The Irish Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Two Days in Wicklow.

The little tour we have just been taking has been performed, not only by myriads of the “car-drivingest, tay-drinkingest, say-bathingest people in the world,” the inhabitants of the city of Dublin, but also by all the tourists who have come to discover this country for the benefit of the English nation. “Look here! “ says the ragged, bearded genius of a guide at the Seven Churches. “This is the spot which Mr. Henry Inglis particularly admired, and said it was exactly like Norway. Many’s the song I’ve heard Mr. Sam Lover sing here — a pleasant gentleman entirely. Have you seen my picture that’s taken off in Mrs. Hall’s book? All the strangers know me by it, though it makes me much cleverer than I am.” Similar tales has he of Mr. Barrow, and the Transatlantic Willis, and of Crofton Croker, who has been everywhere

The guide’s remarks concerning the works of these gentlemen inspired me, I must confess, with considerable disgust and jealousy. A plague take them! what remains for me to discover after the gallant adventurers in the service of Paternoster Row have examined every rock, lake, and ruin of the district, exhausted it of all its legends, and “invented new” most likely as their daring genius prompted? Hence it follows that the description of the two days’ jaunt must of necessity be short; lest persons who have read former accounts should be led to refer to the same, and make comparisons which might possibly be unfavourable to the present humble pages.

Is there anything new to be said regarding the journey? In the first place, there’s the railroad: it’s no longer than the railroad to Greenwich, to be sure, and almost as well known; but has it been done? that’s the question; or has anybody discovered the dandies on the railroad?

After wondering at the beggars and carmen of Dublin, the stranger can’t help admiring another vast and numerous class of inhabitants of the city — namely, the dandies. Such a number of smartly-dressed young fellows I don’t think any town possesses: no, not Paris, where the young shopmen, with spurs and stays, may be remarked strutting abroad on f6te-days; nor London, where on Sundays, in the Park, you see thousands of this cheap kind of aristocracy parading; nor Liverpool, famous for the breed of commercial dandies, desk and counter D’Orsays and cotton and sugar-barrel Brummels, and whom one remarks pushing on to business with a brisk determined air. All the above races are only to be encountered on holidays, except by those persons whose affairs take them to shops, docks, or counting-houses, where these fascinating young fellows labour during the week.

But the Dublin breed of dandies is quite distinct from those of the various cities above named, and altogether superior: for they appear every day, and all day long not once a week merely, and have an original and splendid character and appearance of their own, very hard to describe, though no doubt every traveller, as well as myself, has admired and observed it. They assume a sort of military and ferocious look, not observable in other cheap dandies, except in Paris perhaps now and then; and are to be remarked not so much for the splendour of their ornaments as for the profusion of them. Thus, for instance, a hat which is worn straight over the two eyes costs very likely more than one which hangs upon one ear; a great oily bush of hair to balance the hat (otherwise the head no doubt would call hopelessly on one side) is even more economical than a crop which requires the barber’s scissors oft-times; also a tuft on the chin may be had at a small expense of bear’s -grease by persons of a proper age; and although big pins are the fashion, I am bound to say I have never seen so many or so big as here. Large agate marbles or “taws” globes terrestrial and celestial, pawnbrokers’ balls, — I cannot find comparisons large enough for these wonderful ornaments of the person. Canes also should be mentioned, which are sold very splendid, with gold or silver heads, for a shilling on the Quays; and the dandy not uncommonly finishes off with a horn quizzing-glass, which being stuck in one eye contracts the brows and gives a fierce determined look to the whole countenance.

In idleness at least these young men can compete with the greatest lords; and the wonder is, how the city can support so many of them, or they themselves; how they manage to spend their time; who gives them money to ride hacks in the “Phaynix on field and race days; to have boats at Kingstown during the summer; and to be crowding the railway-coaches all the day long? Cars go whirling about all day, bearing squads of them. You see them sauntering at all the railway-stations in vast numbers, and jumping out of the carriages, as the trains come up, and greeting other dandies with that rich large brogue which some actor ought to make known to the English public: it being the biggest, richest, and coarsest of all the brogues of Ireland.

