Colum, Introduction to The Collegians, by Gerald Griffin (1829]
(Dublin: Talbot Press ), pp.ix-xii.
Note: Text of this introduction scanned
from the undated edition of The Collegians, being a undated
Talbot Press imprint, poss. 1918, but bearing the front leaf inscription
To Mr. Milliken from Jean, Christmas 1942, and purchased
by me at Coleraine Bookshop, Stone Row, Coleraine, N. Ireland, in
1989. For reading convenience, I have indented some of the longer
quotations which Colum gave as part of his current paragraph. Contrary
to the copy edition, where the page numbers appear at top of page,
the numbers in square brackets below refer to the end of a given
page of text. [B. Stewart, Nov. 2009.]
In The Collegians love and murder may be treated conventionally,
but the episodes depending upon these themes are made vivid,
racy, and entertaining. We move through Munster and are shown
Munster life and character in such variety that we feel for
a while that the story has the spaciousness of the old national
novels of England and Spain. Lowry Looby goes with his master
at a sling trot, telling stories and singing snatches
of songs, and Myles-na-Coppaleen, in the drawing-room of the
castle, shows the mountaineers quickness of mind; Mihil
OConnor rides wildly with his faction, and the Munster
gentlemen drink deep and come to the duel; the sinister Danny
Mann is put beside the grotesque Lowry Looby and his evil idiom
mixes with the others mellow discourse; manners that have
lapsed are mingled with manners that are familiar, and we hear
of a lady riding to a gentlemans door with a whip in one
hand and a brace of duelling pistols in the other; we listen
to the old fox-hunter hillooing on his death-bed and watch the
gentlemen exchanging shots in the dining-room; the peasantry
live as they lived before the famine, poor, rack-rented, but
merry-hearted and delighting in music and story, and the gentry
gallop towards bankruptcy. The Collegians is the best
of the Irish romantic novels. Gerald Griffin told his brother
that it wrote itself. The first half was composed
while he was living [ix] happily at Pallaskenry after his return
to the County Limerick, and the other half was completed in
London. He was twenty-five when The Collegians appeared.
The part he had finished in Limerick was being set up while
the second part was being written.
Every morning, just as we were done breakfast,
his brother writes,
a knock came to the door and a messenger was shown in saying
printers want more copy, sir. The manuscript of
the previous day was handed forth, without revision, correction,
or further ceremony, and he went to work again to produce
another supply. The most singular part of the business was
that he very seldom broke in on his usual rule of not writing
after dinner, but every moment of next morning, up to the
breakfast hour, was occupied in preparing as much matter as
possible before the dreaded printers knock.
The second part of The Collegians deals more closely
with Hardress Cregans interests and it lacks the variety
that makes the first part such pleasant reading. Gerald Griffin
liked to talk about his popular novel. He told his brother he
wrote every passage as if it belonged to an actual drama. Certainly
it has scenes that are vividly dramatic; one remembers the hunchback
condemning his master while the firelight reddens the walls
of the place where he is confined. Griffin insisted that the
novelist should have a good deal of the dramatists capacity.
I have heard him, his brother writes, say
he thought the talent required for both kinds of writing was
very similar; that is to say, that to be successful as a novel-writer
one should have a great deal of dramatic talent. He used to
point out the best novels as containing a large proportion of
dialogue, and requiring very little aid from narrative, and
the most impressive scenes in them as highly dramatic in their
character. He said this more particularly, however, of Sir Walter
Scotts novels. Griffins remarks as reported
in this passage are very sound - a novel has a more exciting
interest of its scenes are conceived as dramatic episodes. But
he possibly injured The Collegians by thinking of some
[x] of its scenes as being rendered by an actual performer.
What a deal I would give, he said, to see
Edmund Kean in that scene of Hardress Cregan, at the party,
just before his arrest, while he is endeavouring to do politeness
to the ladies, while the horrid, warning voice is in his ear.
