|J. M. Synge|
At times during Synge's last illness, Lady Gregory and I would speak of his work and always find some pleasure in the thought that unlike ourselves, who had made our experiments in public, he would leave to the world nothing to be wished away--nothing that was not beautiful or powerful in itself, or necessary as an expression of his life and thought. When he died we were in much anxiety, for a letter written
before his last illness, and printed in the selection of his poems published at the Cuala Press, had shown that he was anxious about the fate of his manuscripts and scattered writings. On the evening of the night he died he had asked that I might come to him the next day; and my diary of the days following his death shows how great was our anxiety. Presently however, all seemed to have come right, for the Executors sent me the following letter that had been found among his papers, and
promised to carry out his wishes.
'May 4th, 1908
'This is only to go to you if anything should go wrong with me under the operation or after it. I am a little bothered about my 'papers.' I have a certain amount of verse that I think would be worth preserving, possibly also the 1st and 3rd acts of 'Deirdre,' and then I have a lot of Kerry and Wicklow articles that would go together into a book. The other early stuff I wrote I have kept as a sort of curiosity, but I am anxious that it should not get into print. I wonder could you get someone--say ... who is now in Dublin to go through them for you and do whatever you and Lady Gregory think desirable. It is rather a hard thing to ask you but I do not want my good things destroyed or my bad things printed rashly--
especially a morbid thing about a mad fiddler in Paris which I hate. Do what you can--Good luck.
In the summer of 1909, the Executors sent me a large bundle of papers,cuttings from newspapers and magazines, manuscript and typewritten proseand verse, put together and annotated by Synge himself before his last illness. I spent a portion of each day for weeks reading and re-reading early dramatic writing, poems, essays, and so forth, and with the exception of ninety pages which have been published without my consent, made consulting Lady Gregory from time to time the Selection of his work
published by Messrs. Maunsel. It is because of these ninety pages, that neither Lady Gregory's name nor mine appears in any of the books, and that the Introduction which I now publish, was withdrawn by me after it had been advertised by the publishers. Before the publication of the books the Executors discovered a scrap of paper with a sentence by J.M. Synge saying that Selections might be taken from his Essays on the Congested Districts. I do not know if this was written before his letter to me, which made no mention of them, or contained his final directions.
The matter is unimportant, for the publishers decided to ignore my offer to select as well as my original decision to reject, and for this act of theirs they have given me no reasons except reasons of convenience, whichneither Lady Gregory nor I could accept.
* * * * *
J.M. SYNGE AND THE IRELAND OF HIS TIME
On Saturday, January 26th, 1907, I was lecturing in Aberdeen, and when my
lecture was over I was given a telegram which said, 'Play great success.'
It had been sent from Dublin after the second Act of 'The Playboy of the
Western World,' then being performed for the first time. After one in the
morning, my host brought to my bedroom this second telegram, 'Audience
broke up in disorder at the word shift.' I knew no more until I got the
Dublin papers on my way from Belfast to Dublin on Tuesday morning. On the
Monday night no word of the play had been heard. About forty young men
had sat on the front seats of the pit, and stamped and shouted and blown
trumpets from the rise to the fall of the curtain. On the Tuesday night
also the forty young men were there. They wished to silence what they
considered a slander upon Ireland's womanhood. Irish women would never
sleep under the same roof with a young man without a chaperon, nor admire
a murderer, nor use a word like 'shift;' nor could anyone recognise the
country men and women of Davis and Kickham in these poetical, violent,
grotesque persons, who used the name of God so freely, and spoke of all
things that hit their fancy.
A patriotic journalism which had seen in Synge's capricious imagination
the enemy of all it would have young men believe, had for years prepared
for this hour, by that which is at once the greatest and most ignoble
power of journalism, the art of repeating a name again and again with
some ridiculous or evil association. The preparation had begun after the
first performance of 'The Shadow of the Glen,' Synge's first play, with
an assertion made in ignorance but repeated in dishonesty, that he had
taken his fable and his characters, not from his own mind nor that
profound knowledge of cot and curragh he was admitted to possess, but
'from a writer of the Roman decadence.' Some spontaneous dislike had been
but natural, for genius like his can but slowly, amid what it has of
harsh and strange, set forth the nobility of its beauty, and the depth of
its compassion; but the frenzy that would have silenced his master-work
was, like most violent things artificial, the defence of virtue by those
that have but little, which is the pomp and gallantry of journalism and
its right to govern the world.
As I stood there watching, knowing well that I saw the dissolution of a
school of patriotism that held sway over my youth, Synge came and stood
beside me, and said, 'A young doctor has just told me that he can hardly
keep himself from jumping on to a seat, and pointing out in that howling
mob those whom he is treating for venereal disease.' ...