Monday, September 8, 2014

A Talk on Fr F. X. Martin and the 1916 Rising

Felix M. Larkin
Our autumn lecture series this year will take as its theme the Irish priest in history and society.

The first lecture in the series will  take place at 6.30pm on Tuesday 30th September, and our speaker will be Felix Larkin. Felix will explore F. X. Martin's contribution to the historiography of the 1916 Rising.

F. X. Martin (1922-2000) was an Augustinian priest and professor of Medieval History in University College Dublin. He is today best remembered for spearheading the campaign in the late 1970s to save the Wood Quay archaeological site in Dublin. In the 1960s and early 1970s, however, he published an impressive series of books, edited collections and essays on the 1916 Rising and related issues. He claimed - correctly - that these were 'the first attempt at a cool appraisal of the Easter Rising in the context of the Ireland of its time'. His work challenged not only the conventional historical view of the Rising, but also the view of Irish history generally that Pearse and his followers had put forward in their proclamation of the republic, read out at the GPO on Easter Monday 1916 and which had subsequently taken hold of the public mind. He is accordingly regarded as one of the 'two godfathers of revisionism', to quote Pádraig Ó Snodaigh. The main purpose of Felix Larkin's paper is to review Martin's work on 1916 and to consider its continued relevance as we prepare to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising.

Felix M. Larkin is academic director of the Parnell Summer School. A retired public servant, he now works as a historian and freelance writer. He has written extensively on the press in Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he is a founder member of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland. His publications include Terror and Discord: the Shemus cartoons in the Freeman's Journal, 1920-1924 (Dublin, 2009), and, as editor, Librarians, poets and scholars: a Festschrift for Dónal Ó Luanaigh (2007). Forthcoming in 2014 is Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland, jointly edited by Felix Larkin and Mark O' Brien.

Felix is a member of the council of the Central Catholic Library, and also serves on the statutory Readers Advisory Committee of the National Library of Ireland. His is chairman of the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Society, Dublin's oldest charity.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lessons from a Publisher's Emblem

One of the anthologies of French poetry held in our collection was published by Alphonse Lemerre under the title Anthologie des poëtes français depuis le XVè siècle jusqu'à nos jours. 

Lemerre was born in Normandy in 1838, and from 1860 pursued his career in Paris, becoming one of the leading literary publishers of the day. He was esteemed in particular for his editions of work by the poets of the Parnassian movement. Inspired by the "art for art's sake" thesis of Théophile Gautier, these writers viewed poetry as being primarily concerned with the celebration of beauty, rather than a medium for discussing social issues or transmitting moral values. Oscar Wilde would absorb and refract into literature in English is own interpretation of Parnassian ideas.

There is no date of publication given in our anthology, but from the evidence of the poets included, it would have come out between 1880 and 1895.  What is included on the title page is the emblem shown above: a visual and verbal hallmark which Lemerre made use of across the range of books published by his firm. The significant elements of the image are the act of digging to prepare the ground for planting, the town glimpsed in the background, and the rising sun. The Latin motto "Fac Et Spera" means "Do and Hope", and at the base of the image are Lemerre's initials, "AL".

The origin of this emblem can be traced back to collections of emblems first produced in Europe in the 16th century. Patricia Flemming has explored the "Fac Et Spera" image in particular, and her article can be read at

The emblems were designed to communicate a message: political, amorous, or religious. The original, slightly different, version of Lemerre's image first appeared in 1615. The figure digging is a woman, possibly representing Ceres, the Greek goddess of agriculture. The Hebrew word "Adonai", another name for  God, also appears in this version of the image. Fleming emphasizes that readers would have absorbed a religious message here; prosperity comes from work and from faith in God. The town is the social unit that will thrive through the working figure depicted. The sun symbolizes both prosperity and the divine presence explored through faith.

Lemerre has adapted this image; filtering it through the lens of his own political, moral and literary sympathies. He believed in the French republic, supported anti-clerical positions on both freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state, and published writers for whom literature was an aesthetic, rather than a moral reality.

