Rev. Caesar Otway

Author of "A Tour in Connaught."

From The Dublin University Magazine, Volume 14, No.82, October 1839

OUR sketch attempts to pourtray a thorough Irishman. Attempts, we say deliberately, because with all due respect to the clever artist, we declare that though the animal representation be faithful, the spiritual is not caught; for instead of a countenance beaming with gaité de coeur, sparkling with ready fun, and mutable with a playfulness of muscle—the presage of a coming repartee—we have here a likeness, it is true, but of an atrabilious smell-fungus character. The man is taken off as if when his stomach is settling after the sickness of a steam-packet; or after (as is common in his native Tipperary) plotting a homicide. For all this we blame not the artist—for if Caesar Otway chooses to take to his chair as grave as a mustard-pot, considering it needful to be serious, and ambitious of making his anomalous countenance, ordinary as it is (unless sun-lit) cloud-capt with solemnity, whose fault was it? Perhaps it would have been better, had we, instead of taking him like a hare, sitting in its form, caught him unawares, and watching our opportunity, seized him during the "mollia tempora fandi," in conversation with some kindred spirits in Messrs Currys' shop. But this is not easy, for it is not every one who can hit well flying. At all events, here is the animal—you may swear to its identity, for it is, at least, as like Caesar Otway as a dead dolphin is like a living one.

We do not intend either in this or our future portraitures, to offer a detailed biography of the individual. Our desire is only to assign a few reasons for admitting him into our Gallery.

The REV. CAESAR OTWAY is a clergyman of the Established Church, and though advanced in life,Caesar Otway and approaching his sixtieth year, has never been beneficed—the only situation he fills in his profession, being some inferior office in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the assistant chaplaincy of the Magdalen Asylum. As a preacher Mr. Otway has much originality; his sermons are animated, forcible, and out of the common run; and though often homely, and approaching to vulgarity in his expressions, and sometimes tempted to indulge his native humour, so far as to border on the ludicrous, yet he has the undoubted power of arresting the attention, and fixing his doctrine, which is Evangelical, in the memory of his hearers. Still our impression is, that Caesar Otway is not at home in the pulpit; for though be does his best, and is evidently faithful and serious, we have no doubt he would have been more in his proper place at the bar.

As a writer Caesar Otway is chiefly known by his descriptions of the scenery and manners of his native land. Of these his "Sketches in Ireland," and recently published "Tour in Connaught," are fair specimens. Mr. Otway, in the year 1825, in conjunction with his friend, the Rev. Dr. Singer, Fellow of Trinity College, (whom we hope hereafter to introduce more formally to our readers,) undertook the first Irish religious magazine in connection with the Established Church. This valuable and moderate journal, entitled the Christian Examiner, which is still in existence, though struggling under various and unmerited discouragements, remained until the last three years chiefly under Mr. Otway's management; and it was in the pages of this magazine, and as he said "in order to enliven it, and make it read by the parson's wife and daughters, as well as the parson himself," that he ventured to sketch off what his recollections were of the different parts of the island he had visited. Besides these lighter articles, there are many valuable papers to be found in the numerous volumes of the Examiner, supplied by Mr. Otway, of a historical, biographical and controversial character. Among these may be noticed his history of Popery in Ireland, Memorials of the Established Church, and Biographical Sketches of Primate Marsh, Archbishop King, Andrew Sall, &c. &c. Mr. Otway has also supplied in many other articles, of an amusing and instructive kind, to other periodicals of a Protestant and Conservative character, which have appeared in Dublin during the last 15 years—what has been the extent of his contributions to our own pages, is, of course, among the secrets of the confessional, and may not be divulged.

In the year 1832, Mr. Otway, being willing to gratify the demand which then arose for cheap literature, and thus to aid in the diffusion of useful information among the poorer classes respecting the antiquities and history of their country; and desirous of opening out its capabilities by giving information concerning its past and present state, carried on, in conjunction with his friend, GEORGE PETRIE, Esq., for one year, the DUBLIN PENNY JOURNAL. At the end of that period these gentlemen ceased to be connected with it, and certainly with a loss to the country—for without desiring at all to detract from the merits of its subsequent management, it can be with great safety said, that the volume produced by their exertions, without containing one line that would mark the religious or political partialities of the writers, contained more matter illustrative of the history and antiquities of Ireland, than any previous publication.

The peculiar characteristics of Caesar Otway as a writer are, the power he possesses of making his readers partake in the deep feeling he has for the natural beauties of his native land, and the humour and tact with which he describes the oddities and amiabilities of the Irish character; and while depicting, with no mean effect, the absurdities of poor Paddy, there is no sourness in his satire. He even treads tenderly upon the heels of Popish Priests, and would, if possible, by his playful hits, rather improve the profession than hurt the individual.

Beginning late in life to write for publication—we have heard that till his fortieth year he was not aware that he could handle a pen—occupied, too, for seventeen years as the curate of a country parish, he had not the time, even if he had the desire, to be an author : he, therefore, exhibits both the faults and excellencies of one who has late in life come for the first time before the public. His style is often rough and ill-formed; he frequently sins against taste and judgment, and sometimes so far forgets his schoolmaster as to break Priscian's head;—but, on the other hand, he shows the advantages possessed by one who has evidently poured in much, before he attempted to pour out any. He seems full of multifarious information—he is fraught with practical knowledge—and, having observed almost as much as he has seen and read, he can adorn with legend, anecdote, and veracious story, almost any place or thing he attempts to describe; and we verily believe he would give a very pleasant description of a tour round a broomstick. This is what renders his Tours so interesting; the reader, as he follows him on his journey, is beguiled into a knowledge of the history and traditions of the country through which he passes.

Perhaps our friend Caesar Otway has wasted his time and talents on this gossiping kind of authorship, for we have reason to believe he has powers and acquirements calculated to make him a pleasing and instructive historian. A good Conservative history of Ireland is yet a desideratum, and no one, in our humble opinion, could supply the deficiency better than the elderly gentleman who is so gravely, against his grain, courteous reader, pourtrayed in the etching before you.

A new edition of Mr. Otway's Sketches in the North and South has lately been issued, and he has in preparation a volume, chiefly devoted to the little known scenery of North Connaught and West Munster.

A. P.