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And until we had provided all possible security for the integrity of the judge, we should hardly wish for a freer exercise of his authority.
One of the most striking circumstances connected with the periodical press, by which persons engaged in it are distinguished from mere literary men or politicians, to whom they are allied on either hand, is its anonymous character.
At the time when this mighty agent in modern society was struggling into life, when the giant was still in infancy, there is no doubt that some such protection was necessary against the overpowering force of its enemies; for though the earliest periodicals proceeded from the hands of authority, the dangerous character of the new power thus called into existence soon became apparent, and in the long and stormy period elapsing before it reached its present maturity, the odds were often too fearfully against the natural ally of liberty to admit of its throwing away so necessary a shield. But the means of defence, however allowable, and even indispensable to the weak, may become unhandsome and cowardly when employed by the strong. No one can now pretend that he has any just cause to fear the temperate utterance of any sentiments he may entertain on political or literary questions, and the real and well-founded power of the press is too great for it to shrink from the loss of any factitious influence that may arise from the mystery in which its proceedings are at present enveloped, or to fear the renunciation of claims founded only on ignorance and misunderstanding.
In proportion as it assumes the rank of a real power in the state, it becomes necessary to surround it with some of the restraints which power always requires in order to be duly exercised; but the nature of the case does not appear to admit of any other than may be obtained by bringing to bear on it that public opinion, in which it lives and moves and has its being, and renouncing the system of concealment which its altered position no longer requires. The limited number of newspapers, and the immense property embarked in them, renders each one more than a match for any private party with whom it may come into collision; and, little as we desire to see any diminution in the influence and authority of the press, it is impossible to deny that its union of wealth and talent, and inquisitorial secrecy, without any security for moral guidance, does appear in the highest degree critical.
“ 'Tis excellent to have a giant's strength,
But tyrannous to use it like a giant." And though the press, as a body, may by no means fall below other classes in integrity, we must suppose them infinitely above all other men, if we imagine that no bad use is ever made of so singular and anomalous an advantage.
It has been thought, and with some reason, that the profession of an advocate, by inducing those who adopted it to stand forward in defence of any cause without regard to its truth, must be unfavourable to perfect uprightness of mind; and we have unfortunately but too many examples, both in history and in our own times, of the dangerous effects of the habit of making " the worse appear the better reason." Yet, as an advocate openly proclaims that he comes forward to say only whatever can be said on one side of a question, liability to confound his own notions of right and wrong and mislead his auditors is greatly diminished, and his arguments are received with natural suspicion and distrust.
The peril to both parties from the corruption and venality of the press is beyond comparison greater. The newspaper writer who betrays the truth,
does not merely, like the hired advocate, endeavour to make black pass for white, in an individual case, and inflict an injury on a single sufferer, but seeks to sow such seeds of falsehood as shall bring forth a crop of sorrow and sin, perhaps for ages to come.
The temptation to forfeit his integrity is also much greater in his case than in that of the advocate; for the point at issue is not the loss of an occasional fee, but often enough that of his whole subsistence, and it must, of course, be greatly strengthened by the impunity afforded by the concealment of his name, as he is thus shielded from the loss of reputation which might otherwise attend an abandonment of principle.
The ephemeral nature of newspaper writing is in itself a kind of shelter ; for even if the name of a writer were always affixed to an article, it would, in most cases, be soon lost in the oblivion which awaits all periodical productions. Vast and incalculable as is their effect in the aggregate, it is mainly the consequence of perpetual repetition. Succeeding each other like the multitudinous waves of the sea, the most brilliant efforts in this line do but burst for an instant in noise and dashing foam, and then disappear for ever.
be thought, perhaps, that we have adopted rather too serious a tone in speaking of the want of candour in the critical department of newspapers; but beside considering that it is very difficult to be dishonest a little, and to a certain extent only, we are certainly inclined to estimate rather highly the importance of a kind of literature which is the chief, if not the only intellectual aliment, of a large portion even of what are called the educated classes.
Regarding the press also as the great purifier, the prime agent of improvement in modern society, we would fain see those concerned in it shake off some of the trammels by which they have allowed themselves to be entangled, and become awakened to a higher sense of the dignity of their office, and of its consequent duties. At the same time it must not be forgotten, that it is far easier to point to some abuses which have gradually crept into it, than to number a tithe of the benefits which we have derived and are still deriving from its labours, - to count the truths it has brought to light - the falsehoods it has unmasked - how often it has stood between the oppressor and the oppressed – a better champion of innocence than chivalry could ever furnish - how often made its voice heard across continents and seas, and stopped the course of public injustice or private wrong - like a mighty wind from the four corners of the earth, agitating the sluggish waves of human thought, and preserving them from pestilence and stagnation ; it is because we are deeply sensible of the inestimable value of an intelligent, free, and honest press, that we would fain see it correct those vices which degrade it from the high station it ought to occupy, as the legitimate heir in modern times to that throne of spiritual dominion, only dreamed of since the dark ages by the successors of St. Peter.
