The Greatest Writer of the 19th Century » Brownson's Writings » The Yankee in Ireland

The Yankee in Ireland

(A Review of: Mary Lee, or the Yankee in Ireland.  By Paul Peppergrass, Esq. Baltimore: 1860.)

Brownson's Quarterly Review, for January, 1860

WHO Mr. Paul Peppergrass is the Catholic public already know. They know him as the author of Shandy Maguire, and the Spaewife, both of which have had their admirers. Mary Lee, or the Yankee in Ireland, his last work, was origi-nally published in The Metropolitan, and is now collected and published in a neat volume, carefully revised, and consider-ably changed by the author. It is not precisely to our taste, but it is, in its way, a work of merit, and indicates both ge-nius and ability on the part of its distinguished author. It would, however, have come before us with better grace if it had been written by an Irishman in Ireland instead of by an Irishman in America. We should think it in very bad taste, to say the least, for an American to emigrate to Ireland, choose that country for his home, and to write and publish a novel, called, say, Bridget Flynn, or Paddy in America, designed to show up the Irish both at home and abroad. The Irish would hardly thank him for so doing, or regard him as treating his adopted countrymen with the consideration and respect due them. We know no reason why an Irishman migrating to this country, and making it his home, should take greater liberties with us than his countrymen would be willing an American settled in Ireland should take with them. But this is a small matter; for if what is written is true and just, it should be ac-cepted without anyone troubling himself with the question by whom or where it is written or published.

The author is an Irishman, bred and born in Ireland, and ought to know his countrymen far better than we; but, though he undoubtedly seizes certain salient features of their character, he must forgive us if we say his estimate of them, as we collect it from the characters introduced into his book, is far below ours. His book strikes us, as far as we have known them, to be a caricature, we had almost said libel, of the Irish national character. The Irish, in spite of all the disadvan-tages under which they labor in this country, are far more worthy of our love and esteem than they are as they appear in the pages of Paul Peppergrass, Esq.; and if he be really just to them, the words he puts into the mouth of Dr. Hen-shaw, near the close of the book, are none too severe:-

" 'He's not the only one,' said Dr. Henshaw, coming up behind, 'has seen enough of Ireland. My own experience of the country is vary short, but I think I've seen plenty to know it's rather a hard place for strangers who are fond of their comforts.'
" 'You must matriculate, doctor,' said Father John, good-humoredly. " 'Matriculate!'
" 'Certainly. And after that you'll feel quite at home.'
" ' Humph!' ejaculated the doctor. 'My matriculation then-as you call it-is ended, for I leave to-morrow.'
' " To-morrow!' repeated the captain; 'nonsense! By the Lord Harry, my dear fellow, you'll do no such thing.'
" 'To-morrow, sir, at daybreak; you may rest assured of it.'
" 'What! and Mary Lee to be married to-night, and Uncle Jerry to dance at the wedding! you mustn't think of it.'
" 'I've made up my mind. captain.'
" 'But Kate-you know Kate has an apology to make about that quarrel you've had. She'll never forgive you if you don't come with us to Castle Gregory.'
" 'No, sir, I've been once at Castle Gregory, and that I think is quite enough for me. I thank you, captain, however, for your proffered hospeetality. '
" ' But, my dear sir,' urged the captain, 'I should feel very sorry to have you leave with bad impressions of the country.'
" ' Humph!' said the doctor, in reply,' I'm vary much inclined to think, if I remained longer, they would grow worse.'
"' Worse!'
" 'Ay, sir, worse. Here's abduction, robbery, forgery, riot, and murder, all in a single week. Good Heavens! Sir, there's not such another country on the face of the globe, and what makes its condition the more deplorable is, that its religion is no longer able to redeem It.'
" ' Its religion!' said the priest.
" 'Yes, sir; there's not even the ghost of your old Katholeecity re-maining. No, sir; what's left is but syllabub and water gruel.'
" 'I'm sorry you think so.'
" 'And so am I too, sir. But so it is-between your deeviltry and your Katholeecity, I have had enough of Ireland. Good-by, gentle-men,!' and the doctor, having taken his leave of the party, thrust his thumbs into the arm·holes of his waistcoat, and wended his way slowly to the village inn."

