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17 Jul

Æ on the Irish Mind

We wish the Irish mind to develop to the utmost of which it is capable, and we have always believed that the people now inhabiting Ireland…made up of Gael, Dane, Norman and Saxon, has infinitely greater intellectual possibilities…a more complex mentality. Ireland has not only the unique Gaelic tradition, but it has also given birth, if it accepts all of its children, to many men who have influenced European culture and science, Berkeley, Swift, Goldsmith, Burke, Sheridan, Moore, Hamilton, Kelvin, Tyndall, Shaw, Yeats, Synge and many others of international repute.

Quoted by Richard Kearney in the Sunday Independent, May 26, 1985. These words were also included in the opening of a collection of essays, The Irish Mind, published in 1985 and edited by Kearney. The quote was intended to act as an epigraph for the book, outlining the context of and acting as a preface to the subject.

AE, aka George William Russell originally wrote this in the Irish Statesman(17 January 1925).

10 Jul

Oscar Wilde in 20th century Ireland

Clery was far from endorsing Wilde – in an intriguing speculation he suggested that “an over-dose of patriotism in his Merrion Square home had something to do with the sinister frivolity” of his outlook; nonetheless he regarded him as a significant, contrarian intelligence. From his own Catholic perspective, he saw Wilde as an enemy of Victorian materialism who, by means of paradox, sought to undermine the great nineteenth century commonplaces, those misapprehensions of the nature of the world which seemed so obvious and were yet untrue. “It must,” Clery reflected, “have been a sense of this underlying falsehood in so much popular truth that led Wilde to attack platitude with the weapon of paradox, a weapon which was to gain for him before his fall the intellectual supremacy which I, for one, am old enough to remember.”

From Oscar Wilde and the Irish by Brian Earls in the Dublin Review of Books.

The essay explores how Wilde, far from being marginalised or excluded from Irish discussion in the early twentieth century was evoked by Free State supporters (Béaslaí and O’Hegarty), republicans (Clery and Corkery), and cultural figures such as Austin Clarke and Liam Mac Liammóir. The extract above outlines Arthur Clery’s thoughts on Wilde, as published in the Jesuit journal Studies.

08 Jul

Everyday Irish Philosophy: Padraig Colum on feminism

Padraic Colum

Padraic Colum c. 1913 Wikimedia, Public Domain

We have seen that Yeats and other writers were reading the works of neoPlatonist philosophers in the early 20th century, but what about the rest of the public? The fact that the Irish Independent (24th February, 1910) decided to publish the article reproduced below suggests that there was some interest in philosophy, at least in relation to the debate on the role of women. Padraig Colum was part of the Irish Literary Revival, and would also have been familiar with student discussion around UCD, and perhaps that of clerks in the city. Female Emancipation was news – the suffragettes feature in many other Irish Independent stories.

Padraig Colum 1910 Feb 24 glow

All the same, Nietzsche is only mentioned 36 times in the Irish and Sunday Independent in the 40 years to the end of 1945, so general interest was limited at best. That is not to say this philosophy was not influential. In one of pieces between 1905 and 1945, the philosopher is credited by TG. Kelleher (The Irish Theatre Movement, January 06, 1929) for  “putting the Irish dramatic movement on its feet, for Yeats, its dominant force, was at that time under his thumb.” In another (Unfamiliar Shaw, Tiresome Eloquence, June 09, 1928), the writer notes that people no longer find Nietzsche as fascinating as they did eighteen years ago. Nietzsche may, then, have peaked in his popularity as Colum wrote this article.
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22 Jun

Blended with Catholics

The youth of the Kingdom too, they who in a few years must determine this question, they have decided for the emancipation, with a liberality which is natural to youth, and a sagacity which is peculiar to years — and they will sit soon in these seats, blended with Catholics, while we, blended with Catholics, shall repose in the dust. Another age shall laugh at all this.

In 1793 the Catholic Relief Act was passed, allowing Catholics who took an oath and fulfilled the other criteria to vote. This was the latest step in a long slow process eroding the Penal Laws. However it still fell a great deal short of what Tone had argued for in his Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland.

On 4th May 1795 Henry Grattan proposed “A bill for the relief of His Majesty’s Roman Catholic Subjects”. This would have allowed Catholic MPs. The young that Grattan refers to are the students of Trinity, who presented an address in favour of Catholic emancipation. The bill was rejected 155 to 84.

Full Catholic Emancipation had to wait until 1829, nine years after Grattan’s death.

13 Jun

Yeats: Self and anti-self

The 13th of June is Yeats Day, the anniversary of Yeats’ birth. Best known as a poet, Yeats had philosophic interests. He admired idealism, and was well known for reading neoPlatonists such as Plotinus. In his essay Bishop Berkeley, he extols the imagination that underlay philosophy from Spinoza to Hegel.