I think these dandies are the chief objects which arrest the stranger’s attention as he travels on the Kingstown railroad, and 1 have always been so much occupied in watching and wondering at them as scarcely to have leisure to look at any-thing else during the pretty little ride of twenty minutes so beloved by every Dublin cockney. The waters of the bay wash in many places the piers on which the railway is built, and you see the calm stretch of water beyond, and the big purple hill of Howth, and the lighthouses, and the jetties, and the shipping. Yesterday was a boat-race, (I don’t know how many scores of such take place during the season,) and you may be sure there were tens of thousands of the dandies to look on. There had been boat-races the two days previous: before that, had been a field day — before that, three days of garrison races — to-day, to-morrow, and the day after, there are races at Howth. There seems some sameness in the sports, but everybody goes: everybody is never tired; and then, I suppose, comes the punch-party, and the song in the evening-the same old pleasures, and the same old songs the next day, and so on to the end. As for the boat-race, I saw two little boats in the distance tugging away for dear life — the beach and piers swarming with spectators, the bay full of small yachts and innumerable row-boats, and in the midst of the assemblage a convict-ship lying ready for sail, with a black mass of poor wretches on her deck — who, too, were eager for pleasure.

Who is not, in this country? Walking away from the pier and King George’s column, you arrive upon rows after rows of pleasure-houses, whither all Dublin flocks during the summer-time-for every one must have his sea-bathing; and they say that the country houses to the west of the town are empty, or to be had for very small prices, while for those on the coast, especially towards Kingstown, there is the readiest sale at large prices. I have paid frequent visits to one, of which the rent is as great as that of a tolerable London house; and there seem to be others suited to all purses: for instance, there are long lines of two-roomed houses, stretching far back and away from the sea, accommodating, doubtless, small commercial men, or small families, or some of those travelling dandies we have just been talking about, and whose costume is so cheap and so splendid.

A two-horse car, which will accommodate twelve, or will condescend to receive twenty passengers, starts from the railway station for Bray, running along the coast for the chief part of the journey, though you have but few views of the sea, on account of intervening woods and hills. The whole of this country is covered with handsome villas and their gardens, and pleasure-grounds. There are round many of the houses parks of some extent, and always of considerable beauty, among the trees of which the road winds. New churches are likewise to be seen in various places; built like the poor-houses, that are likewise everywhere springing up, pretty much upon one plan — a sort of bastard or Vauxhall Gothic — resembling no architecture of any age previous to that when Horace Walpole invented the Castle of Otranto and the other monstrosity upon Strawberry Hill though it must be confessed that those on the Bray line are by no means so imaginative. Well, what matters, say you, that the churches be ugly, if the truth is preached within? Is it not fair, however, to say that Beauty is the truth too, of its kind? and why should it not be cultivated as well as other truth? Why build these hideous barbaric temples, when at the expense of a little study and taste beautiful structures might be raised?

After leaving Bray, with its pleasant bay, and pleasant river, and pleasant inn, the little Wicklow tour may be said to commence properly; and, as that romantic and beautiful country has been described many times in familiar terms, our only chance is to speak thereof in romantic and beautiful language, such as no other writer can possibly have employed.

We rang at the gate of the steward’s lodge and said, “Grant us a pass, we pray, to see the parks of Powerscourt, and to behold the brown deer upon the grass, and the cool shadows under the whispering trees.”

But the steward’s son answered, “You may not see the parks of Powerscourt, for the lord of the castle comes home, and we expect him daily.” So, wondering at this reply, but not understanding the same, we took leave of the son of the steward and said, “No doubt Powerscourt is not fit to see. Have we not seen parks in England, my brother, and shall we break our hearts that this Irish one bath its gates closed to us?”

Then the car-boy said, “My lords, the park is shut, but the waterfall runs for every man; will it please you to see the waterfall?” “Boy,” we replied, “we have seen many waterfalls nevertheless, lead on!” And the boy took his pipe out of his mouth and belaboured the ribs of his beast.

