ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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HARRIETT JAY BOOK REVIEWS

 

2. The Priest’s Blessing (1881) to My Connaught Cousins (1883)

 

The Priest’s Blessing, or Poor Patrick’s Progress from this World to a Better (1881)

 

The Newcastle Courant (1 July, 1881)

     The authoress of “The Queen of Connaught” has just finished a new story on the Irish question, entitled the “Priest’s Blessing.” It is a kind of study of the life of an Irish peasant, from the cradle to the grave, and constitutes a formidable indictment against the Roman Catholic priesthood.

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The Era (30 July, 1881 - p.13)

     THE PRIEST’S BLESSING. By HARRIET JAY, White and Co.—The authoress of “The Queen of Connaught” has produced a singular tale of Irish life, intended to illustrate the life of the Irish peasant from the cradle to the grave. In a dedication to the Right Hon. W. E. Forster, the authoress refers to the period of the Irish famine, when an English gentleman, wandering through the famished district, gained extraordinary sympathy from the people by his generosity to the distressed. This was Mr Forster, who thus gained his knowledge of the condition of the people, and, having become Chief Secretary, he has endeavoured to do justice to them. In dedicating the book to Mr Forster, the writer says:— “There may be points in this book with which you disagree, expressions which you would wish changed; but I inscribe it to you because you have the welfare of the Irish people at heart, and because I, with many others, sympathise with you, and despise your tormentors—knowing, as I do, that there is among all the so-called friends of Ireland, who have made their unhappy country a byword for folly, mendacity, and indiscriminate free fighting, not one who has a tithe of your philanthropy, your experience, or your wisdom. Accept, therefore, this little study of the Irish question from one who, like yourself, loves Ireland and the Irish peasant; but would warn both against false prophets and teachers, nationalists and time-serving misleaders. And believe me, with all sympathy, respect, and admiration.” The various incidents in the career of an Irish peasant are told with much pathos and power, and the volume will serve to give a good idea of the state of the impoverished people and the temptations they are subjected to through agitators on the one hand and poverty on the other.

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The Nation (Dublin) (6 August, 1881 - p.10)

Reviews.

AN INFAMOUS LIBEL.*

A FEW years since we had occasion to criticise with some severity an English-Irish novel to which was given the rather attractive title of “The Queen of Connaught.” The book was from a literary point of view a wretched performance, and in so far as it pretended to be a picture of Irish life it was a ridiculous libel. In England, however, where the reading public devours nothing so greedily as malignant and extravagant slanders on Ireland and its people, it seems to have been rather well received; and it is, no doubt, to the success thus achieved that the world is indebted for two or three other novels of, we believe, a somewhat similar character from the same pen. The latest—we hardly suppose it is to be the last—of this rare series of literary treasures now lies before us, and, unless we are greatly mistaken, it is likely to be the most “successful” of all—in England. It has all the artistic faults of the first in an accentuated form, but it has also what will in English eyes amply compensate for its literary defects—namely an embarras de richesses in the shape of a collection of the most vulgar and atrocious calumnies on the Irish Catholic people, and especially on the Irish Catholic clergy, which we have ever read. It has no plot, properly so called; it does not contain even one sentence which is notable for beauty of thought or of expression; it is not free even from grammatical inaccuracies; its characters are about as life-like as wax-work figures; and, finally, the genius of commonplace presides over every line from the first page to the last. But to balance such unmistakable evidences of intellectual dulness and utter incapacity for the writing of books of fiction the authoress manifests an anti-Irish and anti-Catholic spleen which is absolutely certain to take captive all the old women of both sexes who sit at the feet of Mr. Newdegate and assemble annually in Exeter Hall to denounce “the errors of Rome”; and than such a triumph what greater can be desired by such an artist? The authoress, in short, of the “story” entitled “The Priest’s Blessing” aims at winning the favour of the lowest and most debased class of English novel-readers, and she will undoubtedly succeed in that lofty undertaking.
     When we mention that a landlord named O’Brien tries to civilize the tenants of his Patrickstown estate, that his philanthropic efforts meet with the deadly hostility of a debased people led on by two scoundrelly priests, that his Scotch agent is fired at and he himself murdered in return for his humane efforts, and that one of the tenants, who is not the real murderer, is hanged for the crime, we tell the essential points of this precious story. But the peculiar aroma of the tale only comes out when we examine into the details; and here we must say that practically this is a prolonged attack on the priests. The authoress’s peasants are evil-looking and of shambling gait, densely ignorant, superstitious to the last degree, irreconcilably opposed to improvements that conflict with the conditions of their own bestial existence, not utterly destitute of kindliness and generosity yet ready on the instigation of their leaders to commit any atrocity whatever, and given to lying and cheating the lords of the soil. There is no light and shade in the picture. It is all one dark, ugly blot. The peasantry, however, are, after all, harmless and almost lovable in comparison with their spiritual guides, of whom two—a parish priest and a curate—are painted full length, and are simply detestable ruffians. Let us first see what the curate is like. “Father Flannigan,” we read, “was a man of about five and twenty years of age, tall and thin, with very pale lips, and eyes which could not be made to look one straight in the face.” On one occasion he sat drinking with the Scotch agent, MacCollop, in the parlour of the latter’s house, when the conversation proceeded in this wise:—

     “Of all the places on the earth,” said MacCollop, throwing back his head and thrusting his hands into his trouser pockets, “I never cam across one equal to this. Why, man, the folk are nae better than brute beasts!”
     “Faith they’re by no manes perfect, sor!” said the curate, who spoke with a strong Irish brogue.
     “And do you no think that they’re a disgrace to yoursel’, Mister Flannigan?”
     The curate closed his eyes pathetically.
     “’Tis not my mission, sor, to attend to the corporeal position of my flock; the abode of the spirit is eternal, and demands our sole thoughts. Will you hand over the bottle, sor?”
     “Hoots, man, hoots!” exclaimed the agent, while the curate was preparing another glass, “isna it a man’s mission to see that a body goes aboot with a clean face on him, and doesna live altogether like a soo. And sae you believe in the confessional, Mister Flannigan?”
     “I am a Roman Catholic Priest, sor,” retorted his companion with emphasis, “and if it’s plasing to you I would rather remain silent on the subject.”
     “Please. yoursel’, please yoursel’,” said the host, pushing over the hot water for the curate to replenish his glass.

The carousal was kept up till midnight, when the agent and the curate went to bed. They slept in the same room. After a short time the curate got out of bed to search for something, and when detected in this act proceeded to leave the house, saying, as he “staggered across the room,” that it was not fitting for him to sleep “beneath the roof of an unbeliever.” He had hardly got outside, however, when he commenced knocking and shouting at the door, whereupon the following scene was enacted:—

     Rising and throwing open the window, he beheld Flannigan standing in the moonlight wildly waving his hands.
     “Well, Mister Flannigan!” he exclaimed, in an irritable tone, “what’s the matter noo? If you canna sleep like a decent body yoursel’, be good enough to let them that can!”
     “I want my bottle!” exclaimed the curate; “you accursed and ungodly man!”
     “Ceevil words, if you please, Mister Flannigan.”
     “Give me my bottle,” continued the curate wildly, “or I’ll curse you from the altar of my chapel!”
     “Your curse or your blessing are a’ one to me, man. Oot o’ this; I’ll no hae my nichts disturbed for half a dozen priests!”
     “Give me my bottle, I say,” shrieked the curate, “or be jabers I’ll remain and curse ye till dawn!”

