Literacy, Language and Reading in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, eds Rebecca Anne Barr, Sarah-Anne Buckley and Muireann O’Cinneide, Liverpool University Press, 213 pp, £80, ISBN 978-1786942081
The following essay is not offered as a review but as a commentary on and around one of the journals mentioned in Literacy, Language and Reading in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, in particular the journal discussed in Elizabeth Tilley’s essay “The Dublin Penny Journal and Alternative Histories”. The author hopes to return to both the book itself and its fascinating subject matter at a future date.
The voluminous world of print in pre-Famine Ireland offers a major, if underutilised, historical source. Books, pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals offer a means of uncovering in detail the political and intellectual milieu of the various contending groupings which struggled to win influence in the period, particularly influence with the strategically crucial peasant mass, which, for the most part, lived in a predominantly oral culture, only slightly and peripherally connected with the world of print.
Engagement with print sources from this time reveals the various strands of thinking which developed among the political and cultural intelligentsia in one of the most interesting periods in modern Irish history. The decades before the Famine were a period of heightened cultural exploration and development, ultimately driven by a growing sense that the country had arrived at a point which was unsustainable, politically, culturally and economically, and was facing potential catastrophe on several fronts. Arguably, the period from 1815 to 1850 involved a literary and political exuberance comparable to the celebrated literary revival era of the early twentieth century. The printed material of the time contains a record of the sometimes complex intellectual struggles and journeys of numerous well-known figures such as Samuel Ferguson, William Carleton, Thomas Davis, James Clarence Mangan, Isaac Butt and George Petrie, along with those of a large number of other significant but often forgotten individuals. This intellectual record prefigures and illuminates many of the themes and debates which were to figure in Irish history over the following century and a half. The Dublin Penny Journal is one important print source from this period.
The DPJ was first issued in June 1832 under the editorship of Caesar Otway and George Petrie. The conductors’ aim, as they later explained, was to publish a magazine which was “national and useful”. In the first number the editors stated: “It is an Irish undertaking altogether … The expense of producing such a periodical is great; but very moderate profits will suffice us, if our countrymen only second our endeavours to wipe off the stigma which has, we do trust falsely, been affixed to Irish spirit and Irish literature.” Otway was an ideologue, an antiquarian and a clergyman, Petrie a scholar and antiquarian who, in large measure, shared Otway’s cultural and political outlook. The Journal was conceived as an intervention in Irish cultural politics, which it hoped to influence. There is an imprecise tone in the opening remarks which suggests an inexactitude of purpose, but this tone was deliberately adopted as it suited the editors’ intention of avoiding the great political issues of the day.
Among those who contributed in addition to the founders were John O’Donovan, Edward Walsh, Thomas Crofton Croker, James Clarence Mangan, Dr Anster, JF Waller, Sir William Betham, John Getty, John Banim, William Carleton, Aubrey de Vere, Martin Doyle (Wm Hickey), Samuel Mc Skimin, Samuel Ferguson, James Wills, Mrs SC Hall, Col Blacker, David Harbison, Robert Armstrong, William Rowan Hamilton, Samuel Lover, Richard Glennon and Thomas Ettingsall.
The DPJ achieved a phenomenal circulation, possibly as high as 40,000 copies at one point. However, the editors do not appear to have had much business acumen. They did not receive any monetary reward, “for great as the circulation … is it has not enabled the proprietors hitherto to divide a single penny”. The “moderate profit” they had expected did not materialise. A constant problem in the world of periodical publishing was the difficulty and expense involved in getting paid by the agents and booksellers who took stocks on credit and who were scattered around the country and also throughout England and Scotland. (Unlike newspapers, periodicals, which were permitted to publish on unstamped paper as long as they avoided directly treating political issues, could not be sent free to subscribers through the post.) By the end of their first year the conductors owed their printer and publisher, John S Folds, £1,700, which meant that Folds effectively owned the publication. Folds, presumably being very happy to get most of the debt paid, accepted £1,500 from Philip Dixon Hardy for the journal as a going concern. Hardy, who became editor, had, according to his own account, the support of one other unidentified investor. Issue No 53, published in July 1833, was the final number edited by the founders, under whose stewardship the DPJ had become one of the most successful Irish journals of its time and since.
It is generally accepted that under Hardy the Journal’s quality and influence deteriorated. It seems the circulation also declined to around 10,000, which it should be stressed was still an exceptional figure. Hardy, whose cultural politics were of the militant Protestant variety, was an experienced publisher and a shrewd businessman; he claimed, credibly, that he made five hundred pounds a year profit from the Journal until ill health forced him to abandon it in 1836. (In evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee on Combinations in 1838, he claimed he gave it up because of pressure from his workmen). Later in the century DJ O’Donoghue commented dismissively: “Everyone in Dublin knew this journal was doomed to extinction as soon as this fanatical swaddler assumed control … nearly all its distinguished writers ceased to take any further interest.”
One of the most interesting and complicated cultural-cum-political phenomena of the early nineteenth century was what might be called the Protestant national dilemma, a dilemma which is at the heart of the first volume of the DPJ, the volume on which this essay will focus. The Protestant and the national were, of course, long associated. The impulses which in the mid-eighteenth century led to an assertion of Protestant national autonomy, and which manifested themselves again with the United Irishmen, did not disappear following the Union of 1800. They smouldered on, and on occasion ‑ including in the post-emancipation period ‑ caught fire, and they did so in a way which was peculiar to that period, in that they embodied responses to the pressing political, economic and social questions of that time.
The Union was not especially loved by Protestant intellectuals. If it was accepted as a workable solution to the problem of the Catholic majority, it did not convince as the ultimate answer. A search for other responses occurred in parallel with support for the Union and this search absorbed a much greater quotient of creative and intellectual energy. The political, economic and cultural subtleties of this search can be traced in the periodical literature of the time, including the Dublin Penny Journal.
Arguably, the greatest effort on the part of Protestant Ireland to square the national circle, in the period between the Union and Emancipation, was the somewhat indirect but potentially transformative one of campaigning proselytism, a remarkable phenomenon which Desmond Bowen labelled the “Protestant Crusade”. In the 1820s, Anglican Ireland, with the assistance of other enthusiastic non-established Protestant elements ‑ which had been engaged in proselytism for some years ‑ united to support a major campaign, whose objective was to convert the Catholic poor, especially the rural poor, to Bible-centred Protestantism.