And the horse made believe, as it were, to trot, and jolted the ardent travellers; and we passed the green trees of Tinnehinch, which the grateful Irish nation bought and consecrated to the race of Grattan; and we said, “What nation will spend fifty thousand pounds for our benefit?” and we wished we might get it; and we passed on. The birds were, meanwhile, chanting concerts in the woods; and the sun was double-gilding the golden corn.

And we came to a hill, which was steep and long of descent; and the car-boy said, “My lords, I may never descend this hill with safety to your honours’ bones; for my horse is not sure of foot, and loves to kneel in the highway. Descend therefore, and I will await your return on the top of the hill.”

So we descended, and one grumbled greatly; but the other said, “Sir, be of good heart! the way is pleasant, and the footman will not weary as he travels it.” And we went through the swinging gates of the park, where the harvestmen sat at their potatoes — a mealy meal.

The way was not short, as the companion said, but still it was a pleasant way to walk. Green stretches of grass were there, and a forest nigh at hand. It was but September: yet the autumn had already begun to turn the green trees into red; and the ferns that were waving underneath the trees were reddened and fading too. And as Dr. Jones’s boys of a Saturday disport in the meadows after school-hours, so did the little clouds run races over the waving grass. And as grave ushers who look on smiling at the sports of these little ones, so stood the old trees around the green, whispering and nodding to one another.

Purple mountains rose before us in front, and we began presently to hear a noise and roaring afar off — not a fierce roaring, but one deep and calm, like to the respiration of the great sea, as he lies basking on the sands in the sunshine.

And we came soon to a little hillock of green, which was standing before a huge mountain of purple black, and there were white clouds over the mountains, and some trees waving on the hillock, and between the trunks of them we saw the waters of the waterfall descending; and there was a snob on a rock, who stood and examined the same.

Then we approached the water, passing the clump of oak trees. The waters were white, and the cliffs which they varnished were purple. But those round about were grey, tall, and gay with blue shadows, and ferns, heath, and rusty-coloured funguses sprouting here and there in the same. But in the ravine where the waters fell, roaring as it were with the fall, the rocks were dark, and the foam of the cataract was of a yellow colour. And we stood, and were silent, and wondered. And still the trees continued to wave, and the waters to roar and tumble, and the sun to shine, and the fresh wind to blow.

And we stood and looked: and said in our hearts it was beautiful, and bethought us hw shall all this be set down in types and ink? (for our trade is to write books and sell the same — a chapter for a guinea, a line for a penny); and the waterfall roared in answer, “For shame, o vain man! think not of thy books and of thy pence now; but look on, and wonder, and be silent. Can types or ink describe my beauty, though aided by thy small wit? I am made for thee to praise and wonder at: be content, and cherish thy wonder. It is enough that thou hast seen a great thing: is it needful that thou shouldst prate of all thou hast seen?”

So we came away silently, and walked through the park without looking back. And there was a man at the gate, who opened it and seemed to say, “Give me a little sixpence.” But we gave nothing, and walked up the hill, which was sore to climb; and on the summit found the car-boy, who was lolling on his cushions and smoking, as happy as a lord.

Quitting the waterfall at Powerscourt (the grand style in which it has been described was adopted in order that the reader, who has probably read other descriptions of the spot, might have at least something new in this account of it), we speedily left behind us the rich and wooded tract of country about Powerscourt, and came to a bleak tract, which, perhaps by way of contrast with so much natural wealth, is not unpleasing, and began ascending what is very properly called the

Long Hill. Here you see, in the midst of the loneliness, a grim-looking barrack, that was erected when, after the Rebellion, it was necessary for some time to occupy this most rebellious country: and a church, looking equally dismal, a lean-looking sham Gothic building, in the midst of this green desert. The road to Luggala, whither we were bound, turns off the Long Hill, up another Hill, which seems still longer and steeper, inasmuch as it was ascended perforce on foot, and over lonely boggy moorlands, enlivened by a huge grey boulder plumped here and there, and comes, one wonders how, to the spot close to this hill of Slievebuck, is marked in the maps a district called “the uninhabited country,” and these stones probably fell at a period of time when not only this district, but all the world was uninhabited, — and in some convulsion of the neighbouring mountains this and other enormous rocks were cast abroad.

