subsequently discover-- a magical limbo between alien worlds, which takes the form of a wood full of pools that are portals to these worlds. Lucy stepping through the wardrobe, perhaps the most famous moment from the whole of C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, is another example.

(Now, I'm not naive enough to miss the obvious Freudian or pop-Freudian symbolism that may be detected here. I mention it only because I wouldn't want anyone to smirkingly assume that I simply don't see it. But, like C.S. Lewis himself-- and he wrote a very thoughtful essay on Literature and Psychoanalysis-- I don't think this explanation goes deep enough. Why this particular symbol and not another?)

I could mention plenty of other examples from my childhood reading, but I'll leave it at one other; the eponymous secret garden in The Secret Garden, a novel which fascinated me as a boy (and which I've re-read with pleasure as a man).


In more recent times, the movie Inception is a 'text' (I cringe to use the word, but there you go) which arouses this same fascination. In case you haven't seen it, the entire movie is about professionals who can literally enter a subject's dream, from which they seek to extract secrets. The twist to which the title refers is that, in this case, they are seeking to implant an idea in a person's mind. The person in question is the inheritor of a multi-billion business empire. The influence they wish (or their employer wishes) to exert upon him is entirely pragmatic, but the idea they seek to implant is unspeakably poignant and tender, and refers to his relationship with his father. So this film has both of the fascinating concepts I've been discussing in this post-- the concept that the ultimate springs of our outward actions are very personal and apparently banal, and the concept of hidden and subterannean things-- indeed, the heart of the billionaire's psyche is symbolised by an iron safe in the dreamworld, and the heroes (or anti-heroes) have to plumb several 'layers' of reality. (There's also a descending lift involved.)

On this blog, I've also transcribed a passage from one of my all-time favourite novels, Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse, which has nothing to do with tunnels or corridors or gardens, but which inhabits the same spiritual terrain, and which also wildly excited me as a boy:

"Liz", I said urgently. "Liz, listen, listen." I took her hands, trembling almost, and began to speak rapidly, leaving staccato, deliberate pauses between my words.

"Liz, do you know what I do? When I want to feel invisible?" I had no experience of wanting to feel invisible, but the text was perfect. I was doctoring my words as I went along, quickly and carefully. "I've never told anybody. I have a sort of-- well, it's an imaginary country, where I go. It has its own people--"

"Do you do that? I knew you would," cried Liz triumphantly. "I knew you would. Why are we so alike, Billy? I can read your thoughts. A town like Stradhoughton, only somewhere over by the sea, and we used to spend the whole day on the beach. That's what I used to think about."

I was full of excitement, frustrated, painful excitement at not being able to tell her properly, yet at the same time knowing she would understand. I wanted to drag her into my mind and let her loose in it, free to pick and choose.


Julie Christie as Liz

I began counting to slow myself down, and said, only half-feverishly:

"This is more than a town, it's a whole country. I'm supposed to be the Prime Minister or something. You're supposed to be the Foreign Secretary or something--"

"Yes sir", said Liz with grave, mock obedience.

"I think about it for hours. Sometime I think, if we were married, and living somewhere in that house in the country, we could just sit and imagine ourselves there--"

"By a log fire", said Liz softly. "And the fir trees all around, and no other house for miles."

I looked at her squarely. She was as excited as I was, in her own settled way. I was tossing a coin in my head, teetering on a decision. heads I tell her, tails I don't. Heads I tell her this last thing.

"I want a room, in the house, with a green baize door," I began calmly. "It will be a big room, and when we pass through it, that's it, that's Ambrosia. No one else will be allowed in. No one else will have keys. They won't know where the room is. Only we will know. We'll make models of the principal cities, you know, out of cardboard, and we could use toy soldiers, painted, for the people. We could draw maps. It would be a place to go on a rainy afternoon. We could go there. No one would find us. I thought we would have a big sloping shelf running all the way down one wall, you know, like a big desk. And we'd have a lot of blank paper on it and design our own newspapers. We could even make uniforms, if we wanted to. It would be our country." I stopped, suddenly aware of the cold and black, peeling branches all around us and the ticking quiet of it all. I had talked myself right through the moment of contact. Liz, her old self, was grinning, pleased with life, seeing it all as our old fantasy, a kind of mental romp in the long grass. "And let's have a model train, that the kids won't be allowed to use", she said. "And a big trench in the garden."

I sank back, spreadeagling my hands in the grass to rid them of the webbed sensation that was coming back into them like a nervous tic.

"Liz", I said, all the thoughts exhausted in me. "Will you marry me?"


This, in fact, is really what I intended to write about, when I started this blog post: the aching impossibility of really sharing these 'secrets of the soul', even with the people we love the most, and no matter how lyrical or expressive or articulate we might be. Even if the reporters had known about 'Rosebud', how would they have ever understood what it meant to Kane?



I cannot avoid here quoting the lines of Matthew Arnold:

Yes! in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild, 

We mortal millions live alone.
The islands feel the enclasping flow,
And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,

And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour—

Oh! then a longing like despair
Is to their farthest caverns sent;
For surely once, they feel, we were
Parts of a single continent!
Now round us spreads the watery plain—
Oh might our marges meet again!

Who order'd, that their longing's fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cool'd?
Who renders vain their deep desire?—
A God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.


Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, or a mixed blessing, or a curse with compensations. Because I very often suspect that this very urge is what drives artists and visionaries-- at least, many artists and visionaries-- to their greatest efforts, even though it is ultimately impossible. The impossibility is what keeps them trying.

Is it only artist and visionaries? Perhaps this is what drives all of us. After all, isn't everybody an artist and a visionary?

I've often suspected that the real motivation for any work of art is a burning desire to share some image, atmosphere or moment which is intensely personal and specific. Let me put it this way; a woman might write an eight-hundred page novel which contains all sorts of deep observations on human nature, on memory, on language, on any number of other universal themes-- but the real essence of the novel is not any of these, but a short description of a mother brushing her daughter's hair before a mirror, while snow falls outside. This is what the lady yearned to express, to give life to; everything else was really just to keep the readers and the critics happy. All the philosophising can be analysed to death; this is irreducible and living.


What I have read of the genesis of creative works encourages me in this theory.

The greater the artist, perhaps, the closer he or she comes to expressing this irreducible secret. Or perhaps the reader or viewer or listener simply senses its presence, its power.

The first novel I wrote (unpublished and unpublishable) was a fantasy called The Black Feather. It was hilariously talky and quite disturbingly reactionary. (And bear in mind, this is me saying that.) It was an allegorical denunciation of globalization, homogenization, secularization, disenchantment, and all the elements of 'progress' which romantic conservatives dislike. My hero was very much on the side of progress and the future at the start of the book, but by the end he has become an arch-reactionary-- indeed, he has become the Dark Lord of this particular world.

At an early point of the story, an oracle says these words to him: "The darkness between the stars is more beautiful than the stars themselves." Throughout the novel, he seeks to understand the meaning of these words. By the end, he has decided on their meaning: that perfect unification, perfect unity, would destroy all the beauty of the world. What if the sky was one gleam of starry white, and there was no engulfing darkness between those points of light? How would they maintain their distinct existence?

This, I think, is the answer to Arnold's lament. A lover may long to be perfectly united with his beloved. But if that were possible, how would it still be love, how would her otherness be preserved? The distance between them is essential to love, to discovery, to longing, even to the joy of togetherness.

What if men really understood women, if they perfectly understood women? What if women really were Stepford wives or male fantasies-- not even, necessarily, the most tawdry sort of male fantasy? Would the sexes even still be attracted to each other in either case?


A famous champion of "Irish Ireland", the newspaper editor Daniel Patrick Moran (1869-1936)-- a man often dismissed as a chauvinistic buffoon, but one who was actually a profound thinker-- remarked in his book The Philosophy of Irish Ireland that he hoped there was never a complete understanding between the Irish and the English, because they would at that point have ceased to be separate nations. I think this is extremely insighftul.

Indeed, this principle of blessed separation is one of the reasons I am a Christian. Hinduism and Buddhism, along with gnosticism and many strands of the New Age, promise me a future when I will leave behind the wound of self and become submerged in the Absolute.

Well, I don't want to be submerged in the Absolute, any more than I want Ireland (or Sweden or Australia or India) to be submerged in a post-national melting pot, any more than I want men and women to leave behind the 'shackles' of gender and walk hand-in-hand towards a brave new world of infinite gender fluidity. 

I pray instead to be a citizen of the heavenly Jersualem; a soul that enjoys the beatific vision of God, but that remains forever (and joyfully) distinct from Him.

This is why I think the ache expressed in scenes like the 'Rosebud' scenes in Citizen Kane, or the imaginary country scene in Billy Liar, is ultimately a sweet and blessed ache. But how it aches, in spite of that!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The National Language by Eugene O'Growney

Note: This is something a bit different for this blog. I've mentioned that I've been trying to improve my knowledge of the Irish language in recent months. I've taken to reading back issues of An Sagart [The Priest], an Irish Catholic journal, on some of my tea-breaks during work. Today I read an article about Eugene O'Growney (Eoghan Ó Gromhnaigh), an Irish priest who was one of the true pioneers of the Irish language revival at the beginning of the twentieth century. He personally taught Irish to thousands of Irish people, through his massively popular newspaper lessons.

I was intrigued to learn that he wrote an article-- the very article here transcribed-- which influenced Dr. Douglas Hyde's The Necessity of De-Anglicising Ireland, a lecture which is very often taken as the trigger of the Gaelic Revival, and is sometimes even suggested as one of the catalysts of the Irish Revolution which led to independence. Seeing O'Growney's article had been published in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record in 1890, I found the relevant volume of that journal (working in a university library has its benefits), photocopied it, and read it on the bus home. I checked to see if it was available online, and, finding it was not, decided to spend the evening typing it out myself. I hope it might be of use to some researchers. I think it may also be of interest to regular readers, especially as I often blog on matters of Irish cultural identity and the preservation of tradition here.

I stayed up quite late typing this, and discovered quite a few errors (and even omissions) the next morning. I have now corrected these.

Fr. Eugene O'Growney

The death of Cardinal Newman brings to mind various events in his chequered life. It reminds the present writer of one characteristic incident, mentioned by O'Curry in the preface to those Lectures delivered by him to the students of the Catholic University, of which Newman was then rector. O'Curry had spent his life labouring in the neglected field of Irish literature. He had searched the piles of manuscripts mouldering on the shelves of libraries, public and private, throughout Ireland; he had visited the great English collection; he had visited the great English collections; manuscripts had been sent from abroad, from Belgium and from Rome, for his inspection; he had studied volumes unopened for centuries; and he had thus attained a knowledge of the native language, literature and archeology never before approached and very probably unrivalled since.

Chiefly at the instance of Newman, a Celtic chair was established in the new Catholic University; and the appointment of O'Curry as the first professor, and the constant encouragement which that great scholar received from the rector, were all characteristic of the late Cardinal. The Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Irish History, in reality sketches of Irish literature, were the outcome of O'Curry's connection with the University. Of the circumstances attending their delivery and publication we read in the preface:--

"Little did it occur to me on the occasion of my first timid appearance in that chair, that the efforts of my feeble pen would pass beyond the walls within which those lectures were delivered. There was, however, amongst my varying audiences one constant attendant, whose presence was borth embarrassing and encouraging to me...whose kindly sympathy practically showed itself... At the conclusion of the course, this great scholar and pious priest (for to whom can I allude but our late illustrious lecture, the Rev. Dr. Newman?) astonished me by announcing to me, on the part of the University, that my poor lectures were deemed worthy to be published at its expense."

The lectures were published in due course, and no one who has ever even glanced through them will assert that Irish literature is either non-existent, or scanty, or worthless. One object of Newman and of O'Curry has been gained.

But they had another object in view, as O'Curry plainly states. It was to convince the Irish Catholic public, and more especially the educated class, that to them first and of all belonged the duty of becoming acquainted with, and of learning to appreciate at their proper value, the language and literature of their ancestors. Has that end been reached? Do Irish Catholics to any extent know their native language today, or are they at all acquainted with the character of their native literature? Thirty-five years have passed since those lectures were delivered. In that time Irish Catholic education has made great strides. Yet, the number of those who can write our native language passably, or who have the slightest knowledge of our literature, is shamefully small. In whose hands do we now find those lectures, delivered in the National Catholic University, and treating of the most Catholic literature in the world? Chiefly in the hands of foreigners, and almost exclusively in the hands of non-Catholics. Those precious ecclesiastical manuscripts, first studied by O'Curry, have been published in facsimile after great toil and labour, mostly by the exertions of Dr. Atkinson of Trinity College, an Englishman and a Protestant. Two centuries ago a Tipperary priest, a fugitive in the glen of Aherlow, with a price on his head, composed valuable and beautiful works-- some ascetical, others historical. After that lapse of time, the most important of these has just been set forth, not by a priest, nor by an Irishman, nor by a Catholic, but by the same Dr. Atkinson. An immense body of medieval sermons, Catholic of course to the core, have been given to Celtic students, again by Dr. Atkinson. The calendar of saints composed by the monk Aengus has been printed by Whitley Stokes, an Irishman indeed, and of distinguished family, but not a Catholic. To him, too, has been left the honour of preparing the first edition of the famous Irish life of St. Patrick, and of publishing the lives of the early saints from The Book of Lismore, writings which throw so much light on the faith and usages of the old Irish Church. We find a Protestant clergyman preparing a dictionary of the words used by the monks who in a Donegal convent arranged the old Irish annals. We see Max Nettlau, a German, preparing the text of our great epic, the Táin Bó. Dr. Kuno Meyer and others spend year studying the glowing, romantic, and poetic literature of ancient Erin, and of the early Christian period-- a literature which carries us back thousands of years, giving us charming glimses of old Celtic life. Even the organ of workers [i.e., scholars] in the old and middle Irish is published and supported at Paris; articles on Gaelic subjects are frequent in foreign periodicals, far more so than in papers written for Irishmen; and our standard grammars are drawn up by German scholars. Again, it is a German and Dr. Stokes who are prepared to print, at their own expense, that great collection of words collected by O'Curry, and thought to have been lost until recently discovered among the manuscripts in Clonliffe College.

It was, therefore, with a feeling of shame that a distinguished Irish-American noted, the other day,

"Two puzzling facts in recent Irish history.  First, the interest that Protestants and foreigners take in the language and literature of that country; a language and a literature not only full of the spirit and teachings of Irish Catholicity, but which contain in themselves the seeds of the strongest and most aggressive Catholic tradition in the world. The other fact, no less puzzling, is the callous indifference or open hostility of the clergy and politicians to the native speech and literature."

These are, indeed, puzzling facts, and bitter to think on; but we do not think on them, and so we avoid their bitterness. They are facts, certainly; for what are the great names among Celtic scholars of today? In addition to those already mentioned, those of Ascoli, Ebel, Gaidoz, de Jubainville, Nigra, Rhys, Thurneysen, Windisch, Zimmer, Zimmerman, occur to anyone interested in Celtic research. All these are foreigners; and nearly all non-Catholics. On the other hand, if we search among Irish Catholics, we find no layman of eminence, no one able to fill the place of Sullivan or Hennessy. Dr. Joyce and Mr. Flannery of London appear but seldom. Then in the clerygy, we shall meet with very few Irish scholars. There are eight or nine in the regular orders. The secular clergy are represented by Dr. McCarthy, and one or two others rarely en evidence, and by a handful of the younger priests, willing, it may be, and earnest, but without influences or opportunities. Now, many of the priests in Irish-speaking districts are fine speakers. It was often my privilege to listen to eloquent sermons in beautiful Gaelic, almost rivalling the language of Keating himself, and as often had I to regret that those speakers could not, through want of some acquaintance with the written language, contribute, as they were otherwise qualified to do, to our modern Gaelic literature, as our brother Celts, the Welsh clergy, do for their own prose and poetry.

It is in a humbler class of society that the lovers of our ancient speech are to be looked for-- among the ranks of the school-teachers. Some of those devote their evenings, after their hard day's works, and their well-earned leisure time, to committing to writing, as well as they can teach themselves to do, some of that great body of folk-lore handed down orally from one generation to another, which is yet to be met with in those parts of Ireland where the vernacular is the language chiefly used. Better still, some, with the encouragement of their managers, qualify themselves to teach the native language to their pupils, with the happy result that the children speak, read, and write, both English and Irish. And, as the Bishop of Waterford noticed, the children who were thus taught their own language first, and through it learned other things , had a far better knowledge, of their religious duties especially, than the children sent to schools where Irish is not recognised as not worth teaching.

It must be confessed, however, that the number of Irish-teaching schools, although increasing, is very small. Out of the thousands of schools in which the children of the nation are educated, but forty-five encourage the national language; out of the tens of thousands of Irish boys and girls growing up in those schools, only eight hundred and twenty-six were examined last year in Irish. Only about three or four hundred people in Ireland have a respectable knoweldge of the written language. In those days of education we are forced, then, to ask ourselves does education mean Anglicisation? Can education, which ought to be a development of the power of the mind, have anything in common with a system which neglects and practically scorns that great power of speaking a magnificent language which children have in the Irish-speaking counties-- a power which our foreign friends, after years of study, are glad to obtain even imperfectly? Besides, it is not right to encourage a regard for national characteristics? If so, let me set down some of the many anomalies which present themselves to anyone, especially a foreigner, interested in the Irish language.

I. As to the position of the language in the elementary schools of the country, something has been already said. The school-teachers cannot be blamed so much as the system which forbids Irish to be taught to children until they have reached the fifth class, just when many other eligible extra subjects present themselves, and when youth, the proper time for learning a language, is to a great extent passed. Moreover, it insists that Irish, if taught at all, shall be taught outside schools hours. Now, who could expect that children would like to learn anything, when doing so would mean spending even a short time extra in school? And as for the teachers, they have no inducement to teach Irish when they can more easily present pupils for examination in other extra subjects which will procure equally great, or grater, results fees. And, in fact, it is not the slight fees held out by the National system that attract teachers to establish Irish classes, so much as the prizes offered by a generous Protestant clergyman living in Wales, the Rev. E. Cleaver.

II. Looking round the higher schools and colleges we find the native language practically ignored. In all Ireland, only two hundred and seventy-four passed in Irish at the late Intermediate Examinations; of these two hundred and thirty-four came from the Christian Brothers' schools, leaving forty to all the seminaries and colleges of the country. In none of the Irish-speaking counties is the vernacular recognized in the local colleges, except in two. And at the same time French and German pupils are brought over to teach Irish boys and girls the intricacies of foreign languages. Granted that there are, as I believe there are, more today than there have been for the last two centuries who can write and read Irish, there are surely far more who can write and read French, German and Italian-- languages almost useless after four years to the vast majority; while a magnificent language, which it ought to be our pride, as it is our duty, to foster and cultivate, is despised and allowed to die.

III. Few of us have been taught to look upon the loss of a language linked with the fate of this country for three thousand years, as a sudden calamity, or to regard its preservation as a national duty. And so even private students, with rare exceptions, see it decay with indifference. In the periodicals we read articles over Irish names, upon all subjects except history, language and literature of Ireland.

IV. It cannot be denied that the trusted political leaders of the people, and many priests in Irish-speaking districts, are unable or unwilling to speak to their audiences in the language the latter best understand, and which the speakers, if consistent, should encourage.

V. Foreign scholars-- German, French, English, Danish-- become enamoured of our language-- peculiar in itself, valuable to the ethnologist and philologist, powerful, and delicate as a medium for conveying thought, sweet, and musical when correctly spoken-- and of our rich and varied literature. They come from Paris, Berlin, and Leipzig to spend their leisure time working in the Dublin libraries, or in Oxford, or the British Museum, studying dusty scrolls and envying us our better opportunities of seeing the manuscripts which are, they assure us, most precious, and which we in our ignorance look upon as waste paper. Naturally, they are surprised that the learned of the Island of Saints and Scholars, of which they have heard so much, should be blind to the treasures which lie at their own doors; and then, they say, where is the much-vaunted patriotism of Ireland, whoen they ignore the greatest proof of their nationhood?

And here is a question we may put ourselves. Granted that many of the richest and subtlest Irish Catholic minds are engrossed with professional studies and duties, with political questions, with those great social problems which now-a-days present themselves at every turn, or with special studies for which there may be a special apttitude that one should encourage; granted all this, do there not still remain many who intend to read or study something, and who can choose their subject? And if so, have not the native language and literature, a claim prior to that of foreign studies?

At the Welsh Eistedfood [cultural festival], held in Bangor a few weeks ago, Canon Farrar made use of the following eloquent words:--

"When a language has such a history and such a literature as the Welsh, it is a possession which men ought not readily to let die; and when God has created a nationality, and has surrounded it with rivers, with hills, and with the sea of its rampart and its girdle, the world is all the poorer when such nationality disappears."

The words, coming from a distinguished English scholar, may be applied, and with tenfold force, in favour of our own language, literature and nationality. Are the thoughts of generations of Irishmen, enshrined in their own natural language, to be forgotten? or is Ireland, after three thousand years, to throw away her ancient tongue, a bond which connects her with such a past history as hers is, and which would be for aye [forever] a proof of her distinct nationhood?

"But what use is the Irish? This wailing over the language is all sentimentality." This is a common objection. Well, it is sentimentality, and patriotism is but a sentiment also, and the two sentimentalities are closely connected. Yes, it is sentimentality to long for the revival of the national language, and to wish to see the national history and literature in their due place of honour; but it is true patriotism as well. Witness Archbishop MacHale, a great and consistent patriot, who during his life did all he could to encourage his people to use their native language, and who understood the translation into Irish of a considerable portion of Holy Scripture (the only authorized Catholic portion of Scripture we have), of Moore's National Melodies, and even of half of the Iliad. Witness again Henry Flood, Grattan's contemporary, who left his large fortune for the encouragement of the native tongue. Again, we can point to Petrie, Todd, Hudson, and to many others.

And yet it is not all sentimentality. Many a mind which might make a stir in Ireland is being left dark and uneducated in the Irish-speaking districts today, as the school inspectors can testify. And not a few people are left without religious instruction through want of one who will teach them in the language they understand. I could mention instances of this myself.

It surely stands to reason that the history, language, and literature of a country are sacred national trusts. It is evident, too, that much of the most interesting portion of Irish history, the earlier part, is as yet only a skeleton, which must be filled up from the study of early literature. Again, take our antiquities. To preserve our historical monuments, and to record their connection with historic events, is a good work; but I cannot help thinking that much labour and energy are uselessly thrown away by the dry-as-dust school of antiquarians in maintaining baseless or doubtful theories, while the great national monuments, our language and literature, are neglected and allowed to perish. Not that the modern Gaelic is a ruin, by any means, in itself; it is sound and vigorous; but it is being sapped from without.

The language has no literature. This ridiculous objection has been met a hundred times, but I suppose it will continue to be brought forward as long as people neglect to inquire into the facts before pronouncing their judgement. No one who has read O'Curry's book, or De Jubainville's catalogue of our epic literature, or even O'Reilly's meagre list of writers, or who has seen those tomes in the Royal Irish Academy, which contains but an index to the one thousand four hundred volumes onf manuscripts preserved there, can deny the extent, at least, of Gaelic literature. As for the character of this literature, we find Mr. Alfred Nutt, a recognised authority on ethnology and early history, record hs opinion--

"That except the Hellenic, the Irish sagas are the only considerable mass of Aryan epic tradition. As evidence of the most archaic side of Aryan civilization, the Táin Bó Cuailgne [Cattle Raid of Cooley] is inferior only to the Iliad or the Odyssey."

And we may be sure that there is something valuable in the literature, to study which foreign scholars come to the Dublin libraries, collate various manuscripts with much toil, and rough it in the coast villages and islands, as we see them do, in order to acquire a better insight into the structure of the spoken Gaelic, and so obtain a key to the difficulties of the older language. Those scholars, who are acquainted with all European literatures, assure us that the Irish medieval and earlier literature stands unrivalled, except by a portion of the classics.

One reason why so little is generally known of Irish literature is found in the fact that much of it is anonymous-- copied by scribes from older manuscripts. There are some promininent names, however, but these are seldom heard of; whilst the names and works of even obscure English and Contintental writers are familiar to Irish boys and girls. It is to be regretted that we have no handy manual of Irish literature, Dr. Windisch's article ("Keltische Sprachen") in the new German encyclopedia would make an excellent little book, if translated and printed separately, as it gives in a small compass a reliable account of all the Cletic languages and literatures.

Upon the Irish Catholics the study of Irish literature has a special claim. We maintain that the faith we hold is identical with that taught by St. Patrick and his successors; that they were, as we are, Roman Catholic. It has been the aim of Protestant Irishmen to persuade their co-religionists that they alone hold the pure patrician teaching, now, as always uninfluenced by Rome. Strong articles by good writers have appeared quite recently in support of their contention, and, very probably this historic-religious question will be discussed warmly in a short time, when present burning questions shall have been settled. If this discussion were put upon us tomorrow, how many have we competent to support our claim by arguments drawn from our extensive ecclesiastical literature? Newman had experience of the value of such arguments, and no wonder he was so much interested in O'Curry's works. The study of  Irish literature is but in its infancy; many things must occur in a literature so extensive and so thoroughly Catholic to throw light on the exact belief of the early Celtic Church. It has been shown that those who study the literature are practically non-Catholics, and such men might not see, or might be tempted to slur over, a point in favour of our position.

So that even if Irish were to perish as a spoken language, the literature would remain valuable from the pure literature point of view, and still more valuable from the Catholic standpoint. And now we come to the question; Is the national language really fated to perish? According to the last census, eight hundred thousand people in Ireland can speak Irish; sixty thousand can speak no other language. More than two million in America can speak in Irish. And yet, if things do not change, it is certain that in another century the spoken language will have disappeared for ever. Things are changing. For the last five centuries the history of the language has been a history, first of active repression by penal laws, then of a more fatal and more shameful neglect, and until very recently, ill-concealed adversity to the language, on the part of influential Irishmen. Not one Irishman having control or influence in the education of the country has ever spoken or done anything worth mentioning for the national language. And when the Irish has lived through all this, when better days are dawning, public opinion becoming more and more national, and prominent Irishmen beginning to take an active interest in the old tongue, have we not every reason to hope and to look forward to its revival, to some extent, at least? Already it is creeping into the schools, if not into the colleges. No one is found to disparage it, as it used to be disparaged a few years ago; and even this is something. A century since, the Welsh was in as bad a state as our language is in at present, until by the exertions of a few patriotic clergymen, public opinion was aroused in its favour. The result is, that Welsh is now a popular, say, a fashionable language, as is evidenced from the fact that at the last Eisteddfod the Bishop of Bangor opened the proceedings by reciting a Welsh ode composed by himself for the occasion, and that other eminent Welshmen, lay and clerical, recited various compositions in prose and poetry. I wonder shall we ever see the like in Ireland. Another result is that the children are taught the two languages concurrently; the schoolbooks have Welsh and English on opposite pages, and the children know English better than those in the neighbouring English schools. They have twenty-four newspapers-- daily, weekly, and monthly, and a vigorous, living and racy literature.

This, too, is what those interested in Irish aim at. It is not to banish English-- that would be, first of all, impossible, and also absurd. Listen, again, to the words of Canon Farrar:-- "Neither I, nor any man in his senses, dream for a moment of doing anything to hinder the universal prevalence of English. But the prevalence of English is something very different from the exclusive dominance of it. We wish that every child should speak English perfectly, and should also speak...its native language perfectly." That this state of education is a possible one is proved by its success in Wales and in other countries. That it is desirable is evident, if the only aim of education be not to make us more English than the English themselves. It is clear, too, that if the language is to be saved, immediate steps must be resolutely taken by those who have control of educational establishments of all kinds.

E. GROWNEY.