On another occasion “Father Flannigan” is represented rushing about drunk in public, and in that condition beating a family out of their house! In short, he is pictured as a rowdy of the worst description. But he is only a rowdy after all, whereas the parish priest is an utter villain. Of polished manners and cultivated mind, “Father Malloy” is nevertheless opposed to any attempt to improve the social condition of his flock, and is therefore jealous of the improving landlord, whose proceedings he regards as likely to undermine his own supremacy in the parish. He determines to put a stop to those proceedings per fas aut nefas, and, having failed to induce “Mr. O’Brien” by specious arguments to abandon his designs, he rouses the tenantry against him, and finally incites to his murder, if he is not himself an accessory before the fact. That we may not seem to exaggerate, we quote the following passage from the account of the conversation in the confessional between “Father Malloy” and one of his parishioners:—

     “Humph,” he said at length, and as if communing with himself; “you have had a hard time of it, my poor fellow, and all through this man. Patrick,” he proceeded, after a solemn pause, “it is my duty to ask you a solemn question—Is your mind ever filled with revengeful thoughts?”
     Patrick reflected for a moment before he replied:
     “In troth, yer riv’rence, I can’t rightly say.”
     “Does it ever strike you, for instance,” said the priest impressively, “that it would be right and just to put an end to a man whom you know to be so completely your enemy?”
     Patrick stared aghast.
     “Faith, yer riv’rence, it never did!”
     A slight shadow flashed across the priest’s face; was it anger or disappointment? It had passed away before he spoke again.
     “Are you quite sure, Patrick,” he continued impressively, “that it would never occur to you that it would be justifiable to kill one man if by doing so you could relieve your fellow-townsmen from a tyrant, and keep your own family from starvation—perhaps from death?”
     “I am quite sure, yer riv’rence,” said Patrick innocently and honestly, “that it never did!”
     “Very good; and even when this wretch threatened to turn you out and refused to give you bread, did it not cross your mind that if he were disposed of better times would come for you? Now answer honestly—have no secrets from me!”
     Poor Patrick opened his eyes still wider than before.
     “It did not, yer riv’rence—never, thank God!”
     “That is well, Patrick,” said the priest approvingly; “by all means keep from such thoughts as these, for, though they are natural under the circumstances, and although the Church has forgiveness and absolution for every sin of the sort, they are, to a certain extent, sins against the good God, and should not enter a man’s mind.”

It surely is not wonderful if, after such an interview, murderous thoughts came, as we are told they did come, into “Patrick’s” mind. It is, we may add, “Patrick” who in the last chapter is executed for the murder of the landlord, and when, shortly before he died, he was said to the about to “turn Queen’s evidence,” we are told that the rumour “made the heart of the priest very faint with fear.” “Father Malloy,” however, passes for an excellent priest; he is appointed by his bishop to go to Dublin to report on the state of the diocese to “the two Cardinals,” and at “the yearly congress of priests” he acts as “Holy Father Confessor.” As to the priests at the “congress,” “most of them” have “faces characteristic of the tribe—the sunken cheeks, lanthorn jaws, cat-like eyes, and, worst of all, the oily tongue.”
     Had we space, we should like to show how wonderfully the wax-work figures in this story conduct themselves—“staring,” as they do perpetually, and “glaring,” and “gazing,” and “stalking,” and “shuffling,” and “slinking.” But we are afraid that our readers will think we have already dealt with the book at too great length, and that we owe them an apology for having laid before them even so much of the literary blackguardism contained under the title of “The Priest’s Blessing.” Nor should we, indeed, have so run the risk of insulting them did we not desire by the most satisfactory evidence to prove to them that if there are any books which they ought themselves to taboo, and get their friends and acquaintances to taboo, “first amongst the first” in that category are those of the person who calls herself Harriett Jay. Such works ought not to be tolerated in any Irish home. Let us not, however, be misunderstood. We do not object to this “novel” as likely to work any harm in the minds of Irish readers. It contains no subtle poison; in fact, so far from doing so, it at once prejudices the ordinary mind against the writer by its utter disregard of truth, its wild, wanton, and glaring misrepresentations, its vulgar, brutal, and audacious ruffianism. No one, for instance, at least in Ireland, is ever likely to believe that there exists such a man as “Father Malloy” or “Father Flannigan,” or that, if there were in existence such a priest as the latter, he would be allowed to remain in the sacred ministry even for a day. Our sole object in advising our readers never to read a line of such infamous libels is that their authors may be made to see and feel that, though they may find readers amongst the enlightened old women of whom we have spoken above, Irish men and women are not utterly destitute of self-respect. We should mention, in conclusion, that Harriett Jay, appropriately dedicates this book to Mr. Forster, “Chief Secretary of Ireland,” whom she says she regards “with sympathy, respect, and admiration,” and whose “tormentors” she “despises.” This, as an American would say, is rough on Mr. Forster. That the author of the phrase “dissolute ruffians and village tyrants and blackguards” should be an object of sympathy to one whose profession seems to be to vilify the Irish race will not, indeed, cause most Irishmen any surprise; but we doubt if the Chief Secretary will altogether relish the delicate compliment.

     * The Priest’s Blessing; or, Poor Patrick’s Progress from this World to a Better. By Harriett Jay, Authoress of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c. London: F. V. White & Co., 31 Southampton-street, Strand, W. C. 1881.

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The Nonconformist and Independent (11 August, 1881)

IRISH LIFE AND PRIESTS’ RULE.*

     MISS JAY, who has already in several novels shown not only a close acquaintance with the details of Irish peasant life, but a thorough comprehension of Irish character, has here essayed to throw some light upon the present condition of things in the sister isle. The great point with her is the influence of the priest. In her very earliest story she drew a vigorous portrait of a reverend father who could carouse deeply, and also could calculate nicely, and who maintains over those about him an influence which might well cause him to be envied. In the present case she concentrates her powers on a more definite object than in any former story, and it is not without fitness that she has dedicated the volume to the present Secretary of State for Ireland, though some may not wholly go with her in the compliments she pays him. In her dedication she says:—

     Many years ago, in the time of the Irish Famine, an English gentleman wandered through the famishing districts of Ireland, giving help to the needy, comforting the sorrowful, on a benign errand of mercy. Since then that gentleman’s name has, in many an Irish home, been the synonym of English philanthropy. When, a little time ago, the same individual, known to all the world as a noble-minded politician, became Her Majesty’s Chief Secretary for the sister-country, many Irishmen who loved and remembered him, said to themselves, “Justice will be done now, for Forster loves Ireland.” There may be points in this book with which you disagree, expressions which you could wish changed; but I inscribe it to you because you have the welfare of the Irish people at heart, and because I, with many others, sympathise with you, and despise your tormentors—knowing, as I do, that there is among all the so-called friends of Ireland who have made their unhappy country a byeword for folly, mendacity, and indiscriminate free fighting, not one who has a tithe of your philanthropy, your experience, or your wisdom. Accept, therefore, this little study of the Irish question from one who, like yourself, loves Ireland and the Irish peasant; but would warn both against false prophets and false teachers, nationalists and time-serving misleaders.

