Caesar Otway

1780-1842 [sign. ‘C.O’ as well as O.C.; occas. pseud. “Terence O’Toole”]; b. Co. Tipperary, ed. TCD, BA 1810; ordained; worked in country parish for 17 years before becoming asst. chaplain at the Magdalen Asylum, Dublin [Magdalen Chapel, Leeson St.]; post at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where his preaching attracted audiences; early writings incl. A Letter to the Roman Catholic Priests of Ireland (1814) and A Lecture on Miracles [ ...] (1823); co-fnd., with Dr. Joseph Henderson Singer, and ed., The Christian Examiner and Church of Ireland Magazine, 1825-31 [var. 1836]; toured Ireland collecting evidence of ‘beastly rites’ of Catholics, 1826;
launched William Carleton, who contributed to the Examiner from the first publication of his “Lough Derg” story, edited by Otway, to 1831; with George Petrie and others, founded the Dublin Penny Journal in 1832; reached a peak circulation of some 40,000 copies; appointed to government commission on hand-weavers, in which he reported unfavourably on the ‘premium’ system; co-fnd. with Isaac Butt, John Anster, et al., Dublin University Magazine, Jan. 1833; d. 16 March 1842; ‘a lean controversialist’, in Yeats’s account (Intro., Stories from Carleton), he was also moved by Carleton’s example to write his own narratives of peasant life. CAB DIB DIW DIH RAF FDA OCIL

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  • Sketches in Ireland descriptive of interesting, and hitherto unnoticed districts, in the north and south by ‘C.O’ [sic] (Dublin: William Curry Jun. & Co. M,DCCC,XVII [1827]) [see details]
  • A Tour of Connaught: Comprising Sketches of Clonmacnoise, Joyce Country, and Achill (Dublin: W. Curry Jun. 1839), [see details].
  • Sketches in Erris and Tyrawly (Dublin: Curry 1841).

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Bibliographical details
Sketches in Ireland descriptive of interesting, and hitherto unnoticed districts, in the north and south (Dublin: William Curry Jun. & Co. M,DCCC,XVII [1827]), 411pp. + 2pp. adverts. for Wm. Curry [incl. sev. works by Philip Dixon Hardy] signed O.C. on last page [p.411]; being 5 letters to the Rev. Sir S.L.B., commencing, ‘Dear sir, / You are pleased to remind me of an offer that I committed myself to, of giving you some sketches of my occasional wanderings through my native land ...’ and proceeding to recall a tour of Donegal in 1822’; Text of copy at Harvard Library available at Google Books online.]

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A Tour of Connaught: Comprising Sketches of Clonmacnoise, Joyce Country, and Achill (Dublin: W. Curry Jun. 1839), vii, 442pp. +5pp. adverts; [Preface signed “C.O. / Dublin, May 18 1829”] I. A. Wheeler's engraving of a sketch by A. Nicholl, AHRA showing “Church and Round Tour, Clonmacnoise” - with elaborate Romanesque detail on the doorway - is bound in presented facing the title page. [Text of a copy at the University of California Libraries available in Internet Archive online; see also extracts under Quotations, infra].

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Barbara Hayley, Cartleton’s Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry and the Anglo-Irish Literary Tradition (Colin Smythe, 1983), pp.15-16, 334-35, et passim; also cited in Irish Book Lover Vols. 2, 6.

See article on ‘Rev. Caesar Otway - Author of A Tour in Connaught’, by A.P., in The Dublin University Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 82 (Oct. 1839) - available at LibraryIreland online and attached. (The biographical entry on Otway in Webb’s Compendium of Irish Lives (1878) is also given on the LibraryIreland website - online; accessed 31.10.2011.)

See also Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 [...]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher & Philip O’Leary, Cambridge UP 2006, Vol. 1, pp.452-55 [remarks on the journals he founded].

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A.P., ‘Rev. Caesar Otway: Author of A Tour in Connaught’, in The Dublin University Magazine, 14, 82 (Oct. 1839): ‘[...] The peculiar characteristics of Caesar Otway as a writer are, the power he possesses of making his readers partake in the deep feeling he has for the natural beauties of his native land, and the humour and tact with which he describes the oddities and amiabilities of the Irish character; and while depicting, with no mean effect, the absurdities of poor Paddy, there is no sourness in his satire. He even treads tenderly upon the heels of Popish Priests, and would, if possible, by his playful hits, rather improve the profession than hurt the individual.’ (q.p.; available at LibraryIreland online; see full text, attached.)

Estyn E. Evans, Irish Folk Ways (London: Routledge 1957), refers to Otway’s account of the extreme disorder of houses in settlements that seemed to have fallen ‘in a shower from the sky’. (Citing Otway, Tour of Connaught, 1839, p.353; Evans, op. cit., p.29.)