The Irish are, no doubt, impulsive, imaginative, with whom sentiment and affection, as with most people, have more weight than logic; they love fun and frolic, and abound in both smiles and tears, but we have entirely mistaken their charac-ter, if they do not act far more from principle and less from mere impulse, and if they are not a far more sedate and self--sustained people than our author represents them. Indeed, none of the Irish writers of fiction seem to us to do full jus-tice to the Irish character, not even Gerald Griffin. The best of them fail to catch the heroic element of the Irish nature, or to bring out its poetry. The Irish are, as they represent them, a mixture of the ascetic and the rowdy, the saint and the rapparee, great in a row, intractable and treacherous in the cause of liberty and nationality. The pictures of Irish life and character in Banim, Carleton, Lever, Lover, and even our author, make us weep over the sufferings of the Irish people, excite our pity, but rarely win our love or respect. As we read these authors, we feel that, say what they will against the English, Irishmen deserve the credit of being the worst enemies of Ireland. They present us black-hearted villains, and cold-blooded criminals whom it would be difficult to match among any other people; and they seldom fail to rep-resent the Irish as regarding as simple venial offences, or no offences at all, things which other nations usually regard as great sins or grave crimes. We confess, that we do not trust these authors and we look upon their pictures of Irish life, manners, and society, as coarse caricatures, almost as gross libels. They are untrue, and do more to degrade the Irish in the estimation of Englishmen and Americans than could be done by a thousand such journals as The Times. No people have suffered so much from their own national writers, and they actually appear to better advantage in foreign than in native authors, who seem, in striving to exalt their coun-trymen, to succeed only in writing them down.

Now this is a phenomenon we should like to see explained. The Irish people seem to us, if not all that some of their writers would have us believe, to be inferior to no people in the world, in genuine mother wit, quickness of parts, sagacity, shrewdness, intelligence, religion, virtue, intellectual capacity, and true heroism. They furnish more than their quota the best soldiers and officers, the first orators and  statesmen, authors, journalists, and artists in the English--speaking world. They very nearly control the press and the politics of our own country, and the descendants of their ex-iles are honorably distinguished in Spain, France, and Austria. They are more imaginative, more genial, more bril-liant, more poetic than the Scotch or English, and have no less romance in their hearts or in their history; and yet in the pages of their own national writers they bear no comparison with the English in the pages of English, or the Scotch in the pages of Scottish, national writers. Why is this? Why is it that Irish fiction almost uniformly paints the Irish hero as a rollicking, hard-drinking, fighting, blundering, devil-may--care, though, perhaps, a good-hearted fellow, and the Irish people without manliness or dignity, as compounded of fine sentiments and atrocious deeds, tenderness and ferocity, ser-vility and independence, suspiciousness and confidence, fidelity and treachery, obedience and rebellion, bravery in a row or faction fight, and cowardice and imbecility in the national cause? Is it that we do not rightly understand the Irish na-tional writers, and that they make an entirely different im-pression on us from that which they make on their own coun-trymen? Is it that in the low and base qualities they ascribe to them, or in the villains and criminals they present, they draw on their imaginations alone, and so overdo the matter, as do all who have not experience or knowledge for their guide? We sometimes think these writers owe their popular-ity to the very innocence of their countrymen, and to the fact, that they make their appeal not to their experience, but to their love of the marvellous, and to their fondness for fun and practical jokes. Probably the greatest practical joke pos-sible would be to take their pictures as faithful pictures of Irish society. We can explain the fact, only by supposing that these writers address themselves to one or two traits in the Irish character, and neglect its deeper and nobler elements. 
However this may be, we tell Paul Peppergrass, Esq., that
we do not trust his account of his own countrymen, save in mere external and local coloring. There may be such charac-ters in Ireland as he draws--characters which you cannot re-spect, though often such as you cannot help liking, much against your will. There are deeper, stronger, nobler, and more manly elements in the Irish character than he draws forth, and the Irish, when thoroughly understood, present as much to respect as to love and admire. To give them credit only for mere shrewdness, cunning, practical jokes, buffoonery, and revengefulness, even though mingled with many generous impulses, is to do them gross injustice, and to degrade them from the high rank they are entitled to in the scale of nations. The great fauIt we find with our author and the class of writ-ers to which he belongs, is not that he and they give the Irish more, but far less than they deserve, that instead of present-ing the better side and nobler elements of their character, they seize upon its darker side, its lighter traits, or its defects even, and exaggerate and caricature them, till the real likeness al-most wholly disappears. We wish some Irish Walter Scott would make his appearance and give to the genial, and warm-hearted, and, we add, brave and heroic Irish people, their true interpretation in English literature.