Now, as drama, this particular scene is very second rate, and
Griffin was affected by it because the vision of Kean in the
part made him think histrionically instead of dramatically.
One cannot help imagining that the situation that should have
marked the arrest of Hardress Cregan had already been passed.
The young man, to effect the release of his confederate before
they were both incriminated, had come into the stable where
Danny Mann was confined. The hunchback escapes and Hardress
Cregan stays behind to answer the sentrys challenge. But
his consciousness is so strained that it lapses, and he becomes
oblivious of the sentry, who thereupon breaks open the door.
Hardress Cregan is now in the place of the man whose crime he
had prompted, and his resolute attempt to stave off discovery
has brought about his betrayal. His arrest then and there would
have dramatic fitness. But the author is thinking about the
wedding later on with the horrid, warning voice
in Hardress Cregans ear; his eye is fixed on the actor,
and to make the part suit Edmund Kean the course of the narrative
is strained. After Danny Manns flight from the stable
all is mechanical. The hunchback who informs on Hardress Cregan
is not consistent with the retainer of the earlier part of the
story and the prisoner who sends a warning to the bridegroom
is not consistent with the informer. One can see where the task
of supplying copy to the printer has become irksome
to the writer. The dramatic possibilities of The Collegians
were recognized and the story has been put upon the stage in
a play and in an opera, in Boucicaults Colleen Bawn,
and Benedicts Lily of Killarney. [xi]
Gerald Griffin was born in the city of Limerick in 1803. He
was the youngest of the family, and when he was seventeen his
father and mother, with some of the children, went to settle
in Pennsylvania, whilst Gerald went to Adare to live with a
brother, a doctor. Thereafter he began to write. He attached
himself to a local paper, interested himself in Limerick theatricals,
and made the acquaintance of John Banim who was on a visit to
the town. Before he was twenty he had written Aguire,
a play that impressed his brother so much that he allowed him
to London to try his fortune at the theatres. He went over in
1823, just before he was twenty. This unknown young Munster
man had actually the project of reforming the London theatre.
He had a good friend in John Banim, who was known as a dramatist
and who had influence in theatrical circles. The elder writer
gave Griffin his first introductions to the managers. Nothing
could be done with Aguire, but the play he was working
on, Gisippus, was treated with respect. He sent the
first two acts to a well-known actress, Miss Kelly, who told
him that if the remainder of the piece was equal to what she
had read she had little doubt of being able to produce it. Afterwards
he sent her the third and fourth acts, but he never sent the
fifth. He made no speedy success in letters and he had to settle
down to the hard labour of the pen. He reported in the courts,
wrote reviews of books, got occasional articles into the magazines,
and engaged himself in any task that the booksellers might set
him. One of his letters will show how hard he toiled at the
uninteresting side of letters:
During the last two months I have been more occupied than
you can conceive without my explaining. The situation which
was to have taken up six hours of my time per day, goes much
nearer to the twelve regularly. I never return before evening
to my lodging, and then, to half complete every evenings
work keeps me drudging until two or three sometimes [xii]
four and five oclock every morning - unless when I happen
to doctor myself, and that is not often. I cant afford
to lose a certainty, and therefore must submit to this, but
the consequences to me are very grievous. I have not, since
I wrote last, been able to furnish articles for periodicals,
although I had made arrangements with some, and was actually
obliged to leave a series incomplete, consequently I received
nothing. The work of which I speak above is dry drudgery -
making indexes, cutting down dictionaries, &c., not one
of which, when I have completed what I have on hands, will
I ever undertake again. I was villainously deceived about
them. I am actually quite stupid and can hardly see to write
with pains in the eyes. I have made many efforts to get out
of this drudgery, but unsuccessfully, for want of time. I
proposed to a bookseller to translate or adapt Les Causes
Celébres of the French courts; a good idea, and
he caught at it, but he could not engage in it so quickly
as I wished; and now I find Knight and Lacy are doing it,
so that spec.s gone ... You cant conceive the
utter drudgery of beating your unfortunate brains to write
articles without receiving remuneration regularly, and I have
since tea this evening written and put into the post a number
of articles, for which perhaps I must battle for my three
farthings; otherwise I could write ... I got a letter the
other day from a company of booksellers in the Row, to furnish
them with some articles for a new magazine, which I cant
do ... One thing that worries me out of my life is, that I
am losing too much time ever to be able to retrieve it. It
sometimes vexes me very much. I am too ready to undertake
what I cant do; and that insures me a continual round
of anxieties. With all that I have spoken of above, I agreed
to furnish a bookseller with matter for a pamphlet of the
Catholic Meeting here, and did so; I wonder how. Twas
about as much as would make one of the common size of novel
volumes, and furnished in five days I Without even interfering
with my regular engagements.