GLEANINGS OF IRISH CHARACTERISTICS.
Screech the First. A SCREECH is not to be explained by the laws of acoustics. It cannot be described by any possible combination of words. It cannot be represented by a diagram, or transfused into the colours of a picture. To make any approach to a remote description of it, we should employ a variety of languages -German, Gaelic, Walloon, Low Dutch, Cherokee, Hindostani, Japanese, Icelandic, Scandinavian, Sclavonic, Guernsey-French, Magyar, Cracow-Russ, and the like. By an ingenious and utterly unintelligible intermixture of the most fractious sounds drawn from all the accessible tongues of the world, something like a verbal Image of a screech might be obtained; just such an Image as would puzzle Trismegistus, or Albertus Magnus, or Johanna Southcote, to comprehend, and which would consequently convey a tolerably correct notion of that which in its original purity is ten thousand times more tumultuous than the roar of Niagara.
A screech — whatever else it may resemble in its details — is unlike any thing else in its entire volume. It is an Irish concremation. Let no one suppose that it bears any sort of relation to a shout, or a scream, or to a multitudinous burst of voices, for whatever similitude there may exist between it and any din or howl of the earth's creatures, it possesses a soul of humour and pathos within itself, to which no other imaginable agony of lungs can set up the most remote pretensions. Whoever has witnessed an Irish wedding, or an Irish feast, a pattern making the welkin ring and blink with songs and shillelahs, or a faction fight in the cool of the evening in the retired shadow of a mountain glen, may have had his imagination filled with the real glories of a screech. Roaring fun and lusty friendshipsocial feuds and rollicking love-arrowy wit and profane caricature bacchanal dances and the marriages of all the fine arts of wrestling, improvising, skull-fracturing, card-playing, carousing at the still-head, abduction, and station-revels -- the keen of eloquent sorrow, and the hilarious music of the shebeen all enter into the general description of a screech; an ambiguous and comprehensive title, which may, therefore, be appropriately applied to a series of rambling, but illustrative gleanings characteristic of Irish life, of classes and heads peculiar to a country which may fairly be regarded as the most peculiar country on the habitable globe.
For the application or significance of these gleanings we are in no way responsible. If any of them exhibit a tone of exaggeration, the reader may be assured that the exaggeration belongs to the soil from which they spring, that it forms one of the circumstances inseparable from the scenes or persons it delineates, and that, although the fidelity of the likeness be shown in a sort of wild excess, the life is there notwithstanding. As to any offence against the prejudices of any class, all that we can say about such a possible construction of our laughing philosophy is, that we have lived long enough to despise prejudices of all kinds. Humour is a species of chartered Motley, who is allowed to insinuate an occasional point of truth through his freespoken jests without being called to account like a serious fool.
Of the sources of our gleanings it will be enough to observe that some will be rescued from typographical oblivion, that the greater part will be here presented for the first time, and that the whole will have a bearing, more or less direct, upon the domestic characteristics of Ireland, past and present. We pledge ourselves neither to plan nor continuity; and, withoạt
further prelude or promise, we at once unloose the strings of our budget, and let the first screech escape.
THE PRIEST'S NIECE. The parish of Ruthbeg, in the west of Ireland, is placed in the centre of a range of ragged hills, as if it had been dropped there by accident. It is a lonely place, dotted over with trees, ponds, and wide stretches of meadow, and somewhat fantastically intersected with a silver vein of water, that takes its source in one of the mountains. The extent of the parish is about twenty miles, and as the population is thin and scattered, the clerical duties of the priest are laborious; it being a part of his business to visit the parishioners at stated times, and give mass on alternate Sundays at the distant stations. But Father Macdermott contrived to make his task as agreeable as, under all circumstances, could be expected. He travelled on horseback; stopped at the shebeen houses for refreshment, which was gratuitously accorded to his reverence, and which he was never slow to partake of; and, by short stages and merry-makings, he never failed to enjoy himself on the road. He had a word for every body, for he was jocular by nature; and so, between his fun and his functions, he made light of his journey. Imagine him mounted on a well-fed charger, as sleek as himself, and follow him down the sloping bridle-path that leads into the first rent of cabins beyond the bridge: you shall judge of the pleasant life he passes in his retired parish.