From behind one of them, or out of the ground somehow, as we went up the hill, sprang little ragged guides, who are always lurking about in search of stray pence from tourists; and we had three or four of such at our back by the time we were at the top of the hill. Almost the first sight we saw was a smart coach and-four, with a loving wedding-party within, and a genteel valet and lady’s -maid without. I wondered had they been burying their modest loves in the uninhabited district? But presently, from the top of the hill, I saw the place in which their honeymoon had been passed: nor could any pair of lovers, nor a pious hermit bent on retirement from the world, have selected a more sequestered spot.

Standing by a big shining granite stone on the hill-top, we looked immediately down upon Lough Tay — a little round lake of half a mile in length, which lay beneath us as black as a pool of ink — a high, crumbling, white-sided mountain falling abruptly into it on the side opposite to us, with a huge ruin of shattered rocks at its base. Northwards, we could see between mountains a portion of the neighbouring lake of Lough Dan — which, too, was dark, though the Annamoe river, which connects the two lakes, lay coursing through the greenest possible flats and shining as bright as silver. Brilliant green shores, too, come gently down to the southern side of Lough Tay; through these runs another river, with a small rapid or fall, which makes a music for the lake; and here, amidst beautiful woods, lies a villa, where the four horses, the groom and valet, the postilions, and the young couple had, no doubt, been hiding themselves.

Hereabouts, the owner of the villa, Mr. Latouche, has a great grazing establishment; and some herd-boys, no doubt seeing strangers on the hill, thought proper that the cattle should stray that way, that they might drive them back again, and parenthetically ask the travellers for money, — everybody asks travellers for money, as it seems. Next day, admiring in a labourer’s arms a little child — his master’s son, who could not speak — the laborer, his he-nurse, spoke for him, and demanded a little sixpence to buy the child apples. One grows not a little callous to this sort of beggary: and the only one of our numerous young guides who got a reward was the raggedest of them. He and his companions had just come from school, he said, — not a Government school, but a private one, where they paid. I asked how much, — “Was it a penny a week?” “No not a penny a week, but so much at the end of the year.” “Was it a barrel of meal, or a few stone of potatoes, or something of that sort? “ “Yes; something of that sort.”

The something must, however, have been a very small something on the poor lad’s part. He was one of four young ones, who lived with their mother, a widow. He had no work; he could get no work; nobody had work. His mother had a cabin with no land — not a perch of land, no potatoes-nothing but the cabin. How did they live? — the mother knitted stockings. I asked had she any stockings at home? — the boy said, “No.” How did he live? — he lived how he could; and we gave him threepence, with which, in delight, he went bounding off to the poor mother. Gracious heavens what a history to hear, told by a child looking quite cheerful as he told it, and as if the story was quite a common one. And a common one, too, it is and God forgive us.

Here is another, and of a similar low kind, but rather pleasanter. We asked the car-boy how much he earned. He said, “Seven shillings a week, and his chances” — which, in the summer season, from the number of tourists who are jolted in his car, must be tolerably good-eight or nine shillings a week more, probably. But, he said, in winter his master did not hire him for the car; and he was obliged to look for work elsewhere: as for saving, he never had saved a shilling in his life.

We asked him was he married? and he said, No, but he was as good as married; for he had an old mother and four little brothers to keep, and six mouths to feed, and to dress himself decent to drive the gentlemen. Was not the “as good as married” a pretty expression? and might not some of what are called their betters learn a little good from these simple poor creatures? There’s many a young fellow who sets up in the world would think it rather hard to have four brothers to support; and I have heard more than one genteel Christian pining over five hundred a year. A few such may read this, perhaps let them think of the Irish widow with the four children and nothing, and at least be more contented with their port and sherry and their leg of mutton.