     The book, in one aspect, is the complete working out of one motif in the “Queen of Connaught,” where, of course, it was merely subordinate to others. A Protestant landlord, Mr. O’Brien, with his daughter Kate, arrives on his property in Ireland with a firm determination to manage it for the good of his tenants, in the first place, and, as he hopes, for his own interest in the end. He endeavours to conciliate all, and earnestly tries to enlist the priest in his plans. Kate O’Brien shares her father’s sentiments, and is determined to do all in her power to aid him to realise his objects. Father Malloy soon sees that she is too devoted, and warns her.

     “My dear young lady, if you allow an unusual care for your inferiors to mar the pleasures of your life, I fear your happy moments will be few indeed. Unfortunately the gifts of God are not equalised in this world; go where you will, wretchedness of some kind meets you, and poverty is not always its worse form.”
     “But when we see such misery about us, I think it is our duty to relieve it,” said Kate.
     “Of course,” returned the priest, “though few young ladies, I fear, would take the trouble to think about it at all.”

     And then Mr. O’Brien begins to announce his plans, acknowledging that he believed it was as he had been told, that the eviction of half the tenants was the only move that would make the estate worth anything, which statement causes the priest to shrug his shoulders in a way that makes Mr. O’Brien set his teeth.
     He wants to lift the people out of their moral wretchedness, and to elevate their minds, and, as the mind depends so much on the body, he resolves to begin by pulling down some of their wretched dwellings, and improving others, and compelling the farmers to turn the cattle into cowsheds. He also resolves to establish a school for the children, which speedily awakens the jealousy and hatred of the priest. He is ready to give them all aid; in fact, to sacrifice his own interests for their elevation. He proposes to forego for some years all rent, if they will only act in the way he wishes. A start is made, he begins to be hopeful, when suddenly the same old difficulties arise again. It will not do. He has erred at the very outset. His conception of “improvements” is not that of Irish tenants.

     The intimation that their children must attend school was heeded but little; the schoolhouse was not even built, nor, judging from the former efforts in that direction, was it ever likely to be. But the question of the cattle was much more important, and required immediate consideration; one or two leading spirits suggested a meeting, but they afterwards thought better of it, and at first only offered a mild protest against the agent’s orders.
     “In troth, yer honour,” said Shamus Moor, “’tis not yerself that would be so hard on poor boys like us. ’Tis the cattle that’s been accustomed to nice warm fires; and if we turned them out into sheds, they’d surely die; and the year is bad enough athout that, yer honour, since the praties is blighted, and we have little enough left for food?”
     “And is it no easy enough for you to put fires in the sheds? You’re never charged a bawbee (halfpenny) for the peat,” urged MacCollop, the Scotch bailiff.
     “But we have to draw it, yer honour!”
     “And is it no better for you to be doing that than idling away your time from morn to night, as you do. You’re no fit to hae cattle at all if you canna mind them, and if they’re no weel oot o’ this before this day month you’ll suffer for it, mind that.”
     And MacCollop turned his back indignantly upon the tenant, and picking his way through the heaps of filth which surrounded the door, hurried off on his duty.

     O’Brien’s generosity does not bring its own, or, indeed, any reward. They refuse to act, become sullen, and, through the machinations of the priest, finally get secretly rebellious. He persists in his course; as they will not obey him he orders his bailiff to act with decision, and to enforce payment of rent by distraint. One man—the leading character among the tenants— Patrick O’Connor, he finds so reduced that it is of no use persisting in requiring payment from him. Instead he aids Patrick with charity. Yet this man, while eating his bounty, is, at the instigation of the priest, plotting against him. Things get from bad to worse. Mr. O’Brien is bold and fearless, and repeatedly checkmates would-be assassins by sheer coolness and nerve. Finally he is murdered while he is out on a mission of mercy—a fine bit of irony on Irish virtue and gratitude; and the irony derives additional force from the fact that the real murderers escape the penalty of the law, while Patrick O’Connor, poor wretch, is condemned, through plottings and perjuries of the most diabolical character. We can only hope, for the sake of human nature, if even Irish human nature, that this part is somewhat overdone.
     Incidentally, of course, there are not a few passages of humour and many touches of pathos. In the passage where Master Flannigan, the curate, leaves the house of MacCollop, Mr. O’Brien’s land agent, because, as he urged, “’tis not fitting for a priest of God to sleep beneath the roof of an unbeliever,” and this after 'having very heartily partaken of Mr. MacCollop’s hospitality, and frequently requested the passage of the bottle the night before, we feel the fun of the narrative, emphasised, too, by the serious elements that accompany it. “MacCollop stared at his guest in silent wonder. He was amazed. He remembered that before he had fallen asleep his guest had wished him a hearty and friendly ‘Good night.’ He now saw that unless he remained silent a quarrel would ensue. So he held his tongue.” A scene with a great deal of suggestion and pathos is that where Kate O’Brien finds the dead body of her father in the snow, the work of wretches whom he had done so much to befriend. And we should not forget to add that, though the character of Kate O’Brien is not elaborated, we realise her personality thoroughly—a few touches make her real to us; and her love for her father, and her sweet, self-abnegating temper, which would have led her to do so much for the poor people amid whom her lot had been cast, combine to attract our best regards, and to make us wish that we had seen more of her. But then, exhaustive presentation of character was not here the end, but the means, and the means have been used to some purpose, with this end in view.
     The good qualities of the Irish people—their generosity, their half-helpless desire to aid each other, and their unconcern for the future, are recognised; but the purpose of the author compels her to dwell rather on the dark side—on the fickleness, the revengefulness, the lack of forecast, the shiftlessness, and the duplicity which are so marked features in their character now. On several points Miss Jay’s representations might be a little qualified in the minds of practical men by the perusal of Mr. Boyd Kinnear’s remarkable pamphlet, “Ireland in 1881” (Smith, Elder, and Co.), which has just been published, and in which Mr. Kinnear skilfully communicates the result of a vast deal of observation and patient inquiry. Whether if in the past Governments had always been at once more firm and more sagacious and more conciliatory, any different effects had been realised to-day as respects Irish character, is a question on which political theorists may speculate; it is clear that the practical problem is made more inveterate by the sense of long-sustained and still existing wrong; and we have now to deal with the long gathered-up grudges and mouldering discontentments of ages. Any one who wishes to realise the mischief which may be done by the ceaseless plottings of the Catholic priests cannot do better than read “The Priest’s Blessing,” which is more a practical book than its outward form would lead one to fancy.

     *The Priest’s Blessing; or, Poor Patrick’s Progress from This World to a Better. By Harriet Jay, Authoress of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c., &c. F. V. White and Co.

