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AN IRISH BOSWELL.
Said an optimist once, “Every admirer who forgets that the man and woman carries in his valiant commander was also a (or her) head the material of
The bravery and skill an interesting novel.” One is which the commander shares inclined to dispute this judg- with all his class are scrupument; but it might be argued lously described, but all the with greater truth that in intimate tricks and features every life there is the material which mark him off not only of an entertaining biography. from his own class but from No two men, unless they be the rest of mankind are clumpriggish conformities to a type, sily slurred over. The result is pass through the same experi- rather the photograph of a ence, and nothing is necessary dressed-up dummy than an into create an interest save dividual portrait. We undersincere personality. Grandeur, stand the rude outline by a genius, courage, have a stately kind of habit, but all the finer value, which we estimate apart shades of character and aspect from their possessors; and a escape us. hero may be far less romantic, For biography depends less when his trappings are laid upon its subject than upon its aside, than the impecunious method, and the life of the clerk who, at five o'clock, rides greatest king would appear back to his suburb on a 'bus. insignificant if it were written In his own brain the clerk is without talent and without as little conscious of romance sympathy. On the other hand, as the hero, since romance is a Boswell could make the adalways and for all men that ventures and table - talk of a which happens to somebody costermonger for ever memorelse. But the clerk's experi- able. Intimate knowledge and ence and reflection may be quick sympathy, of course, are more whimsical and curious necessary, but above all the than the epic, in which states- biographer must possess the men and warriors take part. art of selection. He must disDrum and trumpet biography, card no incident, no aphorism, indeed, may become as tiresome which is characteristic of his as drum and trumpet history: subject, and he must remember it is right and proper that the that insignificant traits are genlives of great men should be erally of higher importance than written for our amusement and the common proofs of distincinstruction, but these lives are tion. All generals fight battles, too often written with a wrong
but all do not use snuff nor pray method and for an unsound on the eve of a contest. Now,
The achievements of a it so happens that the two great valiant commander, for instance, biographies in the languageare set forth by some patient Boswell's Johnson' and Lock
hart's Sir Walter Scott' ton, a rival in the pulpit to reveal to us the lives and the Dean of St Patrick's, and characters of two great men. author of a pamphlet once But that is an accident, and ascribed to the great man, the same admirable methods of need not escape our_compreportraiture, applied to lesser hension and regard. For there men, would produce a no less he is drawn by Samuel Burdy human and distinguished result. with the touch of truth and
A fine biography, then, is as sincerity which Boswell himrare an event in the history of self might well have envied. literature as a fine tragedy; Of course he was and even of the few we have, of force and character. But some still escape notice. Who, the Ireland of the eighteenth for instance, knows the admir-century was rich in modest able ‘Life of Philip Skelton,' heroes, and Skelton would never which was penned a century have lived beyond his death ago? In all essentials this for- had it not been for the skill gotten book is a masterpiece of and intelligence of Samuel the art, and though Macaulay Burdy, who has been as foolcounted it among his favour- ishly misunderstood as his emiites, it has since sunk into a nent rival. The ancient theory sad obscurity. This obscurity that James Boswell was is the more to be regretted be- imbecile drunkard, who hapcause Samuel Burdy, A.B., the pened by chance to compose biographer, was after his fashion à work of genius, was long a man of genius. The very popular, and the many excelname has a strange and simple lences of his famous biography look more fitted to raise a were but
excuses for cheap smile than to inspire respect. ridicule and facile misappreBut for all the simplicity of hension. But at last it is the man and the name, Samuel realised that Boswell sacrificed Burdy, A.B., not only knew himself to his ambition, that in his model intimately, but he order to enhance the truth of understood the difficulties of his portrait he would cut antics portraiture; and the result is before the whole world, and no that, though Philip Skelton critic of the future dare say was but the clergyman of an that his success was not comIrish parish, we may enjoy a plete. So in a lesser degree better acquaintance with him Samuel Burdy, A.B., might be than with the most of his underrated, were his name more more exalted contemporaries. widely known. It is easy to Swift, the greatest satirist of find him tripping over the same his century, remains a puzzle obstacles at which Boswell so for the critics. His character gloriously stumbled.