This brings us at once to the subject of dinner and the little village, Roundwood, which was reached by this time, lying a few miles off from the lakes, and reached by a road not particularly remarkable for any picturesqueness in beauty; though you pass through a simple, pleasing landscape, always agreeable as a repose, I think, after viewing a sight so beautiful as those mountain lakes we have just quitted. All the hills up which we had panted had imparted a fierce sensation of hunger; and it was nobly decreed that we should stop in the middle of the street of Roundwood, impartially between the two hotels, and solemnly decide upon a resting-place after having inspected the larders and bedrooms of each.

And here, as an impartial writer, I must say that the hotel of Mr. Wheatly possesses attractions which few men can resist, in the shape of two very hand some young ladies his daughters; whose faces, were they but painted on his signboard, instead of the mysterious piece which ornaments it, would infallibly draw tourists into the house, thereby giving the opposition inn of Murphy not the least chance of custom.

A landlord’s daughters in England, inhabiting a little country inn, would be apt to lay the cloth for the traveller, and their respected father would bring in the first dish of the dinner; but this arrangement is never known in Ireland: we scarcely ever see the cheering countenance of my landlord. And as for the young ladies of Roundwood, I am bound to say that no young persons in Baker Street could be more genteel; and that our bill, when it was brought the next morning, was written in as pretty and fashionable a lady’s hand as ever was formed in the most elegant finishing school at Pimlico.

Of the dozen houses of the village, the half seem to be houses of entertainment. A green common stretches before these, with its rural accompaniments of geese, pigs, and idlers; a park and plantation at the end of the village, and plenty of trees round about it, give it a happy, comfortable, English look; which is, to my notion, the best compliment that can be paid to a hamlet: for where, after all, are villages so pretty?

Here, rather to one’s wonder-for the district was not thickly enough populated to encourage dramatic exhibitions — a sort of theatre was erected on the common, a ragged cloth covering the spectators and the actors, and the former (if there were any) obtaining admittance through two doors on the stage in front, marked “PIT & GALERY.” Why should the word not be spelt with one L as with two?

The entrance to the “pit” was stated to be threepence, and to the “galery” twopence. We heard the drums and pipes of the orchestra as we sat at dinner: it seemed to be a good opportunity to examine Irish humour of a peculiar sort, and we promised ourselves a pleasant evening in the pit.

But although the drums began to beat at half-past six, and a crowd of young people formed round the ladder at that hour, to whom the manager of the troop addressed the most vehement invitations to enter, nobody seemed to be inclined to mount the steps: for the fact most likely was, that not one of the poor fellows possessed the requisite twopence which would induce the fat old lady who sat by it to fling open the gallery door. At one time I thought of offering a half a crown for a purchase of tickets for twenty, and so at once benefiting the manager and the crowd of ragged urchins who stood wistfully without his pavilion; but it seemed ostentatious, and we had not the courage to face the tall man in the great coat gesticulating and shouting in front of the stage, and make the proposition.

Why not? It would have given the company potatoes at least for supper, and made a score of children happy. They would have seen “the learned pig who spells your name, the feats of manly activity, the wonderful Italian vaulting;” and they would have heard the comic songs by “your humble servant.”

“Your humble servant” was the head of the troop: a long man, with a broad accent, a yellow top coat, and a piteous lean face. What a speculation was this poor fellow’s! he must have a company of at least a dozen to keep. There were three girls in trousers, who danced in front of the stage, in Polish caps, tossing their arms about to the tunes of three musicianers; there was a page, two young tragedy-actors, and a clown; there was the fat old woman at the gallery door waiting for the twopences; there was the Jack Pudding; and it was evident that there must have been some one within, or else who would take care of the learned pig?

The poor manager stood in front, and shouted to the little Irishry beneath; but no one seemed to move. Then he brought forward Jack Pudding, and had a dialogue with him; the jocularity of which, by heavens! made the heart ache to hear. We had determined, at least, to go to the play before that, but the dialogue was too much: we were obliged to walk away, unable to face that dreadful Jack Pudding, and heard the poor manager shouting still for many hours through the night, and the drums thumping vain invitations to the people. O unhappy children of the Hibernian Thespis! it is my belief that they must have eaten the learned pig that night for supper.

