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A History of the Irish Settlers in North American, from the Earliest Period to the Census of 1850

A Review of: A History of Irish Settlers in North American, from the Earliest Period to the Census of 1850.  By Thomas D'Arcy McGee.  Second Edition.  Boston: Donahoc.  1852.  12mo.  pp. 240.

Taken from Brownson's Quarterly Review, July 1852.

The author of this interesteing work is well known to our Irish American public.  He was some years ago editor of The Boston Pilot, afterwards one of the editors of The Dublin Nation, subsequently to that editor of the New York Nation, and is now the editor and proprietor of The American Celt, recently removed from this city to Buffalo, N.Y.  He is a man of fine talents, a vigorous writer, and a graceful and effective speaker.  His career, till within the last year, was one which we could not approve, and many things which he wrote in The Nation, at New York, gave great pain to the friends of religion.  He was an Irish radical, and of all radicals, an Irish radical, calling himself a Catholic, is to us the least endurable, because he is one who does violence both to his nature and his religion.  An Irishman is naturally aristocratic, and Catholicity is conservative.  We want no radicals in this country, least of all Irish radicals.  Irish radicals here, where the Irish population is so large, and in consequence of the ages of oppression they have endured from Protestant ascendency in Ireland, predisposed to exterme democratic views, are exceedingly dangerous both to religion and to society.  We are, therefore, not a little pleased to find that Mr. McGee, powerful as he is for good or for evil, has through Divine grace been enabled to see the errors into which in the ardor and inexperience of youth he fell, and that he is now disposed and firmly resolved to use whatever of genius, talent, or strength he may have on the side of truth, piety, and sound politics.  He has and will have great influence with his countrymen who have come here to be our countrymen also, and we are truly grateful to Almighty God that we are permitted to feel that it will henceforth be used for good, and no longer, as formerly, for evil.  We can now freely acknowledge his talents without fearing that we are contributing to strengthen a party with which we have and can have no sympathy.  He has learned wisdom from what he has suffered, he has profited largely by experience, and he can hardly fail to be a most efficient laborer in the field of Irish-American literature.

The first edition of the work before us we did not read, and we have only glanced through the second.  We see in it the evidence of much industry and research, as well as a genius for historical and biographical writing of a very high order.  That the work is always correct or always satisfactory to our individual taste and judgment, we do not pretend.  We have, of course, our American nationality, and no Irishman, whatever his intentions, can treat of Irish nationality in a manner to meet in all respects our own national feeling; but though the tone may now and then not accord with our feelings, we can overlook it, if the principle be sound, and the intention just and honorable.  We do not set ourselves up as a standard to which all must conform on pain of excommunication.

The Introduction is well written, but the brief sketch it attempts of the state of Europe in the fifteenth century is far from being satisfactory.  It is written with too low an appreciation of the Middle Ages, and too high an appreciation of the progreess of events since.  The author has studied history in the writings of Protestant, or, at best, of paganized authors.  The longer he lives, the less will be his confidence in the current notions, even among Catholics, of Christendom prior to the sixteenth century, and the more and more will he be disposed not to boast of the progress society is supposed to have made during the last three or four centuries.

We confess that Mr. McGee's book has surprised us, and we hardly know what to think of it.  If the author is correct, we who have the misfortune to be of English origin, whether Saxon or Norman, cut but a sorry figure in our own country.  It would seem that the greater part of the population of the United States are either Irish or of Irish extraction, and that nearly all the names honorably distinguished in our history are the names either of Irishmen or of the descendants of Irishmen.  Instead of regarding ourselves as Anglo-Americans it would seem that as a people we should regard ourselves as Irish-Americans.  We have ourselves no prejudices against the Irish, and we delight in the glory of Irishmen as much as we do or can in the glory of any other race, but we apprehend that a good many of Mr. McGee's Irishmen were Scotchmen, and not a few of them wholly destitute of Milesian blood.  But be this as it may, the book is extremely interesting, and we most cordially recommend it to all our readers, whether of Celtic or Saxon origin, as worthy of their serious consideration, and as proving beyond a doubt that Irishmen have a right to consider themselves at home here.