Main content

Title: McMahon Glynn, Patrick to Glynn, Joseph, 1892
CollectionPatrick McMahon Glynn_Letters to his family (1874-1927) [Gerald Glynn O'Collins]
SenderMcMahon Glynn, Patrick
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationlawyer
Sender Religionunknown
OriginAdelaide, South Australia, Australia
DestinationGort, Co. Galway, Ireland
RecipientGlynn, Joseph
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count2069
Genretext commentary, literature,
TranscriptPine St. Adelaide
6 March 1892

My dear Joseph
Though addressing as above, I write from some where else. However, it is Sunday morning, I have an [hour] or two to spare, and
have just read your Prize Essay on Burke. You asked me for an
opinion of it. Though my memory of the subject is not quite as
recent as yours, it is fresh enough to enable me to recognise the justice
of your estimate of Burke, and your possession of that historic
sympathy without which one is in danger of reading an author in the
light of his own prejudices. The apparent truth of your interpretation
of Burke's relations to the various questions with which he dealt as a
writer or speaker, must have helped to influence the decision of the
Judges in your favor. The arrangement of the different branches of
the subject is excellent and I need scarcely say that in this respect
there are, in the case of an author who dealt with some many
matters of human interest, many difficulties to be faced. Sequence
and proportion have to be attained, and it is by no means easy to
attain them, and preserve some freedom of style, within the limits of
30 pages of print. I am glad to find that you have not made the
mistake of many, especially young, writers of taking everything that
a favorite author says as ex cathedra and becoming his eulogist and
apologist under all circumstances. Burke was always great, but by
no means always right. His style, like Carlyle's, is, if the legalism be
permitted, Sid generis, most attractive when sustained by the sincerities
of the original, but dangerous as a model. I fancy I said
something roughly upon this point in a short lecture on Shakespeare,
which may have reached you, so now need merely suggest. Newman's
is the style for the imitator; not that he is to be emulated, but
good only can come from his literary influence. People don't yet
properly understand what English literature lost through Newman's
having wasted his energies among the barren subtleties of theology,
and through the fact that the mother had so much to do with his
By the way, in respect of style, have I not in the sentence before
last committed the common error of participial construction? My
instinct, and I fancy my practice, is against the thing, but all slips are
excusable in a letter not written to a sweetheart. Well, to continue in
the netherlands of the school master, and to be, as you wish me,
candid, let me point to the one or two debatable matters of construction
in your essay. Page 4, sentence 2, "Discussing the matter I",
is an instance of participial construction. I am my own lawmaker in
these matters and to me it seems that no part of a sentence ought to
commit the bull of leaning for support upon itself, or be allowed to be the cause of a verbal non sequitur in the whole. Again, to continue
to be whimsical and like all good dogmatists a violator of my own
precepts, the second paragraph on page 6, is probably not exactly
as you would write it again. I half feel that I am wrong in thinking
that "not idly", in the context, is more suggestive of a method of
posturing at a particular time and place, than of general political
activity, and that "as being", though in common use with the best
writers, is a little out of place in the sentence and rather hard to be
parsed—or, as I believe they say nowadays, analysed—or defended
from the point of view of logical lucidity. Please excuse the alliteration.
To continue Jerry-Broughamising—I plumed myself with the
discovery that there was a minus quantity of some sort in the
definition of party, as quoted, but find on referring to the "Present
Discontents" that the elision is only of the word particular, so I need
not have been so particular. However, these matters are, as I said,
more than debatable and but the mosquitos from whose attacks no
attractive body can hope for an immunity.
The subject is so tempting, that I might be induced to ramble
you out of all patience. But, like the Pius Aneas [sic], when he was
trying to bamboozle Mrs. Dido, summa sequar, with my clumsy clogs
of swiftness, jastigia rerum, on page 7, you tell us that the democratic
feeling of the present day seems conclusive on the point, that the
representative is bound by the mandate he holds from the elections.
The fact is as you state it, but so much the worse for the community.
It indicates that the true definition of a modern politician is an animal
that lies, and that that lumbering thinking machine, the mob, is now
anxious to try its own hand at personal rule. Neither Burke nor
Turgot was altogether right when the one referred to the "swinish
multitude", and the other said that everything should be for, and
nothing by the people. But like the joke of a Caledonian, or a teameeting
preacher, there's something in it if it could only be discovered.
I think I am in sympathy with your opinion of Burke's relations
to America. The great Edmund was at his best when he championed
the cause of the colonists. He was wiser than his hearers, and more
liberal than his clients. The people of England then, and subsequently
in the Anglo-American war of 1811-12, were "blinded by unreasoning
prejudice." But is it true of the colonists that what they
had ever been willing to grant on request, they resolutely refused to
give on command? The fact of the matter is, the colonists would
neither tax themselves for their own defence nor allow England to do
so. The Colonial and East-Indian Wars had largely increased the
responsibilities of England, and England very properly asked the
Americans to bear some portion of the cost of defending the territory,
chiefly against Indian incursions; but the colonials would
not stump up, or depart from .their general practice of loafing.
