Between Impression and Expression: Myles na gCopaleen
(from the Irish Times‘ ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ column)
You must keep this strictly under your hat but I received an invitation to be in attendance at 86 St Stephen’s Green last Thursday evening to hear a ‘paper’ on…guess?…’The Function and Scope of Criticism’. It interests me as a scientist that there is to be found today in this humble island a young man who is anxious to explain this matter to me and it will be a regret to me, always, that a malignant destiny decreed that on that evening I should be elsewhere. I feel rather tired but surely if one explains concisely the function of criticism, one has also defined its scope; if it be the function of the Slieve Gullion to draw passenger trains to Belfast, it it necessary to add that this engine should not sell race-cards in Dublin on Baldoyle days?
Again, I must ask you to regard what I say as private and confidential. The document I have received says No Press References and one must not (if only out of deference to the distinguished Knight who is among the signatories) outrage this most understandable desire for secrecy. You see, these bodies are about something far more hush-hush than jet-propulsion. They are (this is quite incredible but I swear it so help me) — they are interested in…Art! (!!!!!!)
Well well. Wasn’t it a shame, Paud, that they kept it from you until now, that they didn’t tel you about it, that you have to fly into back rooms in your hundreds to have it explained to you! Poor poor Paud.
These people, disdaining extraordinary water, call themselves ‘Common Ground’. With gigantic presumption they begin by calling me ‘Dear Sir’ and then continue as follows:
‘As you are probably already aware, some few years ago, a group of persons interested in literature decided to meet about once a month to hear a paper read by one of their numbers. A discussion followed each paper and much benefit and enjoyment was derived by those present.’
‘As you are probably already aware’ is surely effrontery of an unusual order. As well say, ‘as you are probably already aware, my sister had a pimple on her nose four months ago’. Why should it be assumed that a schoolgirl’s pimple is a matter necessarily within the public’s knowledge? Why should anybody know about the rebel back-room conclaves of ‘a group of persons interested in literature’ — least of all My Most Equitable Gaelic Palatinity? (????) And if they are s0 interested in literature, why don’t they learn to be literate? How could one be aware of something without being already aware of it? Could this ‘group’ be otherwise than a group ‘of persons’? Could a group of black-faced mountain sheep be interested in literature? Could…could a group of asses be interested in literature? Could the benefit and enjoyment (sic) that was derived (very eclectic word ‘derived’ in that context) be derived by those not present? ‘Literature’ how are you!
‘Arising out of the experience of those concerned with Common Ground in its early stage, it was thought advisable recently to widen its scope. Henceforth Common Ground will be designed primarily to be of help to Catholics interested in literature, art, learning, and in social and political theory…’
Don’t go away — keep reading. The English alone is marvellous. (I feel awful.)
‘A series of lectures have been planned for the coming twelve months. Widely different topics have been tentatively chosen for treatment. The Function and Scope of Criticism; Political Thought in Ireland — Past and Future; The Irish Social Order; The Scope and Content of Irish Culture. It was thought advisable to have three papers at successive meetings from different lecturers on each of these subjects, each dealing with a particular aspect of the matter. The views put forward by the lecturers, together with the opinions expressed by the subsequent speakers, should prove stimulating and beneficial to all concerned.’
Wouldn’t it be terrible if a (subsequent) speaker put forward views instead of expressing opinions? ‘To all concerned’ is superb.
I cannot recall in recent months a more virulent eruption of paddyism.