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The Academy (13 August, 1881)

     Miss Jay’s new, short, and powerful story is somewhat spoiled by the fact that it has a purpose. In a dedication to the Chief Secretary for Ireland—the eulogistic character of which recalls Milton’s sonnet on Cromwell, a still more celebrated “pacificator” of that country, and “the cloud not of war only but detractions rude,” through which he proceeded on his “glorious way” to “peace and truth”—we are told that The Priest’s Blessing is “a little study of the Irish question, from one who loves Ireland and the Irish peasant, but would warn both against false prophets and teachers, Nationalists and time-serving misleaders.” Looked at from the “study” point of view, the story means that the shooting of landlords and agents in Ireland is really the work of priests. Even in fiction there have not appeared of late two such villains as Father Flannigan, the curate of Patrickstown, a drunken, hypocritical scamp, who, when in his cups, beats the members of his flock, and, when sober, regains his popularity by working on their superstitions; and Father Malloy, with his deeper and darker designs, and his resolute purpose of “expelling the Sassenachs from the soil” one by one. Poor Patrick O’Connor, whose pilgrimage from the cradle to the gallows—blessed at both ends by the priest—is the one powerfully drawn character in the book that will survive when “study” and “purpose” are forgotten. He is one of the beings to be found only in Ireland and in Miss Jay’s novels, whose lives are sodden misery long drawn out; who are a curse to those whom they would bless, and die martyrs by mistake. Most of the other characters, especially Mr. O’Brien, the fated Protestant landlord, are merely old Irish lay-figures. There is, indeed, individuality in the courageous Scotch agent, Sandy McCollop, but his “national dialect” is a compound of bad English and worse Irish. With his hatred of the people among whom his lines were cast, he would never, on being fired at, and when his dialect would have returned to him, even if he had lost it, have exclaimed, “You murdering scoundrel, you blethering, brutal thief o’ the world!” It is just as probable that David Hume—Scotch “canniness” writ large—muttered in his sleep, Je tiens J. J. Rousseau.

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The Graphic (10 September, 1881)

     “THE PRIEST’S BLESSING : or, Poor Patrick’s Progress from this World to a Better,” by Harriet Jay, authoress of “The Queen of Connaught” (I vol. : F. V.White and Co.). This is the secret history of a case of landlord-murder in the West of Ireland. In telling it, Miss Jay has, with finished art, avoided every appearance of literary colouring, and has depended for effect upon an almost excessive simplicity. We are compelled to read it as uncritically as a private letter, and do not consciously realise its full power and pathos until we can look back upon it as a whole: and then every well- remembered stroke tells. Not all Miss Jay’s readers will agree with her that Irish troubles are due to no deeper cause than priestly influence, or indeed that such influence is anywhere near the root of the matter, and she makes the usual mistake of supposing that an Irish landlord is necessarily incapable of comprehending, at least as well as a novelist, the natures of the people with whom he has to deal. But, if this were so, landlords would learn much from the life-progress of Pat O’Connor of Patrickstown—how, from being a mere harmless victim of a large family and potato disease, he came to die on the gallows, a martyr to a blind sense of religion and honour. No word of conventional sentiment mars the effect of this powerful study of the heart and mind of a savage of our own time and nation, with his capacities for unconscious heroism under circumstances which would seem to make anything in such a shape impossible. We are not cheated into taking strong and bitter stuff by the formalities of a love story. Plot and style are strong and bitter enough—as much so as any story must be that deals with the extreme conditions of Irish peasant life as they are. Exception must, in justice, be taken to Miss Jay’s inaccurate treatment of legal matters in general and of criminal procedure in particular. It injures that effect of complete truth which, in other respects, her knowledge of the larger human nature which lies outside the law- courts ensures. Pat O’Connor himself represents a type which she obviously and thoroughly understands, and which all who are interested in the Ireland of to-day and to-morrow ought to understand also. The novel is certain to attract exceptional attention.

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The Pall Mall Gazette (15 September, 1881)

     “The Priest’s Blessing.” By Harriett Jay. (F. V. White and Co.) No reader will think this equal to the author’s “Queen of Connaught.” And the reason of the inferiority is evident. A “purpose” is almost inevitably fatal to literary success; and Miss Jay has a very decided purpose, and, what is worse, a purpose closely connected with the burning questions of the Irish difficulty. The chief dramatis personæ are Mr. O’Brien, who purchases an estate at “Patrickstown;” Father  Malloy, the parish priest of this same place; and Patrick O’Connor, a peasant, who represents the object for which these two rival powers contend. The new proprietor seeks to elevate the population; the priest opposes what will end with diminishing his own influence. Provoked by the resistance which he meets with, the reformer becomes harsh and even oppressive to his tenantry—O’Connor, whom he had specially sought to serve, being one of the chief sufferers. In the end Mr. O’Brien is murdered and O’Connor is executed for the crime, to which, indeed, he had been privy, but which he had not committed. He is about at the last to reveal the organization which had ordered and executed the murder, when the priest succeeds, by the use of spiritual terrors, in closing his mouth. We can quite understand how a writer, convinced that such things do happen, should see in fiction the only way of making her conviction known; but she has to deal with the difficulty that her subject is not suited for art. Her readers get a political pamphlet in the shape of a novel, and in all probability miss both instruction and amusement. Miss Jay has, we allow, written with no small force, but we cannot congratulate her on a success.

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The Morning Post (22 September, 1881 - p.6)

THE PRIEST’S BLESSING.*

     Satire is an undeniably powerful weapon in the hands of a competent reformer, but it is also one which, used by the inexperienced, is only too liable to act after the well-known fashion of the Australian boomerang, and it will hardly be satisfactory to Miss Jay’s many admirers to witness the result of this attack upon the Irish religious system. Even granting that all the scenes of the action are founded upon fact, no unprejudiced person would affirm that a drunken reprobate like Flannigan or a hypocritical traitor like Malloy are to be accepted as fair types of the Roman clergy in the sister isle; and unless the objects attacked be such as are easy of recognition and appeal to the understanding by their fidelity to generally acknowledged originals in the world of fact satire becomes aimless, and has a decided tendency to be dull where it is not objectionable. It is also more than questionable whether the present is the most suitable time to present the English public with imaginary pictures of agrarian outrage, or whether the Irish priesthood is likely to be encouraged in promoting peace by such representations of their actions. Apart from these strictures on the motif of the book there is little to be said about it, except that the story is rather wanting in interest. It deals with the murder of a landed proprietor, Mr. O’Brien, for which dastardly crime the wrong man, Patrick O’Connor, is arrested, condemned, and hanged, dying in the real murderer’s place through the instigation of Father Malloy. Beyond this there is really very little in a narrative which was doubtless intended to give a faithful representation of Irish agrarian matters, but leaves no definite impression on the mind. Miss Jay has so justly earned a reputation as a clever, if not very profound, writer of fiction that the reading public is fairly entitled to look for something better when she takes up her pen; in fact, “The Priest’s Blessing” cannot even be wished a success which it is very unlikely to gain.

     * The Priest’s Blessing; or, Poor Patrick’s Progress from this World to a Better. By Harriett Jay, author of “The Queen of   Connaught,” &c. London: F. V. White and Co.

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The Belfast News-Letter (22 September, 1881 - p.7)

THE PRIEST’S BLESSING: OR POOR PATRICK’S PROGRESS FROM THIS WORLD TO A BETTER. By Harriett Jay, authoress of “The Queen of Connaught.” London: F. V. White & Co., Southampton Street, Strand.

