I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Century in Print

A Century in Print

Andrew Carpenter
Brought to Book: Print in Ireland, 1680-1784, by Toby Barnard, Four Courts Press, 395 pp, €50, ISBN 978-1846826290 Though Brought to Book: Print in Ireland, 1680-1784 is not an easy read, it is an essential book for anyone interested in seventeenth and eighteenth century Ireland, particularly if one is keen to know about what was written, printed, published, owned or read here. Toby Barnard’s knowledge of Anglophone Ireland during this period is legendary and, as this book demonstrates, his memory for detail and his ability to recall all he has read (and to remember where he read it) are awe-inspiring. The book contains an immense quantity of information gleaned from a bewildering variety of sources ‑ books, pamphlets, letters, municipal records, manuscripts in obscure archives and modern scholarly works. The material is all woven into a single, large, colourful tapestry ‑ the richest work on the eighteenth century Irish book trade and patterns of Irish reading ever attempted or accomplished. However, Brought to Book is also a very individual and, in places, a quirky book, unashamedly reflecting the writer’s biases. Barnard has a dry sense of humour and a confidence that allows him to employ thoroughly unscholarly vocabulary when it suits him. Thus one writer is described as “grumpy”, another as “acidulated”. In a memorable (but, one could argue, unfairly dismissive) sentence, he says of verse printed in eighteenth century Dublin (to which he seems to have a particular antipathy): “Mellifluous larks soared and frogs croaked among the Dublin reeds.” Odes published in Ireland are said to have “bobbed about on a flood of print”. He writes that the Leixlip poet the Rev Samuel Shepherd “rolled out cheery words” and “strenuously whipped up froth according to Pope’s recipe in between pounding out his stodgy sermons”. This is neither objective history nor, indeed, literary criticism; rather, it reflects personal taste. Remarks like this certainly lighten the tone of the work and keep the reader amused: but those writing verse in early eighteenth century Ireland would surely question the dismissal of the work of Dryden and Pope as “such stuff”, and might be disappointed to learn that Dublin Castle court poems printed without accompanying music were, in Barnard’s opinion, mere “effusions” that “limped”. Dublin was, of course, a significant centre for the printing and consumption of imaginative writing in the Anglophone world of the eighteenth century, and many “creative” writers (apart from James Ward, Jonathan Swift,…

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