We hope Mr. Peppergrass is a good enough patriot to for-give us these criticisms on his delineation of Irish character, and the frank expression of our opinion, that his countrymen are far better than he paints them. We think better of them than he does, although we have never been, and are not blind to their faults, for no people are ever fauItless. Our strict-ures do not, however, extend to all the characters in the book before us. Mary Lee is a sweet, charming girl, but is kept too much out of sight. We hear much of her, but hardly catch a glimpse of her beautiful face and lovely form. Kate Petersham is a glorious creature, full of life and mischief, ten-der and affectionate, leal-hearted and true, but the author has judged wisely not to marry her; for a young lady who prides herself on sailing a boat, or riding a steeple chase, "with the best blood in the county," is not precisely the woman a quiet man would take for his wife. Uncle Jerry is generous, even to a fault, but unmanned by disappointed affection. The priest, Father John, is very well, but nothing very remark-able one way or another. Captain Petersham is a good-hearted, whole-souled fellow, full of good impulses, and full also of inconsistencies, free from all malice, with his heart in the right place; constantly offending and apologizing, one whom you cannot respect much, but cannot help liking. He is not a very loyal magistrate.

The Yankee, Mr. Ephraim C. B. Weeks, is, of course, a cool, calculating villain, with a great contempt for the Irish, and a high opinion of his own country as well as of his own ability and acuteness, who visits Ireland on a matrimonial speculation, in which he also, of course, fails. Paddy proves too sharp for Jonathan, who is unable to stand before even an Irish goat, or to manage even an Irish pony. We· see in the exigencies of the story, no great necessity for introducing a Yankee at all. An Irish adventurer might have played the part assigned him just as well, and in real villainy his Irish cousin, Hardwrinkle, far surpassed him. The only motive for introducing him was to show up a live Yankee, and the univer-sal Yankee nation. In this the author is not entirely success-ful. Abroad, the term Yankee designates any white native--born citizen of the United States; at home it designates only a white native of one or another of the six New-England states. It does not appear in which of the two senses the author takes the term. Weeks is represented as a merchant, and a native of Connecticut; but he is also represented as a Virginia slave-holder, and as an overseer on a Virginia plantation, and nig-ger-driver. We cannot very well reconcile these several characters in the same person. Weeks is too low and vulgar in his language aud pronunciation for anyone of the charac-ters assigned him. His vulgarisms are such as are heard only from the very coarsest country bumpkin, and some of them are never heard from anyone born and brought up in Connecticut. Any man who knows well the United States, can easily tell to which state any native American he meets belongs, from his provincialisms and intonation. The into-nation of Weeks belongs to Maine, his religion to Massa-chusetts, his notions of trade to Connecticut, and his provin-cialisms in part to the South and West. Weeks says he was raised in Connecticut: but that is not a Connecticut locution. They say at the South and West, "I was raised," but if ever in New England it is a neologism. The educated classes, and nearly all are educated in New England, say "I was brought up." In New England they raise stock, rye, corn, potatoes, &c., but they bring up children. The country people in our younger days, sometimes, said, in the same sense, "I was fetched up," and now and then one would say,"I was broughten up." Moreover, the anthor makes Sambo, who had been a slave, call Weeks, "Massa Charles," which indicates that Weeks had been Sambo's master, or his master's son, other-wise Sambo would not have called him by his Christian name. No American can possibly locate Weeks, and there is no one, who knows the country well, who would not pronounce him an impossible Yankee, in either sense of the word, and as much a foreigner as the celebrated Sam Slick himself,-a pleasant creation enough, but no Yankee in character or dia-lect, though possibly, for aught we know, a genuine Blue-nose. Taken as a representative character, Weeks represents no national character we ever heard of; and taken as an individu-al, representing only himself, he may be a "Yankee in Ire-land," but not in America. Ephraim has, we admit, certain American features, and some few exaggerated American no-tions, but he was never born or brought up in Yankee land. Had he been a true Yankee he would never have spoken contemptuously of the Irish in Ireland, at the moment he was trying to get him an Irish wife, or have given Else Curly four hundred dollars for charms and love philters. He would have been too cute and too close for that. If the author fails as much in his Irishman as in his Yankee, he is wholly untrustworthy.

