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cut them down in the very middle, so that eight hundred of them were killed.”
But for all that, Medb survived, and managed to place herself in many such a ludicrous situation, before, at a ripe old age, the joy of life and romance burned out in her adventurous soul, and she passed from an amorous and Amazon existence to the Otherworld of milk and curds and honey.
The tempestuous Irish did not confine themselves, by any means, to such good-natured raillery and badinage as is shown in the examples cited. The keenness of their wit and the quickness of their temper led them readily into a humor which is often too tart and abusive to be called humor,- the satire. The Irish satire is peculiar to the Celts: it is a hybrid of derisive humor and superstition. “The Irish exhibit very clearly,” says Mr. F. N. Robinson in an article on the subject, “the close connection between the poetry of magic malediction and the poetry of mockery and abuse." Owen Conellan, in his introduction to the translation of Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution," remarks: “The old conception of the destructive satirist, the poet with superior power, whom it is dangerous to displease, has never disappeared among the Gaels of either Ireland or Scotland." Cuchullin, the hot-headed warrior-hero of the Ulster cycle, delicately avoided a satire on himself by letting the satirist have the spear he requested in the back of his head; but few persons found it possible with one blow to grant a request, refuse a request, and kill the satire, all with such literalness and dispatch; hence they held the satirist in great awe, and tried themselves to the utmost to please him. It took very slight displeasure to change the bard's tune from the succulent "white satire" of flattery to the “black satire" of lampoonery, and thence to the "speckled satire” of magic warning.
It was only the bards, the professional poets, who attained supremacy in the art of satire. They had formal schools of learning, where they lived on the fat of the land, attended and waited on by all the country-side, just like our university students of the Middle West to-day, while they learned the rules
23 Edited in Transactions of the Ossianic Society, 1857, Vol. 5.
of poesy, memorized the sagas, and composed their satires in the dark. The two desirable attributes of the satire were keenness and ambiguity : in order that the satirized might know that he was jeered at, and yet be unable to understand how virulent were the epithets.
Dallan the leader of the poets once made the following satire, a beautiful example, on a king who refused him a gift:4—
“Oh, Hugh, son of Duach the Dark,
Thou art more disgusting, O Hugh!' We dull moderns would all be obliged to say with Hugh, “We do not know whether this is better or worse than the first poem you composed [the one in praise of him].” And we should get the reply that Hugh got from the bard: "No wonder for a man of your intellect to say so. And as it was I that composed the satires, it is I that will interpret them.” He proceeded to do so, with voluptuous unction, expanding his cryptic phrases into extremely pointed and insulting explanations, until King Hugh cried out: “Be done, O Dallan! Do not satirize me any more in my presence, for I will now excuse you from further professional attendance."
Evidently the fever for satirizing got into the blood as powerfully as the Wanderlust, for Seanchan, the successor to Dallan, after a long sojourn with the hospitable Guaire, almost went mad in his struggle to find something of his host's to satirize ; and finally he cried out in desperation that he would "rather that Guaire be satirized than that I should live and he be not satirized!”
24 In Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution (op. cit.), - a story "in which is explained how the Tain bo Cualnge (Cattle-raid of Cualnge) was first discovered.” Probably composed in the seventh century. Translated by Owen Conellan from the Book of MacCarthy Riagh, a fourteenth-century vellum.
The two examples given are of course exaggerated, coming from the "satire on the satirists,” but they show the tendency of the times. The Ancient Laws of Ireland stand witness to the prominence of satire as a form of slander. Seven shades of satire were worthy of an honor-prize in retribution :*—
“A nickname which clings; recitation of a satire of insults in his presence; to satirize to the face; to laugh on all sides; to sneer at his form; to magnify a blemish; satire which is written by a bard who is far away and which is recited.”
Such “crimes of the tongue" were punishable by imprisonment or payment of damages; libel cases seem to have been frequent in that land of sprightly tongues. The money retribution varied with the rank of the complainant, and the imprisonments were as follows:
"Three days for ordinary satire, slander, etc.
“Five days for blemish of nickname, satirizing a man after his death; and satire of exceptional power.”
A Celt would not be a Celt, even to-day, who would not boast and preen himself and receive homage over an indictment on the last-named flattering charge.
