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01 Sep

Steele’s Crisis

The debate between The Crisis and The Public Spirit of the Whigs exemplifies not only Swift’s personal animosity toward Steele, but, at a more profound level, the basic disagreement between Steele and his Tory antagonists about the meaning of 1688. For Steele, the authority of the monarch derived from the consent of the governed, and the people, acting jointly, had the right to replace the monarch when he or she seriously violated their safety or even interests. The difficulty of replacing the monarch acted as a restraint on civic disorder; the possibility of such replacement acted as a deterrent to monarchical excess. But for Tories no such right was structured into or implied by the constitution. The authority of the Crown derived from Divine approval as providentially manifested in history. If extraordinary circumstances required a violent intervention in order to ensure the safety of the nation (and especially of the Church), the revolution might be a lesser evil, but it did not flow from the inherent rights of citizens. For Steele, revolution principles were an important protection of civic order,; for Tories, Steele’s argument undermined the substance and continuity of monarchical rule and opened the way to radical excesses.

From Charles A. Knight (2009) A Political Biography of Richard Steele, London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. 135-6.

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08 Aug

Francis Hutcheson’s Schooldays

An 18th century school interior. Rows of boys sit, each with a book. To the left the teacher sits at a desk correcting the work on one boy. To the right, two others are writing. Two small children are seated on the ground.

At Killyleagh during last year’s Francis Hutcheson event, someone asked what the school Francis Hutcheson attended there would have been like. This is an expanded version of the answer given then.

In Francis Hutcheson’s day education was officially provided at (Church of Ireland) parish level, with higher level diocesan schools and Royal schools (grammar schools) in each diocese. However in reality many parishes and dioceses had no schools so there were many schoolmasters and schoolmistresses running private schools for pay1. There were also schools providing elementary education associated with other churches.

From the age of eight, Francis Hutcheson attended the school associated with his grandfather’s church. It was run by John Hamilton in a disused meeting house near Saintfield, probably in very basic conditions (a later school in the area had a dirt floor and no ceiling). In addition to the elementary education provided, it is likely that Hutcheson’s grandfather Alexander Hutcheson tutored the more advanced students 2.
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06 Aug

Exploring Francis Hutcheson’s Dublin

Estimated time:60 mins.

Celebrating the anniversary of Francis Hutcheson’s birth (1694) and death (1746 – 270 years ago).

26 Jul

Richard Bourke – Edmund Burke and the Origins of Conservatism

“A passionate critic of the French Revolution yet a defender of the revolt of the American colonies: this lecture explores the paradoxical relationship between Edmund Burke and the history of conservatism.”

Richard Bourke – Edmund Burke and the Origins of Conservatism from Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin on Vimeo (1 hour)

17 Jul

Was It For This?

“It may seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for”, an editorial in the paper said the day the Troika came to Dublin, under the headline “Was it for this?”1. Why does this line from Yeats’ poem “September 1913”2 still resonate so much?

For many it is because the Ireland that the 1916 Rising aimed to achieve does not exist. Yeats’ dissatisfaction is shared with us. This feeling is not a new thing. In 1922, George Russell wrote in Studies that3:

the Irish Revolution, which began in Easter Week, has also triumphed solely in externals. Our spiritual, cultural, and intellectual life has not changed for the better. If anything, it has retrograded.

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15 Jul

Reading the Rising: The Red and the Green

An open book bearing Iris Murdoch's image.

Detail of Hughie O’Donoghue’s artwork “Red Books” (2013), John Paul II Library at Maynooth University

Iris Murdoch wrote only one historical novel, The Red and the Green1. It follows the events leading up to the 1916 Rising as they affect an Anglo-Irish extended family “in a complex story story of misunderstandings, failures of perception, and ultimate self-discovery” 2.

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10 Jul

A Certain Sense of Right and Wrong

There is a certain sense of right and wrong placed by nature in the minds of men […] We know by conscience that this moral sense is in us, and it would be vain to try and demonstrate it by argument; it is analogous to the intuitive perception of truth which is the basis of all knowledge, or to the sense of taste by which we distinguish foods; and just as we should have no notion of truth or falsehood if this intuitive sense of truth were taken away, nor any notion of flavours without this sense of taste, so, if this sense of right and wrong; of honourable and shameful, were removed, these words would have no force or meaning. This sense is so natural, so constant and uniform, that it can be stifled by no prejudices and extinguished by no passions; its sacred judgement can be corrupted by no bribes; it lives in the most wicked men, to whom virtue is so pleasing they involuntarily admire their betters.

Abbé Luke Hooke, Religionis naturalis et moralis philosophæ principia, methodo scholastica digesta (Paris, 1752-54), Vol I, pp. 482-3. Quoted in English in R. R. Palmer (2015) Catholics and Unbelievers in 18th Century France, Princeton University Press, pp. 40-1 (originally published 1961).

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01 Jul

Michael Brown on the Centrality of Ulster

The Union of Craic (see embedded tweet below)

This image of the Union of Craic reminded me of Michael Brown’s opening to his political biography of John Toland. 

Inishowen is isolated. A promontory on the northern reaches of the Donegal coast, located on the north-western corner of Ireland it is a remote peninsula which seems removed from the concerns of wider Irish, let alone British politics.

Yet this image is deceptive, for in fact Inishowen is near the very heart of the British Isles. The map of the archipelago, when turned on its side, makes this apparent, for the province of Ulster juts out into the Irish Sea and is nestled between the Argyllshire region of Scotland, the north Welsh region where the island of Anglesey gestures towards County Down, and the Cumbrian coastline of England. This position at the heart of the British Isles has had the unfortunate consequence of making the province the archipelago’s charnel house: when the political structures of governance and representation have become unstable or illegitimate, Ulster has been the central arena of contestation…

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26 Jun

Correcting Lucretius: Dúngal and Carolingian Cosmology

King and Court Astronomer

In January 1417 a man called Poggio Bracciolini pulled a book from a shelf in a German monastic library. The text was De Rerum Natura, a long poem written by the Roman Lucretius in the 1st century BC outlining the tenets of Epicureanism. Much has been written about that event and its effect on the Renaissance, even suggesting it was central in creating modernity1. The story of the text before it was found is less well known.

De Rerum Natura was a poem written in the 1st century BC outlining the tenets of Epicureanism, a philosophical school founded by Epicurus (c. 341-c. 271 BC)2. Epicureanism grew to be one of the major philosophical schools, declining in popularity from the 2nd century on. The oldest manuscripts of the poem that survive are held in the library of Universiteit Leiden: Voss. Lat. F. 30, from the early 9th century nicknamed O and Voss. Lat. Q. 94, nicknamed Q3.

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18 Jun

Robert Boyle, Irish Identity and Science

This year’s 5th Annual Robert Boyle Summer School which runs from June 23 2016 explores ‘Science and Irish Identity’. Organiser Eoin Gill argues that in Ireland, scientific achievements are less celebrated than literary ones. Gill says that1:

It is not unusual for people to talk openly about Yeats and Joyce and their significance in our history and culture. Science has been squeezed out, and some suggest it is because many of our leading scientists were Anglo-Irish and science therefore was seen as an Anglo-Irish pursuit and spurned by the Free State. Others claim that the Catholic Church was wary of science and some even suggest that Catholics themselves leaned more towards superstition than rational inquiry.

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