Yet the "Fac Et Spera" emblem, which had drifted through to him from another cultural epoch, is appropriated in order to present values which Lemerre lived by and wished to be known for: a work ethic, the moral courage of hope. The Parnassians did not teach, but there were still lessons to be learned.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pope Francis and the freedoms of literature

Fr Michael Collins
The Central Catholic Library is delighted to have Fr Michael Collins as one of the speakers for our spring 2014 lecture series. Fr Collins, who is attached to St Mary's Parish, Haddington Road in Dublin, published a biography of the newly elected pope last year, and is well know as a writer. Some of his previous books, available to borrow from the library, include The Fisherman's Net: the influence of the papacy in history (2003), and studies of Benedict XVI (2010) and John Paul II (2011). The title of his lecture, which will be take place in the library at 6.30pm on Tuesday 4th March, is The Franciscan Revolution: Pope Francis and his push for change.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of Jorge Bergoglio's career is the time he spent as a teacher of literature and psychology while training for the Jesuit order in the 1960's. In his biography, Fr Michael describes how Bergoglio spent 1964-5  at the Colegio de la Imaculada, (a secondary school in Santa Fé), moving to the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires in 1966. While Bergoglio found psychology easy to teach, literature posed some problems for him.

This is something Pope Francis takes up in his interview with Antonio Spadaro S.J. for the Italian Jesuit review La Civiltá Cattolica, (available in English at ). Faced with the disinterest of his young students in the required study of Spanish classics such as El Cid, Bergoglio adopted a creative approach. The boys could study their El Cid at home, while in class he would discuss with them the authors they were interested in; so allowing them to develop their tastes in a natural rather than an imposed way. He also encouraged creative writing, and sent two stories by students to the major Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who was inspired by them to contribute an introduction to a story collection by the whole class. 

Going back to Fr Michael's account, there might seem to be a discrepancy between the creative teaching strategy adopted by Bergoglio, and the recollections of his students, who, according to Fr Michael, remember both their teacher's self-discipline and his strictness with them. At its best, education leads not just to the mastery of a subject but also to the successful transmission of ethical values, and Fr Michael underlines Bergoglio's awareness of this. Yet perhaps there is no discrepancy here. Asked in the Spadaro interview about his favorite artists, the pope mentioned composers and painters but spoke also of his appreciation of fiction, in the form of both novels and films. He loves Cervantes, Dostoevsky and Manzoni, Fellini's La Strada, and the films of Rossellini; writers and directors who all, whether by word or image, explored the way we live, how we live and why. In encouraging his students' sensitivity to fiction, Bergoglio had them enter a psychological space in which ethical and human values are evoked, experimented with, explored.

As a teacher, Jorge Begoglio trusted the link between literature and life.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Christopher Moriarty on the Joys of the Liffey

Our autumn lecture series opens on Tuesday 24th September with a talk by  Dr Christopher Moriarty on  "The Liffey: legends, literature and landscape".

Christopher Moriarty was literally immersed in the River Liffey when he fell into its waters at the age of three! Somewhat later he obtained a Master's degree for a study of the fishes of the Blessington Lakes, and later contributed some chapters to The Book of the Liffey, edited by Elizabeth Healy and published by Wolfhound Press.

He has been writing articles and books on Irish heritage topics for nearly fifty years, including a regular article in The Sacred Heart Messenger since 1993.  Other books include Down the Dodder, On Foot in Dublin and Wicklow, and Exloring Dublin. Christopher is writing a new book about the Liffey which he hopes will be published in 2014. 

All are welcome to the talk, which begins at 6.30pm. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Letters of Madame de Sévigné (1626-1696)

"Nouveau Choix des Lettres de Madame de Sévigné" (1846)  

The library holds several editions of Madame de Sévigné's letters, both  in the original French and in  English translation. The image shows the frontispiece (a portrait of the author), and title page of a selection of the letters intended for use in schools, and published in Tours in 1846. At the other end of the editorial spectrum, we hold a six-volume edition published in Paris in 1843, with notes and commentary.

"Letters from the Marchioness De Sévigné to her Daughter"
 The most interesting translation we have is shown above. It is a selection of the letters printed in Dublin in 1768. The title page assures us that the translation is "from the French of the last Paris edition", but, as was frequently the case in this period, the translator is not named. Also in our collection is a Dictionary of Madame de Sévigné, compiled by Edward Fitzgerald, who recorded his interest in "writing out for my own use a Dictionary of the Dramatis Personae figuring in the Corrrespondence".  His work was edited by his great-niece Mary Eleanor Fitzgerald Kerrich, and  published in two volumes in 1914.

