This blog serial explored aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited
“It already contains more really good pictures than the Musée either of Lyons or of Marseilles, both of them much larger and wealthier cities than Dublin.”
–William Henry Hurlbert
On Valentine’s Day in Dublin, Hurlbert did not mention the late saint’s reliquary a few blocks from his hotel. Instead, he visited the closer National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square. Gallery Director Henry Edward Doyle walked him through the art museum, founded in 1864.
Hurlbert was impressed with the collection, including paintings by Jan Steen, Giovanni Bellini, Jacob Ruysdaels, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jan Both, Paul Potter and Cornelius Begyn. He also noted the popular drawings of his host’s brother, Richard Doyle, who had died five years earlier.
“I wish the Corcoran Gallery [founded in 1869] were half as worthy as Washington, or the Metropolitan Museum [established in 1870] one tenth part as worthy of New York,” the American visitor enthused.
Hurlbert never missed the chance to jab at Irish nationalism. He described the gallery director as “a devout Catholic who is also an outspoken opponent of Home Rule.” Doyle, he wrote, relayed the story that “a young sister” of Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell [probably Anna Parnell] once was “an assiduous student” at the gallery. When Doyle revealed he did not support her brother’s political efforts, she replied with “melancholy resignation” that they no longer could be friends.
Hurlbert also referenced the gallery visit of French journalist Paschal Grousset, who spent the summers of 1886 and 1887 in Ireland as a special correspondent for Le Temps. Writing under the pseudonym Philippe Daryl, his newspaper articles were collected in the 1888 book Ireland’s Disease, the English in Ireland, and an English translation, Ireland’s Disease, Notes and Impressions. Hurlbert wrote that he “picked up” a copy of the book in Paris.
Daryl briefly described the Dublin gallery early in his first chapter, “First Sensations.” With a few exceptions, he wrote, “…the collection is not worth much … It is only a pretext for a national collection of portraits where are represented all the glories of Ireland,” including Jonathan Swift, Lawrence Sterne, Edmund Burke, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Daniel O’Connell and Henry Grattan. “Art exiled in the background, and patriotism shining to the fore.”
Doyle, the museum director, curated the portrait collection in 1874. He expanded it in 1884, shortly before Daryl and Hurlbert arrived in Dublin, to become the Historical and Portrait Gallery. These portraits of Irish heroes still hang today.
In his nod to Darly, Hurlbert also mentioned the “glories of Ireland” gallery, with its “wits and statesmen, soldiers and belles, rebels and royalists, orators and poets.” But the American dismissed the Frenchman’s suggestion that its presence “proves the passionate devotion of Dublin to Home Rule.”
NOTES: From pages 157 to 159 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Page 10 of Ireland’s Disease, and page 142, The Tourist’s Gaze, Travellers to Ireland, 1800 to 2000, Edited by Glen Hooper, Cork University Press, Cork, 2001.
NEXT: Other visitors, other books
Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan