A Judgment At Fault
Modern Ireland. By Cicely Hamilton. (Dent. 7/6.) Reviewed by the Rev. J.
If one is to write truthfully about a foreign country one must have certain gifts. The first is the gift of seeing things with a naked eye and not through a film formed by the habit of one's own country. Miss Hamilton possesses this gift. Her chapters on "Dublin: Streets, Statues, and Prices," "The Sweep," "Limerick to Castleconnell," and "Corpses and Survivals," are full of exact observation and shrewd cornment. Her style itself reminds one of the purposeful gait of a woman who has made up her mind to get to know things.
But when she passes on to judgment,
she is still, we fear, in spite of much emancipation and downright determination to be fair, the creature of her evolution.
The best observer is not always the best critic. The writer who tries sincerely to combine a clear observation of facts with critical judgment is almost always handicapped by a philosophy of life which blinds him to the expression of the life which he sets out to study.
An Irishman can be a dictator like O'Connell and Parnell, or an anarchist like some of the younger Irish writers, but never a communist. The spirit of liberty
is the soul of the Irish character. The Irishman is always an individual. That Is why one finds more "characters" in Ireland than in any other country in the world.
The Irish are realists because they have the vision of things that are timeless and because their traditions and history have always kept them close to the beginnings
and the nature of things. Their devotions, idealism and mysticism grow out of things, not notions. Their sense of reality is the source of their wit and criticism. They kill pomposity and every sort of pretence by witty sarcasms and good
humoured ridicule. They can turn the solemn struttings of the stage into the realities of farce.
Yet on account of this very faculty, of being a master of reality and not a onesided student of it, the Irishman can be the biggest fraud on earth; can pretend to be anything at all.
The idea of society innate in the Irish is that it grows out of their lives, families, and relationships. They want the maximum of liberty and the minimum of law. Unless the critic understands this fundamental fact he will never understand either why or how they are traditionally "agin the government." Miss Hamilton has a glimmering of this through her knowledge of the Brehon Laws; but because she has not understood it, her analyses and conclusions in her chapter on "Agin the Government" are almost wholly false.
The Irish insist on living spontaneously, variously, and are incapable of the modern sin of uniformity. They will have the politicians represent themselves and not theories of government or cliques whose members think themselves born to rule. All the government they need must be government by consent. Their internal dissensions are the outcome of their intense personality and not of the factors so in geniously set forth by Miss Hamilton; and what Miss Hamilton calls the "hate cult" is a fiction of minds which are out of tune with realities.
Forces in Transition
Modern Ireland is in a state of transition and many forces are at work within her. Miss Hamilton points them out very clearly, but she does not see the true importance of all of them. The analysis in her Foreword is admirable; so are her chapters on "Frontiers and the Smuggling Industry" and "The Economic War and the Cattle Farmer." She realises the importance of the new North Ireland. The economic difficulties and grievances which have resulted from De Valera's policy are as inevitable as were the crippling of the Irish wool industry by the English Parliament in the seventeenth century and the destruction of Irish agriculture by Free Trade in the nineteenth; but is not the effort to provide for her own people and keep them at home a worthy one? Is it not worth present sacrifices?
Left to itself, Ireland, with its sense of real values, would, pace Miss Hamilton, evolve a unique polity of its own, with a discipline based upon custom rather than force—an Ireland indifferent to the fleshpots of England and America; a unity of body and spirit rich in personality, culture, and life.
The current American Review contains an interesting dissertation on cotton manufacture in the States. These things are not often understood on this side of the Atlantic and the name of George O'Donnell bears weight.
Gabriel Tappouni, Syrian patriarch of Antioch, lately appointed a cardinal, is the subject of a biographical sketch in the April publication of the Eastern Churches Quarterly. H. W. Codrington continues his authoritative series on the Syrian liturgy.