The degree to which Protestant Ireland united behind this objective was without precedent. (For a discussion of the phenomenon see “The Politics of Assimilation” https://www.drb.ie/essays/the-politics-of-assimilation.) The “crusade” drew its energy and broad support from an instinctive understanding that if the peasantry were to become Protestant, the Catholic O’Connellite middle classes, who were showing clear signs of aspiring to national political leadership, would no longer enjoy a special relationship with the rural poor and, as a result, would become politically marginal. Had the “crusade”, or the Second Reformation as it was frequently called by its supporters, worked, Protestant Ireland would have become the entity enjoying the support of the peasantry. This would have opened innumerable possibilities. In such circumstances, for example, relations with Westminster could have been be engaged afresh and, crucially, without the usual paralysing fear of Catholic ascendancy. This, however, was not to be. The Second Reformation, despite the enormous energy and resources invested in it, failed in Ireland as decisively as the first. One of a number of reasons for its failure was the successful campaign for Catholic Emancipation led by Daniel O’Connell, in what was Europe’s first exercise in mass democratic politics. In the struggle for the support and loyalty of the peasantry, O’Connell won, which inevitably meant the Second Reformation lost.
The psychological trauma of Emancipation, along with the undeniable influence the O’Connellite bourgeoisie enjoyed among the rural poor, whose mobilisation was arguably responsible for the measure being passed, was the turning point for the Second Reformation. Enthusiasts, for whom religious truth alone mattered, continued to proselytise through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, but for the more politically perceptive, the great dream of a Protestant peasantry ended with Emancipation.
With the passage of this measure, the danger of a Catholic ascendancy, supposedly eliminated by the Union, once more came into focus with the new prospect of a slowly extending democracy delivering an inexorable increase in Catholic political and social power, even under the Union. Some sort of intellectual response to this threat was inevitable given that Protestant Ireland was by no means ready to surrender its desire to shape and control the Irish future.
The liberal Dublin Penny Journal and the conservative Dublin University Magazine (DUM) were both published in the early 1830s and can be read as Protestant responses to Westminster’s empowerment of the Catholic bourgeoisie. They are among the most impressive Protestant intellectual productions of the entire nineteenth century. The fact that there was a significant overlap of personnel among the founders and contributors to both journals reflects the instability and complexity of Protestant intellectual life in the post-emancipation period and, more specifically, the powerful legacy of the polarised 1820s, a legacy which, for many liberal Protestants, involved a decided unwillingness to cooperate politically with the newly assertive Catholic bourgeoisie.
While the first number of the Dublin Penny Journal appeared in June 1832, it was not the first Protestant or even the first liberal Protestant journal to consider national issues in its response to the new post-emancipation problematic. There was a number of significant Protestant responses, including the Dublin Literary Gazette, the short-lived liberal Dublin University Review (conducted by Otway’s son) and, somewhat behind the scenes, the Dublin Evening Mail under the stewardship of the remarkable Dr Charles Boyton. The DPJ was, however, the most impressive Protestant liberal response within the periodical press of the early post-emancipation years.
The Dublin Penny Journal published Irish tales and stories, topographical, historical and antiquarian material. It also published on economics, science, nature, architecture and miscellaneous subjects. In addition, it reflected on its own objectives and explained what it hoped to achieve. The conductors avoided all overtly political matters and claimed to be completely neutral in politics.
The conductors of the Journal, like many others of that time, were acutely conscious of Ireland’s economic underdevelopment and in response advocated a rationalised agriculture and extensive industrialisation. Culturally, the new modernised Irish were envisioned as a people who would be conscious and proud of their ancient history, a history which would be embraced and understood in a manner acceptable to all sects. It was hinted that in such circumstances, separation from England could be sought and won.
The proprietors claimed that their publication was aimed at the poor, but there is no evidence to suggest success in this objective. It is likely that its readership was middle class with a good portion of it drawn from supporters of Daniel O’Connell. The conductors’ benign aspirations for the country are reflected in the following, almost prayerful, declaration:
Let the landlords invest capital, let the government introduce a proper system of poor laws in our land, let manufacturers be established and employment be given, let the people be encouraged to use other food in the Spring and Summer seasons, let landlords be kind and considerate, let rents be lowered.
O’Connell’s supporters were probably chiefly attracted by the extensive scholarly and historical contributions of George Petrie. Campaigning O’Connellism regularly referred superficially to Ireland’s ancient history and, as the immense popularity of Thomas Moore’s historically themed lyrics suggest, there was a widespread enthusiasm for the glories of Ireland’s remote past. However, the O’Connellite engagement with the Irish past was somewhat shallow. In Petrie’s work the world of Thomas Moore’s lyrics was expanded and substantiated. It is not difficult to imagine that such work found a ready audience among O’Connell’s supporters. In addition, Petrie’s work effectively ended the line of sectarian antiquarianism which had claimed that prior to the arrival of the Normans, Ireland was barbarous and uncivilised.
Moreover, O’Connellite Ireland’s engagement with the Irish past was deliberately inclusive, an approach which drew its energy from the belief that political success required a union of Protestant and Catholic. This inclusivity was matched in Petrie’s work and for comparable reasons. Thus, the “difficult” centuries were avoided and the ancient past preferred for those seeking a union of Protestant and Catholic. Petrie’s history would certainly have had wide appeal and a ready audience.
The DPJ’s vision of radical economic and cultural transformation also overlapped with the O’Connellite vision, but the fear that O’Connell’s leadership would herald a Catholic ascendancy or otherwise exclude Protestant Ireland ensured that these commonalities would never form the basis of a united middle class national leadership. The DPJ, in effect, embodied the proposition that national fulfilment and unity should be achieved under the direction of liberal Protestantism, in opposition to O’Connellism.
The publication of the Dublin Penny Journal was not the first involvement of Otway and Petrie in the periodical press; they had also published on issues around the politics of the Protestant national problem in the pre-emancipation period. The peace which came with the end of the Napoleonic wars heralded a severe economic crisis in Ireland and sparked a new wave of political and intellectual activity. In those years, a Protestant liberal periodical press which engaged passionately with national, cultural and political questions emerged in Dublin. Among the liberal journals then published were the Dublin Examiner, the Anti- Unionist and the Dublin Magazine. The Anglican-connected Christian Examiner, which did not appear until 1825 and which was co-edited by Otway could also, at times, be regarded as liberal and it too had a significant national dimension. While there is not space in this essay to look at these journals in detail, the Dublin Examiner should be briefly described, as it was edited by Otway and Petrie who would, some sixteen years later, edit the DPJ.
Like the Dublin Penny Journal and many other publications issued during the period 1815-1850, the Dublin Examiner claimed to be politically neutral. Though less substantial than the DPJ, it shared an emphasis on the importance of culture. An article in the first issue on the history of the fine arts in Ireland is presumably by Petrie. Petrie also first wrote on Irish music in the Examiner. Its literary tone was romantic and it featured many translations of romantic verse from German originals, as would the conservative Dublin University Magazine, initiated in January 1833, and one of whose founders would be Caesar Otway.
The editors of the Examiner spoke with unqualified criticism of the penal code and constantly referred to the historic persecution of Catholics. They also opposed those engaged in proselytism, which from 1822 was to develop into the campaign for a second reformation in Ireland, a campaign which Otway would, in due course, support as editor of the Christian Examiner. Significantly, unlike the DPJ, the Dublin Examiner did not seek to engage a peasant or popular readership, nor did it regard support from the peasantry as strategically crucial. Its implied vision was of a national union of Protestant and Catholic elites, which together would address the problems facing the country.
The Catholic-friendly tone of the Examiner was considerably stronger and more direct than that found in the DPJ. There are no comparable denunciations of the historical persecution of Catholics in the DPJ. The Examiner’s Protestant national politics were also more explicit than those of the DPJ; its position effectively favoured political separation from England, which event it saw as likely to take place in the mood of national harmony which would follow emancipation. Its attitude to religion was firmly rooted in eighteenth century rationalism and it looked forward to a time when religion would be marginal to public life.
[If] religious liberty [were] perfectly established in Ireland and some other matters of import attended to, not only would the progress of Catholicism be retarded, but Protestantism or at least indifference to any particular sect would become very generally prevalent.
The Anti-Unionist, published in 1818, was Protestant and, as its name suggests, explicitly anti-Union and pro-Repeal. It seems likely that Caesar Otway was the contributor whose writings were signed C-O-. We will not dwell on this fascinating journal other than to observe its importance and to note that it saw the promotion of the Irish language and Irish culture as a means of asserting an Irish nationality in opposition to England and that it envisaged an independent Irish nation led by an alliance of Catholic and Protestant middle class elites.
It is not difficult to see how individuals pursuing ideas of this nature might have become involved in setting up the Dublin Penny Journal. But there were important differences. The post-1815 mood envisaged a national union of Catholic and Protestant elites. The conductors of the DPJ no longer sought this and rarely referred, even obliquely, to the existing and politically active Catholic middle classes who favoured a repeal of the Union. Instead, they declared their belief that the era of “political excitements” had passed. But actually, O’Connell was very active in the period before the launch of the DPJ and during its first year. Oliver McDonagh has commented: “Most noteworthy of all in his 1832 campaign was O’Connell’s deliberate wooing of the Irish Protestants … designed to persuade Protestants to make common cause with him in the forthcoming repeal campaign.” (The Life of Daniel O’Connell)
Otway and Petrie did not respond to O’Connell’s wooing. Instead the DPJ sought a third way, neither conservative Protestant nor O’Connellite. When the conductors explained and referred to their objectives the emphasis was on the transformative potential of the poor, especially the peasantry. The ideal of the Journal was to transform the peasantry into a modern and secular social force; it was an ideal which in many ways mirrored the transformational aspirations of the Second Reformation. The suggestion, as noted, hidden within the campaign of proselytism was that, following the religious re-configuring of the peasantry, the national question could once again be addressed. In the DPJ the implication was similar but more explicit. In its case useful knowledge rather than the Bible would be the agent which would transform the peasantry, bringing it into an ideological affinity with secular-leaning liberal Protestants, and thereby facilitating political separation from Britain under Protestant leadership.
The main reason for the differences of substance and nuance between the liberal Protestant periodical press of the post-Napoleonic period and that of the 1830s was the polarising effect of the intervening Emancipation and proselytising campaigns of the 1820s, the highly politicised decade of Protestant revivalism and Catholic political activism. This was a development unforeseen in the pages of the Dublin Examiner. It was also the decade in which the phenomenon of a militant, organised and determined Catholic bourgeoisie came fully into view. Here was a development which alarmed and politically transfixed the bulk of Protestant Ireland. The DPJ stated again and again that the time of discord had passed, but in its own content, statements and silences it revealed that the conductors and their journal existed in the shadow of the 1820s and were shaped by the conflicts and legacies of those years.
One of the changes which occurred in the early nineteenth century and which became apparent following the settlement of the Veto controversy in 1813 was that the leadership of the Catholic cause passed from aristocratic Catholic and liberal Protestant elements to an emergent Catholic bourgeoisie. The earlier mood had been one of deference, whereas under the new leadership the tone became assertive. By the early 1820s the change in style was apparent to all. Certain liberal Protestants, traditionally supportive of Catholic Emancipation, found O’Connell’s assertive manner unsettling. This may have been in part owing to the fact that the bulk of Protestant Ireland’s middle class, as Gustave de Beaumont suggested in 1835, could not properly be described as bourgeois, which meant the vigorous, democratic and independent style of the O’Connellites was found aesthetically shocking and even repulsive. There was also the phenomenon of a growing and unapologetic embracing of Catholicism as a mark of cultural identity, which was worrying to all across the Protestant spectrum. With the advent of the Catholic Association, its extensive apparatus of voluntary membership and its clear political objectives, Protestant Ireland was faced with a new and terrifying phenomenon. In those years, O’Connell was routinely denounced as a vulgar demagogue.
Throughout the 1820s, all overtures to mainstream Protestantism from the O’Connellite side were rejected. Catholic priests, who were seen as having institutionally enabled, if not masterminded, the political organisation of the peasantry, were regularly excoriated in apocalyptic terms. Moreover, the endless rehearsal of arguments against removing Catholic civil disabilities based on attacks on specific Catholic doctrines left a legacy of visceral hostility to Catholicism per se. This was quite a shift from the mood of toleration which prevailed in the years immediately following 1815. These were the new circumstances in which the DPJ attempted a chart a significant national role for the Protestant tradition in Ireland.
The editors regularly made claims to the effect that the mood of the age was essentially one of post-political co-operation and of a willingness to turn towards politically neutral literature as a route to national fulfilment. Loaded references were made in disapproving tones to recent “political excitements” by both Petrie and Otway. But it was these “excitements” which had delivered emancipation. Was that not a good thing, a reader of the DPJ might wonder. The fastidious and critical tone adopted to the political excitement which enabled emancipation suggests a qualified approval of the measure on the part of the DPJ. It would seem that it accepted the measure primarily as a fait accompli rather than as an objective goo, and attempted to construct a new liberal Protestant cultural politics based on the new reality.
Certainly, many liberal Protestants in the1820s honoured the Reformation principle of religious toleration and supported the removal of the remaining civil disabilities suffered by Catholics. However, most in this category baulked at the invitation to switch to a campaign for repeal of the Union. Protestant supporters of Emancipation were a minority within Irish Protestantism and those who went on to support repeal were considerably fewer. Indeed, some liberal Protestants caught up in the ideological maelstrom of the 1820s came to qualify or reject earlier liberal views and to accept the Protestant absolutist argument that Catholics were, by virtue of their attachment to “false religion” and in particular their alleged loyalty to a foreign state, not entitled to full civil liberty. These attitudes were bolstered by the long-standing assertions that Catholicism was opposed to inquiry and education and was authoritarian.
Caesar Otway was a liberal Protestant whose position shifted in the 1820s. As editor of the Christian Examiner he did not actively oppose Emancipation but he declined to support the Emancipation campaign. This was quite a different position from that which was offered in the Dublin Examiner in 1816. Moreover, under Otway’s editorship the Christian Examiner was virulently anti-Catholic. The “dormant mass of popery is awaking. As yet it is concentrating on political issues.”
George Petrie’s position on Emancipation in the 1820s is uncertain. The present writer has been unable to find any significant references to his political views or journalistic activities in his manuscript letters. His surviving papers are overwhelmingly concerned with his antiquarian and scholarly pursuits. Nevertheless, some extrapolation from the available evidence is possible and would suggest that Petrie was probably a passive to lukewarm supporter of Emancipation in the 1820s.
Otway and Petrie were both antiquarians and it may well be that they became friends in connection with this shared interest. Both served on the Royal Irish Academy’s Antiquarian Committee through the 1830s. It seems that Otway, a clergyman, was the more ideological of the two and that Petrie managed to avoid the ideological swamps of the 1820s. There is no evidence of Petrie having involved himself in the periodical press of the 1820s and, significantly, he did not join Otway as a founder of the conservative Dublin University Magazine, which was begun while the pair were editing the liberal DPJ.
Historical inclusivity was not an ideological motivation within the DUM, which had little interest in Petrie’s even-handed antiquarianism and was not concerned to engage politically with Catholic Ireland. Petrie on the other hand, it seems, remained attached to a vague Protestant liberal vision. Notwithstanding, he did not distance himself from the DUM. An engraving of Trinity College drawn by Petrie was included opposite the title page of the first volume and in the 1840s he contributed some pieces on musical subjects.
The DUM was very different from the DPJ. It embodied a new Protestant strategic proposition, one which implicitly accepted that the proselytism campaign, and indeed the ideas represented by the DPJ, had failed. In response to these failures, the DUM sought to generate a vigorous Irish conservative politics which would support British Tory efforts to arrest and even reverse the growth of democracy, the phenomenon which was understood as the great post-Emancipation threat to Protestant power and influence in Ireland.
When the founders abandoned the DPJ, Petrie joined the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, whose topographical department, under his influence and that of his colleagues John O’Donovan, Eugene O’Curry and James Clarence Mangan, embodied, in addition to its scientific purpose, a romantic-influenced celebration of the local. Nationalism was the signature political manifestation of the romantic current throughout Europe and in time the survey’s national political implications were viewed by the authorities as potentially dangerous and likely to ignite “old animosities”. An anonymous letter sent to the government in 1842 and signed by “A Protestant Conservative” claimed that the Anglican Petrie had surrounded himself with Catholic radicals who spent their time discussing politics and religion. The survey was closed the same year.
In 1840, seven years after his departure from the DPJ, Petrie turned again to the world of periodical publishing and established the Irish Penny Journal. The IPJ ran for a year and was reprinted in 1842, the year of Otway’s death. The new journal was similar to the DPJ and made the same claims to political neutrality. It also carried an indirect political thrust. The Irish Penny Journal came at a time of substantial Catholic gains on Dublin Corporation and the beginning of O’Connell’s major Repeal campaign. It was effectively an anti-O’Connell intervention, just as the DPJ had been. Significantly, the long-term desirability of Repeal, clearly, if only occasionally, indicated in the DPJ, was absent from the IPJ. Petrie’s journal did not enjoy the extensive circulation of the earlier journal. It may be that the novelty of the penny press had worn thin and perhaps also that the Catholic middle class, which had purchased the DPJ, were now preoccupied with Repeal and the Repeal press, which at the time of the reprint of the IPJ had been joined by The Nation, whose leading light, the liberal Protestant Thomas Davis, rejected the “amphibious” politics of 1830s liberal Protestantism and embraced Repeal. When the IPJ ceased, Petrie claimed that its circulation was increasing, but not in Ireland where sales were stationary or diminishing. Throughout the 1840s Petrie kept at a distance from the actual politics of Repeal but continued to pursue his national scholarly interests. Unlike O’Donovan, O’Curry and Mangan, his colleagues in the Ordnance Survey, Petrie did not contribute to The Nation, whereas he did contribute to the Dublin University Magazine. It seems then that Petrie was not apolitical, that, in essence, his politics were not significantly different from those of Caesar Otway but that his emotional engagement in politics was less than that of Otway and that his overarching passion throughout was for national antiquarianism
The Dublin Penny Journal’s response to the passage of Emancipation, which involved the adoption of an inclusive tone when speaking of the Catholic church, was at considerable variance to the general Protestant mood. Positive historical accounts, albeit quite short, and woodcut illustrations of Catholic institutions such as Clongowes Wood and Carlow College were published, as were images of Catholic churches such as the Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street and the parish church on Francis Street. The term Roman Catholic was used sparingly and derogatory adjectives such as “Romish”, which were commonplace in the conservative Protestant press were avoided altogether. There was no hesitation in using the simple terms Catholic and Protestant.
This approach does not mean that, in the private view of the editors, the Christian denominations were equal or that Catholicism was not discountenanced. As editor of the Christian Examiner in the later 1820s, Otway oversaw a continuous criticism of Catholicism. And even Petrie, in a rare slip, used the loaded adjective “monkish” in one of his historical contributions. Even more indicative perhaps is that mid-way through the first year of the DPJ, Otway became a founding investor in the Dublin University Magazine, which from the outset was virulently anti-O’Connell, anti-reform and anti-democracy, and which at one point in the 1840s complained of the DPJ: “Throughout the entire miscellany the Roman party has been treated with tenderness.”
Both Otway and Petrie were, as their writings clearly reveal, influenced by the Romantic current, then significantly qualifying Enlightenment certainties across European culture. But Romanticism, with its emphasis on the local and the traditional as centres of value in opposition to Enlightenment universalism, was unhelpful in relation to the ideal of transforming the peasantry, an objective whose realisation would have involved eliminating local and traditional cultures. Thus we find in the DPJ there were two voices. In the recognisable contributions of Petrie and Otway, there is abundant evidence of a Romantic sensibility, but when the DPJ turns to explaining its ambitions for Ireland, a different schematic language of “progress” and “reason” is adopted to celebrate the “march of mind”.
Thus, in the article entitled “The Prospects and Duty of Irishmen in Reference to the Acquisition of Useful Knowledge”, which was probably written by Otway, the author gives full-throated support to an unqualified view of progress and universalism.