MISS JAY’S last novelette may be read in a little over an hour, and this fact will cause it to commend itself to many of those library subscribers who formed unpleasant ideas of “The Queen of Connaught” series. Miss Jay has not yet got a grasp of Irish character, nor do we think that the likelihood of her receiving much assistance from her relative, Mr. Robert Buchanan, is great. Mr. Buchanan is doubtless responsible for the prologue in verse to which we are treated in the little volume before us, but we cannot say that it is a conspicuous addition to the merits of the story. Such a tale as she has is told by Miss Jay in simple and unaffected language. It is, unfortunately, by no means an uncommon one in the South—that is, up to a certain point. The story is of a typical Irishman of the class who show an insane desire to try whether a couple of acres of indifferent land will support a family of seven or eight souls. The usual result attends his experiment, and he applies for assistance to the landlord, by whom he is frequently relieved until a climax comes, when an eviction takes place, the landlord being justly incensed at being fired at by some of his tenants. It is unnecessary to add that the gentleman is at last brought down, when suspicion falls upon poor Patrick, the hero of the story, and, at the instigation of the priest, he allows himself to be put on trial for the crime—though he is well aware who is the real criminal—and to be hanged for the offence. Now, up to the point of the trial, we dare say that Miss Jay’s story will bear to be scrutinised, but in order to be accurate to the character of the people, she should have made the jury return a verdict of “Not guilty.” It is in this direction that the influence of the priests has been recently turned, and with a success that cannot be doubted by anyone reading the papers. There is a good deal of broad colouring in the book, but not much careful drawing. It is, however, an improvement in every way on “The Queen of Connaught” and “The Dark Colleen,” and we do not despair that the authoress may one day be able to write a good novel, but to do so she must keep clear of Ireland and the Irish.

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The Daily News (10 November, 1881)

     Miss Harriett Jay’s volume, “The Priest’s Blessing” (V. V. White and Co.), is less a story of Irish life, though it is thrown into that form, than a diatribe against the Irish priesthood. Patrick O’Connor, the ill-fated victim of priestly tyranny, intrigue, and ambition, is a poor, ignorant Irish peasant, trained under the influence of his clergyman into deceit and perjury, and finally expiating the crime of another on the gallows, still under the direction of his spiritual guide. This and other instances of extraordinary criminality are declared by the author to be drawn from actual life, and to be not singular “in wild out-lying villages such as that where the scene of this story is laid.” This may be so, nor would it be difficult to detect remarkable instances of villainy in any and every section of society were one to take the trouble to search for them. But attacks on a whole body of men founded on isolated cases of depravity are manifestly misleading, and we are fain to believe that Fathers Malloy and Flannigan of Miss Jay’s polemic are exceptional and rare individuals. Miss Jay’s cleverness and power of graphic writing are necessarily hampered in a story written to order, but they make themselves evident even under such adverse conditions.

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The Spectator (17 December, 1881 - p.26)

—Another story, more distinctively Irish, is The Priest’s Blessing. By Harriett Jay. (F. V. White).—“Poor Patrick,” the hero, is connected with a secret society. Mr. O’Brien, a stranger, who has bought land, and seeks to farm it on new principles, falls under the ban of this society, and is murdered. Patrick does not commit the actual crime, but he is privy to it; and the end of the tragedy is that he goes to his death with the “priest’s blessing,” sooner than give up the names of the guilty. Whatever individual priests may do, it is not true, we believe, to represent them as taking such a part as this. They hate the secret societies as much as the Castle hates Fenians.

poorpatpress1
poorpatpress2

[Press notices for The Priest's Blessing, or Poor Patrick’s Progress from this World to a Better
from Two men and a Maid (London: F. V. White and Co.,1881).]

 

Robert Buchanan provided the following preface for Harriett Jay’s My Connaught Cousins - her next ‘Irish novel’ after the controversial The Priest’s Blessing:

From My Connaught Cousins (London: F. V. White and Co., 1883 - p. iii-viii)

PREFATORY NOTE.
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THE Authoress of My Connaught Cousins, smarting under a certain misconception, but thinking that polemics of any kind ill befit a lady’s pen, has asked me to write a few prefatory words explaining how this book and its predecessors came to be written, and how unjust is the charge, made in one influential quarter, that she is an enemy to Irish nationality. The task is a difficult one, especially as I sympathise more strongly than she does with the present political movement, and am, indeed, much more of an advanced Liberal; but we are entirely at one in our sympathy with the social life and aims of the Irish people, and in our love for what is best and noblest in the Irish nature. In these days of haste and folly, anything really original in literature is certain to be misunderstood. When the Queen of Connaught appeared, its great and instantaneous success was unconnected with its most sterling characteristic—that of an entirely new (but I believe the only true) reading of the national character and temperament. Subsequent events have justified that reading in an extraordinary manner; and it is clearly understood now that the familiar Irishman of literature and the stage, the merry, good-humoured “Pat” of a thousand novels and melodramas, was more or less a product of the inner consciousness. In a subsequent but far less successful work, unpopular from its rigid and terrible truth of delineation, the Authoress put her finger on the canker which now, as heretofore, poisons the wholesome life of Ireland; but the Priest’s Blessing, though neglected now, will live as perhaps the most powerful social study that ever came from the mind of a young girl. No unprejudiced person who reads that work, and takes it in connection with other works from the same pen, will doubt its deep insight—I should say, its unparalleled insight—into the nature of the Irish peasant.
     The Authoress of these works went to Ireland when very young, lived for years in the wildest and loneliest part of the wild and lonely West, and was first inspired to literary effort by what she
saw and knew. Her pictures were drawn from the very life, of which she was all that time a portion. She had no prejudices and no predispositions, and her sympathy, above all, was for the suffering people; and if in her portrayal she often had to describe moral darkness, she did so with a full sense of what was brightest and best on the other side of the picture. Behind the wretchedness and the squalor, the ignorance and the prejudice, beginning in misconception and culminating in crime, she showed the deep tenderness, the devoted patience, the sweetness and the purity, of the Celtic temperament. The characters of Dunbeg in the Queen of Connaught, of Patrick O’Connor in the Priest’s Blessing, of James Merton in the present work, are, as living types, unique in literature; and the infinite pity of literary sympathy was never better exemplified than in the life story of “Madge Dunraven” and “Morna Dunroon,” or than in the tender idyll of “How Andy Beg became a Fairy.”
     Among the first to recognise the unique power of these stories, their fidelity to human nature, and their predominant dramatic power, was one of the foremost moral teachers of this or any time,—Mr Reade. Had they been unveracious, had they been in any sense productions of the inner consciousness, they would never have attracted that most keen- sighted of social observers; had they lacked sympathy for their subject, had they been opposed to what was best in Irish life and character they would never have won his approval. But their veracity is vital and will prevail. Meantime, the reader is to be warned that they contain many things, present many pictures, which the false friends and summer lovers of Ireland must naturally regard with suspicion and dislike. The true friends of Ireland, and all those who honestly sympathise with the national aspirations, will find in them that truth which genius only can reveal, and which, when once revealed, is fairer than any falsehood, however brightly drawn.

                                                                                                                           ROBERT BUCHANAN.

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Two Men and a Maid: A Tale (1881)

twomen

[Cover of 1883 ‘yellowback’ edition.]

deadmansbridead

[Advert for the serial version of Two Men and a Maid (The Dead Man’s Bride)
from The Dundee Advertiser (26 July, 1881 - p.2).]

