Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906)

[var. 1838]; b. 6 Sept. 1835 in Detroit, Michigan, to Irish parents; spent his early years on a farm in Greenfield, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; ed. Milwaukee University, and afterwards at Harvard, contrary to family advice (matric. 1859; aetat 24; grad. 1863); knew Charles A. Dana and others such as Lowell at Harvard; and read Law and studied under the folklorist F. J. Child; also worked for U.S. Sanitary Commission in this period and studied Slavic languages; moved in New York on graduation;
served as secretary to Cassius M. Clay, chief of American legation at St. Petersburg 1864-69, with whom he was in lasting dispute arising from his return to America in Jan. 1868 - when Clay assumed him to have conveyed prejudicial views to William H. Seward, resulting in Lincoln’s denying Clay the ministry of war; in a letter of Jan. 1869, Clay called him an ‘Jesuit Irishman’ (see note);

in St Petersberg, Curtin was on terms of close friendship with Pobêdonostsev, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Russia; visited Czechoslovakia and the Caucasus and studied the Slavic languages; lectured widely on Russia and the Caucasus on his return; m. Alma M. Cardell of Warren, Vermont, July 1872; worked at the Bureau of Ethnology (later the Smithsonian Institute), Washington, 1883-91;

Curtin visited Ireland in 1871, 1872, 1887, 1891, and 1892-93; collected folklore in south-west Munster and other regions with the aid of interpreters; visited the Aran Islands; issued Myths and Folklore of Ireland (1890; reps. 1911; 1975), among the first accurate collections of folk material, and an important source for W. B. Yeats (viz., “Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea”); also Hero Tales of Ireland (1894) and Tales of the Fairies and Ghost World (1895); he proudly possessed a note from Gladstone applauding his work on Irish mythology;
published translations of novels by the Nobel prize-winning Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, incl. Children of the Soul (1896), Quo Vadis (1897) - which was a popular success, supplying a good income for Curtin - and The Teutonic Knights (1900); his translations criticised for their literalness, errors and unduly archaic tone (e.g., ‘thee’ and ‘thou’), and now thought to be in part the work of his wife, who posthumously issued The Mongols in Russia (1908) - now thought to be hers - with a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt; Curtin d. Vermont, 6 Dec. 1906;
the Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin (1940), were compiled or, rather, written - by his widow (d.1938), and issued with notes and an introduction by Joseph Schafer (d.1941) following the presentation of the Curtin MS to the Historical Society of Wisconsin by Mrs. Walter Seifert, a neice of Mrs Curtin; his articles in The Sun (NY) edited as Irish Folk Tales by Séamus Ó Duilearga in Béaloideas, 1941-42 (afterwards in book-form from Talbot Press (1944 & num. reps.). DIW DIB OCIL

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Contemporary works (Irish)
  • Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland (Boston: Little Brown 1890), vi, 345pp.; Do. (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington [1890]) [printed Cambridge, USA - as infra]; Do. [facs. rep. US 1890 Edn.] (Detroit: Singing Tree Press 1968), vi, 345pp.; Do. (NY: Dover PUblications 1975), vi, 345pp. [peview online]; Do. [Easy Reading Series] (Forgotten Books 2007), 345pp. [available online]; Do. (London: Abela Pub. 2009), v. 272pp.
  • Hero Tales of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtin (London: Macmillan 1894), lii, 558pp., 8°; Do. (Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1894), lii, 558pp. [see note]
  • Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World: collected from the oral tradition in South West Munster, with a preface by Alfred Nutt (London : David Nutt 1895), ix, 198pp. [20cm.; cover & spine as Tales of Irish Fairies]; Do., introduced by Sean Ó Suilleabháin (Dublin & Cork: Talbot Press 1974) [see Intro., infra]; and Do. rep. as Tales of the Irish Faeries ([England:] Oakmagic 2003), 53pp., 21 cm.
  • Irish Folk-tales, collected by Jeremiah Curtin, ed. with introduction and notes by Séamus Ó Duilearga (Dublin & Cork: Talbot Press [For the Folklore of Ireland Society] 1944), xvi, 166pp. [see details]; Do. [rep.] (Talbot 1956 [3rd imp.], 1960, 1964 [5th imp.], 1967 [6th imp.]) xvi, 182pp.;
See also
  • Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin, ed. and annot., Joseph Schafer [State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Biog. ser., II] (The Antes Press 1940) [see details].