Man has been progressing painfully and slowly for several thousand years … the elements of order seem to be forming new combinations. There may be doubt and hesitation in many minds as to the probable result: but he whose mental vision can pierce the surrounding atmosphere, sees in every new development and every fresh change cause for rejoicing and looks forward to the hour when every waste on the surface of the globe shall be peopled with rational and intelligent creatures ‑ when the arts shall flourish on the burning plains of Africa, and literature gladden the Pacific isles.
The conductors of the DPJ passionately desired a stable and prosperous Ireland; they saw that the Irish economy was underdeveloped and argued that economic development and specifically industrialisation were essential to the achievement of Ireland’s national potential and fulfilment. Modernisation was seen as the means by which Ireland could be raised. The debased condition of the country was a source of distress to the conductors, whose motives were patriotic and sympathetic to the economic interests of the poor throughout.
The implication, it would seem, was that the condition of Ireland was so parlous that the slow inexorable progress of mankind was insufficient to erase Ireland’s problems. There was an awareness of many potential disasters, not least the cataclysm which threatened the peasantry. Thus, it was morally and politically necessary to assist the processes of progress with active intervention and proposals.
In the issue for July 14th, 1832 there are two articles indicative of the type of patriotism which is found throughout the Dublin Penny Journal. One on emigration states plainly that the journal is opposed in principle to emigration, that “Ireland is perfectly able to support, not only her present population, but a vast deal more if her capabilities were properly developed”. Another piece is headed “Irish Manufactures” and argues that both sophisticated woollen and silk industries based in the Dublin Liberty were being undermined by acts of parliament designed to favour English trade. In this last piece there are clear political implications regarding the Union and government from Westminster, but given the cloak of neutrality, comment is confined to the following coded observation:
It does not enter within our scope to point out what might be done for the revival of Irish Manufactures; we merely mention facts and indulge in the hope that Ireland will not always be miserable. A gleam of hope dawns upon our country ‑ may that good being who delights in the happiness of his creatures, unite all hearts, and “knit them together” in the bonds of a holy brotherhood.
Terence O’Toole (Caesar Otway) in his tour to Connacht included some partly humorous reflection on the potato which also revealed an awareness of the dangers to the peasantry of reliance on that food, an awareness which Otway had previously articulated in the pages of the Christian Examiner.
Ireland … teeming as it is with an awfully increasing population, and which is year after year outstripping the means of a certain decent support, and that population trusting as it does to the potato crop for its food, is and must continue to be more liable to the fearful visitation of scarcity.
In the DPJ potato article, Otway blames the greed of landlords, the absence of poor laws and the want of investment and factories for the condition of the poor. There are also regular articles recommending agricultural practices which would allow for the development of a comfortable tenant farmer class. Overall, the implied understanding is that the life of the peasantry was economically unsustainable and disaster likely. Industrialisation was to be the means of saving the peasantry from the inevitable disaster implicit in an unsustainable economy. With the removal of subsistence peasant farmers into towns, agriculture would be dominated by a stable and comfortable tenant farmer class similar to that which was believed to exist in England.
An article entitled “What Does Ireland Want?” is typical of the general emphasis on modernisation; it argues that roads and canals are needed to support manufacturing villages and towns, which in turn would support busy ports through which Ireland’s quality products could be exported. It is not explained what would have to be done politically to realise such a vision. Once again, the closing comment is simultaneously vague yet loaded: “Such are … the wants of Ireland, which we trust will soon be supplied.”
An earlier article, “What Would Machinery Do for Ireland?”, the second of two published in January 1833, touches on the same subject and argues that economic development and industrialisation depend on the introduction of advanced machinery. The article is signed F and in the view of the present writer is certainly from the pen of Samuel Ferguson. January 1833 was the month Ferguson and Otway’s new venture, the Dublin University Magazine started publication. (See note on Ferguson below) The author initially points out the underdeveloped state of the existing Irish economy.
Our exports are the exports of a nation half civilized. We send over to England cows, calves and pigs, bacon, pork and butter, eggs and wheat and barley ‑ but where are our calicoes and silks ‑ where our cutlery and pottery ‑ have we a Birmingham, a Manchester, a Leeds, a Sheffield, a Glasgow, to develop the ingenuity and give employment to our people? No! our very agriculture is half a century behind.
Investment of capital and the employment of machinery are seen as the answer. Ferguson’s argument is insightful and penetrating:
We wish well to the society for the encouraging the consumption of home manufactured goods, and for aiding the decayed manufacturers of Ireland – but must candidly give it as our conviction … that while the machinery of England is at work, and while the ports of the two islands are open, the efforts of such a society, however patriotic, will be but as a feather held up to break the violence of the blast. Nothing will avail but the employment of similar machinery.
In order to protect the poor from the disruption the introduction of machinery would cause, Ferguson advocates first the introduction of poor laws.
The land-owning class came in for occasional criticism regarding rents charged, letting practices and their failure to act in a manner similar to that which was believed to be the norm among the enlightened and responsible landlords of England. This model of mutuality between landlord and tenant was the ideal and it puzzled people like Otway that landlords in Ireland did not engage culturally and socially with their tenants and the agricultural communities on their lands. Like many Protestants critics of the landlord class from the eighteenth century and later, Caesar Otway wished the gentry would engage with their tenants and the rural poor in a positive and organic way. This extended to believing that landlords should open up their estates to the public. Otway was critical of “Ireland’s only Duke” for surrounding his estate and seat at Carton House with high walls: “Oh, how I hate walls,” he declared in his “Tour to Connaught”.
While desiring that landlords might behave differently, that class was not a major focus of the DPJ because transforming the behaviour of landlords was not seen as the means by which Ireland might be transformed. Landlords were not seen as significant agents of modernisation and transformation. Consequently, the emphasis on the changes required of landlords was minor compared to the Journal’s focus on those required of the peasantry, whose complete transformation was an essential component of its vision for industrialisation and modernisation.
Some space was afforded to writers such as Mrs SC Hall, who never tired of wagging her finger at the poor, and whose writings implied that the peasantry were entirely responsible for their own miserable conditions. However, the dominant attitude within the DPJ towards the peasantry was friendly and positive, in that the motivation behind their call for changes in peasant behaviour was a desire to assist in securing an economically viable future for the poor and for the country as a whole. Nevertheless, the Irish peasants were seen as wanting in behaviour and habits and in need of advice as to how they might alter themselves for the better. This advice usually recommended them becoming more like the imagined lower orders of rural England and Scotland, particularly England.