There are also some key essays about Madame de Sévigné included as prefaces to both French and English editions. A selection from the correspondence published by Garnier Frères in Paris in 1886 has an essay by the critic Sainte-Beuve. And Somerset Maugham writes the introduction to a selection translated by Violet Hamersley and published in London in 1955.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dante, Proust and the Book of Memory

"In that part of the book of my memory..."  

Six centuries separate Dante, the greatest of Italian writers, from Marcel Proust, perhaps the greatest of the French. Dante died in 1321, and Proust in 1922. Yet both, in specific places in their work, imagined memory as a book.

The illustration shows the opening page of Dante's Vita Nuova or New Life, a collection of poems with prose introductions in which the poet explores his love for Beatrice Portinari, and the new life which began when he first saw her. This edition is part of the Central Catholic Library's Dante collection, and was published in London by the Chiswick Press in 1892. Our collection includes a number of editions of Dante's works in both Italian and English versions, as well as criticism and commentary ranging from the nineteenth to the present century.

Dante begins the Vita Nuova with an explanation; in the book of his memory he has found a page of written words under the heading "Here begins the New Life". He now intends to create a real book out of all these words. He wants to perpetuate the words so that the extract from the book of his memory relating his love for Beatrice is incarnate in paper and ink. The book of memory contains the text to be written. The writer becomes the scribe who will copy it.

In a related way, Proust, in his novel In Search of Lost Time, speaks of the "livre intérieur", the book within the mind. He says that the writer's task is to translate the "unknown signs" of this book. Proust conceives of a book generated by and held in the writer's consciousness; a book which will cross a membrane between worlds, becoming substantial on the writer's desk.

The concept of memory as a book, enduring across six centuries to link Proust back to Dante, shows how deeply wedded literary culture has been to the medium of the physical, individually bound book, the livre-objet. It's as if we have been thinking in books; as if they express for us not just what we think, but how we think as well.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mapping Culture: a place for the arts in Stephen Brown's library

"The World of Imagery" by Stephen J. Brown, with a dedication to the author's  father.
In founding his Catholic library, Fr Stephen Brown incorporated all of the self-evident subject areas: from sacred scripture to the church fathers, from christology to theology , from church liturgy to the traditions of the spiritual life. However, his library also holds books in areas which might surprise those new to the library, and perhaps even those who feel they already know it well.

Brown published his first article about the library in the Irish Jesuit review Studies in 1922.  He stated his intention that there would be "few departments of human interest that would be unrepresented", and he listed the subject areas which the collection would include, and on which his classification scheme would be based. Section 26 in his scheme is assigned to Belles Lettres, comprising fiction, poetry, essays and plays.

And so the Central Catholic Library has substantial holdings in English, Irish, French, Spanish, Italian and German literature, as well as books from linguistic traditions such as Breton. Over the summer, I hope to present examples from these holdings on the blog.

But how did Stephen Brown arrive at the inclusion of literature whose primary aims are aesthetic, within a collection whose primary aim was religious? One possible answer can be found in a study called The World of Imagery, which Brown was working on in the early years of the library's existence, and which he published in 1927.

In this book he sets out to explore visually descriptive or figurative language, "to map it out, to trace its main features".  It might be thought that the sole focus of his exploration would be imaginative literature, especially poetry and literary prose, and of course he gives a lot of attention to both. For instance, in his discussion of images in which aspects of the natural world, such as the sun, are personified and given human qualities, he cites Shakespeare's Richard II, where Henry Bolingbroke, besieging Richard at Flint castle, says: "See, see, King Richard doth himself appear / As doth the blushing discontented sun, / From out the fiery portal of the East, / When he perceives the envious clouds are bent / to dim his glory".

But the interesting thing is that for Brown, to map imagery is to map culture as a whole. He writes that imagery "has significance for Language, Literature, and Art" but also for "the domain of thought", including theology and philosophy. The human capacity to make images seems to have formed, for Brown, a kind of substratum uniting all the various aspects of cultural endeavor. The accommodation of the aesthetically motivated work is guaranteed in his scheme by a cultural phenomenon, imagery, which is also a feature of sacred scripture, of theology, of christology, and so on.

Brown's planning of the library, together with the classification scheme he wrote for it, (including section 26), represent a cultural philosophy still evident in his library's collections over ninety years later.