It was Sunday morning when we left the little inn at Round-wood: the people were flocking in numbers to church, on cars and pillions, neat, comfortable, and well-dressed. We saw in this country more health, more beauty, and more shoes than I have remarked in any quarter. That famous resort of sightseers, the Devil’s Glen, lies at a few miles’ distance from the little village; and, having gone on the car as near to the spot as the road permitted, we made across the fields-boggy, stony, ill-tilled fields they were — for about a mile, at the end of which walk we found ourselves on the brow of the ravine that has received so ugly a name.

Is there a legend about the place? No doubt for this, as for almost every other natural curiosity in Ireland, there is some tale of monk, saint, fairy, or devil; but our guide on the present day was a barrister from Dublin, who did not deal in fictions by any means so romantic, and the history, whatever it was, remained untold. Perhaps the little breechesless cicerone who offered himself would have given us the story, but we dismissed the urchin with scorn, and had to find our own way through bush and bramble down to the entrance of the gully.

Here we came on a cataract, which looks very big in Messrs. Curry’s pretty little Guide-book (that every traveller to Wicklow will be sure to have in his pocket); but the waterfall, on this shining Sabbath morning, was disposed to labour as little as possible, and indeed is a spirit of a very humble, ordinary sort.

But there is a ravine of a mile and a half, through which a river runs roaring (a lady who keeps. the gate will not object to receive a gratuity) — there is a ravine, or Devil’s glen, which forms a delightful wild walk, and where a Methuselah of a landscape-painter might find studies for all his life long. All sorts of foliage and colour, all sorts of delightful caprices of light and shadow — the river tumbling and frothing amidst the boulders — “raucum per laevia murmur saxa clens,” and a chorus of 150,000 birds (there might be more), hopping, twittering, singing under the clear cloudless Sabbath scene, make this walk one of the most delightful that can be taken; and indeed I hope there is no harm in saying that you may get as much out of an hour’s walk there as out of the best hour’s extempore preaching. But this was as a salvo to our conscience for not being at church.

Here, however, was a long aisle, arched gothically overhead, in a much better taste than is seen in some of those dismal new churches; and, by way of painted glass, the sun lighting up multitudes of various-coloured leaves, and the birds for choristers, and the river by way of organ, and in it stones enough to make a whole library of sermons. No man can walk in such a place without feeling grateful, and grave, and humble; and without thanking heaven for it as he comes away. And, walking and musing in this free, happy place, one could not help thinking of a million and a half of brother cockneys shut up in their huge prison (the tread-mill for the day being idle), and told by some legislators that relaxation is sinful, that works of art are abominations except on week-days, and that their proper place of resort is a dingy tabernacle, where a loud-voiced man is howling about hell-fire in bad grammar. Is not this beautiful world, too, a part of our religion? Yes, truly, in whatever way my Lord John Russell may vote; and it is to be learned without having recourse to any professor at any Bethesda, Ebenezer, or Jerusalem: there can be no mistake about it; no terror, no bigoted dealing of damnation to one’s neighbour: it is taught without false emphasis or vain spouting on the preacher’s part-how should there be such with such a preacher?

This wild onslaught upon sermons and preachers needs perhaps an explanation: for which purpose we must whisk back out of the Devil’s Glen (improperly so named) to Dublin, and to this day week, when, at this very time, I heard one of the first preachers of the city deliver a sermon that lasted for an hour and twenty minutes — time enough to walk up the Glen and back, and remark a thousand delightful things by the way.

Mr. G—’s church (though there would be no harm in mentioning the gentleman’s name, for a more conscientious and excellent man, as it is said, cannot be) is close by the Custom House in Dublin, and crowded morning and evening with his admirers. The service was beautifully read by him, and the audience joined in the responses, and in the psalms and hymns, [Here is an extract from one of the latter -

“Hasten to some distant isle,

In the bosom of the deep,

Where the skies for ever smile,

And the blacks forever weep.”