 

The Graphic (17 December, 1881)

     MISS HARRIETT JAY, having achieved a foremost place among writers of Irish fiction, has in “Two Men and a Maid” (3 vols. : F. V. White and Co.) entered upon a deeper and wilder exploration of human passion than she has hitherto attempted. Her latest novel is a portraiture of jealousy in its most extreme form. It need not be said that the subject is not attractive in itself, and that whatever attraction the strongest hand can bestow upon it is of the nature of fascination.It must not be supposed that the exposure of Richard Glamorgan’s self-torturing soul, until it becomes crazed well-nigh to murder, affords a pleasant spectacle. But it is a terribly fascinating one, and gains in effect from the extraordinary skill with which Miss Jay has kept the most consuming and overwhelming passion well to its own side of the line that divides it from insanity. Glamorgan is a passionate self-tormentor, seeking for the one woman whom he can trust, and determined, with or without cause, to find himself deceived. He can love with his whole life: but with him, as he says of himself, love does not mean faith, but jealousy. He plots a hideously cruel stratagem to test whether the love of the woman who has given him her whole heart is great enough to endure beyond the grave. By the extreme of poetical justice, the plot fails, or seems to fail, and three lives at least are destroyed or ruined for ever. But it is less in the outline of her plot than in her mastery over the extremes of tragic passion and over the most violently contrasted characters that Miss Jay’s strength displays itself most thoroughly. Nothing can be more dramatic than the contrast between Alice and Glamorgan— between the man who imprisons her life in, and by means of, the gloom of his own, and the girl, weak and gentle by nature, but stronger in her very feebleness than his seemingly greater strength could dream. It is probably merely a coincidence that the quaint sound of the title, “Two Men and a Maid” should, by echoing the “Man and a Maid” in Tennyson’s “Maud,” suggest also that kindred study of self-torture.But nevertheless, whether purposely allusive or not, the title is, from this point of view, singularly well chosen. Compared with the former works of the authoress of “The Queen of Connaught” this novel must be pronounced second to none.It is more dramatically complete and shows even extraordinary capacity for dealing with the greater passions, by means not only of the power that comes from insight, but also of the subtle touches derived from thought and study. A little more self-restraint in description, a little more accuracy in outward matters, fewer lurid effects, and more frequent gleams of sunshine, are still needed at her hands.But, even without these, “Two Men and a Maid” is something more than a merely good and powerful novel. In what respects it is more, no reader will fail to understand.

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The Scotsman (22 December, 1881 - p.3)

Two Men and a Maid: A Tale. By Harriet Jay, author of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c. &c. Three Volumes. London: F. V. White & Co.

     It is not often that a book is produced with a more wildly extravagant plot and development than those which Miss Jay has embodied in Two Men and a Maid. The hero is a certain Richard Gloucester, a gloomy, suspicious, hot- tempered man, who has nevertheless contrived to win the love of a beautiful and sweet Welsh girl, Alice Chepstow, the daughter of a poor vicar. Mr Gloucester, in an earlier part of his career, has ruined his fortunes for the sake of a woman who, in the hour of the adversity he had incurred for her sake, showed that it was not himself but his money that she loved, and calmly deserted him. This makes him almost insanely distrustful of Alice’s sincerity. He goes out to China to retrieve his estate, which, though large, is mortgaged up to the hilt. The understanding is, that in nine months he will come back for Alice, marry her, and take her with him to his place of Eastern exile. Before the expiration of this fixed time, however, news comes that he has been murdered by pirates in the China seas. The shock to Alice is terrible, for her love for Gloucester has been deep and intense. She is gradually recovering her physical health, however, when a new complication arises. Gloucester’s lawyer, a man of the name of Tremaine, is the real owner of the mortgages on his estate. By the will of the supposed dead man, Alice has an interest in the property unless or until she marries. Mr Tremaine has a direct interest in hastening that event, and he is taking measures to that end; but he is soon spurred on by a stronger motive than the desire of pecuniary gain. His one child, a daughter, to whom he is passionately devoted, has long loved Gloucester; and when that gentleman, as every novel reader will have foreseen, returns to England, though in a shockingly mutilated condition, Tremaine plots, on the one hand, to make Alice Chepstow believe that Gloucester has never really loved her with an honest love, and, on the other, to persuade Gloucester that Alice is already preparing to console herself for his loss. He is the better able to carry out this design because Gloucester, with his usual tendency to morbid suspicion, keeps the secret of his return, and goes down to the place of Alice’s residence in disguise to act as a spy on his unfortunate betrothed. Alice’s love for him is really unabated; but she is induced by Tremaine’s machinations to lose her faith that he had died true to her, and is persuaded by her relatives to consent to marriage with another and very eligible suitor, who has loved her long and ardently. Gloucester contrives to carry her off a few hours after the marriage ceremony has been performed. The only consolation he derives from this infamous act is to find that her love for him is still unabated; but he is obliged to restore her to her heart-broken husband, and she very soon afterwards dies— which is, indeed, all that is left for her to do. This preposterous story is told with a certain amount of narrative and dramatic vigour; but no literary power could give real interest or vitality to a plot which is one long violation of probability. It is impossible for the reader to have the smallest sympathy with the personages of the tale, most of whom would inevitably, in real life, be consigned to a lunatic asylum before they had committed half the follies here ascribed them. Alice is too colourless a character to arouse any interest, and Richard Gloucester is simply a monstrosity—a sort of caricature of Rochester in “Jane Eyre,” with none of that personage’s redeeming traits.

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The Standard (27 January, 1882 - p.2)

     “Two Men and a Maid.” By Harriet Jay, Author of the “Queen of Connaught,” &c. Three Vols. F. V. White and Co. —A foolish and unpleasant story, of which the hero is a poor braggadocio maniac and the heroine a very drivelling person indeed, who prays devoutly in church for the success of her love, one minute, and seeks assurance of happiness by dabbling hands with her lover in a bewitched pool in Hell’s Glen the next. The tale is plentifully eked out with padding, as when we are informed that a gentleman wore dress clothes when he went out to dinner, and that Richard Glamorgan’s “first proceeding,” after arriving at his hotel, “was to order supper; then he followed his luggage to his room, washed, and changed his clothes—a process which was very necessary after a railway journey of several hours. Having completed this, he pulled from his portmanteau a little leather writing case,” &c. What on earth have all this dressing and washing and unpacking to do with the story any more than the fact likewise chronicled that the clock of St. Paul’s was striking twelve as he drove to his inn in a hansom? Would the fortunes of any one person in the book have been different if the clock of St. Paul’s or of any other church had struck twelve half an hour earlier or later? We are told that one of the personages of the tale “espoused the Romish Church.” This phrase sounds strange to us; but some of the French expressions are stranger still. “C’est bein,” and “Hotel de Lion D’or.” are sentences which must bewilder a young reader who should seek to recreate himself with “Two Men and a Maid” in the intervals of preparation for an examination in modern languages.

