Here lies our good Edmund

Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such,
We scarcely can praise it, or blame it too much;
Who, born for the universe, narrow’d his mind,
And to party gave up what was meant for mankind:
Tho’fraught with all learning, yet straining his throat
To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote;
Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining,
And thought of convincing, while they thought of dining;
Though equal to all things, for all things unfit;
Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit;
For a patriot, too cool; for a drudge, disobedient;
And too fond of the right to pursue the expedient.

From “Retaliation” (1774) by Oliver Goldsmith (full poem here, notes here).

The actor Garrick suggested that he and Goldsmith should compare their skill at epigrams by writing each others epitaph. Goldsmith went further and wrote this poem, containing epitaphs for Garrick and ten others, with a prologue where they meet at table bringing food. Goldsmith brings the gooseberry fool.

The extract above is the epitaph for Edmund Burke.

Marsh’s comment on Christianity Not Mysterious

A page of Toland's "Christianity Not Mysterious", annotated by Marsh © Marsh's Library (CC)
A page of Toland’s “Christianity Not Mysterious”, annotated by Marsh
© Marsh’s Library (CC)

Narcissus Marsh was a member of the Irish Parliament that ordered the burning of Christianity not Mysterious (1696) by the public hangman in Dublin on 11 September 1697. Nonetheless, he retained a copy which still survives in the library he founded. Marsh has underlined the last four words of Toland’s assertion that “This I stand by still, and may add, I hope, that I have clearly prov’d it too” and noted waspishly in the margin:

‘You have often said it indeed, but yet proved nothing, unless saying a thing is so be proving it to be so’.

This annotation was not enough for him; Marsh was the one who commissioned Peter Browne to write a response, published as a A letter in answer to a book entitled, Christianity not mysterious as also, to all those who set up for reason and evidence in opposition to revelation & mysteries published in 1697.

Cautious Cartesian: Thomas Gowan

Descartes and Ars Sciendi (edit of  public domain image, Wikimedia)
Descartes and Ars Sciendi
(edit of public domain image, Wikimedia)

While there were few Cartesians in England, there is evidence for Descartes’ philosophy having an important influence in 17th century England (Lamprecht). There is little similar evidence in 17th century Ireland before William Molyneux’s early (possibly the first) translation of Descartes’ Mediations into English in 1680. Even on the continent where the “new philosophy” was freely circulated it seems Irish adopters of Cartesianism were few.

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A brief history of Irish Colleges in the 17th century

Gaelic script reading "Coláisde na nGaedheal" (Irish College) on the gates of the Pontifical Irish College, Ro

This post was inspired by a four-part series on the Irish Colleges shown in March 2015 on BBC2 NI. 

1592 was a pivotal year for Irish philosophy, the year it split along sectarian lines. In that year after decades of wrangling the University of Dublin was founded, along with its first (and only) college, Trinity College Dublin. However it was open only to those who accepted Elizabeth I as the head of the Church. Oxford and Cambridge were already effectively closed to Irish Catholics since graduands had to swear the Oath of Supremacy. This was only part of laws aimed at stamping out Catholicism in the kingdoms she ruled. In 1592 on a visit to Oxford, which was still a hotbed of Catholicism, Elizabeth I made clear in a speech that the requirement for the oath would not be relaxed.

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The God Who May Be

So when Stephen Daedalus says at the beginning of Ulysses, ‘What’s God? A cry in the street,’ he’s right. God is present in the cry in the street. That, it seems to me, is the radical nature of Christ’s message. I think it’s already there, by the way, in the burning bush, in Exodus 3:15, in the Song of Songs, and in certain other texts. But Christianity to me is a very important narrative and story and testimony by Jesus Christ to this fundamental message that the divine cannot be locked up as a thing. And if it is, it leads to war, and then atheism is not only desirable, it’s necessary to rid the world of that religious triumphalism and fundamentalism and self-righteousness, which to this day is still the cause, I believe, of most of our wars.

Richard Kearney on The God Who May Be. From the transcript: ‘The God Who May Be: Richard Kearney on Narrative, Imagination and God,’ IDEAS, ed. David Cayley (CBC Radio).

Also available on audio:

Labour by Mutual Co-operation

But, equal security established, the right of every adult rational being, male or female, to free labour, entire use of its products, and voluntary exchanges, being established; a new question presents itself. Is there no mode of human labour consistent with security – whose paramount importance even to production has been demonstrated [in the Inquiry]- but that of individual competition? May not a mode of labour be found, consistent with security, and still more productive of happiness, than labour by individual competition? […] Nay more, may there not be found a mode of labour consistent with security, which will not only obviate the evils of individual competition, but which will afford its peculiar benefits – abundant production and development of all the faculties – to a greater, an incalculably greater extent, than the best arrangements of individual competition could afford?

No mode of labour can produce preponderant good, which does not respect the natural laws of distribution, “free labour, entire use of its products and voluntary exchanges”, or the principle of equal security regarding wealth.