See “Online Books Page” at Univ. of Pennsylvania for a list of works by Jeremiah Curtin available on Internet at 10 January, 2012 — as attached.

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Bibliographical details
Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland (Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1890) - CONTENTS: “The Son of the King of Erin and the Giant of Loch Lein”; “The Three Daughters of King O’Hara”; “The Weaver’s Don and the Giant of the White Hill”; “Fair, Brown and Trembling”; “The King of Erin and the Queen of the Lonesome Island”; “The Shee an Gannon and the Grugach Gaire”; “The Three Daughters of the King of the East and the Son of a King in Erin”; “The Fisherman’s Son and the Grugach of Tricks”; “The Thirteenth Son of the King of Erin”; “Kil Arthur”; “Shaking-Head”; “Birth of Fin MacCumhail”; “Fin MacCumhail and the Fenians of Erin in the Castle of Fear Dubh”; “Fin MacCumhail and the Knight of the Full Axe”; “Gilla na Grakin and Fin MacCumhail”; “Fin MacCumhail The Seven Brothers and the King of France”; “Black, Brown and Gray”; “Fin MacCumhail and the Son of the King of Alba”; “Cuculin”; “Oisin in Tir Na N-Og”; Notes. [Available at Sacred Texts - online.] See also endpapers of Hero Tale ... &c., advertising Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland - as infra.

Hero Tales of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtin (London: Macmillan 1894) is given as iii, 558pp. in COPAC; cf. Do. (Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1894), lii, 558pp. [Preface signed “Jeremiah Curtin / London, England, August, 1894”, on p.lii [i.e, 52]; printed by University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.] - available at Google Books digital edition [online > search <Jeremiah Curtin> and note, the text is only available for searches.]

Preface - some extracts: ‘[...] by aid of it we can bring order into mythology, and reconstruct, at least in outline, and provisionally, that early system of belief which was common to all races; a system which, though expressed in many languages, and in endlessly varying details, has one meaning [...]’ (p.xiii); ‘[...] and to do this we must turn to uncivilized men who possess such tales yet in their primitive integrity.’ (p.ix.); ‘It is evident, at once, that that to the aborigines of America the field for beautiful stories was very extensive.’ (p.xvi.) [See more online.]

End-papers: Notice of Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland / by Jeremiah Curtin / With Etched Frontispiece. Crown 8vo. Cloth, gilt top, $2.00. [Notice:] ‘The myth tales included in this volume were collected personally by the author during 1887, in the west of Ireland, - in Kerry, Galway, and Donegal, - and taken down from the mouths of men who, with one or two exceptions, spoke only Gaelic, or but little English and that imperfectly. To this is due the fact that the stories are so well preserved, and not blurred and rendered indistinct, as is the case in places where the ancient Gaelic language, in which they were originally told, has perished.’ Contents here given in two columns [as supra]; also reviews from Charles A. Dana, The Nation, et al. - as attached [jpeg].

Irish Folk-tales, collected by Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906), ed. with introduction and notes by Séamus Ó Duilearga (Dublin & Cork: Talbot Press [For the Folklore of Ireland Society] 1944), xvi, 166pp., ill. [front. port.]; 22 cm. ‘Reprinted from Beadoideas, the journal of the Folklore of Ireland society, Dublin, XI-XII, 1941-1942’; ‘First printing, January 1944. Reprint February 1944’. Appendix: ‘Notes on some of Jeremiah Curtin’s storytellers, by Padraic Ó Siochfhradha (“An Seabhac”) Notes (bibliographical), pp.158-66. CONTENTS: Introduction; “The son of the king of Erin and the queen of the moving wheel”; “The bird of the golden land”; “The king’s son in Erin and the king of green island”; “The fisherman of Kinsale and the hag of the sea”; “The tinker of Ballingarry and his three wishes”; “Baranoir, son of a king in Erin, and the daughter of king under the sea”; “The share-smith and the stranger”; “Gold apple, son of the king of Erin”; “The widow’s son, the devil, and the fool”; “The three sons of the king of Antua”; “Sgiathán Dearg, and the daughter of the king of the western world”; “Fáinne Óir, daughter of the king of Erin, and the son of the king of three seas”; “The high king of Lochlann and the Fenians of Erin”; “Finn Mac Cumhaill and Conan Maol in the house at the rock”; “Sál Fhada, the king’s son, and Finn Mac Cumhaill”; “Finn Mac Cumhaill and Iolann Iolchrothach, son of the king of Spain”;. Notes on some of Jeremiah Curtin’s storytellers by Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha (“An Seabhac”); Notes.