At the time he was suffering from an illness which he thought
was incurable. His brother, Dr. William Griffin, visited him
and has left an account of this malady. It appears that Gerald
never thought about it except when he suffered from uneasiness
at the heart, or immediately after a violent fit of palpitations.
He was resolute to overcome any depression of spirits that came
to him in consequence of his fears. I have often seen
him, his medical brother wrote, on awakening in
the morning from a short sleep, into which he had fallen at
the close [xiii] of a severe attack, fling himself out of bed,
and commence singing some popular song from the fashionable
opera of the day. These fits of palpitation became less
distressing, but he was occasionally affected by a sudden faintness,
and he was often seized in the street with a kind of swooning
fit which made him catch at the nearest railings for support.
Once he was without food for three days. But all these difficulties
Gerald Griffin bore with courage and independence and before
he left London he had accomplished work that gave him, as he
said half a name. There was some demand at the time
for stories of a certain length - for tales that were really
minor novels. John Banims Tales of the OHara
Family had made an opening for Irish stories, and Gerald
Griffin, when he had completed a collection called Hollantide
[sic], was able to secure a good publisher for them. He left
London after he had been there for a little over three years,
and as soon as he got home he began a second series of Irish
stories, Tales of the Munster Festivals, consisting
of Suil Dhuv the Coiner, The Half-Sir,
Card-Drawing. Afterwards, while living an unclouded
life in Pallaskenry, he began the novel which has preserved
his name, The Collegians. Its success should have been
very heartening, but Gerald Griffin did not try to follow up
with another work in the same vein; instead, he wrote the pseudo-historical
novels The Invasion, and The Duke of Monmouth.
His other books are The Rivals or Tracys Ambition,
The Christian Physiologist or Tales of the Five Senses,
and Tales of the Juryroom. After the publication of
The Collegians his enthusiasm for literature abated; he
first had an idea of becoming a barrister, and then as his religious
conviction grew, he had thoughts of the priesthood. Afterwards
he made up his mind to join the Christian Brothers. In 1838
he entered the order, and he died in 1840. [xiv]
The novel The Collegians, and the poem Eileen a
Ruin are the works that keep Gerald Griffins name
remembered. Some of the books written after The Collegians
- The Invasion, The Duke of Monmouth, and
The Christian Physiologist, are difficult to read, and the
other books, Hollantide, Tales of the Munster Festivals,
Tales of the Juryroom, have not the continuous interest
of The Collegians. Was he a one-novel author then and
did his creative powers exhaust themselves with the present
story? Those who know the facts of his life will not admit this.
Hollantide was written when he was twenty-three, and
Tales of the Munster Festivals before he was twenty-five.
These two volumes would make a creditable introduction to a
series of powerful novels - they are on the level, for instance,
with Thomas Hardys early books. With The Collegians
the series seems to have been begun. Why was it not continued?
Immediately this story was published the writers powers
began to be checked by a conflict in his mind. He writes in
a letter that he is being haunted by the thought that in working
at literature it might possibly be that he was mis-spending
his time. Then a notion fatal to storytelling begins to
possess him - that what he writes should convey a direct moral.
