‘Pray read and try, / You’l be immerst in pleasure by and by’ (322). So
wrote John Chishull in his dedicatory verse to Faithfull Teate’s long devotional
poem Ter Tria in 1669 – but the sentence applies equally to Andrew
Carpenter’s Verse in English from Tudor and Stuart Ireland. Along with
Chishull and Teate’s poems, Carpenter has collected a wide array of verse;
and whether it is the ranting of Ralph Birchensa against Irish ‘rebels’, George
Brady’s elegy on Katherine, Countess of Cork, or anonymous verses lampooning
the senior fellows of Trinity College Dublin, there is certainly something
in this anthology to immerse any reader in pleasure.
Some familiar names appear here, including Sir John Harington, Nahum Tate,
Katherine Philips, Spenser and, of course, Swift. Several are not normally
thought of as Irish poets, and would not have considered themselves as such.
Carpenter’s brief introduction to each poet outlines their connections with
Ireland, making it clear that this is a collection of verse in English written
in or about Ireland rather than English verse written by Irishmen – though
of course there is much of the latter in the anthology. Katherine Philips
spent a year in Dublin (1662-3), during which she produced her celebrated
translation of Pompey. Sir John Harington went to Ireland as a commander
of horse in the army led by the Earl of Essex in 1599. As might be expected,
their verses reflect widely different experiences of Ireland. Philips’s poetical
addresses to her literary friends in Dublin tell of a sophisticated courtly
society; Harington’s lines compare the soft life of the English court at home
with the privations he has suffered at war in Ireland.
The diversity of the collection, in content, style and author, is one of
its strengths. Carpenter has not hesitated to include extracts from longer
poems, reproducing enough of Teate’s Ter Tria to demonstrate its charm
and hopefully encourage readers to look at the entire text on Early English
Books Online. He has also found source material in unusual places. One of
the shortest verses is a couplet inscribed ‘on a monument in the church at
Gowran, County Kilkenny’ erected by James Keally in 1646 for himself, his
two wives and children:
Both wifves at once alive he could
Both to injoy at once he made this grave. (263)
Manuscript collections have
provided unique occasional verses, elegies, satires and lampoons, often anonymous.
For example, Sir William Petty’s verse miscellany (British Library Add. MS
72899) includes A Letter from a Missionary Bawd in Dublin, to her
cheif in London giveing an account of the propogation of lewdness and scandall
in Ireland (423). Though Restoration manuscript miscellanies are full
of satires on London ladies and their noble lovers, this is apparently the
only surviving example from Dublin (where lewdness and scandal flourished
at least as well as in London, if the poet can be believed).
Several broad themes run through the diversity of material. Divided chronologically
into five parts, from Tudor verse (1485-1603) to verse from Jacobite and Williamite
Ireland (1685-1701), the anthology spans a period marked by war and upheaval
in Ireland. Such stirring events provoked a range of responses, and those
printed here are bitter, mournful, vitriolic, and celebratory in turn. The
anonymous author of Ormondes Breakfast cast his report of the Irish
royalist army’s defeat at the battle of Rathmines in 1649 in the form of ‘a
Dialogue between a Chevalier and a Roundhead’. He begins
Reader, This is but private Soldiers chat,
As rough, as is his Amunition Hat:
Do thou but only looke for Truth & Sence,
For hee knowes neither wit, nor Eloquence. (284)
Recounted in plain language by the two soldiers, the fortunes of war
take on a grim immediacy, reinforced by the detailed list of ‘Prisnors taken’
that appears in the middle of the poem.
In the course of his snarling attack on the Irish after their defeat at
Kinsale in 1601, A Discourse occasioned upon the late defeat, given to
the arch-rebels, Tyrone and ODonnel, by . . . Lord Mountjoy, Ralph Birchensa
makes it perfectly clear where the blame for Irish rebelliousness lies:
Idolators, superstitious men,
False worshippers, sworne slaves unto the Pope,
Trusting to dreames and fained prophesies,
Observers of old writs that have no ground:
More ignorant than beasts are in their kinde,
Willing to lose what chiefe they ought to finde. (111)
Attacks such as this litter the anthology. The
English hatred and fear of Irish Catholicism is well-documented here, from
Birchensa’s vitriol to an anonymous ballad provoked by the hysteria surrounding
the Popish Plot, and printed in London in 1682.
Politics and religion are just two of the recurring themes Carpenter outlines
in his useful introduction to the volume. He begins by discussing the types
of people who were writing in and about Ireland in English during the period,
remarks on the most important sources, and picks out some themes for comment
and elucidation. The introduction is pitched at an audience not necessarily
familiar with the conditions of early-modern verse production in general,
or with verse from Ireland in particular. This and the biographical introductions
to each poet make the material much more accessible for an undergraduate audience.
Carpenter’s extensive explanatory footnotes also aid the interpretation of
poems, though in some cases his glosses seem superfluous (for example, ‘Silvan’
is accompanied by the note ‘sylvan, of the woods’ (75)). The list of sources
at the end of the book is useful and in some cases extremely interesting,
although the information might more helpfully have been presented as footnotes
to individual poems.
The minor, miscellaneous and ephemeral verse from Tudor and Stuart Ireland
illustrates the period uniquely and vividly. It is also great fun to read.
This is a varied collection of energetic and interesting texts, and it deserves
a wide readership among scholars of early-modern history and literature.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may
be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.