« AnteriorContinuar »
DUBLIN, IN 1822.. Dublin is a miniature of London : it is built like a metropolis, and has its squares and great streets. It is not like any of the great provincial towns which are places of trade, and only inhabited by persons more or less directly connected with trade ; nor is it, like Bath, a great theatre of amusement. It exhibits the same variety of ranks as London. It has its little court, its viceroy, with all the attendants upon his reflected royalty ; it has its little aristocracy and its leaders of bon ton; it has its corporation; it has its Lord Mayor, and all the pageantry of city grandeur ; it has its manufacturing, its mercantile, and its monied interests: it is the Westminster of Ireland, and is accordingly the locus in quo of judges, barristers, attorneys, &c. Almost every thing we find in London may be found also in Dublin. The difference is but in degree, and the similitude may be traced in the minutest details. Dublin has its club-rooms, just as we have our's in St. James'sstreet; there are also balls on the same aristocratic plan as ours at Almack's; and the gardens attached to the Rotunda are, during the season, lighted up in humble and distant imitation of Vauxhall. Dublin too resembles the English capital in its ebbs and flows. · At the commencement of the long vacation the gentlemen of the long robe take wing, and the whole moveable population disembogues itself into the cottages, villas, and mansions which line the Bay. Before the Union the resemblance was, no doubt, more complete ; and the state of society then existing must have been exceedingly worthy of observation, and the varieties it presented highly entertaining. The recollections of this period cherished by the elder inhabitants of Dublin are very lively, and their representations of the great excitement and festivity which prevailed are probably correct. While the rich nobles and gentry were attending in their places in the parliament, all was gaiety and animation. The wealth which was necessarily diffused, increased the shrewdness and enlivened the humour of the most quickwitted people of Europe. The very chairmen, porters, and shoe-blacks (a fraternity now, alas! nearly extinct) partook the general hilarity, and cracked such jokes and said such excellent things as they are now seldom heard to utter. The mob, previous to the extinction of the Irish parliament, took a warm interest in the subjects of its debates, which were of a popular nature; and several choice spirits arose, whose feats and prowess are recorded in many a ballad and ditty. Parties ran high, and one quarter of the city was sometimes arrayed against the other. The coal-porters were at one time at variance with the weavers of the Liberty ; the burden of their war-cry ran thus :
“ We'll not leave a weaver alive in the Combe*,
We'll cut their west, and we'll break their loom.” But the feuds of the coal-porters and weavers are now nearly forgotten. Had they not had a bard, we should not now have mentioned them. At this period a slang arose, and very generally prevailed amongst the
* The Combe in Dublin is near St. Patrick's (Swift's !) cathedral; the situation is a low one, and we presume that it should properly be spelled without the final e.Sce Johnson's Dictionary, v. Comb, and Camden's Britannia, by Gibson.
lower orders, which was of a most curious character, and which gave additional zest to their farcical sayings and jests. The dialogue between two shoeblacks playing pitch and toss, which appeared in Edgeworth's Irish Bulls, is exquisite in its kind. What dandy of the highest water could make a proposition to a brother fop in a finer spirit of enjouement than that conveyed in the phrase—“Tim, will you sky a copper ?" and the glorious conclusion spoken in a tone of such profligate valour, and "So I gives it him, plaise your honour, into the bread-basket with my bread-winner (knife) up to the Lampsey (maker's name)!” Even better than this we deem“ The night before Larry was stretched,” one of the best slang songs ever made. In the records of Irish crime such offenders as Larry are often found. Our Old Bailey culprits are dark, gloomy knaves; but the Irish rogues are all Macheaths and Don Juans in their way, "gay, bold, dashing villains." An Irishman was asked by an acquaintance one day why he looked so sad. “ Ah !" was his reply, “I have just taken leave for ever of one of the pleasantest fellows, a friend of mine, whom the world ever saw."
“ How, for ever?”—“Yes, for ever; he's to be hanged to-day for burglary!" It was a fact that this gentleman, now enjoying name and station, used to frequent the Dublin Newgate, and found his boon companions among some of its inmates ; and certainly those who have a stomach strong enough for coarse low humour, could not make a better selection.
While Dublin was the seat of legislature, there was a great commisture of the Bar with the members of the House of Commons: almost every lawyer of any eminence had a seat in parliament; the scene was a strange one. Not merely all interests, but all the varieties of human character had their suitable representations. In the British House of Commons the active men are all endowed with much the same qualities: there is some small distinction between the great orators and the men of business ; every man is expected, however, to exhibit good sense and information. In the Irish parliament it was not so.