He unis befogged by prejudice unto covers the faults of his idol the present day, and so loud is with a grotesque, unconscious the voice of posthumous slander candour; he repeats with an that it is perhaps too late to air of unsurprised piety the explain the truth, But Skel- bitterest insults which Skelton
hurled at all the dignitaries of put the composer of chap-books the Church; and he tells the to shame. And, in truth, the truth in so austere a spirit of chap - book was to Burdy a impartiality, that at the first potent influence. He wrote glance you recognise the veri- his authentic biography of an similitude of the portrait. ancient clergyman the Here, indeed, is no "plaster hacks of the eighteenth censaint,” but a real man, whose tury composed the lives of temper was as violent as his Freney and Barrington. Nor orthodoxy was strong, and who is there anything astonishing never could be tamed, even in in this imitation.
Ireland a the shadow of the Church, to hundred years since depended withhold his fist or to chasten for her literature
the his tongue.
pedlars—the real circulating And Burdy has succeeded in libraries of old—who carried the task of portraiture, because their pamphlets to the distant he was born with the talent corners of that wild land, and of biography. One work was picked up their modest bread allotted for his accomplishment, and butter in cottages which and he accomplished it like a knew not the meaning of the master. Skelton, no doubt, was things we call books. So that, the single man who fired his while on the one hand Burdy imagination, and as deep a rivals Boswell, on the other he sympathy united the two men, imitates the simple bundles of different though they were in jest and anecdote which the temper, as united Johnson and pedlars carried in their pack. his biographer. Burdy's other Yet the result is not inconworks are merely common- gruous, because the biographer, place; his career was merely with his genuine sense of commonplace : once only did humour and proportion, keeps opportunity confront him, and the picture within its frame. he deserves to be remembered, In 1781 Burdy, still because he seized the oppor- student, was infatuated with tunity with both hands. His the stories, which all Dublin style is vigorous, and sometimes repeated, of Skelton's vigour even dignified; he gathered and skill in argument. So as his material by the Socratic Boswell sought Johnson in method, and no doubt he put Davies's bookshop, Burdy sought as many questions as the laird the Irish divine in his humble of Auchinleck; the authority lodging. He went with the for his most outrageous state- avowed purpose of asking adments is always Skelton; and vice; but curiosity was stronger while he makes no attempt to within him than interest, and soften his model, it is obvious his retentive memory was althat he has never put a too ready prepared to feed a noteharsh edge upon the reverend book. His reception was not so gentleman's features.
Above brusque as was Boswell's, yet all, he has cultivated the anec- it might have dismayed a less dote with a zeal that might pertinacious admirer. Burdy
tracked the hero to his bed- insolence of his character. chamber, where he found “a re- his father's they always got beef markably tall large man; his on Sundays," he said, “but not eyebrows were quite grey, his regularly during the week.” shoulders somewhat bent by age, So in the midst of poverty he and his bones nearly twice the grew up, dividing his time size of those of an ordinary man. between the fields and the He wore a brown wig, å blue grammar-school. When he did coat with black cuffs, the breast not relish his books, his father of which was covered over with put coarse brogues on his feet, snuff, black velvet waistcoat a frieze coat on his back, and and breeches, yarn stockings sent him to toil with the common made of black wool, and small labourers, and when the day's silver buckles on his shoes.” work was done sat him down to Thus the man is brought before feed with the lowest servants. you in a few lines, with the Then, as the boy began to readded note that “his counten- lent, “Sirrah," said his father, ance showed he had been hand- “I'll make this proposal to some in his youth.” Skelton in- you: Whether do you choose to stantly saw the man with whom drudge and toil all your life, he dealt, and rallied him incon- as you have these few days tinent. “You're finely dressed,” past, living on coarse food, clad said he, “with your fine bright in frieze clothes, and with buttons. I thought you were brogues on your feet, or to a man of sense and a scholar, apply to your books, and eat, but I have been deceived, I drink, and be dressed like your find; I believe you are but an brothers here?” pointing to his indifferent sort of a body; I brothers, who had just come always judge a man by his down from the
the University, buttons.” However, the bril- decked out in Dublin finery. liantly bedecked Burdy was not Poor Philip, whose bones ached easily subdued. Despite his with the hand-barrow, said he finery, he put the old man, then would readily go to school, and past seventy, into a good temper, be attentive to his studies. and, as he ingenuously declares, And so attentive was he that changed his buttons the very he made himself a scholar in next day.
