Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY VII.: ON THE NATIONAL SPIRIT OF THE IRISH, A PROPOS OF THE IRISH MELODIES BY THOMAS MOORE. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY VII.: ON THE NATIONAL SPIRIT OF THE IRISH, A PROPOS OF THE IRISH MELODIES BY THOMAS MOORE. - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE NATIONAL SPIRIT OF THE IRISH, A PROPOS OF THE IRISH MELODIES BY THOMAS MOORE.
There are nations with retentive memories, whom the thought of independence does not abandon even in servitude, and who, resisting against habit, which is elsewhere so powerful at the end of centuries, still detest and abjure the condition which a superior power has imposed upon them. Such is the Irish nation. This nation, reduced by conquest to submit to the English government, has refused for six hundred years to consent and give its approbation to this government; it repulses it as in its first days; it protests against it as the former population of Ireland protested in the combats in which it was defeated; it does not consider its revolts as rebellious, but as just and legitimate war. It is in vain that English power has exhausted itself in efforts to overcome that memory, to cause forgetfulness of the conquest, and make them consider the results of armed invasion as the exercise of a legal authority; nothing has been able to destroy Irish obstinacy. Notwithstanding seductions, menaces and tortures, fathers have bequeathed it to their sons. Ancient Ireland is still the only country which the true Irish acknowledge; on its account, they have adhered to its religion and to its language; and in their insurrections, they still invoke it by the name of Erin, the name by which their ancestors called it.
To maintain this series of manners and traditions against the efforts of the conquerors, the Irish made for themselves monuments which neither steel nor fire could destroy; they had recourse to the art of singing, in which they gloried in excelling, and which, in the times of independence, had been their pride and pleasure. The bards and minstrels became the keepers of the records of the nation. Wandering from village to village, they carried to every hearth memories of ancient Ireland: they studied to render them agreeable to all tastes and all ages; they had warlike songs for the men, love ditties for the women, and marvellous tales for the children of the house. Every house preserved two harps always ready for travellers, and he who could best celebrate the liberty of former times, the glory of patriots, and the grandeur of their cause, was rewarded by a more lavish hospitality. The kings of England endeavoured more than once to strike a blow at Ireland in this last refuge of its regrets and hopes; the wandering poets were persecuted, banished, delivered up to tortures and death; but violence served only to irritate indomitable wills: the art of singing and of poetry had its martyrs like religion; and the remembrances, the destruction of which was desired, were increased by the feeling of how much they cost them to preserve.
The words of the national songs in which Ireland has described its long sufferings, have mostly perished; the music alone has been preserved. This music may serve as a commentary on the history of the country. It paints the recesses of the soul, as well as narratives paint actions; we find in it a great deal of languor and dejection; a profoundly-felt but vaguely-expressed grief, like sorrow which becomes hushed when it is observed. Sometimes a little hope or levity betrays itself; but even in the most lively melodies, some melancholy chord comes in unexpectedly, some change of key which hastily brings back more gloomy feelings, as we see on a cloudy day a sunbeam appear for one minute and instantly vanish again. Mr. Moore is both a poet and a musician, like the old bards of his native land; but instead of their wild inspirations, he has all the graces of cultivated talent, and his love of independence, enlarged by modern philosophy, does not limit all his hopes to the deliverance of Erin and the return of the old green standard.* He celebrates liberty as the right of all men, as the charm of all the countries of the world. The English words which he has composed upon the rhythm of the ancient Irish airs, are full of generous sentiments, although generally stamped with local forms and colouring. These forms, almost always mysterious, have moreover a charm peculiar to themselves. The Irish love to make their country into a loving and beloved real being; they love to speak to it without pronouncing its name, and to mingle the love they bear it, an austere and perilous love, with what is sweetest and happiest among the affections of the heart. It seems as if, under the veil of these agreeable illusions, they wished to disguise to their mind the reality of the dangers to which the patriot exposes himself, and to divert themselves with graceful ideas while awaiting the hour of battle, like those Spartans who crowned themselves with flowers, when on the point of perishing at Thermopylæ.
We will give as an example the following poem, which the author supposes to be addressed by a peasant to his mistress:—
Another poem of a more elevated tone is placed in the mouth of one of the old wandering poets, who travelled over Ireland, bewailing the fate of the land:—
Mr. Moore frequently returns to the times of Irish independence, and sings of the heroes of his free country:—
Sometimes he invokes the memory of battles, the fate of which decided liberty: he paints the nocturnal march of the conqueror, and the last vigil of the soldiers of the country, intrenched on the declivity of a hill:—
It is a great title to the gratitude of a nation to have sung its present or past liberty, its secured or violated rights, in verses capable of becoming popular. He who would do for France what Mr. Moore has done for Ireland, would be more than rewarded by the knowledge of having served the most holy of all causes. In the times of despotism, we had satirical burdens to arrest injustice by the frivolous fear of ridicule; why, in these times of dubious liberty, should we not have nobler songs to express our wills, and to present them as a barrier to a power always tempted to encroach? Why should not the prestige of art be associated with the powers of reason and courage? Why should we not make a fresh poetry, inspired by liberty and consecrated to its defence, poetry not classical, but national, which should not be a vain imitation of geniuses which no longer exist, but a vivid painting of the minds and thoughts of the present day which should protest for us, complain with us, and should speak to us of France and of its destiny, of our ancestors and of our descendants.
We have succeeded in our love elegies, ought we to fear undertaking patriotic elegies, not less touching, not less sweet than the former? What image more worthy of pity and of love, than the land of our fathers, so long the plaything of fortune, so often vanquished by tyranny, so often betrayed by its own supporters, now reviving but still tottering, and in a feeble voice claiming our assistance and our devotion? What more poetical than its long existence, to which our temporary existence is bound by so many ties? We that are called new men, let us prove that we are not so; let us rally round the banners of those watch-words popular to the men who formerly wanted what we now want, to the men who understood as we do the liberty of the French soil. The spirit of generous and peaceful independence far preceded us on that soil; let us not fear to stir it deeply to find that spirit: our researches will not be in vain, but they will be sorrowful; for we shall oftener meet with tortures than with triumphs. Let us not deceive ourselves; it is not to us that the brilliant things of past times belong; it is not for us to sing of chivalry: our heroes have more obscure names. We are the men of the cities, the men of the villages, the men of the soil, the sons of those peasants whom a few knights massacred near Meaux, the sons of those citizens who made Charles the Fifth tremble,* the sons of the rebels of the Jacquerie.
[* ] The ancient standard of the Irish chiefs.
[* ] In 1358, when he was regent of the kingdom.