He was dissatisfied with the tendency of The Collegians.
Isnt it extraordinary how impossible it seems to
write a perfect novel, he said to his brother,
one that should be read with deep interest and yet be perfect
as a moral work. One would wish to draw a good moral from
the tale and yet it seems impossible to keep peoples
feelings in the way they ought to go in. Look at these two
characters of Kyrle Daly and Hardress Cregan for example.
Kyrle Daly, full of high principle, prudent, amiable and affectionate;
not wanting in spirit, nor free from passion; but keeping
his passions under control; thoughtful, kindhearted [xv] and
charitable. A character in every way deserving of our esteem.
Hardress Cregan, his mothers proud pet, nursed in the
very lap of passion, and ruined by indulgence - not without
good feelings, but for ever abusing them, having a full sense
of justice and honour, but shrinking like a craven from their
dictates ; following the pleasure headlong, and eventually
led into crimes he blackest dye, by total absence of all self-control.
Take Kyrle Dalys character in what way you will, it
is infinitely preferable; yet I will venture to say, nine
out of ten who read this book will prefer Hardress Cregan;
just because he is a fellow of high mettle, with a dash of
talent about him.
His scruples were felt with particular force while he was
writing The Duke of Monmouth. He complained on
one occasion, his brother writes, of his inability
to manage some particular scene. I recommended him to pay no
attention to these scruples, but to follow the bent of his natural
feeling and fling himself into the subject. Oh, but,
said he, that is the difficulty; I dont think one
is justified in putting himself into the condition that it requires.
He denied that it was right for an author to put himself into
the position of a particular character and endeavour to feel
his passion for a moment. He came to regard as mischievous such
works of imagination as were founded upon deep and absorbing
passion. Holding such views it is obvious that he could
not tolerate, much less create, literary work that was in any
way interesting. The literature that has interested mankind
always deals with deep and absorbing passions, even
if it makes laughter out of their effects. Such literature has
been created by those who have the will and the power to put
themselves in the position of a particular character. It is
curious to note how Gerald Griffin shrinks from any vicious
element that may be in the material he handles. We are told
that he was a long time at a loss how to handle the plot of
The Duke of Monmouth.
The historical fact as regarded the heroine, and the infamous
cruelty of Colonel Kirk is the most harrowing incident in
it, being of too revolting [xvi] a nature to be made use of
in a work of fiction; the difficulty being, that any alteration
made to lessen the horror of the transaction, would, besides
being historically incorrect, tend to diminish the infamy
of that fiendish character, and therefore weaken the interest
of the whole scene by placing the heroine in a more honourable
position. He, however, eventually contrived to manage the
matter without lessening the readers sympathy for the
sufferer, preserving her reputation by a marriage, which to
her persecutor was only one of convenience.
Even in The Collegians he shrinks from telling us matters
of importance of the growth of Eily OConnors
passion for Hardress Cregan, for instance, and of Danny Manns
actual crime. When he became convinced that peoples feelings
should be kept in the line they ought to go in he
was finished as a story-teller. It is because peoples
feelings cannot be bounded by the moralist that dramas and stories
Gerald Griffin was always something of a religious.
In his youth confidence and the desire for fame made him strive
for literary distinction. He was led to believe that he was
suffering from a disease of the heart which would terminate
in sudden death. This, as his medical brother relates lowered
his spirits very much at times, and, in a mind always deeply
influenced by religious feeling, perhaps first led to that habitual
seriousness of thought, and grave consideration, which ended
in his retirement from the world. A sister whom he dearly
loved died suddenly just when he returned to Ireland, and although
he was able to throw himself into The Collegians her
death must have given deeper gravity to his mind. He had a nervous
temperament that interfered with his pursuits and occupations
and the notion that he was to die young kept recurring to his
mind- this impression, his brother notes, was associated with
dark and strange forebodings. All these things made the
religious dominant in his personality. He thought, too,
that there were people that could not be saved outside the religious
order and he decided that he was amongst them. He wished to
become a priest. Then after a while he was glad to join the
Christian Brothers. He wrote very finely:
I have entered this house at the gracious call of God, to
die to the world, and to live to Him : all is to be changed;
all my own pursuits henceforward to be laid aside, and those
only embraced which He points out to me. Give me grace, O
my God, to close my mind against all that has been, or may
be, in which Thou hast no part: that it be not like a roofless
building, where all kinds of birds, clean and unclean, fly
in and out, without hindrance; but, like an enclosed tabernacle,
devoted solely to Thy use and to Thy love.