Yeats was not a pure idealist (a term that to him evoked Kant, rather than Berkeley who was “idealist and realist alike”.) Yeats also rejected “the new naturalism that leaves man helpless before the contents of his own mind”, quoting Nietzsche’s Zarathustra “Am I a barrel of memories to give you my reasons?” (Bishop Berkeley).

As mentioned previously, Yeats and Wilde knew each other and Wilde made a strong impression on Yeats. In The Parting of the Veil (1922) Yeats tells of Wilde’s attempts to copy (wear a mask) opposite to the natural self or the natural world.

By 1918 in Arnica Silentia Lunare Yeats has developed his view and says,

The other self, the anti-self or the antithetical self, as one may choose to name it, comes but to those who are no longer deceived, whose passion is reality.

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12 Jun

Wilde About Yeats

After meeting with Oscar Wilde, Yeats defines the term “Cruel Irony”. Courtesy Annie West (AnnieWest.com)

After meeting with Oscar Wilde, Yeats defines the term “Cruel Irony”. Courtesy Annie West (AnnieWest.com)

Tomorrow is Yeats Day, marking the birth of William Butler Yeats (13th June 1865). (Thanks to Annie West for permission to use the picture above. Her website, chock full of pictures of the incidents of his life Yeats would prefer to forget, is here).

Yeats Day is relevant to this blog because William Butler Yeats had philosophic interests (and is listed in DIP), which went beyond his habit of reading Plotinus to dutchesses. He developed a philosophic system regarding the self and anti-self, and these reflections on the self have parallels to Wilde’s thought (hence the picture above). The occasions Yeats met Wilde made a strong impression on him.
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04 Jun

A Regency Era argument for votes for women

In 1824 James Mill (utilitarian, colleague of Jeremy Bentham and father of John Stuart Mill) wrote an article On Government for the Encyclopedia Britannica. In it he argued that individuals whose interests were represented by another would not be inconvenienced by being denied a vote. In this category he included children (represented by their parents) and women

the interest of almost all of whom is involved either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands

The following year William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler jointly authored An Appeal Of One Half Of The Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men” (published under Thompson’s name). Anna Doyle Wheeler and William Thompson both knew Bentham and were interested in utilitarianism. An Appeal expresses dismay at the cavalier treatment Mill gives to women’s interests and systematically demolishes Mill’s argument in On Government by appealing to the same utilitarian principles that Mill uses.
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29 May

Wilde Dreams of Utopia

Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of family life, although they existed in his day and community in a very marked form. ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ he said, when he was told that they wished to speak to him. When one of his followers asked leave to go and bury his father, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ was his terrible answer. He would allow no claim whatsoever to be made on personality.

Quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)

This essay is full of optimism for the future, and as Thomas Duddy says in A History of Irish Thought, this makes it poignant reading for modern readers. Oscar Wilde foresees a future socialist and individualist utopia of a rather idiosyncratic kind. Wilde rejects collectivism, seeing the abolition of private property and marriage as allowing the atomisation of society, allowing unfettered development of the individual.

22 May

Labour Rewarded But Only By Choice

As man’s knowledge increases, he looks beyond immediate into remote consequences. Sometimes this increased knowledge, sometimes accident, leads to a change of the circumstances surrounding him. These new circumstances give rise to new motives: i.e. to modification of the desire of happiness as supposed to rise from different sources. If Co-operative Industry tend more to human happiness than Competitive Industry, its supporters are confident it will be adopted when understood. On no other ground would they wish it be adopted.

William Thompson, Labour Rewarded (1827), p. 100.

Thompson on co-operative industry, and his hope for its voluntary adoption. Thompson was studied by Marx, but Thompson’s economic voluntarism is one of the major differences between them.

19 May

Bravo Yankee Oscar

If America did not always know what to make of Wilde, the country was in many ways the making of him as an artist. He returned to England richer in pocket and, more importantly, in experience. The tour marked a divide between what Wilde himself designated ‘the Oscar of the first period’ (‘the gentleman who wore long hair and carried a sunflower down Piccadilly’) and what was to come. In the following decade Wilde would assiduously cultivate the Oscar of the second period, publishing the stories and plays that made him famous. His fall, when it came, was colossal. When The Importance of Being Earnest opened to wild acclaim on 14 February 1895, its author was the toast of London society. Less than two months later, having lost a disastrous libel claim against the 9th Marquess of Queensberry for imputations of homosexual conduct, Wilde was arrested on charges of gross indecency and later sentenced to two years’ hard labour. The physical and moral devastation of the trial and its fallout shattered him. Three years after his release, Wilde died as an impoverished and ignominious exile in Paris.

From The Literary Review: Bravo Yankee Oscar : review of “In Declaring His Genius”

Justin Beplate reviews In Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America by Roy Morris Jr, “a lively account of Wilde’s rollicking tour through post-Civil War America, fleshing out the varied impressions of contemporary newspaper reports with fascinating digressions on the caste of characters Wilde met along the way.”