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[November and December, 1806.]
The Stranger in Ireland, or a Tour in the Southern and Western Parts
of that Country, in the Year 1805. By John Carr, Esq. 4to.
MR. CARR is a traveller whom any sensible observer would like to accompany a few hundred miles. He possesses, in perfection, one qualification, for which many men who have more curiosity than spirit or address, will envy him, and very justly envy him; a happy mixture of confidence, adroitness, and insinuation. By means of this he obtains access to every place, and every person without the smallest difficulty. The moment he arrives at any place as a perfect stranger, he seems to inform himself of everything which it would be desirable to inspect, and the next moment he is introduced to the object of curiosity as readily as if he had lived on the spot twenty years, and knew every person there. He enters with equal ease the peasant's cabin, the country ale-house, the city-hotel, and the splendid mansion of nobility. No apprehensive awkwardness detains him at the gate of a great man's house, hesitating some minutes before he ventures to ring the bell, as many a poor scholar, or rustic man of taste, and even many a philosopher would do, while he tried to inspirit himself by recollecting the maxims of Epictetus, or the noble sentiments of modern doctors on the subject of the equality of mankind. He presents himself with an air perfectly
unembarrassed, and the “pampered menial” skips along the hall to announce, he has no doubt, some old familiar acquaintance of my lord. If, on the introduction, my lord should amidst his complaisance, show any little degree of grave doubtful inquisitiveness, Mr. Carr advances with such a frank and gallant air, that formal ceremony is ashamed to stay in the room, and quickly takes itself off.
The travelling vehicles in some parts of Ireland are justly described as miserable conveyances, and there is many a worthy English gentleman that would deny himself the sight of the most beautiful scenes, if he must visit them under the pains and penalties of being jammed, and rattled, and tossed, and stared at, in a jingle, a noddy, or a jaunting car. Our author, though no stranger to the luxury of easy or splendid carriages, was capable of very properly despising a temporary inconvenience, if any gratification of his taste for the beautiful or the sublime was to be obtained by enduring it. And though a connoisseur in matters of good living, and especially an excellent judge of wines, he could make himself very easy and pleasant over the most homely viands, in those wild situations, where it would have been absurd to complain that the hostess had not studied any large volume on the art of cookery, and had not a larder or cellar ample enough to turn such study to any great practical account. With the exception of a few such slight inconveniences, no traveller ever went on under a more continual sunshine of good fortune than Mr. Carr, according to his lively narrative. The “Green Island” seems to have arrayed itself in all its beauties to receive him, and the utmost politeness of its inhabitants met him at every stage. Nor did these gratifying circumstances fail to produce the due effect on the traveller, whose good-humour would appear to have been but very few times interrupted. This good-humour sparkles out in a continual series of light pleasantries; and though we would not harshly censure the gaiety which an extensive view of an unhappy nation did not repress, yet we cannot help thinking that a philanthropy of the most elevated kind would occasionally have been pensive, where Mr. Carr is very sprightly, and that a refined love of justice would have been severe and indignant, in a few instances in which he is extremely tolerant.
Mr. Carr's intellectual qualifications are well adapted to that kind of travelling which the present volume exhibits. He does not survey a country with a view to form or illustrate moral or political theories, or to select the physical subjects of scientific investigation. It is not in the particular character of naturalist, virtuoso, antiquarian, or statesman, that he travels, nor exactly in the character of philosopher, but simply in that of a man of sense and taste, who wishes fairly to see and hear whatever is most deserving of attention, and to write a spirited description and narration of what he happens to observe. We certainly could have wished, on some occasions, a little more grave research, at the same time that we deprecate that pedantry which cannot make a remark without extending it into a dissertation. It is with a very ill will, we own, that we accompany a traveller, who regularly at every town he comes to, or at every old heap of stones near the road, plants himself in form to make a long speech. Mr. Carr generally seizes with quickness and accuracy the characteristic peculiarities of the people, and of local situations, while he passes from place to place with a celerity which gives us the idea of scampering.