Note: The 16 stories of this collection were first printed in the New York Sun in 1892-93 and are called by O Duilearga ‘the only collection of genuine Irish folk-tales in English now available to the general public.’(See review by Francis Shaw, as ‘The Irish Folklore Commission’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review (March 1944), pp.30-36 [review of Seán Ó Suilleabháin, Handbook of Irish Folklore; Curtin, Irish Folk-tales, ed. Ó Duilearga, and Béaloideas (Vol XII) - available at JSTOR online].

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Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin, ed. and annot., Joseph Schafer [Superintend. of the State Hist. Soc. of Wisconsin; Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Biog. ser., II (The Antes Press [for] State Hist. Soc. of Wisconsin 1940) [paid for out of the income of the George R. Burrowes Fund; Preface signed by Schafer, Madison March 1939]; and Do. [another edn.?] (Michigan Hist. Soc. 1941), 937pp. [Index, 903-37], incls. port. of Jeremiah Curtin and Alma Cardell Curtin [courtesy of Mrs A. M. Norton, a sister of Mrs. Curtin] - online; see Contents and page images - attached. Ill. [front. port. of Jeremiah and Alma Cardell Curtin].

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Joseph Schafer, Introduction to Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin (Wisconsin [Hist. Soc.] 1940), Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, ‘Obair Jeremiah Curtin’ in Thaitin Sé le Peig, ed. Pádraig Ó Fiannachta (1989) [q.pp.].

See also: ‘Curtin’s Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland’ [unsigned review], in The Atlantic Monthly, 66, 396 (October 1890), pp. 568-72 [Cornell UL > issue index - online, or via Library of Congress > Query - online].

Jan Rybicki, ‘Alma Cardell Curtin and Jeremiah Curtin: the Translator’s Wife’s Stylistic Fingerprint’, in Digital Humanities (June 2011) - see extracts.

[For J. M. Synge on the Aran Islanders’ memories of Curtin’s visit - see under Notes, infra.]

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Seán Ó Suilleabháin, intro. to Jeremiah Curtin, Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World, collected from oral tradition in southwest Munster ([1895]; Talbot Press 1974), incls. editorial remarks: ‘with the aid of interpreters, as he never acquired a complete mastery of the various Irish dialects, he collected the lore which he got published under the titles Myths and Folklore of Ireland, Hero-Tales of Ireland, Irish Folk-Tales (first published in the New York Sun, later edited by Séamus Ó Duilearga for Béaloideas, Journal of the Folklore Soc. of Ireland, 1941-42), and finally Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World, which are re-published in the present volume [...] All in all, the collection retains its morbidly fascinating character; is true to Irish tradition; and, on account of Curtin’s own interpersed comments, is well deserving of being re-published.’ Note, the volume back shows a fine photo-port. of Curtin with bio-dates, 1835-1906.

Joseph Schafer - remarking on Cassius M. Clay’s description of Curtin as a ‘Jesuit Irishman’ in a letter of 1869 (which was ultimately published in Filson Club History Soc. Journal of July 1938), documenting his suspicions that Curtin calumniated (or otherwise disparaged) him to William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State: ‘The “Jesuit Irishman” of the above angry screed, who should have been sitting at a desk in an adjoining room when it was being written, was an Irishman only by inheritance. By birth, education, and natural predilection he was an American. And his Jesuitism was of the Harvard brand! Clay showed herein a willingness to employ epithets in the hope of injuring his adversary. It was like the present day disposition to call your opponent a Communist or a Fascist.’ (Schafer, Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin, 1940, Introduction, p.8.)

Note: Curtin records that, on asking Clay ‘[w]hy do you make such an accusation when you know that it is false?’, Clay Clay replied: ‘I always reserve the choice of weapons’ - and answer that Curtin calls ‘perfectly characteristic of the man.’ (See Memoirs, ed. Schafer, 1940, p.175 - available online at > search for ‘Jeremiah Curtin’; gives b. date as 1835.]

Joseph Schafer calls Curtin ‘an inveterate seeker after new linguistic worlds to conquer’, also remarking that ‘his observations on life in western Ireland are a revealing commentary on the state of of affairs which produced the Home Rule controversy’ reflecting ‘a decidedly anti-British attitude.’ (Memoirs, 1940, p.3, 4.)