In “Practical advice to Irishmen” it is said that the Irish are generally believed to be untrustworthy and hasty. It is recommended that the Irishman should not respond emotionally if his country is sneered at. “We should act as if we are above these things, we should show by our disposition that a time is rapidly coming when Ireland will not afford a sneer.” To reach this point, the Irishman must ensure “that whatever he is doing, shall be done well”. The author concludes “If Paddy with his warm heart, had Sandy’s caution and John Bull’s bluffness, what a fine fellow he would be!”
In the many articles concerned with the behavioural transformation of the poor, it is implied that separation from Britain can only arrive subsequent to the transformation of the poor. It is as if the only thing standing between Ireland, successful industrialisation and political autonomy are the attitudes and behaviour of the poor. The language of progress is central this vision, whose elements are uncomplicated and straightforward: The poor must align with the “march of intellect” by absorbing the “useful information” offered in the Dublin Penny Journal.
That the Irish are as eager for information, and as steady in its acquisition, as the inhabitants of the sister island, when it is presented to them in a proper form, we have solid reasons for thinking; and we acknowledge it with thankfulness. But we will not rest satisfied until something greater and better is accomplished; until we see the entire bulk of the people panting for useful information and agreeable amusement; until we see facilities obtained for spreading knowledge through the land to a greater extent than ever; until we see the mind of the nation rising, like a phoenix from its ashes, and clothed in the vestments of a varied and graceful intellect, show itself to the world at large, as worthy to win and wear the choicest blessings of a civilized state.
In the effort to bring this about, the criticisms levelled at the rural population are sometimes quite specific:
What a time is wasted at fairs, markets, weddings, wakes and funerals! … look at the knot of strong stout fellows lounging about the smith’s forge or gostering at the corner where idlers and worse congregate! Let them go and mend up the broken fence over the way, turn the cow or the pig or the geese out of the corn! … Fie, fie, ye lounging idle fellows! If the farmer does not go coolly and regularly and systematically to work he may as well go beg!
It is the duty of the poor to abandon these harmful activities and set about acquiring “useful knowledge” in printed form. An article directed at urban workers declares:
We are sure our friends will not despise a little advice … One grand objection, until of late, to Irishmen, was their want of business habits. It is owing to this that the English have imbibed the idea that nothing good can come out of Ireland … Endeavour to acquire solid, useful substantial knowledge. It is a positive fact that the tone of an Irish Penny Journal must be more elevated than an English one, because the lower classes of the Irish are more intelligent than the English. At the same time the Irish have not acquired the PATIENT HABIT of reading which characterizes the Scotch … Let our friends then endeavour to diffuse around them a taste for wholesome manly reading. Let them endeavour to diffuse knowledge and to guide the demand for it … and Ireland will soon present a cheering scene.
Advice was more commonly directed at the rural poor and the transformation required of that class was to be designed from without. In a note at the end of twentieth number the conductors say they
venture to look forward to the time, when Irishmen will no longer be pointed to as a race whose intellectual faculties, though confessedly of no mean order, have been allowed to run waste by neglect or abuse, but as a people whose minds have been tutored and improved, stored with solid and useful knowledge, and regulated by rational tastes and correct sentiments.
Lest any reader might worry that this educational programme would empower the poor and incite them to attack the existing order, the conductors assuaged fears of encroaching democracy in a piece copied from Richard Chenevix’s Essay upon National Character and entitled “The education of the Lower Classes Conducive to Morality and Good Order”. In this article it is made clear that in the concern for the education of the lower classes there is no intention of promoting ideas of political agency or autonomy. The article begins by celebrating the “march of intellect” and declaring that in half a century the lower portions of society will contain a larger proportion of men “able to reason soundly” than four centuries previously “could be reckoned in the highest”. But the question then is, would not such a boon turn the attention of artisans and mechanics from their proper work. There need be no fear on this account, it is explained. Even were such distractions to occur, it is pointed out that hunger would quickly drive workers back to their proper pursuits. Useful knowledge would not upset the orders of society, not only hunger but knowledge itself would see to that:
practice has shown that equality is a vision, and infinite liberty the worst of tyrannies; and sound instruction, which is but the record of practice, will teach men to avoid them. The result of the education of the poor will be, to teach them that there are moral hardships in this world, his share in which it is the duty of every man to endure.
The ideology of the Dublin Penny Journal was not in any sense democratic. Nor, in the desire to alter the peasantry, was there a wish to build on existing peasant culture, which was consistently deprecated even when it involved an engagement with the modern world of print. In an article on print Ferguson says that too often
low and improper ballads were the only amusement of a vacant hour, or if the ambition ascended to a book, the ‘Irish Rogues and Raparees,’ or something else, of which it might be hard to say whether the mental or mechanical execution were the most disgusting, formed the staple.
Such material clearly did not merit the designation “useful information”. Which works qualified would be decided from above.
As has been mentioned, there was a sense in which the programme of the DPJ resembled that of the evangelicals, who wished to place an unedited Bible in every cabin and imagined a time when, following the day’s work, the peasant family would sit around the fire as the pater familias read aloud from God’s word. In the case of the Dublin Penny Journal, the reading matter of the poor would have included information on geology and the steam engine. Both campaigns were calculated to deliver the poor into a harmoniously subordinate relationship with a particular social elite.
Disapproval of autonomous peasant engagement with the world of print was not confined to politically charged material such as “Irish Rogues and Raparees”; it also extended to the interest of the poor in the classics. Once again Ferguson is forthright:
Scientific information gives to its possessor a practical and manly cast of mind; and while a smattering in classical lore has often no other effect than to induce pedantry and pomposity, a little sprinkling of science has a tendency to excite a greater thirst for the knowledge it imparts.
A response to Ferguson’s reflections was published a month later in May and was probably from the pen of Caesar Otway. The Journal’s position regarding the classics is clarified; they are not condemned per se but are said to be unsuitable for the poor, and the form their presence takes within the peasant world is ridiculed.
It is to be deplored that the foolish reverence which in Ireland is thrown about the character of ‘the poor scholar’, has tended in a great measure to exclude useful knowledge from the minds of the people, by substituting in its place a love for unmeaning verbiage. With what delight do the peasantry assemble to hear two village schoolmasters ‘sack’ and ‘bog’ each other! On these occasions the most egregious pedantry is frequently substituted for true learning.
A reading of Carleton’s work is clearly the source of these deprecations. Instead of appreciating the unique window opening onto the peasant world of “radical orality” which Carleton’s work offered the writer resorts to condemnation. However, since the DPJ programme was to completely transform the peasantry, it could be argued that there was little incentive to appreciate the internal dynamics of peasant culture on its own terms.