In all Irish humor, from the puns to the satires, there is a certain distinctive charm. The secret of the juiciness of Irish humor and the poignance of Irish pathos, lies just in that evanescent quality called style.' "Three hateful things in speech,” the Irish say,—“stiffness, obscurity, a bad delivery.” And whether the Irish story is pulling for laughter or tears, the art of the telling is the sauce of the tale. As I browse through the fascinating humorous-tragic concoctions of the Ancient and Mediæval Irish, this modern Gaelic saying keeps running through my mind : “Well, — the life of an old hat is in the cock of it !”
University of Illinois.
Editor's Note.—This study of Irish humor was prepared in connection with a course in Irish literature at the University of Illinois and was awarded the fifty-dollar St. Patrick's Day prize for 1916.
25 Quoted from Ancient Laws by F. N. Robinson, Satirists and Enchanters in Early Irish Literature.
IS OUR LITERATURE STILL ENGLISH?
When we ask the question, Is our literature still English? we tacitly admit, by the use of the word still, that heretofore our literature has been strikingly English. And the obvious fact which compels this admission is a great deal more surprising than it would, at first glance, appear to be.
We occasionally speak of England as our mother country, and we often refer loosely to ourselves as an Anglo-Saxon nation; but when we remember that America was first discovered by Norsemen and later by Italians and Spaniards; that from the very earliest Colonial times it has counted Dutch, Germans, Swedes, and French among important elements in its population; and that it now is the foster-mother of practically every race and nation under the sun-our words about our Anglo-Saxon origin and make-up lose much of their significance. In whatever sense England may have been our mother between 1607 and 1776, we have, in most respects, wandered far from the proverbial maternal apron-strings. Not content with our declaration of July 4, 1776, we have been declaring and re-declaring our independence in a hundred ways ever since. We have isolated and fortified ourselves with a Monroe Doctrine and a protective tariff; established an educational system which is more German than English, and more American than either; welcomed Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian, Slav and Teuton, Celt and Latin, to our shores on equal terms. English conservatism and reverence for tradition; English caution and reticence; English pride in family trees; English patience and courtesy and gentleness—these are things which we Americans despise with almost vandalic aversion.
Yet the most cursory glance will show us that, so far as literature is concerned, we have been, throughout our colonial and national existence, remarkably English. It will convince us that the country which ruled us for a century and three quarters, and which gave us a permanent national language, has likewise insisted that we share with her a common literature. Our earliest American writers were nothing more nor less than English
men sojourning in the new country, and they had precisely the same right to be termed American, as had Charles Dickens, when he wrote Martin Chusalewit, or Mr. Arnold Bennett, when he produced Your United States. Furthermore, nearly every American work ever published prior to the nineteenth century was written in New England or in Virginia. If one looks for the history of early Dutch literature in New York, early Swedish literature in Delaware, early German literature in Pennsylvania, or early French literature in the Middle or Southern states, one literally stares at blank pages. Our Colonial annals furnish no parallel to the French literature of Canada, the French and Italian literature of Switzerland, the Flemish literature of Belgium, the Polish literature of Russia, or the Slavonic literature of Austria-Hungary. Even when New England and the South ceased to have a monopoly on American authors, we still find practically all of our writing done by the descendants of Englishmen. The only great man of letters produced by Colonial Pennsylvania, for instance, was not a German; but Benjamin Franklin, a simon-pure New England Yankee. And if we look to Dutch New Jersey during the same period, we find a single noteworthy name, that of John Woolman, an English Quaker. Indeed, the only prominent non-British names to be found in American literature before the year 1800 are Philip Freneau and Hector St. Jean Crèvecæur, and both these writers used the English language as their medium of expression.
Moreover, our early national literary history is but a repetition of the same old tale. During the first half century of our existence as an independent nation nearly one million aliens came to our shores, and of these newcomers a very large proportion were non-English-speaking people. From the very close of the Revolution to the present time, we have steadily grown less and less Anglo-Saxon in blood. But let us make a list of the chief American writers of the nineteenth century. Such list must include the names of Brown, Drake, Halleck, Irving, Cooper, Bryant, Alcott, Fuller, Emerson, Stowe, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, Prescott, Motley, Parkman, Taylor, Poe, Simms, Timrod, Hayne, Lanier, Stedman, Harte, Aldrich, Clemens, and Howells. Yet how many of these