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A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats, A Biography Life (1988): “Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea” [is] an extensively revised poem largely based on a west of Ireland source recorded in Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland ... [inter alia]’ (p.67)

Wikipedia: The Wikipedia page on Curtin [online] broadly takes the form of a critique of his translations Sienkiewicz and Prus.

Jan Rybicki, ‘Alma Cardell Curtin and Jeremiah Curtin: the Translator’s Wife’s Stylistic Fingerprint’, in Digital Humanities (June 2011): ‘Poland’s first literary Nobel Prize winner, Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), owed his great if short-lived fame to the very numerous if very mediocre translations by Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906), diplomat, ethnographer, polyglot. Born in a Catholic Irish family in Wisconsin, he graduated from Harvard and was posted as a secretary to the American mission in St. Petersburg, Russia; his fluency in Russian made him a popular figure among the local aristocracy. Paradoxically, it might have contributed to his conflict with Ambassador Clay and precipitated the end of his diplomatic career (1869). Curtin switched to two professions he continued till the end of his life: that of the ethnographer (employed, for a time, by the Smithsonian Institution) and of the literary translator. In 1872, he met and promptly married Alma Cardell (1847-1938), who soon abandoned her post as a teacher in a Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home (for which her studies at the Barre Academy had made her more than qualified) to become her husband’s secretary, amanuensis and editor; until her peripatetic husband’s death, her life was to be led in hotels and boarding houses around the globe especially after the Curtins struck gold with Sienkiewicz’s international bestseller Quo vadis (1896). [Cont.]

Jan Rybicki, ‘Alma Cardell Curtin and Jeremiah Curtin [...]’, (Digital Humanities, June 2011): ‘Alma devoted much work to virtually all publications signed by Jeremiah: his translations of Sienkiewicz and of other Polish authors (Orzeszkowa, Prus and Potocki); his translations from the Russian (Gogol, Zagoskin’s and Alexy K. Tolstoy); and his ethnographic studies on myths of Native Americans, Ireland and Slavic peoples. She also published and edited three books on Mongols after her husband’s death. [...]’ Rybicki cites the discovery that the Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin have been proven by Michael Jakec Mikos [Michael J. Mikos] to have been written by Alma, using her diary and her correspondence to her family - though written in the first person as by Jeremiah. He continues: ‘The same diaries (and not the Memoirs) show the extent of Alma’s contribution to Jeremiah’s translations: after a whole day of taking her husband’s dictation, he would go to sleep while she would copy and correct the day’s work’. Rybicki lays emphasis on Sienkiewicz's two “American stories” Lillian Morris and For Bread, reflecting his stay there in 1876-1879, both of which were translated during the Curtins’ ‘Irish year’ in 1893, and concludes that Alma undertook the work while her husband was preoccupied with Irish folklore collecting. Rybicki’s study applies ‘Cluster Analysis to normalized word frequencies in texts’ considered as ‘one of the most precise methods of “stylistic dactyloscopy”’ in order to establish the extent of her authorship. Bibl. cites. C. L. Collins, ‘Behind the Curtin’, in Milwaukee Magazine (April 2008) [q.pp.]. (See Rybicki, op. cit., 2011 - online. )

Diagram: The ‘Consensus tree’ in Rybicki’s article demonstrates that the Mongolian books published after his death were composed by Alma Cardell Curtin, not Jeremiah Curtin, as alleged on the title pages. [See copy, attached].

