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"Mr. Brown's masterpiece..."
-- Michael Foote in the London Evening Standard

The Politics of Irish Literature
From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats
by Malcolm Brown

* Complete book now available on Kindle!

The Politics of Irish Literature
From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats

by Malcolm Brown

Chapter Nine
John Mitchell after '48

WHILE GAVAN DUFFY was trying his hand in agrarianism, his old comrades were scrambling back on their feet. Archbishop Cullen instructed Dr. Newman to keep them out of the new Catholic university, recently opened to compete with the godless Queen's Colleges. But several of them got in all the same. Said Newman: "There was a knot of men who, in 1848, had been quasi-rebels. They were clever men and had cooled down, most of them. I did not care much for their political opinions. Dr. Moriarty introduced them to me and I made them professors."'

The felons and exiles overseas were not so easily accommodated. Around the world Young Irelanders turned up in odd places-in Brisbane, Calcutta, Ottawa, New York, Boston, even in Helena, Montana, where a burnished copper statue preserves to this day the memory of Thomas Meagher, the same who scorned to stigmatize the sword. All of these men had tasted defeat and watched the wreck of their careers; some had slipped quietly into the service of the British Empire, and some, like Darcy M'Gee, had turned venomously anti-Irish. But nobody wept and said "they went forth to the battle but they always fell," and nobody thought to make a public exhibition of himself as one who had been duped and made disenchanted. "It was well to have been young then," said John O'Leary, "and, now that I am growing old, my pulse beats quicker as memory brings back, imperfectly indeed but still vividly, the vision of how I felt and what I thought in that famous year."

Soul-searching there was in plenty, some of it excruciating. Smith O'Brien brooded the rest of his life over his failure, which he was inclined to attribute less to his own inadequacies than to the refusal of the tormented Irish people to rise at his call. He was especially exasperated against the Tipperary and Kilkenny priests who had countermanded his call to insurrection: "The fact is recorded in our annals that the people preferred to die of starvation at home, or to flee as voluntary exiles to other lands, rather than to fight for their lives or liberties." Among the 1848 leaders he was the most defeatist,

and his message for the coming Irish generations was that if they were thinking of armed resistance against English rule, they should forget it. Yet he rebuffed with dignity all the government's hints that Her Majesty's pardon awaited only a word or two of repentance. These words never came and in time he was pardoned without them. His quixotic impulses never came to rest, and shortly before he died he was last heard flashing a message of succor to the distant Poles: "Shall Poland be left unaided, shall she be deserted, by Ireland? . . . I proudly answer, No! Ireland to the rescue! Ireland to the rescue of Poland." In the end the Irish repaid his memory with his own brand of painful affection.


The most frenzied 1848 post-mortem was undoubtedly John Mitchel's. Banishment shattered him: "An exile in my circumstances is a branch cut from its tree; it is dead and has but an affectation of life." The oncefearless patriot suddenly found himself a lonely and terrified straggler, Bricriu Poison-Tongue soured in the prison hulks and half-maddened by doubts and despair. This new Mitchel unburdened himself eloquently in the pages of his Jail Journal, something of a pioneer experiment in the expression of ressentiment, a work which Yeats commended for its "music and personality"s and from which he borrowed those harsher Carlylean elements of his own thought that are usually identified loosely as "Nietzschean."

Jail Journal opens in a fit of violent weeping, followed by a prolonged deliberation on suicide. Mitchel was fascinated by the phenomenon of the split personality. Thus Mangan he remembered as not one person but two, "one well known to the Muses, the other to the police." Everybody, in fact, was really double. "Every man," he said, "holds chained up within him a madman." An early section Jail Journal a dozen extraordinary pages, describes a mind watching itself disintegrate through a hic et ille debate, on one side a hysteric called "Ego" and on the other his timid adversary "Doppelganger," representing the commonplace. "I do observe a singular change in you of late days," says Doppelganger, "almost a tinge of atrocity," a mood "blacker than mere natural malignity." Welcoming the indictment, Ego proclaims that "Death is Birth," unwitting endorsement for Baudelaire's "Vive la mort!" on the Paris barricades in that same eventful year. Ego recommends barbarism as good medicine, declaring it to be the force behind all the larger patterns of human advance. Kings and lords, he says, are now obsolete, and will remain so, but only "until we shall have advanced to them again via barbarism, in the cyclical progress of the species," broaching an Irish literary theme made perhaps all too familiar in a later time. When the conventional Doppelganger has been thoroughly cowed by Ego's brilliance, the two drink together to the toast, "Artificial Drainage," a bloody pun on one of the public works proposals for the famine.

Isolated, confused in his bearings, Mitchel had little capability left but for dissociated anger. Lurid daydreams of violence whirled through his headlong thought: "I wish at times to be awake, long for a rattling, skyrending, forest-crashing, earth-shaking thunder storm, and fancy that the lightning of heaven would shoot a sharper life into blood and brain..."

Table of Contents
The Politics of Irish Literature by Malcolm Brown

Astonisher.com is pleased to offer these excerpts from The Politics of Irish Literature by Malcolm Brown...

The Politics of
Irish Literature

From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats
by Malcolm Brown
Part I: The Peculiar Irish Setting
1. History and Poetry: Some Irish Paradoxes
2. Thomas Davis' Ireland
Part II: Young Ireland
3. O'Connell and Davis in Partnership
4. The Nation's First Year
5. The Retreat from Clontarf
6. Black '47
7. '48 and Insurrection
8. Beside the Sickbed: Carlyle, Duffy, Dr. Cullen
9. John Mitchel after '48
Part III: Fenianism
10. Mr. Shook
11. Fenianism Mobilizes
12. O'Leary and the Irish People
13. "The Year for Action"
14. The Agony of Fenianism
Part IV: Home Rule
15. The Ballot Box Once More: Isaac Butt
16. Parnell and Davitt
17. The Land War in Mayo
18. After Kilmainham: Bakhuninism in Phoenix Park
19. After Kilmainham: Davitt and Standish O'Grady Take Stock
20. The Irish Party in Maneuver
21. Enter: W. B. Yeats
22. Catastrophe
23. Poetry Defends the Gap: Yeats and Hyde
24. Literary Parnellism

Praise for
The Politics of Irish Literature
cover thumbnail for "The Politics of Irish Literature" by Malcolm Brown

"This brilliant study of the intersection of politics and literature in Ireland amounts to a dazzling portrait gallery. Reading it one feels about one the breath, warmth, and passions of the dead all come alive again."
-- Sean O'Faolain in the Manchester Guardian

"Mr. Brown's masterpiece has made me want to hire a nearby housetop and recite whole chunks to every passerby..."
-- Michael Foote in the London Evening Standard

"The author of the best book on George Moore now gives us what is in all likelihood the best book on the politics of modern Irish literature."
-- Virginia Quarterly Review

Professor Malcolm J. Brown with his son, Bruce Brown, Sumas, WA, July 1988

University of Washington Professor Malcolm J. Brown (1910 - 1992) with his son, Bruce Brown, in Sumas, WA, July 1988.

Additional reading -- Malcolm Brown's George Moore: A Reconsideration. Also see Bruce Brown's commentary on The History of the Corporation for Malcolm Brown's contribution to that work.

NOTE: This is an EXCERPT from The Politics of Irish Literature by Malcolm Brown. The complete book is now available on Kindle!

"The Politics of Irish Literature" © Copyright 1973 Malcolm Brown. © Copyright 2000, 2015 Bruce Brown.

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The Politics of Irish Literature
From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats
by Malcolm Brown

* Complete book now available on Kindle!

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