In the work, as originally published in the Metropolitan, we had another Yankee, Dr. Horseman, who in this edition, we regret to see, is converted into a Scotsman, Dr. Henshaw, and from a Yankee to a Scotch reviewer. The change is no improvement, and mars the artistic merit of the book. There is no good reason for introducing Dr. Henshaw at all, and the worthy doctor is only an intruder. Who was intended to be shown up under the name of Dr. Horseman was no secret, and the motive for showing him up was obvious enough. The editor of this Review had the honor to sit for Dr. Horseman, and though the limner did not succeed in getting a very good likeness, he nevertheless, by means of certain labels, contrived to let the public know whom he intended to represent. There were, also, two or three points of actual resemblance between the editor and Dr. Horseman. Dr. Horseman chewed to-bacco, and the editor sometimes, also, chews the "weed;" Dr. Horseman wore gold-bowed spectacles, and the editor also wears gold-bowed spectacles; Dr. Horseman spoke in a gruff, harsh voice, and the editor's voice is said to be a deep bass, and not very musical. These three points served to identify the original, especially since it was added that the picture was the portrait of a Yankee Catholic reviewer, there being but one such reviewer in the world. The motive also was plain. The author felt himself aggrieved by the reviewer's handling of his previous works, and wished, no doubt, to pay him off somewhat as Byron did his "English Bards and Scotch Re-viewers." He also wished to rebuke the editor's indiscreet zeal and earnestness in insisting on the doctrine that, out of the church there is no salvation,-a doctrine quite incompati-ble with the false liberalism some Catholics affect, and finally, to prejudice him as much as he could in the minds of Irish Catholics. Now here were motives enough, and fair motives enough too. An author has the right to show up his review-er, if he can, to rebuke indiscreet zeal and misdirected earnest-ness, and to warn his countrymen against one whom he re-gards as their enemy. Mr. Peppergrass did it in Dr. Horse-man as well as he could, and really made one or two hits, which we have enjoyed, and said one or two things, though in rather an ungracious tone, which we have endeavored to profit by.

Now by changing Dr. Horseman into Dr. Henshaw, the Yankee into a Scotch reviewer, the appropriateness of this part of Mary Lee disappears, and the author's satire loses its edge. Except to those who remember Dr. Horseman, Dr. Henshaw is nobody, serves no purpose, and has no right to be among the dramatis personae of the book. We hope the author in his next edition will restore our Yankee friend, Dr. Horseman. Dr. Henshaw, in spite of his Scotch pronuncia-tion of a few words, is no Scotsman, has nothing of Sawney in his mind, heart, or soul. No, let us have back the Yan-kee reviewer. It is true, there were a few personalities in the original edition, but we never complained of them; they never disturbed us for a moment, save we thought they were not quite so well done as they might have been, and were coarse rather than witty. Dr. Horseman did not offend us, and if he had done so, Dr. Henshaw would offend us still more. The author had no occasion to make any change on our account. We do not think him a good limner, but it is not likely that posterity will recur to Mary Lee for our por-trait. We love a joke as well as any Irish friend we have, and, within the limits of becoming mirth, we can even be mirthful ourselves. The author need have no fear of our treasuring up any unkind feelings against him. His implied apology would have been amply sufficient, even had he really offended us, which he did not. So here is our hand, Father John (note: the real name of the author of mary Lee, was John Boyce, a priest of the diocese of Boston) only give us back our friend, Dr. Horseman, and re-member for the future that Jonathan can bear with good humor a joke, even at his own expense, if it lack not the sea-soning of genuine wit.

Enough of this. As a work of art, Mary Lee has grave defects; as a picture of life and character, we do not think it just, or trustworthy; but as a work intended to amuse, and to recall to the author's countrymen in their exile, the memory of scenes and incidents in their own native land, to brighten the face with a smile, or to moisten the eye with a tear; to cheer up the spirit, or to make the weary pilgrim forget for a mo-ment his weariness and his burden,-what we presume has been the aim of the author,-it deserves high praise, and will give pleasure and consolation to many a one who can never forget, and never should forget, his own native land, or the scenes, incidents, and associations of his early life in his own child-hood's home. Under this, the true point of view, Mary Lee is a good, as well as an amusing book. The literature of every nation, if really national, has a genius and character of its own, and in some sense its own peculiar morality. We must never judge the literature of one people by that of another, or suppose its effect on the readers of the nation that has produced it, must necessarily be what it would be on readers of another and widely different nation. Much in Mary Lee would have no good influence on American readers, and yet we must not thence infer that its influence will be bad on those for whom it is written. In the Irish mind and heart much that we should object to will be corrected, and the Irish reader will extract only honey where another reader might extract only poison.