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Second Irish Period, 1891-93’, in Memoirs [Chap. XXVVII], concerning Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry: ‘The evening preceding Ash Wednesday, all the boys and girls from eight to fifteen years of age were out with ropes to lasso any girl of marriageable age whom they could find. If they caught one, they tried to drag her to the river and throw her in, because the time had expired and she was not married. There was a rescue and much sport. On Ash Wednesday crowds of people went to Canon Brusnahan’s church “to be marked,” have a black cross made on the forehead. The Seneca Indians when going out with a child, after dark, mark the child’s forehead with a coal, “to keep evil spirits away.” / During the month preceding Lent there were many marriages and naturally much gossip. I found that it was not unusual for a couple to marry without being acquainted with each other; or what is worse, hating each other and loving someone else. Tuesday, just before the time for being married expired, a woman who had five children married a boy of twenty. There was great excitement in the village. The bridegroom’s mother was frantic with rage; the bride’s grownup son gave his mother a sound beating. No one interfered, for the sentiment of the people was. “Well does she deserve it.” I asked a man on the street if the young husband had money; his answer amused me: “Divil a bit, but to work around like another.” My favorite walk while in Cahirciveen was to Carhen house, the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell near the beautiful little river of Carhir. In June I went to Ballinskellig where I met two pleasant men; Mr. Abbot of Dublin, who entertained me with his queer ideas about Gaelic mythology; and Mr. Cuthburt, who assisted me in getting fine views. Early in September I visited Derrynane, and was entertained by the grandson of Daniel O’Connell, in the house where the great liberator lived and died. / We left Cahirciveen Sept. 12th 1893. The morning was glorious! As we rode along the inlet, the reflections in the water were wonderfully fine; hills, hedges, and houses were there as distinct as on land. This was the last stage trip from Cahirciveen to Killorglin. That day the first train went over the rails that had been laid between the two towns. The country was at its best, and the journey to Dublin was very agreeable. [...]’ (p.469; see more online.)

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Myths and Folklore of Ireland [1890] (rep. edn. 1968): ‘‘A notable characteristic of Irish tales is the definiteness of names and places in a majority of them. In the Irish myths we are told who the characters are, what their condition of life is, and where they lived and acted; the heroes and their fields of action are brought before us with as much definiteness as if they were persons of today or yesterday.’ (Q.p.; J. W. Foster, ‘The Geography of Irish Fiction’, in Colonial Consequences, 1991, p.11.)

Myths and Folklore of Ireland [1890] (1968 Edn.) - cont.: ‘A mythology, in its time of greatest vigor, puts its imprint on the whole region to which it belongs; the hills, rivers, mountains, plains, villages, trees, rocks, springs, and plants are all made sacred.’ (Foster, op. cit., p.12; see also Foster, ‘The Geography of Irish Fiction’, in The Irish Novel in Our Time, ed. Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, Université de Lille 1975-76, p.89-90, and Foster, Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival, 1987, p.15.)

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[See works by Jeremiah Curtin available on Internet at 10 January, 2012 - as listed by Univ. of Pennsylvania’s “Online Books Page” - attached. ]

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; The following poem is based upon matter in Jeremiah Curtin’s Myths and Folklore of Ireland (1890) [note to Yeats’s ‘Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea’, Seamus Heaney, ed.], 791.

Errata: Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World is dated 1893 [err.] in Brian Cleeve & Anne Brady (A Dictionary of Irish Writers 1985) and 1895 [recte] in Boylan (Dictionary of Irish Biography 1988). title-page of the Talbot 1974 edn. reads ‘first edn. 1895’.

Belfast Public Library holds Irish Folk-tales; Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World (1895).

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Synge on Curtin in Aran
: In The Aran Islands (1907), J. M. Synge records a meeting with ‘and old dark man’ on Aranmore who recalls giving ‘stories to Mr. Curtin of America’:

He had great confidence in his own powers and talent, and in the superiority of his stories over all other stories in the world. When we were speaking of Mr. Curtin, he told me that this gentleman had brought out a volume of his Aran stories in America, and made five hundred pounds by the sale of them.”
  “And what do you think he did then?” he continued; “he wrote a book of his own stories after making that lot of money with mine. And he brought them out, and the divil a half-penny did he get for them. Would you believe that?”
Afterwards he told me how one of his children had been taken by the fairies.

—Synge, The Aran Islands (Boston: John W. Luce 1911). Introduction, pp.23-24.)

Birthplace: the question of Curtin’s birthplace, variously recorded as Milwaukee and Detroit, was settled by Joseph Schafer in his Introduction to the Memoirs (1940; 1941).

University: Schafer writes that Curtin entered Harvard in 1859 against the advice of his parents, who would have preferred a Catholic college, but does not mention his time in Milwaukee University, cited elsewhere in the biographical literature. Milwaukee Univ., which is billed as Wisconsin’s premier urban university, named the Arts building Curtin Hall in his honour when it was erected in 1974. (See Wisconsin U > Map - online.) Marquette Univ., a Catholic, Jesuit university also in Milwaukee.

Kith & Kin: A Mike Curtin (b.1946) formerly of Marquette High School and later Dominican College (defunct 1974; online at Racine virtual Alumni Campus to 2010), associated with the DC Lakers, was the son of Antoinette and Jeremiah M. Curtin

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