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The Importance of Being Oscar

TCD MS 11437/2/1/3: Portrait photograph of Oscar Wilde by Robert W. Thrupp, Birmingham [1884]. Autographed by OW.
TCD MS 11437/2/1/3: Portrait photograph of Oscar Wilde by Robert W. Thrupp, Birmingham [1884]. Autographed by OW.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the influential Anglo-Irish playwright, is one of Trinity’s most famous and celebrated historical alumni. The Oscar Wilde Collection (TCD MS 11437), an important resource held in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, has recently been catalogued and conserved. M&ARL is delighted to announce the launch of an online catalogue, now available on MARLOC. Wilde continues to inspire interest and excitement among researchers and the general public, and it is hoped that a schedule of events to promote this fascinating archive will take place in the Library of Trinity College in 2017. Continue reading “The Importance of Being Oscar”

Love, treason and revenge at the medieval French Court

These subjects form the plot of the novel Freida the Jongleur (London, 1857), a manuscript draft copy of which is held in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library.

Ms 10870, folio 191
TCD MS 10870, folio 191

The story takes place in France during the reign of Philippe IV le Bel (1285-1314) and of his sons Louis and Philip. Freida, a pagan jongleur (an itinerant minstrel), travels from Acre in Palestine to France. She witnesses court life and the torments of the end of a glorious era. She is confronted with love, treason, Christianity, and the quest for revenge, following the execution of her son Eldrid. I dare say that, from an historical point of view, the author took some liberty, even if the principal events are well known. Written in a romantic and sentimental style, this historical novel fits well into one trend of nineteenth-century literature.

The author of this novel was an Anglo-Irish woman named Barbara Hemphill (d. 1858). Her father, Patrick Hare, was the rector of Golden, co. Tipperary. In 1807, she married John Hemphill and had five children. One of her sons, the lawyer and politician Charles, became the first Baron Hemphill in 1906. Barbara

TCD MS 10870, folio 262(i)
TCD MS 10870, folio 262(i)

Hemphill had already been writing for quite a while when she was encouraged to publish her work by a family connection, antiquarian Thomas Crofton Croker. Her first story appeared in the Dublin University Magazine in 1838 with the title of ‘The Royal Confession, A Monastic Legend’. Then came her first novel, Lionel Deerhurst; or, Fashionable Life under the Regency (London, 1846). It was published anonymously, although the Countess of Blessington, another well-known author, was identified as the editor. Success arrived with her second novel, The Priest’s Niece; or, the heirship of Barnulph (London, 1855), which quickly went to a second edition. This success encouraged Hemphill to identify herself as the author of Freida the Jongleur (London, 1857).

TCD MS 10870, folio 477
TCD MS 10870, folio 477

The Papers of Barbara Hemphill (TCD MS 10869-72) were purchased at auction by M&ARL in 1995. In addition to the manuscript of Freida the Jongleur, the collection also contains a manuscript draft copy of The Priest’s Niece, as well as fair copies of two additional (unpublished) works: Ella of the field of Waterloo and Feud of the Ormond and Desmond. For further information, please contact M&ARL.

Léonore Pinoteau – GdeLinares
Trainee Curator & Intern
Manuscripts & Archives Research Library

A portrait of his love

It isn’t everyday that one finds oneself – as an archivist in an academic library – handling a piece of artwork by an internationally renowned painter. But that is what your humble author was doing recently.

Among our collections are the papers of Canon James Owen Hannay (1865-1950), Church of Ireland clergyman and, under the pseudonym George A. Birmingham, also a novelist. Hannay tried in his work to reflect with honesty the complex social circumstances he experienced in Ireland. However as a Protestant clergyman criticising any aspect of Catholic life, his early works attracted criticism. He was the target of a boycott, and he felt he had to withdraw from the Gaelic League in the wake of protests about the tour of his successful play General John Regan. Later Hannay found his métier when he deployed his comic voice; he was a gifted farceur whose philosophy was that ‘if we didn’t extract food for laughter out of failure we should go under’. Recently his reputation as a shrewd observer of the Irish society of his day has revived (Dict.Ir.Biog).

Photograph by Bassano, 23 March 1927. (The National Portrait Gallery).
Photograph by Bassano, 23 March 1927. (The National Portrait Gallery).

In 1889 he married his third cousin Adelaide Susan ‘Ada’ Wynne (d. 1933), with whom he claimed literally to have fallen ‘in love at first sight’. They had a happy marriage and four children. Adelaide shared her husband’s scholarly pursuits; his devotion to patristic study led to his appointment as Donnellan lecturer for 1901 at Trinity. These lectures, instituted in 1794 by the bequest of musician and woman-about-town Anne Donnellan, were initially held under the auspices of the School of Hebrew, Biblical and Theological Studies. Hannay’s lectures  were subsequently published as The spirit and origin of Christian monasticism (1903).

As part of the Library’s continuing engagement with the College’s Decade of Commemoration activities, the Hannay papers were prioritised for conservation treatment; Hannay served as an army chaplain from 1915 to 1918 and his experiences are described in A padre in France (1918). While the papers were being prepared for transfer to the Department of Preservation and Conservation an illustrated letter was noticed, in a strangely familiar hand; familiar in the sense of being almost illegible and yet recognisably the hand of Jack B.Yeats. The item had been correctly described by the cataloguer in the ’60s, but hadn’t been indexed under the artist’s name. So a would-be researcher would only find it if, like the Isla de Muerta in the Pirates of the Caribbean*, she already knew where it was.

Letter from J.B.Yeats to Ada Hannay. (MS 3457/28)
Letter from J.B.Yeats to Ada Hannay.
(MS 3457/28)

This is a letter to Ada Hannay in which Yeats thanks her for her criticism – not of his art surely? – and hopes that her husband will soon visit to give Yeats ‘a good opportunity’ presumably to sketch him. The postscript reads: ‘I send you here with suggestions for hanging those sketches’. When the letter is turned upside down we can see Yeats’ sketch of the Hannay family struggling to examine poorly hung paintings. While most of the figures are hurriedly drawn, the picture includes an attractive portrait sketch of Mrs Hannay, observing her young daughters.

'A certain kind of portrait should be hung either very high up or very low down'.
‘A certain kind of portrait should be hung either very high up or very low down’.

Irish writers, possibly particularly Anglo-Irish writers, have long been the subject of enthusiastic research by Japanese scholars. James Hannay is no different. One such scholar is Masahito Yahaka , Director of the Department of Community Studies, Beppu University Junior College, who has visited Trinity on several occasions and whom we hope to welcome again next year as a Long Room HUB Fellow. He says he was attracted to Hannay ‘because he wrote about the conflict between Nationalists and Unionists with humour. He teaches how important humour is to solve human conflicts and to lead a meaningful life’. Masahito Yahaka maintains a website dedicated to Birmingham.

* Popular cultural reference (!).

Jane Maxwell