The author objects to Dr. Horseman,-we beg his pardon, Dr. Henshaw,-that in reviewing purely literary works, he brings in his Catholic faith and morals, as if no one could lawfully write or speak without writing or speaking St. Thomas. We suspect Dr. Henshaw was never quite silly enough for that, and that the author is guilty of his usual exaggeration. Dr. Henshaw would most likely tell him, that a Catholic reviewer has the right, if he sees fit, to review any book under the point of view of Catholic faith and morals, and no other; and that, too, without holding or implying that every book must posi-tively teach Catholic faith and morals; for no man, certainly no Catholic, has the right to hold or teach, to publish or prac-tise any thing not in accordance with the dogmas and morals of the church. The reviewer may, for reasons of his own, pass over the literary and purely artistic merits of a book sent him, and speak of it only under its doctrinal or moral character; and in doing so no one has any right to infer that he recognizes no such thing as literary merit, or has no appre-ciation of merely literary, artistic, or poetic beauties. Because we tell Mr. Peppergrass that it would be very improper for him to smoke his cigar, dance a hornpipe, or sing "O'er the water to Charlie," in a church during Mass, it does not follow that we are hostile to a good cigar, to dancing, or to a good Jacobite song, in proper times and places, any more than it follows from the fact that in setting forth truth, vindicating its claims, and refuting error against it, we use logic, and in-sist on rigid logic, we recognize only logic, and are unable to appreciate the value of a heart, or of gentleness and affection. It is necessary to have a heart; it is also convenient to have a head, and sometimes it is not amiss to use it. Dr. Henshaw would, no doubt, admit the heart, and would only object to exhibiting it where the head is more appropriate. Every thing in its time and place.

We do not ask the writer of fiction to teach dogma or moral theology, but we do ask him to avoid doing any thing to offend either. We love amusement, and can enjoy mirth, whether in old or young, as keenly as any son or daughter of the Emerald Isle, but only on condition that neither is pur-chased at the expense of faith or morals, or suffered to inter-fere with the grave duties of our state in life. We read, per-haps, as many works of light literature as any of our neigh-bors, and are as able to appreciate them; and we do what we can to encourage them, within the limits allowed by reason or duty. But not, therefore, is it necessary that in reviewing a book we should look only to its literary merits, and con-sider only its capacity to interest or amuse. We suppose it competent for us to take into the account whether the interest it excites or the amusement it affords is an innocent interest or an innocent amusement. When Kate leaps Moll Pitcher over a six foot wall, flanked by ditches, and does it without any necessity, I may admire her courage and horsemanship, but still hold that it is a rash act, and one not to be applauded. We may admire the cunning, the dexterity, and skill of Lanty in his various tricks, and yet think some of them such as no honest man can play. We do not ask that every essay should be a homily, that every story should have a moral tacked to the end, like one of Aesop's Fables, or that every song should be a sacred hymn, or a divine psalm. We are willing to give nature fair play, but we are not willing to commend nature when it opposes faith or morals. We admire Swift, but we would not commend his Tale of a Tub, or recommend writers to copy his smut, although his genius was great, his patriotism praiseworthy, and he, for the most part, one of the most elegant writers in the language.

With regard to another point made against Dr. Henshaw, that he is harsh and bitter in his personal address to Protes-tants, we acknowledge that anyone behaving as the doctor is said to have behaved is rude, ill-bred, and savage, and that we know nothing that can excuse him. There is nothing in our religion that forbids one to be a gentleman, or to observe the usual courtesies of civilized life. But there is a differ-ence between laying down for the public at large the doc-trines of the church as she teaches them, or refuting the errors against them, and speaking face to face with one who, though not yet a Catholic, is not indisposed to be convined of the truth of our religion. In the latter case, as in the former, one must be firm and uncompromising, but should consider the state or temper of mind of the particular individual he is addressing, and speak accordingly. There is no harm in having a little savoir-faire, but never should we hesitate to impress, as far as in our power, on anyone we converse with on the subject, that salvation is attainable in our church, and not elsewhere.