Barbara Hayley, ‘A Reading and Thinking Nation: Periodicals as the Voice of Nineteenth-century Ireland’, in Hayley and Enda McKay, ed., Three Hundred Years of Irish Periodical (Assoc. of Irish Learned Journals: Gigginstown, Mullingar 1987), 29-48; p.32: [Discussing The Christian Examiner and the Irish Catholic Magazine]: ‘[…] And yet in both of these magazines the first stirrings of a new literary consciousness appear. By hindsight the significant thing about these two enemies on opposite sides of the great religious divide was that each of them displayed the early glimmerings of what was to be a concerted and conscious Irish literary movement. The Christian Examiner’s first editor, the Reverend Caesar Otway, surely the most misinterpreted man in Irish literature, may have been constantly on the watch against Romish superstitions, but he was the first editor to run regular fiction in his magazine, and he discovered William Carleton, employing him as a contributor to every issue until he himself ceased to be editor. He commissioned poetry and wrote travel and topographical articles of a kind that were to become popular in the 1830s. He reviewed books of Irish as well as of religious interest. Carleton’s stories were set down under such headings as “Popular Romish Legends”, and there is usually an introduction from the editor or author emphasising the misguidedness of the peasanm and the venality of their clergy, but these pieces, however biased, were literature as much as propaganda. / Otway gave up the editorship of the Christian Examiner in 1831, and the magazine subsided into straightforward anti-papistry, the delusions of Catholic ritual and the like. But Otway had perceived that there was a market for literature, and he went on in the 1830s to edit and found some of the fine, non-sectarian, liberal magazines that encouraged a new literary life in Ireland. (The magazine went on until 1869, one part of the substratum of bitter periodicals that continued through the century).’

Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar [1947] (Dublin: Talbot Press 1972), sees Otway as being ‘racked and feverish with hatred of the Church of Rome’ (1947 edn., p.81.) Kiely adverts to ‘that particular form of schizophrenia’ as ‘not ... unusual in Europe after John Calvin’ (1972 edn., p.67). He retales the exchange of letters between Otway and J.K.L. (Bishop Doyle) and also quotes Yeats’s account of Otway: ‘there lived in Dublin a lean controversialist, Caesar Otway. A favourite joke about him was, “Where was Otway in the shower yesterday? Up a gun-barrel at Rigbys’s.”’ (Poor Scholar, 1972 Edn., p.65), and another reference: ‘When he [Otway] had looked down upon it [St Patrick’s island] from the mountains, he felt no reverence for the grey island consecrated by the verse of Calderon and the feet of twelve centuries of pilgrims.’ (Stories of Carleton; Kiely, 1972, p.70). Kiely remarks: ‘To say that he felt no reverence is a mild understatement.’

Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar: A Study of William Carleton (1947; 1972 Edn.), : ‘[...] His lean body was racked and feverish with hatred of the Church of Rome. The mind that treasured legends and gathered up carefully the details of antique things moved only in vioent, vitriolic abuse when it turned on the Catholic priesthood, or indulgences, or the miracles of the saints. That particular form of schizophrenia has not been unusual in Europe after John Calvin. The Rev. Caesar Otway was a particularly good specimen. [...] in his days the Catholic mass of the people were rising up at least against the whole accumulation of penal [67] laws and prohibitions. Daniel O’Connell, with the million wiles of the perfect politician, with a voice loud enoug to be heard all over Europe, came out of the mountains of Kerry; and, to the sound of men moving in thousands to O’Connell’s mass meetings all the maggots awoke in Otway’s blood. [...] Otway’s name became for ever associated with men who equalled him in only one thing: an overpowering irrational hatred for that awakening of the people, a red-misted fury against the power that they say seated in Rome. They called their movement the New Reformation; and, while, from one point of view, Otway had chosen his own company, it was still his tragedy that a man loving the calm of things of the mind should be swept roaring into the furnace of bigotry.’ (pp.67-71.) [Kiely also mentions Otway’s associates and kndred, Rev. Sir Harcourt Lees, Rev. Dr. Singer, Rev. Peter Roe, Rev. Mortimer O’Sullivan, and Rev. Samuel O’Sullivan, and Rev. Tresham Dames Gregg.]

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Benedict Kiely, foreword to Autobiography of William Carleton (Belfast: White Row Press 1996).;
‘Caesar Otway looked at William Carleton and saw the brand snatched from the burning. He listened to the stories he told of the people back in the valley. And suddenly Otway saw the hungry thousands alive and real, living in the cabins, bending the back day after day in the small fields. In the advice he gave to Carleton the second difficulty arises for it was good advice and bad advice. Otway suggested to the young fellow that he should write of the people as he spoke of the people. For a temperament as inchoate and chaotic as that of Carleton seems to have been, that was valuable advice. The inspiration of the precise Miss Edgeworth, that touched the great Sir Walter in Scotland and Turgenev in Russia, might easily have passed over the head of William Carleton in Dublin. Like many young writers he might readily [10] have taken to writing about things as remote from his own experience as dukes and duchesses and captains of dragoons.
 Oddly and ironically enough some of his later work descended to that world. But by that time he was, you might say, written out: his feet had forgotten the touch of the strong earth in the valley that had made him great. Otway’s good advice meant that his first great enthusiastic energy set him working in the quarry out of which he himself had been cut.
 Otway’s bad advice talked of the service Carleton could do to the work of The Christian Examiner by holding up to the light the superstitions of the people: the superstitions of pilgrimage and priesthood and prophecies, mass and miracles, sermons and stations and rosaries, voteens and holy wells. Carleton began to see all those things as enemies of the light, enemies of the liberty of the human mind.
 Otway offered him money and the hospitality of his home, offered him also the chance to write out of his bones the grudges that a man of talent can collect when he is the poor son of poor people. And Carleton scrambled up on the fence, possibly with the firm intention of becoming a Protestant, but inevitably doomed to end up with a long leg dangling on either side of the rickety division. The one advantage was that, perched on the fence with his heels kicking the air, he could work and cat. Now the fence swayed to one side, now to the other, affected by the fortunes of his own people still walking confusedly on the ground. He had raised himself a little above their poverty. Some shouted at him in bitterness because they thought he had sold them and sold his own past. Some, knowing their own heart in his heart, knowing the ways of men and the unsteadiness of the whole earth, laughed with him when he laughed, were silent when he remembered the sorrow and the lost sunshine.