Is it not a shame that such nonsensical twaddle should be sung in a house of the Church of England, and by people assembled for grave and decent worship.] with a fervour which is very unusual in England. Then came the sermon; and what more can be said of it than that it was extempore, and lasted for an hour and twenty minutes? The orator never failed once for a word, so amazing is his practice; though, as a stranger to this kind of exercise, I could not help trembling for the performer, as one has for Madame Saqui on the slack-rope, in the midst of a blaze of rockets and squibs, expecting every minute she must go over. But the artist was too skilled for that; and after some tremendous bound of a metaphor, in the midst of which you expect he must tumble neck and heels, and be engulfed in the dark abyss of nonsense, down he was sure to come, in a most graceful attitude too, in the midst of a fluttering “Ah!” from a thousand wondering people.

But I declare solemnly that when I came to try and recollect of what the exhibition consisted, and give an account of the sermon at dinner that evening, it was quite impossible to remember a word of it; although, to do the orator justice, he repeated many of his opinions a great number of times oven Thus, if he had to discourse of death to us, it was, “At the approach of the Dark Angel of the Grave,” “At the coming of the grim King of Terrors,” “At the warning of that awful Power to whom all of us must bow down,” “At the summons of that Pallid Spectre whose equal foot knocks at the monarch’s tower or the poor man’s cabin “-and so forth. There is an examiner of plays, and indeed there ought to be an examiner of sermons, by which audiences are to be fully as much inured or misguided as by the other named exhibitions. What call have reverend gentlemen to repeat their dicta half a dozen times over, like Sir Robert Peel when he says anything that he fancies to be witty? Why are men to be kept for an hour and twenty minutes listening to that which may be more effectually said in twenty? And it need not be said here that a church is not a sermon-house — that it is devoted to a purpose much more lofty and sacred, for which has been set apart the noblest service, every single word of which latter has been previously weighed with the most scrupulous and thoughtful reverence. And after this sublime work of genius, learning, and piety is concluded, is it not a shame that a man should mount a desk, who has not taken the trouble to arrange his words beforehand, and speak thence his crude opinions in his doubtful grammar? It will be answered that the extempore preacher does not deliver crude opinions, but that he arranges his discourse beforehand: to all which it which it may be replied that Mr. — contradicted himself more than once in the course of the above oration, and repeated himself a half-dozen of times. A man in that place has no right to say a word too much or too little.

And it comes to this, — it is the preacher the people follow, not the prayers; or why is this church more frequented than any other? It is that warm emphasis, and word-mouthing, and vulgar imagery, and glib rotundity of phrase, which brings them together and keeps them happy and breathless. Some of this class call the Cathedral Service Paddy’s Opera; they say it is Popish — downright scarlet — they won’t go to it. They will have none but their own hymns — and pretty they are — no ornaments but those of their own minister, his rank incense and tawdry rhetoric. Coming out of the church, on the Custom House steps hard by, there was a fellow with a bald large forehead, a new black coat, a little Bible, spouting-spouting “in omne volubilis aevum” — the very counterpart of the reverend gentleman hard by. It was just the same thing, just as well done the eloquence quite as easy and round, the amplification as ready, the big words rolling round the tongue just as within doors. But we are out of the Devil’s Glen by this time; and perhaps, instead of delivering a sermon there, we had better have been at church hearing one.

The country people, however, are far more pious; and the road along which we went to Glendalough was thronged with happy figures of people plodding to or from mass. A chapel-yard was covered with grey cloaks; and at a little inn hard by, stood numerous carts, cars, shandrydans, and pillioned horses, awaiting the end of the prayers. The aspect of the country is wild, and beautiful of course; but why try to describe it? I think the Irish scenery just like the Irish melodies — sweet, wild, and sad even in the sunshine. You can neither represent one nor the other by words; but I am sure if one could translate “The Meeting of the Waters “ into form and colours, it would fall into the exact shape of a tender Irish landscape. So take and play that tune upon your fiddle, and shut your eyes, and muse a little, and you have the whole scene before you.