[…]

Such a mode of labour has been proposed. It has been called the system of labour by mutual co-operation; and its object and effect are to produce perfect voluntary equality of enjoyment of all the fruits of united labour.

From chapter V of An inquiry into the principles of the distribution of wealth most conducive to human happiness; applied to the newly proposed system of voluntary equality of wealth (1824) by William Thompson (available on archive.org). This book (along with the Appeal) is regarded as his greatest work.

This crucial chapter is the point where Thompson accepts that his construction of an economic system based on classical liberalism does not fulfil the utilitarian goal of achieving the greatest happiness. The chapter also outlines the various laws which create and perpetuate inequalities (including inheritance.)

“For Thompson, the science of happiness is concerned with the functions of society and social institutions broadly understood, and how these affect individual happiness.” (Mark Kaswan in Happiness, Democracy and the Cooperative Movement: The Radical Utilitarianism of William Thompson).

Irish Kantians: Found in Translation

The Irish interest in Kant spans back to Dr J. A. O’Keeffe, whose 1795 Essay on the Progress of Human Understanding included a description of Kant’s conception of the aims of philosophy. We know little of O’Keeffe but we do know that he attended lectures in Leipzig given by Friedrich Gottlob Born, who was translating Kant into Latin. O’Keeffe’s radical leanings were manifest in the book, adding to heated English debate on Kant in 1796, and increasing the association of Kant with radical ideas in the English mind.

O’Keeffe had translated sections of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in discussing it, but the first full translation was by the Scot John Richardson in 1797, and attracted little notice. By 1819 Kant was better known in England, and Richardson published additional translations with limited impact. Mahaffy (1878, p. 207) argues for Sir William Hamilton (not the Irish mathematician), along with Semple’s translations, as the driving force in the 1830s for the study of Kant in Britain, and certainly Scottish translators and commentators were active from the late 1830s on.

Despite interest in Kant by Irish individuals such as William Rowan Hamilton (introduced to Kant in the early 1830s by Samuel Coleridge), systematic academic interest did not emerge until the 1860s. Maffahy gives an account of the birth of the Kantian school in Trinity:

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Literary Tours of Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford

Edgeworthstown was the home of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his daughter Maria Edgeworth who wrote many novels including Belinda and Caste Rackrent. These two, particularly Maria are the focus of the Literary Tour of Edgeworthstown. Also referenced are Maria’s cousin the Abbé Edgeworth (who was with King Louis XVI when the king was guillotined), Oliver … Read more

Interior Riches

“A Sentimental Journey” (1768) shows how the language of sensibility became increasingly interiorized in the eighteenth century. Throughout the work Sterne’s interest in his surroundings and in his fellow beings is subordinate to the interior riches they provide him with: the sentimental journey is first and foremost an inner journey, through which “a large volume of adventures may be grasped” and nothing should he missed that “he can fairly lay his hands on”. If the terms here reflect the discourse of acquisitiveness and self-interest, they more generally reveal the self-reflexivity of his perception.

From Christine Levecq Slavery and Sentiment: The Politics of Feeling in Black Atlantic Antislavery Writing, 1770-1850, p. 74.

The term “sentimental”, meaning “emotion-full”, was popularised by Laurence Sterne (24 November 1713 – 18 March 1768) and can be seen of a development of ethical sentimentalism, where feelings of benevolence or sympathy are the motive force for virtue. For Sterne, feelings almost become a virtue in themselves. The benefit of emotions, then, becomes subjective experience rather than outward action.

Appropriating Patrick: Keating, Ussher, Toland and the Early Irish Church

A statue of St Patrick in an antique shop window (c) david perry/flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A statue of St Patrick in an antique shop window
(c) david perry/flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The very oldest texts in any language written in Ireland that have survived relate to St Patrick. One, the Confessio, outlines his own account of his life. To the modern reader, it may seem sparse. There is no mention of Pascal fires, of shamrock or of snakes.

The tale of St Patrick developed over time, and to fulfil different purposes. Muirchú’s Latin Life of Saint Patrick, compiled around the year 680 which includes tales of wonders, was written to confirm Armagh’s pre-eminent place in the Irish Church. Patrick was said to have arrived in Ireland in 432AD to undermine the earlier Palladius who was documented to have arrived in 431AD. The development of the myth continued into the 15th century, with examples to be found in the Book of Lismore and the Leabhar Breac. This tradition emphasised St Patrick as a wonder worker and a prophet. At the same time secular writings such as the 12th century Acallamh na Senorach include stories of Patrick meeting the Fianna.

The Norman invasion saw a parallel tradition emerge, starting with Gerald of Wales’ outline of Patrick’s life in Topographia Hibernica, which included a debunking of the legend of the banaishment of the snakes. Jocelin of Furness’ account, based on resources some of which are now lost, was written as part of the Anglo-Norman attempt to appropriate the saint. Written at the same time as the shrine in Downpatrick was established, it portrays Patrick as a miracle-working prophet, whose mother was related to St. Martin of Tours.

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