Business was carried on there in every possible diversity of means. There were the fighting members, ready to take off an obnoxious man if he did but “ bite his thumb ;" there were the jokers, who prostrated a foe with a bon mot, or a sneer at his expense; there were the vehement declaimers, whose weapon was inyective, and who levelled abuse at him whose views and reasonings they could not impugn. Let any one look to the Irish debates, and he will find ample fund for astonishment. The entire city used to be pervaded with anxiety upon the subject under discussion in the house. Multitudes used to throng its avenues and cheer the popular members. All this is now past, and the scene is comparatively dull; but there is yet much in Dublin to repay enquiry skilfully directed, and to excite interest. The great proprietors no longer residing in Dublin, the first place in society has naturally devolved to the Bar, which, generally speaking, is held in higher estimation in Ireland than in this country. The profession is by no means so much detached as here, and a counsellor, as he is termed, is expected to be not merely acquainted with law, but to be well-informed on every subject, and he is accordingly regarded as an authority upon all points. An English practitioner would be much surprised at the course of an Irish barrister's life. The courts do not sit till near eleven
o'clock, and no business is done after dinner. There are no inns of court, and each individual lives in that part of the city he chooses. The judges lead an easy life; there is seldom any press of business, and in Chancery we believe there is not (when will the same be said of the English court ?) a single case in arrear.
Nor is this strange, when it is considered that, for a country so greatly inferior in wealth and size, the same number of courts and judges is constituted. Strictly, this is not the case as to Chancery, there being in Ireland no vice-chancellor; but when the business of appeals in the House of Lords, and the duty of the Chancellor there as speaker, are considered, the position may be made with safety. The courts are all held in the same building, to which also are attached the various law offices. It is a very handsome edifice. In the centre stands a fine circular hall with a dome, and the passages to the courts open around. It is the custom for all barristers, whether having any business or not, to attend each day during term a few hours in this hall, around which they walk, intermixed with attorneys and suitors. Here circulates, speaking without a metaphor, all the tattle and news of the city. There can be no more agreeable lounge. The late Mr. Curran was in the habit of passing some time in the hall of the Four Courts, as it is called, each day; and here, after playing off his puns and saying his good things, he used to make up his occasional dinner-parties, to which he invited the cleverest of the young men he met, and among whom, till his latest hour, be was the youngest of all. To them he abundance of wine, in the use of which he was himself sparing. Kind and benevolent to each, every guest felt at ease, and the incomparable host himself without ceremony abandoned and resumed his seat, walked about discoursing delicious eloquence, or took up his violoncello as he felt inclined. In the habits of the profession there is, perhaps, nothing to remark beyond their general character, which partakes more of pleasure and (may we say so ?) genteel life than does that of our denizens of the Temple and Lincoln's Inn.
The traders of Dublin are divided into three descriptions, which are strongly distinguished. There is the Corporation class, which is, perhape, the least reputable; the great Catholic body, and the Presbyterian, which last is chiefly engaged in the linen and American trade. It is among the second that the stranger will find most matter for observation. Their religion has raised a line of demarcation between them and other classes of the community, and in consequence they retain more traces of the old Irish customs and mode of life. The institution of fasting two, and often three days each week, as well as in Lent, is a great prevention of social intercourse between Catholics and Protestants. The rules of the Church are observed in Dublin with the utmost strictness,--a strictness unknown elsewhere. Among themselves they live in a style of great hospitality and luxury. Indeed the same may be observed of the mode of life of all classes in Dublin. The market is very fine; the supply of fish, that prime article in an epicure's catalogue of the goods of life, ample and regular in all its species, shell, white, red, &c. The common beverage, that most used, and though cheapest, most prized, is whisky-punch. Though called punch, it would, however, as most frequently drunk, be more properly denominated toddy; the essential difference being, as we ap
prehend, that punch contains lemon and that toddy does not. Whisky is of two kinds--malt, and corn, that is, made from barley or from oats, the first of which is most esteemed. But there is another distinction, and that is between parliament whisky, and poteen, or whisky made in defiance of parliament and all its ordinances, in a small still or pot. This last acquires, from the use of turf or peat in the process, a smoked taste, as to the agreeableness of which there is great diversity of sentiment, the strong preponderance of authorities being in favour of the smoke. The spirit is an excellent spirit, “ a dainty spirit," as Shakspeare says. It is not very palatable to one who has revelled on claret and hock and Burgundy, but it is sweet and delicious to those habituated to drink it, and it is extremely innocent. It may be safely said, that an excess in quantity of alcohol can be taken in no shape less injurious ; and assuredly the potency of its malignity is well tried. The good old days are gone when the door was used