Washington was a great patriot, and the reputation of his greatness is
increased by a sense of the difficulties against which he had to contend.
The American element in his army was mean and insubordinate,
very different from the poor Irish immigrants who bore the brunt
of the hunger, cold, and fighting, and a considerable part of the
expense. I believe about half the Continental rebel army was Irish.
Washington had to disband one army in 1775 (?) for lack of funds to
pay them, and after the Declaration of Independence the different
states refused to pay the interest on their debts. It was the absence,
under the Confederation Arrangement, of an Executive capable of
compelling the States to send in their contributions, that showed the
statesmen of the Revolution the utter impossibility of getting on
without complete Federation. We can get little of the sentiment of
patriotism out of their action of the colonists, who, as Lecky, in his
18th Century, in words which I cannot recall, says, acted simply from
selfish considerations, not under the impulse of the patriotic spirit
that braced the peoples of older countries "to the act of their own
deliverance." If ever there was a case—and I don't say that there
was—for the exercise by the Imperial Parliament of the disputed
right to tax—against constitutional usuage and expediency—one of
its dependencies, it was the case of America just before the Revolution.
Burke was right, but we must not, and I don't see that you do,
impute to the colonists a spirit that they never possessed. Wilkes
was as big a humbug as ever figured in patriotic politics, but his
services to popular liberty cannot well be overestimated. I am not
sure whether Burke, while denying the expediency of its exercise
acknowledged the existence of the Right to tax. Johnson, under
instructions, argued for both the Right and the expediency. Pitt, I
think, took the correct view, which is, that taxation, being, as distinguished from legislation, a matter of popular grant, is not constitutionally Right without representation. The people can only give directly, or through their representatives. There is no such thing as compulsory supply.
The essay is such an excellent synopsis of Burke, written in a
solid style so well suited to the subject and the conditions of an essay, that even a comparatively old hand at journalistic criticism has
the misfortune of finding nothing to object to, and little, if anything to
qualify. But let me, for the mere devilment of the thing, say, that
Sheridan's great speech about the Begums (or Bedads) was anything
but "the finest speech of the age." It was, as you mentioned,
pronounced to be such, but with all due deference to Edmund's
condescending urbanity to the brilliant supporter of a cause his
heart was set on, I am inclined to think that Sheridan was a bit of an
oratorical quack, and, with De Quincey, that the Begumiad reads like
a connundrum. There was more true oratory in any of the mighty
Miltonic movements and serpentine windings (Goldsmith said he
wound into his subject like a serpent) of Burke than in all the
theatric flash and pantomimic caperings of Sheridan. Burke was a
titan; or, as the music started in the next room suggests to me, a
Beethoven in his intellectual loftiness and philosophic depth, scaling
the clouds and revelling in the elements; while Sheridan is meretricious
as Verdi when he caters for sentimentalists with the cheap pathos
of the minor key. There goes La Ci darem. To me there is an
infinite distance about Mozart's Melodies, a sense of the inevitable
in Carlyle's everlastings—but there is no expression for these feelings.
When in "Facts, dreams & Shams", I spoke of the world-melodies of
Mozart, and referred in the Shakespearean lecture to "the crystal
morning beauty of Marianna's tender love song", I meant something
that perhaps the words failed to express. We are never quite sure
that we are understood.
Monday 7th 10 p.m. I would like to say something to you about
the French Revolution, which forms the part of your subject, but that
is next to impossible. My day's work has extended from 9 a.m. to
9 p.m., and I will be fully occupied until Thursday, when I leave for
Broken Hill to attend the Courts as a N.S.W. barrister, and lecturer
for the Public Library. Perhaps I may send you some rough notes
made some time ago, when the idea of a lecture on Burke and the
Revolution was agitating me. It was, in fact, for Broken Hill, but
time to think the matter out was not available. Your account of the
Reflections1 is well worthy for the subject, and with it in the main I
agree. That Burke's pathos is genuine, I more than doubt. No doubt
he felt as he told Sir P. Francis when he apostrophised Marie
Antoinette, but there is a good deal of rhetorical and political sympathy in this world. In true pathos and poetry, give me, with all its
disjointed sincerities, the last lone letter of a poor girl who has jumped
the great unknown. There is a little too much rhetoric about Burke
for true pathos. How simple the response is when pity is felt. You
see this where Cordelia hears of Lear's sufferings in the closing
scenes of the same play, where Bardolph says, of Falstaff, "Would I
were with him, wheresome'er he is, whether in Heaven or Hell", but
when he talks of "pity, like a new born babe, striding the blast", we
are inclined to swear at such fashion as beneath him. What Burke
did for the principle of ordered growth was invaluable, but had I been
alive in those days and in France I would have stood by Dan ton and
his crew; when we read of Marie Antoinette and her rakish frivolities
and think of what Arthur Young saw, we find a good deal to object
to in the application of the philosophy of the Reflections.
But my paper is run out, and my time is up. Asking you to
accept my congratulations and apologies for this discursive and
lengthy letter, I am
Your affectionate Brother
P. McM. Glynn
Joseph Glynn Esq. B.A.