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A Tour of Connaught: Comprising Sketches of Clonmacnoise, Joyce Country, and Achill (Dublin: W. Curry Jun. 1839) - Preface
[...] My first plea is, that my volume had not been got up for the purpose of leading or misleading public opinion respecting Irish politics or economics. I aim not at being the precursor of any change, or the promoter of any speculation. The tour I took for my pleasure, and the volume I wrote at my leisure, and during those evenings when I allow myself to relax from the more serious occupations [v] of the morning. My own pastime, I offer to the public, if it so pleases them, as part of theirs; and all my hope is, that the reader will think better of Ireland than he will do of the author. The other reason why I publish is, that I write as a native, who has made the history, antiquities, traditionary lore, and social relations of the island, his study, and therefore may be supposed to be competent to afford information on subject not exactly within the convenient reach of an American or Briton. In a word, I assume that my ARTICLE is what an extern would not, and, perhaps, if he could, would not supply.’ (pp.v-vi; for longer quotations, incl. the story of Castle Hen and Granuaile, see attached.)

Sketches in Ireland descriptive of interesting, and hitherto unnoticed districts, in the north and south (Dublin: William Curry Jun. & Co.; Charles Tait, Fleet Street, London; W. Blackwood, Edinburgh, M,DCCC,XVII [1827]), Preface: ‘Ireland is such an unfashionable country, that to travel out of it seems the pursuit of every one who is not forced by poverty to stay at home. Thus, every one who is tired of his time, and fondly fancies that change of mind can be procured by change of place, flies from his own despised country as fast as steam can paddle or wheel whirl him, to join the herd of idlers that infest the sunny roads of France or Italy; visiting the Continent, as woodcocks do southern shores, to be shot at by sharpers, and become the fair and full-fed game of inn-keepers, and artists, and Ciceroni. Therefore [...]’ (p.i; available at Google Books - online; accessed 09.10.2010.)

Sleeping habits (of Irish peasant): ‘... stripping themselves entirely the whole family lie down at once and together, covering themselves with blankets if they have them, if not, with their day clothing, but they lie down decently and in order, the eldest daughter next the wall farthest from the door, then all the sisters according to their ages, next the mother, father, and sons in succession and then the strangers, whether the travelling pedlar; or tailor or beggar. Thus the strangers are kept aloof from the female part of the family and if there be an apparent community, there is great propriety of conduct.’ (See D. J. Doherty & J. E. Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History Since 1500 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989, “Stradogue, Sleeping in” [article].

Weaving industry: ‘Bounties, duties and premiums had created a situation in which manufacturers looked to the premiums and the Parliament instead of their own industry and the market, and expected customers could be created by stature.’ (Report from assistant hand-loom weavers’ commissioners, BPP, 1840, xiii; report from C. G. Otway, p.592; quoted in Liam Kennedy, Colonialism, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland, IIS/QUB 1996, p.43.)

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, p.205 in connection with Carleton [biog.]

Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), gives extracts from Sketches in Ireland, incl. ‘Dunluce Castle’; intended for Church; grad. TCD, holy orders; for many years curate of remote country parish, ultimately appointed asst. chaplain of Magdelene Asylum, Dublin, and minor office in St Patrick’s Cathedral; started The Christian Examiner with Dr. Singer in 1825; light sketches and biographies, history, and controversy; ‘Sketches in Ireland, Descriptive and Interesting’ (1827), over usual initials ‘O.C’; Dublin Penny Journal, 1832, conducted by Petrie and Otway; Tour in Connaught (1841); for some years centre of young literary life of Irish capital; d. Mar 16, after much suffering from rheumatic fever.

Belfast Public Library holds Sketches in Ireland (1827); A Tour of Connaught (1839);

University of Ulster Library, Morris Collection, holds Sketches in Erris and Tyrawley (1850) 418p; Sketches in Ireland descriptive and interesting and hitherto unnotived districts of the North and South (Curry 1827) 411p; A Tour of Connaught comprising sketches of Clonmacnoise, Joyce country, and Achill (Curry 1839). 442p.


Hist. Election: Otway was elected Vice-President of the TCD College Historical Society for the year ensuing, in 1833 (See Library of Herbert Bell, Pamphlet on Isaac Butt.)

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