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The Morning Post (20 February, 1882 - p.6)

TWO MEN AND A MAID.*

     There can be no doubt as to the power manifested in Miss Jay’s new novel; it is weird and dramatic, with an intensity of purpose most suitable to the glowing interest of the plot, whilst there is a good deal of originality in the conception of the principal male character. This man, Richard Glamorgan, the embarrassed owner of an old Welsh property, is shown as being of a morbidly jealous disposition, and, from the effect of former circumstances, a misogynist, from which miserable creed he has, at the opening of the tale, been partially redeemed by his love for Alice Chepstow, the vicar’s daughter. The story goes on to show how the unhappy man, who can hardly be acquitted from a suspicion of insanity, contrived to wreck not only his own life, but that of the heroine, and of an honest gentleman by whom she was also beloved, and who was to Glamorgan as Hyperion to a satyr! Richard commits an act of cold-blooded, malignant treachery, which can only be condoned, even partially, on the hypothesis of aberration of intellect; having been reported to have been killed abroad, he returned in disguise, and deliberately haunts the neighbourhood of his betrothed with the idea of satisfying himself of her fidelity to his own worthless memory; and, after wearing her life out by a succession of cowardly stratagems, completes his infamous behaviour by carrying her off forcibly on the day upon which she had been wedded to the faithful Philip. Unfortunately, poor Alice had been only two true to her first love, and the most rigid of moralists will excuse her act in marrying another after studying the cleverly-drawn chain of circumstances which compelled her to bestow her hand upon Mr. Kingston. The novel is a sad one, with hardly a gleam of light throughout, but it is none the less enthralling, and will be read with eagerness. Mr. Tremaine, the wily solicitor, is one of the best drawn characters of the action; although his conduct is detestable, he is redeemed from utter badness by his love for Dordas, and she is a clever, though slight study, of a faithful woman. One would be glad to know why Mr. Glamorgan had a “hecatomb” of tobacco pipes. Was it with the intention of destroying worn-out rubbish, or only with the object of subjecting them to cleansing fires?

     *Two men and a Maid. A Tale. By Harriett Jay, author of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c. In 3 vols. London: F. V. White and Co.

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Birmingham Daily Post (18 March, 1882 - p.11)

TWO MEN AND A MAID: A Tale. By HARRIET JAY.
     In three vols. [London: F. V. White and Co.]
If the aim of the novelist should be like that of the player, “to hold the mirror up to nature,” Miss Jay has certainly missed it. “Two Men and a Maid” would be a singularly painful story of the sensational type were not its characters, and especially the leading male character, too unlike humanity to provoke any deeper feeling than a kind of grim sarcastic merriment. Whether it is possible that any man would seek to win the hand of a young and innocent girl by telling her the story of his adulterous connection with a woman who deserted him when his fortune was squandered away, but for whom he still betrays a warm admiration, we do not know; but we do know that such a story, even when it is rendered comparatively innocuous by an absence of realistic power in the descriptions, is not wholesome reading.

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Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (25 June, 1882 - p.5)

     “Two Men and a Maid.” By Harriett Jay, author of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c. (F. V. White and Co.) This is a new edition of a very good novel. The ending is sad, as might be expected from the title, though that perhaps is, after all, not so very obvious a deduction. Miss Jay has succeeded in treating what might in some hands be a somewhat unsavoury subject with no little grace and felicity.

twomenpress

[Press notices for Two Men and a Maid from My Connaught Cousins (London: F. V. White and Co., 1883).]

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My Connaught Cousins (1883)

 

The Academy (23 December, 1882)

My Connaught Cousins. In 3 vols. By Harriett Jay. (White.)

     There was no necessity for a prefatory note by Mr. Robert Buchanan to My Connaught Cousins; the book is quite pleasant and quite intelligible enough to stand on its own merits. It is written with a lively and intelligent sympathy with the Irish people by one who evidently enters into the tragic elements of the Irish character arising from the impulsive warmth of feeling and incompleteness of development, which must leave its destiny a question not to be solved in any time near our own, but still to call out the disinterested efforts and fruitful sympathy of leaders of the future. Jack Stedman, the hero, is invited to a typical Irish home, full of that joyous hospitality, that courteous kindliness and perfect freedom, which make up the associations which most people have with Irish visits. Six delightful cousins vie in their efforts to spoil him; and, of course, Oona, the most beautiful, is the heroine. The prospects of the book looked doubtful when Jack set himself to read Oona’s MS.; but her story is better than anything Jack writes of his own; in fact, it becomes plain that his visit is chiefly a framework to introduce these somewhat wild, but interesting, Irish stories. Oona’s tale of the two brothers; Nora’s, of “The Maid of Cruna Island;” and, best of all, Kathleen’s, of “Rose Merton,” are well worth reading—the last too sadly worth remembering in the light of recent Irish affairs. In addition to the stories with which he is regaled, Jack Stedman becomes interested in the characters around him, and has some admirable opportunities of studying the landlord question (which he leaves with most disheartening results, we must confess) and the customs and claims so dear to the hearts of a people who can never be rightly judged until they are seen and known in their own homes. There is little artistic effort, but there is genuine pathos and the sympathetic feeling which goes far to solving vexed questions, in My Connaught Cousins.

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The Daily News (29 December, 1882)

RECENT NOVELS.
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     We should have thought that the original power and intrinsic worth of Miss Harriett Jay’s Irish romances would have made their way with the public without the aid, if aid it be, of expostulation or exhortation from her friends. Her brother- in-law, Mr. Robert Buchanan, has, however, deemed it desirable to prefix a prefatory note to her last novel, “My Connaught Cousins” (3 vols., F. V. White and Co.), in which he disclaims, on the author’s account, any hostile feeling to Irish nationality, and utters a protest against what he calls the neglect with which some, at any rate, of her books have been received. This seems to us surprising, for, while Miss Jay’s stories have received an amount of opposition which is inevitable to works dealing with disturbed political questions, neglect is the last condition we should have believed them abandoned to. We have been under the impression that they were widely read and exceedingly well-known. No one could write a novel about Ireland and he Irish of the present day which would be worth reading if it did not contain views which would be contradicted by one side or the other. Miss Jay’s novel “The Priest’s Blessing” presented a view of the relations of the peasantry to their priesthood and the nature of the influence of the priest which must inevitably have aroused opposition only bitterer for the evident sincerity of the author’s conviction. It was as Mr. Buchanan says, a “powerful social study,” and, though some readers thought it mistaken or one-sided, most people thought it worth reading. Perhaps there is no country which presents at the moment so many and so widely-differing social aspects as Ireland, and about which so many positively true and absolutely different notions can be expressed. It all depends on the point of view. In “My Connaught Cousins,” as in previous works, Miss Jay exhibits a generous and warm sympathy with the suffering people and a keen observation of the temperament, at any rate, of the class her story lies amongst. To say that the peasants of her Connaught country are in many ways very unlike the peasants of Ulster is only to re-state the truism that Ireland is a country of self-contradictions. In the main the qualities of the Celtic temperament are everywhere alike. But, to take only a small social question as a test of accuracy, we should like to know what the priests and doctors of Ireland generally would say to Miss Jay’s fourth chapter, in which Father John and Doctor Maguire are described as “martyred men, lugubrious, monosyllabic” because they were temporarily divorced from the whiskey bottle, only recovering their jocund spirits on breaking self-imposed pledges and swallowing quantities of raw spirits. “My Connaught Cousins” is not so much an ordinary novel as a series of local sketches, sometimes, as in that we have just alluded to, a little over-coloured, and occasionally showing traces of hasty arrangement. It fully displays, however, the author’s fresh and lively descriptive power and vivid style.

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The Graphic (6 January, 1883)

     Miss Harriett Jay, in “My Connaught Cousins” (3 vols.: F. V. White and Co.), has most effectively given some of the results of her intimacy with the people and the traditions of Western Ireland. Mr. Robert Buchanan’s preface is not needed to vouch for the sincerity and the power of the pen that wrote the “Queen of Connaught” and “The Priest’s Blessing,” or for the breadth of Miss Jay’s social and political sympathies. The present work is a collection of sketches and tales—how far the latter are collected, original, or adapted, Miss Jay best knows—illustrating life and character in the remotest West, arranged and connected by a pleasant holiday setting in the form of a prosperous love story. All this is managed with such skill and such variety of charm that few will be tempted to charge the general effect with being a little one-sided. The “stupid and cowardly Saxon” is, in truth, only too swift and too eager to sympathise with the characteristics of that island which is so resolutely determined to consider itself miscomprehended. Miss Jay has brought out all the good that thousands besides herself have found in the quick and warmhearted West, and those who know her scenery the best will thank her the most for confirming their own experiences in so adequate and so delightful a way.