From the perspective of the political ambitions of the DPJ, the state of the urban poor is not much better than that of the peasantry. “Practical knowledge would give carpenters and masons the means of rising in their own professions,” Otway says, but such educated artisans are not found among the Irish, with the result being that if “an intelligent engineer, or a practical chemist or an experienced agriculturist” are wanted they must be imported. In Dublin, where there is a distressing absence of mechanics’ institutes, the author maintains nine-tenths of mechanics are ignorant of “the simplest details of science”.
… nothing would give us greater pleasure than to see what we have often seen in the sister country, a numerous assemblage of intelligent men, the smith from the forge, the carpenter from his bench, and the shopkeeper from the counter, night after night listening patiently and attentively to a course of lectures on chemical and mechanical philosophy.
The Royal Dublin Society is said to have tried such a programme, but “without much success or encouragement.”
The ideal of industrialisation in Ireland was, as has been noted, an objective shared by the politicised Catholic bourgeoisie, but acknowledgement of this shared objective was almost entirely avoided throughout the pages of the DPJ. Perhaps the reason was that if it had been acknowledged this would have prompted the question: why not work in conjunction with the Catholic middle classes as the O’Connellites wished and as the conductors of the DPJ had apparently themselves desired some sixteen years earlier?
One exceptional acknowledgement was in a reference to Bishop James Doyle (JKL), who had been the leading intellectual advocate of emancipation and whose restrained liberal demeanour and powerful intellect won him admiration in Westminster. In Ferguson’s article entitled “What Would Machinery Do For Ireland”, Dr Doyle was mentioned favourably in connection with his opinion that to attract investment capital to Ireland the country would require “a well-ordered population”. The author states that “[t]he spread of knowledge will do much towards effecting so desirable an object”, and continues to plead directly with the working classes to abandon combinations and to do everything possible to bring about “a quiet and well-ordered population” in the country.
The notion that the DPJ was directed towards the poor was an idea present from the outset. In the early days the conductors even affected to believe it was read by the rural poor. “Our little journal … is in the hands of the shepherd on the rocks of Magilligan; it is perused by the Kerryman, as he drives home his ‘tiny cattle’ along the sea where frowns Mac Gillicuddy’s Reeks …” But it was only with the arrival of the young and rigorous Ferguson, who was permitted to speak as a conductor, that it was asked whether some of what Otway and Petrie had published was calculated to appeal to a peasant readership and also whether it was likely to prepare peasant readers for an industrialised economy.
The new rigour is reflected in Ferguson’s article “What Kind of Knowledge Would be Most Beneficial to the People of Ireland?” published in April 1833. Clearly, Ferguson had reservations regarding some aspects of Otway and Petrie’s editorship but was reluctant to criticise the older men, whom he undoubtedly admired. The unease is present in the opening sentence.
We are somewhat afraid to attempt to answer the question involved in the title of this article. Conflicting opinions seem to rise before us, and their clashing with each other might well intimidate a bolder mind.
It is a little time before the author summons up his courage. Initially, he offers a clearly expressed account of the journal along the lines of that originally offered by the conductors and without any clear reference to readership. It is explained that the while political and religious information are important, the DPJ is not concerned with their dissemination. The plan, as clearly implied throughout, was “to retreat for a little while into a quiet and calm region, where we may be secure from the noise and strife of the busy world … and enjoy the pleasures which spring from the cultivation of the intellect”. The author soon passes beyond this vague language to criticise “the prevailing taste of the people” and to declare the intention “to point out what we think would have a tendency to correct and improve it”. In this criticism of “the people”, the author is at one with the journal’s long-standing critique of the culture and behaviour of the poor.
However, Ferguson then steps into new territory and argues that the DPJ should not publish fiction, something the Journal had done from the outset. The Irish, it is explained, are an imaginative race: “whatever is exciting in its nature ‑ whatever speaks to the passions, appealing to the hopes, the fears and the sympathies of the soul is received with favour and acceptance.” The author acknowledges that it is not difficult to understand the attraction of stories, which lies deep in human nature and that many have been published in the pages of the DPJ. However, he adds: “No effort of the intellect is required to understand and enjoy a story.” The conductors “all along”, he says, “felt it as a defect in the literary taste of our countrymen that they are excessively fond of works of imagination.” The result of this excessive fondness is “that anything of a calm and purely intellectual nature is passed over, too often with indifference.”
The author agrees with Burke that a good novel is a good book but insists:
… in general mere readers of novels and stories are either persons of imbecile judgement, or they are infected with that mawkish sentimentality which is at once offensive and disgusting to every individual possessing common sense. These observations apply with peculiar force to the species of caricature called ‘Irish legends’.
He expresses regret that the DPJ has published material in this category.
There is no man, however phlegmatic, but would enjoy a laugh over many of those ‘right merry conceits’, which pass current and which are enjoyed with such a peculiar relish by the lovers of fun and rigmarole; yet at the hazard … of condemning our own Penny Journal, which we regard as the apple of our eye, we must censure the indulgence of that vitiated taste which delights in broad grins and caricatured exhibitions of national character and manners; a taste at variance with every just and proper feeling, and which sacrifices to laughter and often unmeaning merriment both truth and reality.
He adds that he has no objection to tales which highlight national peculiarities, but opposes those which are “libels on Irishmen and Irish character which are such favourites with a great mass of the people”. He is not opposed to fiction per se but, in keeping with the philosophy of the DPJ, he does not look favourably on that which comes from the bottom up. Fiction, it seems, should be in the hands of those who can imbue it with the correct moral and historical content.
It would be well if some Irish writers would take a lesson from the late Sir Walter Scott. Where in all the creations of his prolific imagination, do we find him holding up his countrymen to scorn and contempt, as blundering good-natured idiots, or barefaced audacious witty knaves.
Ferguson was himself to attempt the task of becoming an Irish Sir Walter Scott as evidenced, not least in his “Hibernian Nights Entertainments” published between 1834 and 1836 in the DUM.
The author’s reflections on the baleful effect of Irish legends distracted him a little from his subject, in that he was giving his views on what was not useful. He returned then to what was useful. Instead of material which presents the leading national characteristic as “stupid cunning” the author recommends useful knowledge:
the book of creation is unrolled before us; earth, air and ocean has its many wonders and its mighty forms; there are stores of lightning in the clouds of heaven, and caverns of fire in the bowels of the earth; the stars above are looking down with a mild and radiant lustre on our little world; the moon is circling around, and the tides are rushing over the ocean. Oh what a glorious world …
The tone is one of almost romantic transport but, in the end, the key is that scientific material is useful and the worker whose head is full of such knowledge is advantaged and prepared for the industrial world. “The peasantry of Ireland are … sadly deficient in solid, practical information.” The higher ranks of society, not destined for the factory floor and whose minds are not full of reprehensible matter might, it may be concluded, read more widely.
