Padraic Colum, Introduction to The Collegians, by Gerald Griffin (1829] (Dublin: Talbot Press [1918]), 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 mountaineer’s quickness of mind; Mihil O’Connor 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 other’s mellow discourse; manners that have lapsed are mingled with manners that are familiar, and we hear of a lady riding to a gentleman’s 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 printer’s knock.

The second part of The Collegians deals more closely with Hardress Cregan’s 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 dramatist’s 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 Scott’s novels.” Griffin’s 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 sentry’s 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 Cregan’s 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 Mann’s 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 Boucicault’s Colleen Bawn, and Benedict’s 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 evening’s work keeps me drudging until two or three sometimes [xii] four and five o’clock every morning - unless when I happen to doctor myself, and that is not often. I can’t 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 can’t 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 can’t 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 can’t 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 Banim’s Tales of the O’Hara 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 Tracy’s 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 Griffin’s 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 Hardy’s early books. With The Collegians the series seems to have been begun. Why was it not continued? Immediately this story was published the writer’s 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. “Isn’t 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 people’s 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 mother’s 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 Daly’s 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 don’t 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 reader’s 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 O’Connor’s
passion for Hardress Cregan, for instance, and of Danny Mann’s actual crime. When he became convinced that people’s feelings should be kept “in the line they ought to go in” he was finished as a story-teller. It is because people’s feelings cannot be bounded by the moralist that dramas and stories are possible.

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 Browning’s Blot on the ’Scutcheon.

The present writer cannot think highly of Gisippus but as the play intimately associated with Gerald Griffin’s 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 Macready’s 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 Goldsmith’s Bee, he notes that it contained a popular version of a story of Bocaccio, which afterwards suggested to a writer who belonged to Goldsmith’s 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 Griffin’s 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 note.

In an appendix to the first volume of Goldsmith’s 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 writer’s 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:

Decius: Remove his chains.
Gisippus: Let it be ever thus -
The generous still be poor - the niggard thrive
Fortune still pave the ingrate’s 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.
Decius My duty
Compels me to disturb ye, prisoner.
Gisippus: 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?

Decius: Better breathes not.
Gisippus: 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?
Decius: He is all this.
Gisippus: A gallant soldier too?
Decius: I’ve witnessed that
In many a desperate fight.
Gisippus: In short, there lives not
A mAn of farer fame in Rome? [xxi]
Decius: Nor out of it.
Gisippus: Good. Look on me now, look upon my face:
I am a villain, am I not? - nay, speak!
Decius: You are found a murderer.
Gisippus: A coward murderer;
A secret, sudden stabber. ’Tis not possible
That you can find a blacker, fouler character
Than this of mine ?
Decius: The Gods must judge your guilt.
But it is such as man should shudder at.
Gisippus: This is a wise world, too, friend, is it not?
Men have eyes, ears, and (sometimes) judgment.
Have they not?
Decius: They are not all fools.
Gisippus: Ha! ha!
Decius: You laugh!
Gisippus: A thought
Not worth your notice, sir.

1. Foster does not seem to know of Miss Kelly’s interest in the play.
2. Foster is not quite accurate in this statement. He succeeding in selling the libretto of an opera.

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