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The Morning Post (8 January, 1883 - p.3)

MY CONNAUGHT COUSINS.*

     Miss Jay occupies a prominent place among writers of fiction as a delineator of Irish life and character. She has none of the bright drollery and humour of Lever, nor do her sketches show the careful finish of those by Carleton, but the outlines of her pictures are clear and vivid, and she is a deeply-convinced exposer of Irish grievances. Her latest work, “My Connaught Cousins,” is as fresh and original as its predecessors. It has, however, less merit as a novel then, for instance, her “Queen of Connaught,” as it has really no plot. The arrival of a young London barrister on a visit to his cousins in wild Connemara, one of whom he learns to love and at last marries, does not deserve the name. The author’s present work consists of a series of varied pictures of landlord and peasant life in Connemara. These pictures are presented to the reader either as incidents occurring to the family of Mr. Kenmare or in tales told by his young daughter to their London cousin. Among the finest of these is the legend of “Kildare Castle.” The tragedy enacted between the unfortunate Antony and his handsome brother Conn is forcibly told, and the contrast between Alma Clifford’s somewhat weak character and her stern surroundings very striking. Miss Jay’s descriptions of the rude, savage coast of Connemara are excellent. Whether when the storm wind lashes the waves of the great Atlantic into fury, or when the trembling rays of the rising sun glitter on its surface calm as a mountain lake and tinged with the ever-varying hues of the opal, the author’s facility for brilliant word painting is never better shown than in depicting the natural features of this little known but picturesque region. Miss Jay’s account of some customs of Irish life, although bearing the stamp of truth, will doubtless surprise the general reader. Few know that a Connemara peasant match is an affair of barter between the parents of the parties concerned, and is concluded with an utter disregard for the mutual feelings of the young people, as was the case of old, when the contracting parties belonged to families of the old French noblesse. Pretty Norah MacDermott, in accordance with established usage, is offered for “five cows, two fat pigs, a strong donkey for drawing turf, and three pounds in gold, to a man of forty, hideous in face, deformed—an evident bully and tyrant.” Norah’s way of getting out of this cruel predicament is ingenious. Pretending to submit to paternal will she seeks her favoured lover, and proposes to him to make a forcible entry into her chamber by the window, and so carry her off, “But only a hundred yards or so from the house, Owen dear, then ye know ye are safe to keep me, because neither Corney Beg nor any dacent boy would take me after that, even if I had double the fortune.” And Norah’s device being carried out from point to point, she is duly married to the man of her heart. In the character of James Merton the author has drawn the type of the Irish peasant, driven by cruel wrong-doing to crime, which to his heated imagination has become a sacred duty. The picture of his miserable hut, unroofed by his master’s orders, while his unhappy wife is in her death agony, is dark and sombre as the subject which inspires it. After such scenes of horror it is difficult to condemn with sufficient severity murders like that of young Gregory’s. It is only too true that such things have been; and that from a variety of causes, many of them inherent to the soil, the lives of the Irish peasantry in many counties have fallen in very hard places. But the fault of romance writers when treating burning social and political questions is that, like Mrs. Beecher Stowe in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” they make out the exception to be the rule, and give an entirely one-sided view of the situation. That Miss Jay has not avoided this error will be patent to the dispassionate reader. That works like hers at the present moment can but add fuel to a flame already too widely spread will also strike impartial minds. Apart from this, Miss Jay has in her present novel given another proof of dramatic skill united to a style at once varied and graphic.

     *My Connaught Cousins. By Harriett Jay. London: F. V. White and Co.

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The Standard (18 January, 1883 - p.2)

     “My Connaught Cousins.” By Harriet Jay, Author of “The Queen of Connaught, “ Two Men and a Maid,” &c. Three Vols. London: F. V. White and Co.—In a rather flatulent preface Mr. Robert Buchanan orders us to recognise Miss Jay’s novels as works of genius, and assures us that Mr. Charles Reade and himself greatly admire them. A young English barrister pays a visit to his Irish uncle, Mr. Kenmare, of Ballyshanrany. Mr. Kenmare has half a dozen charming daughters. With one of them, the beautiful Oona, her cousin, Jack Stedman, falls in love. The six sisters tell him a great many Irish legends—An agent is killed, and a landlord shot at. Mr. Kenmare, who is held up to us as the soul of honour, could have convicted the would-be assassin, but under the reign of terror prevailing in Ireland he knew the consequences of giving truthful evidence, and he could not brave them. “I remembered my girls,” he said. “I pictured to myself what they would feel sitting together round the dead body of their old father, and for the life of me I could not speak.” “My Connaught Cousins” is like a good many other books about Ireland. There is nothing in it at all striking or original, or deserving of Mr. Buchanan’s pompous eulogy. A novelist should not give to fictitious noblemen the titles of existing Peers. Does Miss Jay know that there is a real Lord Antrim?

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The Spectator (14 July, 1883 - p.22)

     My Connaught Cousins, by Harriett Jay (White), is not an improvement upon “The Queen of Connaught,” or even  “The Priest’s Blessing.” Miss Jay seems to have made a mistake in writing not a single story, but a collection of tales connected by a very slender thread of narrative. Of these, the story of Rose Merton is the most powerful, and the most decidedly Irish. The character, however, of the offending landlord, who, of course, comes to a violent end, seems to us to be unnecessarily repulsive. Rose Merton herself is well drawn, and the “Connaught cousins” are such pleasant girls, and their father is such a good Irish type, that one wishes Miss Jay had paid more attention to them, and less to Irish miseries and grievances. Stedman, who visits them, and into whose arms Oona, the dreamer and story-teller of the number, falls rather too readily at the end of the third volume, is a very conventional London barrister; and Miss Jay’s humour is rather farcical, and too redolent of whisky even for Ireland. The Connaught Cousins would have been all the better without a heavy-shotted “Prefatory Note,” by Mr. Robert Buchanan, which savours too much of the art of the puffiste littéraire.

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Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin) (30 November, 1883)

     The Messrs. F. V. White and Company, London, have issued three popular novels in a 2s. edition. “My Connaught Cousins,” by Harriet Jay, is already well known to us on account, mainly, of its strange mixture of ignorance and knowledge concerning the Irish character. The prefatory note, from the pen of Robert Buchanan, in which that gallant tries to explain away the seeming hostility displayed by the authoress towards our nationality, is quite a feature in the volume.—“My Sister the Actress,” by Florence Marryat, who ought, from experience, to know better than to use the present tense right through a long story, has been found, no doubt, to possess a fascinating influence over some minds.— “The Dean’s Wife,” by Mrs. Eiloart, can boast of a great many points in its favour. For all which reasons these books are welcome in the cheap form.

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Harriett Jay Book Reviews continued

Through the Stage Door (1884) to Robert Buchanan (1903)

or back to Harriett Jay Bibliography

 

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