In the preface, and in several other parts of the book, he takes pains to apprise the reader, that none of his observations on the state of Ireland are to be construed as referring to political questions, or as intimating any kind of opinion on the causes of the late melancholy events in that country. Probably this is a well-judged forbearance, in a work like the present. But we earnestly wish that some liberal Englishman, who has been long conversant with mankind and with the speculations relating to their interests, who is equally free from superstitious veneration for old practices and from a rage for novelty and hazardous experiments, who is pure from the infection of party interest, and dares to arraign indifferently any party or every party at the bar of absolute justice, would traverse Ireland expressly with a view to form a comprehensive estimate of the moral and political condition and wants of the people; and then present to the public the assemblage of facts, together with the observations which he had been most prompted to make, while those facts were before him.
The first chapter narrates the journey from London, (as it should seem) to the entrance of the bay of Dublin, and it makes us perfectly acquainted with the dispositions of the traveller. Our readers never met with a more gay and animated gentleman in their lives. He never lets himself be long disconcerted by untoward circumstances. If for a moment his indignation is excited by “ those detestable corrupt harpies called custom-house officers,” he almost immediately forgets them. And even the pains of sympathy, which he sometimes feels, do not become troublesome to the reader, by producing long sentimental declamations. The tragical objects which occasionally interrupt the course of his pleasantry, do not in the least haunt him afterwards. Though decorously serious, or at least demure, in the house of mourning, he can laugh, dance, and sing, as soon as he has quitted it.
The first chapter is marked by almost all the characteristics which distinguish Mr. Carr's manner of writing travels. The descriptions are quick, clear, and lively. He marks so well the prominent circumstances of each situation or society, that he really makes his reader his companion; and this we deem very high praise. At the same time we are disposed to complain, that he rather too often introduces from his memory, at the suggestion of some very slight association of thought, stories which might quite as well have been put in any other part of the book, or in no part of it. These may sometimes be curious in themselves, like the circumstance of Mr. Bolton's wager at Paris, (p. 6.) and might do very well to keep up the chat with his associates in the coach ; but the reader of a costly book of travels will not be so patient. He wants information strictly relating to the
place which the traveller has thought it worth while to visit and describe, and can find miscellaneous anecdotes at any time, in any old volume of a magazine. We might complain too, that our author's lavish eulogiums of all the people of rank that happen to be civil to him, have sometimes made us a little splenetic. We certainly are pleased with his good fortune in meeting so luckily with my Lady Tuite, &c. &c. ; and with his pathetic gratitude for slices of broiled mutton (especially as it was Welch mutton,) most seasonably given him when he was nearly famished in the packet; but when we are told he made on the instant a solemn vow, that all his readers should be informed of this most rare bounty, we cannot but wish his conscience had permitted him to break it. We have a better opinion of Mr. Carr, than to think that if Pat M Cann, or Judith M.Nabb, or some such responsible personage, had divided the little stock of provisions with him, he would not have been grateful ; but we greatly doubt whether he would have been so eloquent.
Now and then we meet with matters so trivial, that we are sorry a man of sense should have condescended to record them; for instance, the story about the boots, page 24. Nothing can tend more effectually to bring the writing of travels into contempt, than to occupy splendid quarto pages with incidents, which a company of louts at a pot-house must be reduced to a very great scarcity of subjects, before any of them would think it worth while to mention. Our author is so determined from the outset, to have something funny, every few pages at least, that he will pick up the slightest facts or the slenderest witticisms for that purpose, rather than go soberly on his journey. About every to laugh, and insists that his readers shall join him, whether they can or not. Sometimes indeed, we readily perform our part of this ceremony; as when he mentions, page 31, that “the secretary of a celebrated English agricultural society, received orders from its committee, to procure several copies of Mr. and Miss Edgeworth’s Essay on Irish Bulls, upon the first appearance