Our Ancient Capital (2)

No public statue of an illustrious Irishman until recently ever graced the Irish capital. No monument exists to which the gaze of the young Irish children can be directed, while their fathers tell them, "This was to the glory of your countrymen." Even the lustre Dublin borrowed from her great Norman colonists has passed away. Her nobility are remembered only as we note the desecration of their palaces; the most beautiful of all our metropolitan buildings but reminds us that there the last remnant of political independence was sold; the stately Custom-house, that Dublin has no trade; the regal pile of Dublin Castle, that it was reared by foreign hands to "curb and awe the city."

It is in truth a gloomy task to awaken the memories of Dublin, even of this century. There, in that obscure house of Thomas Street, visions rise of a ghastly night-scene, where the young, passionate-hearted Geraldine was struggling vainly in death-agony with his betrayers and captors. Pass on through the same street, and close by St. Catherine's Church you can trace the spot where the gallows was erected for Robert Emmet. Before that sombre prison pile two young brothers, handsome, educated, and wellborn, and many a fair young form after them, expiated by death their fatal aspirations for Irish freedom. Look at that magnificent portal, leading now to the tables of the money-changers; through it, not a century ago, men, entrusted with the nation's rights, entered to sell them, and came forth, not branded traitors, but decorated, enriched, and rewarded with titles, pensions, and honours.

Yet the anomalous relation between our country and its capital springs naturally from the antecedents of both. Dublin was neither built by the Irish nor peopled by the Irish; it is a Scandinavian settlement in the midst of a southern nation. Long even before the Norman invasion two races existed in Ireland, as different as the lines of migration by which each had reached it; and though ages have rolled away since Scythian and Southern first met in this distant land, yet the elemental distinctions have never been lost: the races have never blended into one homogeneous nationality. Other nations, like the English, have blended with their conquerors, and progression and a higher civilization have been the result. Roman, Saxon, Dane, and Norman, each left their impress on the primitive Briton; and from Roman courage, Saxon thrift, and Norman pride has been evolved the strong, wise, proud island-nation that rules the world—the Ocean-Rome. A similar blending of opposite elements, but in different proportions, has produced Scotch national character—grave, wise, learned, provident, industrious, and unconquerably independent.

But the Irish race remains distinct from all others, as Jew or Zincali. It has no elective affinities, enters into no new combinations, forms no new results, attracts to itself no Scythian qualities of stern self-reliance and the indomitable pride of independence, but still retains all the old virtues and vices of their semi-oriental nature, which make the history of Ireland so sad a record of mere passionate impulses ending mostly in failure and despair. The English, slow in speech and repellent in manner, are yet able not only to rule themselves well and ably, but to rule the world; while the Irish, so fascinating, eloquent, brave, and gifted, have never yet achieved a distinctive place in the political system of Europe. We had even the advantage of an earlier education; we taught England her letters, Christianized her people, sheltered her saints, educated her princes; we give her the best generals, the best statesmen, the best armies; yet, withal, we have never yet found the strength to govern our own kingdom. Ethnologists will tell you this comes of race. It may be so. Let us then sail up the stream of time to Ararat, and try to find our ancestry amongst the children of the eight primal gods, as the ancients termed them, who there stepped forth from their ocean prison to people the newly baptized world.

A very clever German advises all reviewers to begin from the Deluge, so that by no possibility can a single fact, direct or collateral, escape notice connected with the matter in hand. When treating of Ireland this rule becomes a necessity. Our nation dates from the dispersion, and our faults and failings, our features and our speech, have an authentic hereditary descent of four thousand years. Other primitive nations have been lost by migration, annihilated by war, swallowed up in empires, overwhelmed by barbarians: thus it was that the old kingdoms of Europe changed masters, and that the old nations and tongues passed away. Here only, in this island prison of the Atlantic, can the old race of primitive Europe be still found existing as a nation, speaking the same tongue as the early tribes that first wandered westward, when Europe itself was an unpeopled wilderness.

We learn from sacred record that the first migrations of the human family, with "one language and one speech," were from the East; and every successive wave of population has still flowed from the rising towards the setting sun. The progression of intellect and science is ever westward. The march of humanity is opposed to the path of the planet. Life moves contrary to matter. A metaphor, it may be, of our spirit exile—this travelling "daily further from the East;" yet, when at the farthest limit, we are but approaching the glory of the East again.

Gradually, along the waters of the Mediterranean, the beautiful islands on its bosom serving as resting-places for the wanderers, or bridges for the tribes to pass over, the primal families of the Japhetian race reached in succession the three great Peninsulas of the Great Sea, in each leaving the germ of a mighty nation. Still onward, led by the providence of God, they passed the portals of the Atlantic, coasted the shores of the vine-clad France, and so reached at length the "Isles of the Setting Sun," upon the very verge of Western Europe.

But many centuries may have elapsed during the slow progression of these maritime colonies, who have left their names indelibly stamped on the earth's surface, from Ionia to the Tartessus of Spain; and Miriam may have chanted the death-song of Pharaoh, and Moses led forth the people of God, before the descendants of the first navigators landed amidst the verdant solitudes of Ireland.