“Ha! Mrs. Finnegan, what's upon you this morning, with that quare looking bundle under your apron ?”
“ Troth, your reverence, it's only a basket of eggs."
“ I wouldn't be put out of my way, Mrs. Finnegan, if one or two of them same chickens were laying their eggs up
in my barn ; there's a beautiful pool for the creatures there.” May be
your honour means to do me a good turn this blessed morn
“ And why not, Mrs. Finnegan? Who's sick ?”
“ If I'm a living woman they 'll be breaking their hearts laying eggs for your reverence, before they're an hour older.”
“ You're in the true way, and I'll take care of Thady." Spurs to his horse, and off he goes to a wake.
The eldest son of the house of Shanahan is dead. He lies on a dingy bed, surrounded by numerous candles and the élite of the village. When the priest enters, Michael Shanahan, the father, greets him:
“ There he is, your reverence; sure the world couldn't keep him together, when once the last fit came upon him.” “ Well," rejoins the priest, “it's one comfort, that, do what you
will, you can't bring him back again.”
This consolation was followed by dipping a goblet into a gigantic bowl of punch, that stood on a table in the middle of the apartment, and drinking off its contents to the “ sarvice” of the “ladies” and “gentlemen.”
In the meantime the melancholy revelry went forward, hushed into occaonal attention only when some divers-keyed song broke upon the din and atter of voices; or when some inspired relative of the deceased stood for
ward, in a sudden frenzy of eloquence, to depict his virtues and bewail his loss.
Father Macdermott moved quietly towards a corner, where a middleaged woman, of the lower class, sat alone. She appeared to be an observer, rather than a partaker of the merriment. But it must not, therefore, be inferred, that she was either moody or temperate; for she frequently joined in the loud roar, and never allowed the jorum to pass untasted. Still she did not mingle in the group, but enjoyed it with a sort of solitary recklessness. The priest was soon seated at her side. There was a look of mutual intelligence, checked by strong feelings; but the embarrassment soon wore off, and an under-toned tête-à-tête ensued.
“ And is the cratur well ?” inquired the woman, in a subdued and uncheerful voice.
“ Hearty — hearty !” returned the priest. " And how is her sparats ?”
“ Troth, Mrs. Martin, I can't complain. She is as well as can be expected." These last words were accompanied by a very intellegent smirk, that conveyed a meaning which could not be mistaken.
“ Again? -poor sowl !” and the woman cowered in her corner, and rocked to and fro with an agitated expression of countenance.
The buzz still rang thrillingly through the low room; and but snatches of the conversation were here and there audible.
“ Father, avourneen!” exclaimed an old woman, approaching the priest with great reverence, “how is the niece this blessed night?”
“ Thank your axing, she's mighty well,” returned his reverence.
“Ah! then, wasn't it a pity not to bring her along wid you to the wake? Sure never a one of her gets any diversion at all, she's so given up to the books and the chapel.”
" True, for you,” interrupted Mrs. Martin; “but there's raison in all things. May be it's better as it is.”
“ What should you mean by that, Mrs. Martin ?” inquired the priest.
“ Och! nothing – nothing at all. Only it's a sad sight to see a young thing, the likes of her, shut up morning, noon, and night, all as one as a fairy in a 'baccy-box. If the cratur is like other young sowls — and why shouldn't she, Father Macdermott?” – whispered Mrs. Martin — "you know best — you know best.”
“ Well, I wonder at you to put such thoughts in her head. Did you ever know of a priest's niece go gadding abroad like other girls. Am I not saving up the penny for her” – and then applying his ear close to her’s, he added won't
be the better of all I have? You 'll be the ruin of her if you don't keep your tongue easy."
Augh! it's an ugly deed. What's the use of talking ? — the heart's broke within me!” she answered, smothering her emotions as well as she was able.
“ You're a big fool ! was the answer of the priest, who turned away to the invitation of an awkward, red-haired man, with a jug of fresh made punch in his hand.
Let us now return to the priest's house, seated in a comfortable field, at the termination of the valley beyond the village. It is midnight. Mrs. Finnegan's chickens, presented according to promise, are long since gone to roost. Peggy, the priest's niece, alone is up and waking in the lonely domicile. Suppose a picture of the scene were painted by some Irish Wilkie (if such an artist there be, now that Grattan is no more), it would represent the following interior
A snug warmly-carpeted room; on the left, a fire blazing and sparkling