The author then goes on to discuss “[t]he antiquities and ancient literature of our country [which] have occupied no inconsiderable space in this periodical”. He defends the inclusion of such material, which is hardly surprising as the numerous contributions of Petrie in this area were of a high standard and like both Otway and Petrie, Ferguson had a lifelong interest in antiquities.
For Ferguson the ancient history of the country was important and moving. However, he criticises the readers of such material, who he says fall into two categories, those who find it dry and secondly those who “misled by prejudice and prepossession … give ear to fables of the most ridiculous kind, and believe in the existence of individuals who only lived in the brains of chroniclers”. Again the requirement is for such materials to be understood in a manner compatible with particular ideological purposes.
The author does not discuss antiquarian material in relation to the peasantry, who he could hardly imagine were reading such matter. This antiquarian material, much of it written by Petrie, was possibly what won the DPJ its massive readership. Certainly, when under PD Hardy it was reduced, the circulation also fell. The actual readers undoubtedly included liberal Protestants who, like the conductors, were anxious to define a national paradigm friendly to the Protestant tradition but, as the high circulation suggests, a great many were likely to have been supporters of O’Connell and forerunners of those who would read Thomas Davis’s The Nation ten years later.
Ferguson’s unease may have been stimulated by a fear that the historical articles might stimulate objectionable national politics. Speaking of the two sorts of readers, he says:
If we ultimately succeed in establishing in the first class a taste, and a spirit, and a feeling for the antiquities of the country, and in correcting and enlightening the taste and knowledge of the second, we will have effected some good; and we would recommend all our readers to pursue the subject with ardour, to assist in clearing away the mists … and thus endeavour to establish the history of Ireland on the firm basis of truth.
The author ends with the following thoughts, which take him back to the hard core of useful information.
We intended to have talked of Agriculture, of Astronomy, of Chemistry to show their superiority to … that species of dabbling in the classics, to which Irishmen of the lower and middling classes are partial, inasmuch as one fills the mind with ideas, the other with words … In the meantime let the dissemination of useful knowledge be the object of every friend of the country…
In May 1833, as has been noted, one month following Ferguson’s article and two months before the Journal was abandoned, “The Prospects and Duty of Irishmen in Reference to the Acquisition of Useful knowledge”, probably written by Otway and with Petrie’s approval, was published. It is unsigned and may be regarded as the original conductors’ final word and explanation for ceasing the project. It was a few months before PD Hardy took over and it is very likely the decision to cease involvement was taken by this time.
The article explains and justifies the thinking behind the project. Once more it is said that a time of national union is approaching. However, for the first time there is some doubt. The editors admit: “It may be an illusion that the storm is passing away … It may be a dream that men of all parties are drawing nearer to each other, that strong political prejudices are melting away.” There is a tone almost of desperation: “People of Ireland! We would appeal to you. Are ye ignorant of the worth of knowledge, or deficient in zeal for its acquisition?”
It seems that almost a year after its commencement and despite its remarkable circulation, the Dublin Penny Journal had not wrought much by way of change. The zeal for useful knowledge was notable only in its absence. And this, it seems, was because Irish literature was “subservient to strife and division”, which would remain the case until “the humanising influence of the arts and sciences is felt over the entire community” and “philosophy is rescued from its bondage to sectarianism”. But the editors admit that “When the questions which divide classes of men are felt by them to be vitally important, affecting their equality and rights in this world, and their existence as immortal beings in the next”, then literature will reflect those passionate divisions.
“No! there must be calmness, there must be repose, the feeling of exasperation must have passed away.” This thinking seems to acknowledge that the task which the DPJ set itself would remain hopeless until “the hurricane of passion will have abated”. But in Ireland the hurricane rages and, for the moment, defeat is acknowledged:
[I]t would be the fondness of folly to affirm that the acerbities of strife are softened down … It would be an affectation to say that at our approach all classes … receive us with unhesitating cordiality … no! we cannot breathe so freely yet in Ireland.
The final message then, if only implied, is that the Dublin Penny Journal was a premature intervention in Irish cultural life.
Otway and Ferguson were aware of all this for some time. Ferguson first appeared in the DPJ in January 1833, which was the month the first issue of the DUM appeared. Both, along with some enthusiastic young conservatives, invested their money in a journal which would posit no false national unanimity and oppose Catholicism and Catholic Ireland at every turn, in a concerted effort to reinvigorate conservatism throughout Britain and Ireland, which would challenge and reverse the Whig-sponsored democracy and reform threatening the basis of Protestant power and influence in Ireland.
Note on Authorship of Articles Signed “F”.
The study of early nineteenth century periodicals is frustrated by the general preference of contributors for anonymity or semi-anonymity. I am aware of only one scholar who has asked whether the articles signed “F” in the DPJ were written by Ferguson. His simple and unargued answer is “certainly not”. A full demonstration that Ferguson was the author of the contributions in question would require a relatively lengthy treatment, which I hope to offer at some point. In the meantime, it can be said that the attribution of authorship rests on a number of compelling factors including (1) Ferguson’s friendship with and political closeness to both Otway and Petrie. The period when “F” contributed coincided with the appearance of the first volume of the Dublin University Magazine, of which both Otway and Ferguson were founding investors. Clearly, they would have been liaising closely at this period. (2) Accounts of the DPJ published later in the century include Ferguson as a contributor. (3) “F” reveals he spent time in Scotland, as did Ferguson. (4) “F” admired Sir Walter Scott, as did Ferguson. (5) Both “F” and Ferguson supported the introduction of poor laws into Ireland. (The list of similarities could no doubt be extended.) (6) Ferguson is widely acknowledged as having contributed to Petrie’s Irish Penny Journal in 1840. These contributions are signed “F”. (7) If the author was not Ferguson, it follows that there was an unknown and mysterious figure, capable of writing excellent prose, who contributed to the DPJ and who was permitted to employ an editorial voice. Given the extent of secondary nineteenth century sources on the pre-Famine literary world, the existence of such an unacknowledged and mysterious figure seems highly unlikely.
Ferguson is often seen as a precursor of the early twentieth century literary revival. Arguably, it is more appropriate to situate him in the quite separate literary movement of the pre-Famine period. This was a movement where literary figures engaged unabashedly with socio-economic questions. Yeats, looking back on the era, said dismissively “The air was full of mere debaters’ points”. The times he lived in were different and his genius, like that of many others from his time, did not extend to economics. The time of “mere debaters’ points” was a time when the population of Ireland was around eight million. Intellectuals of virtually all hues were struggling to discover politically acceptable ways to preserve this population and protect it and the country from the various disasters which threatened. Even the poets were economically literate and engaged.
Maurice Earls is joint editor of the Dublin Review of Books.