spite of obstacles. Candles Henceforth Burdy's task was failing him he used furze, designed for him. He frequented which he gathered for the the company of Skelton assidu- purpose, and throwing it piece ously, and has left us the best by piece on the fire, read portrait of a bullying, wrang- by the glimmering light. But ling parson that exists. Philip though he became a scholar, Skelton, we learn, was born near he would
make the Lisburne in 1706, the son of a smallest claim to be a gentle“decent and honest country- man. “He only is a gentle
He was roughly nur- man,” said he, “who has riches tured, but his early hardships derived from ancestors, that posdid but increase the vigour and sessed them from time imme
morial; and on another occa- he was a fine boxer, and most sion when a friend insisted that dexterous at the small-sword, all clergymen were gentlemen, the back-sword was his favourite he turned upon him with a kind weapon, and once at Donnybrook of fierceness—“Our Saviour was Fair he won a hat set up as a no gentleman,” he cried ; "the prize for the best cudgel-player. apostles were no gentlemen But having gained the victory either.”
he made a bow to the girls, and But, gentleman or no gentle- told them he fought just to man, he would endure insolence please them, and returned the from no man, and the spirit of hat that they might have the combat showed itself early more amusement. "A hero in within him. His career at romance,'
says the faithful Trinity College, Dublin, was biographer, “could not have disturbed by brawls of all been more complaisant to the kinds, and though he distin- fair sex.” So complaisant was guished himself in scholarship, he, indeed, that he perfected he regarded the authorities as himself also in the art of danchis natural foes. With Dring. “ He could both dance Baldwin, the Provost, he had a gracefully and dance long lasting feud, and that stiff- again we quote Burdy-"two necked Whig, using the worst rare qualities united." And all insult he knew, denounced his the while he was resolutely prepupil for a Jacobite. The re- paring to enter the Church. sult was that Skelton left the But his strangest prank of university two years before his all was so near to swindling, scholarship expired. But his and it is described by the bioconduct was never marked by grapher with so cold a humour, the priggishness of the student. that not a word of it should be His mighty strength and his lost. It is the more interestaptitude for sports of all kinds ing, too, because it has been gave him an early superiority repeated unconsciously a thouamong his fellows, while his sand times, and was gravely reirascible temper made him ported not six months ago in a ever prompt to quarrel. Once, French newspaper. Thus it is indeed, he was only saved from brought within the domain of a duel on St Stephen's Green by folklore, and is the best posthe diplomacy of his friends; sible proof that Samuel Burdy and on another occasion he modelled his style on the pedraised a riot in the streets, and lar's wares. * The following a man was unfortunately killed trick of his” (we quote textuby some of the party. “This," ally), “which has since been says Burdy, with his usual im- practised by some others, is not perturbability, “had a serious unsuitable to the character of a effect upon him.” However, he young man in the college. He was not always thus blood- and twelve more, dining at thirsty, and at the common an inn near Dublin, when the games of skill and strength he reckoning was to be paid, they was always an adept. Though discovered there was no money