I don’t know if there is any tune about Glendalough; but if there be, it must be the most delicate, fantastic, fairy melody that ever was played. Only fancy can describe the charms of that delightful place. Directly you see it, it smiles at you as innocent and friendly as a little child; and once seen, it becomes your friend forever, and you are always happy when you think of it. Here is a little lake, and little fords across it, surrounded by little mountains, and which lead you now to little islands where there are all sorts of fantastic little old chapels and graveyards; or, again, into little brakes and shrubberies where small rivers are crossing over little rocks, plashing and jumping, and singing as loud as ever they can. Thomas Moore has written rather an awful description of it; and it may indeed appear big to him, and to the fairies who must have inhabited the place in old days, that’s clear. For who could be accommodated in it except the little people?

There are seven churches, whereof the clergy must have been the smallest persons, and have had the smallest benefices and the littlest congregations ever known. As for the cathedral, what a bishoplet it must have been that presided there. The place would hardly hold the Bishop of London, or Mr. Sydney Smith — two full-sized clergymen of these days — who would be sure to quarrel there for want of room, or for any other reason. There must have been a dean no bigger than Mr. Moore before mentioned, and a chapter no bigger than that chapter in “Tristram Shandy” which does not contain a single word, and mere popguns of canons, and a beadle about as tall as Crofton Croker, to whip the little boys who were playing at taw (with peas) in the yard.

They say there was a university, too, in the place, with I don’t know how many thousand scholars; but for accounts of this there is an excellent guide on the spot, who, for a shilling or two, will tell all he knows, and a great deal more too. There are numerous legends, too, concerning St. Kevin, and Fin MacCoul and the Devil, and the deuce knows what. But these stories are, I am bound to say, abominably stupid and stale; and some guide [It must he said, for the worthy fellow who accompanied us, and who acted as cicerone previously to the great Willis, the great Hall, the great Barrow, that though he wears a ragged coat his manners are those of a gentleman, and his conversation evinces no small talent, taste, and scholarship.] ought to be seized upon and choked, and flung into the lake, by way of warning to the others to stop their interminable prate. This is the curse attending curiosity, for visitors to most all the show-places in the country: you have not only the guide — who himself talks too much-but a string of ragged amateurs, starting from bush and briar, ready to carry his honour’s umbrella or my lady’s cloak, or to help either up a bank or across a stream. And all the while they look wistfully in your face, saying, “Give me Sixpence!” as clear as looks can speak. The unconscionable rogues! how dare they, for the sake of a little starvation or so, interrupt gentlefolks in their pleasure!

A long tract of wild country, with a park or two here and there, a police-barrack perched on a hill, a half-starved looking church stretching its long scraggy steeple over a wide plain, mountains whose base is richly cultivated while their tops are purple and lonely, warm cottages and farms nestling at the foot of the bills, and humble cabins here and there on the wayside, accompany the car, that jingles back over fifteen miles of ground through Inniskerry to Dray. You pass by wild gaps and Greater and Lesser Sugar Loaves; and about eight o’clock, when the sky is quite red with sunset, and the long shadows are of such a purple as (they may say what they like) Claude could no more paint than I can, you catch a glimpse of the sea beyond Bray, and crying out, “θάλαra!, θάλαra!” affect to be wondrously delighted by the sight of that element.

The fact is, however, that at Bray is one of the best inns in Ireland; and there you may be perfectly sure is a good dinner ready, five minutes after the honest car-boy, with innumerable hurroos and smacks of his whip, has brought up his passengers to the door with a gallop.

*

As for the Vale of Avoca, I have not described that: because (as has been before occasionally remarked) it is vain to attempt to describe natural beauties; and because, secondly (though this is a minor consideration), we did not go thither. But we went on another day to the Dargle, and to Shanganah, and the city of Cabinteely, and to the Scalp — that wild pass: and I have no more to say about them than about the Vale of Avoca. The Dublin Cockney, who has these places at his door, knows them quite well: and as for the Londoner, who is meditating a trip to the Rhine for the summer, or to Brittany or Normandy, let us beseech him to see his own country first (if Lord Lyndhurst will allow us to call this a part of it); and it after twenty-four hours of an easy journey from London, the Cockney be not placed in the midst of a country as beautiful, as strange to him, as romantic as the most imaginative man on ‘Change can desire, — may this work be praised by the critics all round and never reach a second edition

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/irish/chapter24.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07