Conventual life suited his spirit now. He was able to write
from a monastery in Cork:
I have since been enlightening the craniums of wondering
Paddies in this quarter, who learn from me, with profound
amazement and profit, that o-x spells ox; that the top of
the map is the north, and the bottom the south, with various
other branches, as also that they ought to be
good boys and do as they are bid, and say their prayers every
morning and evening, &c., and yet it seems curious even
to myself, that I feel a great deal happier in the practice
of this daily routine that I did while I was moving about
your great city, absorbed in the modest project of rivalling
Shakespeare and throwing Scott into the shade.
He entered the Christian Brothers as a postulant in 1838, and
he died in June, 1840, at the age of thirty-seven. Before his
end he had written to one of the publishers requesting him to
buy up all copies of his works. It is evident from this,
his biographer writes, that he would have wished, if possible,
to put a complete stop to their dissemination. He had
burnt the manuscripts, of his unpublished work.
Two years after his death Gisippus, the play he had
written during his first stay in London was produced by Macready
in Drury Lane. It drew crowded houses to a number of performances.
Gisippus was written, when Gerald Griffin was only twenty,
in all the pomp of five acts and verse, and it would have been
a miracle if it had real dramatic power. Like all the classical
[xviii] plays of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it is
not poetry and it is not drama. The chief personage has some
vague character and there are passages in it where the rhetoric
of pathos becomes affecting. Gisippus is not the miracle,
but as a verse play it is quite as good as the other adventure
which Macready committed himself to - young Brownings
Blot on the Scutcheon.
The present writer cannot think highly of Gisippus but
as the play intimately associated with Gerald Griffins
memory it is ony fair to quot the appreciation of a contemporary.
Foster, the biographer of Goldsmith and Dickens, seems to have
been one of those affected by Macreadys production of
Gisippus, and in the second edition of his Life of
Goldsmith he makes a sympathetic note about its author.
Speaking of the first number of Goldsmiths Bee,
he notes that it contained a popular version of a story of Bocaccio,
which afterwards suggested to a writer who belonged to Goldsmiths
country, took early inspiration from his genius, and bore up
uncrushed against as desperate poverty by the force of his example,
the manly and earnest tragedy of Gisippus. He makes a
footnote to give a sketch of Gerald Griffins career.
He was a Limerick man, and at the age of twenty, eager to
make a great dash upon the stage, he came up to London without
a friend, but with one tragedy finished in his pocket, and
another rapidly forming in his brain. The desperate craving
of his youth was to force his way into the London, and he
seems to have determined very resolutely to use the faculty
of which he felt himself possessed to that end, failure or
neglect to the contrary notwithstanding. Aguire, his first
tragedy, making no way towards a hearing, he wrote a second.
This was Gisippus, and written as it was, in his twentieth
year, I do not hesitate to call it one of the marvels of youthful
production in literature. The solid grasp of character, the
manly depth of thought, the beauties as well [xix] as defects
of the composition (more than I can here enumerate) wanted
only right direction to have given to our English drama another
splendid and enduring name. In little London coffee houses,
on little slips of paper, the tragedy was written. But he
could not get a hearing for it [see note].