to be locked, and the guests kept in durance till they became quite drunk : but a great deal of hard drinking yet prevails in Dublin. The middle classes are very much disposed to the enjoyments of the table; nor are they without a tendency to another modish vice. They play cards for sums small and trivial indeed in the apprehension of a dowager at Bath, or a man of mettle in town, but yet considerable when the circumstances of the parties are taken into account. The wife of a man not worth, root and branch, as the saying is, 10,0001. perhaps not half that sum, will lose on occasion six or eight or ten pounds at loo; and her husband will be guilty of a more masculine indiscretion, and perhaps double that amount. Supper is, in Dublin, a meal of great enjoyment. supper it was that often during the latter years of the last century the whole company used to stand up, join hands, and sing all together the bold national anthem of Erin go bragh. The effect of this was wonderful. It was enough to have animated the veriest slave and coward. Old and young, the aged sire, and the youthful beauty, all united their voices and hands. We apprehend that many a democrat must thus have been created. Stubborn, indeed, must have been the heart that could thus resist the example of age and the influence of enthusiastic beauty. This meal continues to be the chosen one. During the course of the previous evening, the members of the party have become acquainted with each other ; restraint has worn off-little friendships have grown up-people have attached themselves to each other -the belles have selected their admirers, and all sit down with fresh zest for enjoyment, and with the anticipation of separating to impart its sweet melancholy. To dinner belong your discussions of politics, and sombre dissertations on the weather. More jocund themes attend supper. There is mirth and song and laughter; and the maid, who has been coy and reserved during the preceding hours, at length smiles favour.
It may, perhaps, be affirmed that literature has made less progress among the Catholic gentry of Dublin than any description of individuals in these countries. They are, however, in their manners easy and cheerful, and endowed with that natural courtesy which is the great characteristic of the Irish people. In England we are too much a people of business-a “nation of shopkeepers,” as we are somewhat severely called. Our gravity does tend to produce somewhat of
moroseness. In Ireland every man seems to be more or less a man of pleasure. We see few persons wedded to and delighting in one occupation as with us at home. There is a large body, the Presbyterian settlers in the north, to whom these observations apply with less force; but there is no question that the original Scottish character has been much mellowed by transplanting into the Irish soil. We are apt to confound the various descriptions of Irish, but the distinctions are worth remarking. In Dublin a judicious cicerone may point out the dissipated and refined southern, the primitive Milesian of the west, and the more sober and stern inhabitant of the north, all strongly contrasted to an observing eye, and the brogue of each varying in character and richness. In England many a wealthy manufacturer or factor would prefer to hear himself termed tradesman to gentleman ; but on the other side of the water it is not so. Every man is there a gentleman. We cannot better illustrate this fact than by mentioning that the term esquire is almost universally applied. There is no middle class in Ireland ; there are no individuals who can be content with being well fed and clothed, and remaining in their original grade in society. As soon as an Irish trader makes a little money, he extends his domestic, not his mercantile establishment. He applies the surplus not to augmentation of his capital, but to increase of his pleasures. There is a great want of proper pride, and a great prevalence of vanity. People retire from trade in Ireland with such means as in England they would
This, however, all tends to make the people, if not respectable, at least pleasant, which the Irish may be said emphatically to be. In society there is less coldness and reserve and hauteur than in England. Let us here be understood to speak of the middle classes ; among which in every country the national character and peculiarities are most visible. The upper ranks in Ireland, the great proprietors and nobles, are much the same as individuals holding the same station amongst us. On entering society in Dublin, a stranger will be much struck by the animation of the party; the absence of we were going to write, mauvais-honte; the haste which individuals make to commit themselves, as it is termed; the freedom with which every man gives his sentiments ; and, to speak the truth, the real ability and powers of elocution with which he defends and explains them.
The politics of the inhabitants of Dublin are very much provincial; indeed questions immediately affecting the country are sufficiently numerous and important to occupy attention. But what may be called imperial policy is as little heeded or thought of as the approximation of two planets; an event probably affecting us, but in a degree so minute, and so remotely, as to occasion us scarce a passing thought. There does not prevail in Dublin that general acquaintance with the characters of public men, or with the state of parties, which we find in this city. The press of Dublin is a subject too delicate and too much open to controversy, for us to enlarge upon; but we will remark, that the sweeping, slapdash, discursive, colloquial style common in the newspapers, is very characteristic. The writing is, in point of literary merit, greatly inferior to that of the London journals. Though newspapers are cheaper in Ireland than here, they have small circulation among the lower classes in Dublin; nor have we remarked in any of