Still undaunted, he wrote a comedy, he wrote farces - he tried
the stage at every avenue and it would have none of him. [See
In an appendix to the first volume of Goldsmiths biography
(second edition), he writes of Gisippus more fully:
In brief justification of the opinion I have expressed of
this tragedy, the interest I feel in the writers memory,
I subjoin one short scene. The period of the action is the
reign of Augustus Caesar, and the subject is the the friendship
borne by the philosophic Greek, Gisippus, to the ambitious
Roman, Fulvius, to secure whose happiness he surrenders his
own. Having made unequalled sacrifices for his friend - having
passed from honourable love and worldly esteem into solitude
and beggary - he finds himself at last, his friend apparently
heedless or forgetful of his sufferings, a slave. The lessons
of the Academy and the Porch (so often taught in unison in
the later Athenian days) on this desert their old follower,
and the character takes colouring from that middle ages romance
which furnished Bocaccio with the subject on which the play
is written. Fulvius, meanwhile moving on from conquest to
conquest with the old Roman stride, heedless of what he has,
while there something he has not, nil actum reputans dum
quid superesset agendum, has mounted nearly to the top
of the ladder of fortune. He is Praetor, and in the midst
of an Ovation, with neither of the dignities contented, when
his former friend, in rage and squalid wretchedness, planting
himself in street before his Lictors, fixes a glance upon
him, which though steadily returned, leads to no recognition;
and, on the seeming miserable beggar persisting still in his
desire to have audience of the Praetor, he is struck by the
Lictors fasces. The result is that Gisippus deliberately
resolves to place himself in the way of death, and he is sentenced
to execution by Fulvius on the false charge of murder he has
taken on himself. What follows is at the scene of the execution.
It is brief, but into the compass of a very [xx] few minutes,
by a writer who possesses such a mastery, may be crowded thought
and passion in abundance. The laugh with which it closes tells
us this. In the thought not worth the notice of the Roman
soldier, there is all that the Greek had studied by the Porch
and in the Grove, on appearance and realities:
||Remove his chains.
||Let it be ever thus -
The generous still be poor - the niggard thrive
Fortune still pave the ingrates path with gold,
Death dog the innocent still - and surely those
Who now uplift their streaming eyes and murmur
Against oppressive fate, will own its justice.
Invisible Ruler! should man meet thy trials
With silent and lethargic sufferance,
Or lift his hands and ask Heaven for a reason?
Our hearts must speak - the sting, the whip is on them;
We rush in madness forth to tear away
The veil that blinds us to the cause. In vain!
The hand of that Eternal Providence
Still holds it there, unmoved, impenetrable;
We can but pause, and turn away again
To mourn - to wonder - and endure.
Compels me to disturb ye, prisoner.
||I am glad you do so, for my thoughts were growing
Somewhat unfriendly to me. World, World, farewell
And thou, whose image never left this heart,
Sweet vision of my memory, fare thee well.
Pray, walk this way.
This Fulvius, your young Praetor, by whose sentence
My life stands forfeit, has the reputation
Of a good man among ye?
||Better breathes not.
||A just man, and a grateful. One who thinks
Upon his friend sometimes; a liberal man,
Whose wealth is not for his own use; a kind man
To his clients and his household?
||He is all this.
||A gallant soldier too?
||Ive witnessed that
In many a desperate fight.
||In short, there lives not
A mAn of farer fame in Rome? [xxi]
||Nor out of it.
||Good. Look on me now, look upon my face:
I am a villain, am I not? - nay, speak!
||You are found a murderer.
||A coward murderer;
A secret, sudden stabber. Tis not possible
That you can find a blacker, fouler character
Than this of mine ?
||The Gods must judge your guilt.
But it is such as man should shudder at.
||This is a wise world, too, friend, is it not?
Men have eyes, ears, and (sometimes) judgment.
Have they not?
||They are not all fools.
|| You laugh!
|| A thought
Not worth your notice, sir.
1. Foster does not
seem to know of Miss Kellys interest in the play.
2. Foster is not quite
accurate in this statement. He succeeding in selling the libretto
of an opera.