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- The Legends of Saint Patrick - 2/30 -


"Laeghaire, Corc Dairi, the brave; Patrick, Beuen, Cairnech, the just; Rossa, Dubtach, Fergus, the wise; These are the nine pillars of the Senchus Mor."

This body of laws, traditions, and treatises on law is found in no manuscript of a date earlier than the fourteenth century. It includes, therefore, much that is of later date than the fifth century.

St. Patrick's greatest energies are said to have been put forth in Ulster and Leinster. Among the churches or religious communities founded by him in Ulster was that of Armagh. If he was born about the year 405, when he was carried to Ireland as a prisoner at the age of sixteen the date would have been 421. His age would have been twenty-two when he escaped, after six or seven years of captivity, and the date 427. A year at home, and four years with Germanus at Auxerre, would bring him to the age of twenty-seven, and the year 432, when he began his great endeavour to put Christianity into the main body of the Irish people. That work filled all the rest of his life, which was long. If we accept the statement, in which all the old records agree, that the time of Patrick's labour in Ireland was not less than sixty years; sixty years bring him to the age of eighty-eight in the year 493. And in that year he died.

The "Letter to Coroticus," ascribed to St. Patrick, is addressed to a petty king of Brittany who persecuted Christians, and was meant for the encouragement of Christian soldiers who served under him. It may, probably, be regarded as authentic. The mass of legend woven into the life of the great missionary lies outside this piece and the "Confession." The "Confession" only expresses heights and depths of religious feeling haunted by impressions and dreams, through which, to the fervid nature out of which they sprang heaven seemed to speak. St. Patrick did not attack heresies among the Christians; he preached to those who were not Christians the Christian faith and practice. His great influence was not that of a writer, but of a speaker. He must have been an orator, profoundly earnest, who could put his soul into his voice; and, when his words bred deeds, conquered all difficulties in the way of action with right feeling and good sense. HENRY MORLEY.

TO THE MEMORY OF WORDSWORTH.

AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO "THE LEGENDS OF SAINT PATRICK."

The ancient records of Ireland abound in legends respecting the greatest man and the greatest benefactor that ever trod her soil; and of these the earlier are at once the more authentic and the nobler. Not a few have a character of the sublime; many are pathetic; some have a profound meaning under a strange disguise; but their predominant character is their brightness and gladsomeness. A large tract of Irish history is dark: but the time of Saint Patrick, and the three centuries which succeeded it, were her time of joy. That chronicle is a song of gratitude and hope, as befits the story of a nation's conversion to Christianity, and in it the bird and the brook blend their carols with those of angels and of men. It was otherwise with the later legends connecting Ossian with Saint Patrick. A poet once remarked, while studying the frescoes of Michael Angelo in the Sistine Chapel, that the Sibyls are always sad, while the Prophets alternated with them are joyous. In the legends of the Patrician Cycle the chief-loving old Bard is ever mournful, for his face is turned to the past glories of his country; while the Saint is always bright, because his eyes are set on to the glory that has no end.

These legends are to be found chiefly in several very ancient lives of Saint Patrick, the most valuable of which is the "Tripartite Life," ascribed by Colgan to the century after the Saint's death, though it has not escaped later interpolations. The work was long lost, but two copies of it were re-discovered, one of which has been recently translated by that eminent Irish scholar, Mr. Hennessy. Whether regarded from the religious or the philosophic point of view, few things can be more instructive than the picture which it delineates of human nature at a period of critical transition, and the dawning of the Religion of Peace upon a race barbaric, but far indeed from savage. That wild race regarded it doubtless as a notable cruelty when the new Faith discouraged an amusement so popular as battle; but in many respects they were in sympathy with that Faith. It was one in which the nobler affections, as well as the passions, retained an unblunted ardour; and where Nature is strongest and least corrupted it most feels the need of something higher than itself, its interpreter and its supplement. It prized the family ties, like the Germans recorded by Tacitus; and it could not but have been drawn to Christianity, which consecrated them. Its morals were pure, and it had not lost that simplicity to which so much of spiritual insight belongs. Admiration and wonder were among its chief habits; and it would not have been repelled by Mysteries in what professed to belong to the Infinite. Lawless as it was, it abounded also in loyalty, generosity, and self-sacrifice; it was not, therefore, untouched by the records of martyrs, examples of self-sacrifice, or the doctrine of a great Sacrifice. It loved children and the poor; and Christianity made the former the exemplars of faith, and the latter the eminent inheritors of the Kingdom. On the other hand, all the vices of the race ranged themselves against the new religion.

In the main the institutions and traditions of Ireland were favourable to Christianity. She had preserved in a large measure the patriarchal system of the East. Her clans were families, and her chiefs were patriarchs who led their households to battle, and seized or recovered the spoil. To such a people the Christian Church announced herself as a great family--the family of man. Her genealogies went up to the first parent, and her rule was parental rule. The kingdom of Christ was the household of Christ; and its children in all lands formed the tribes of a larger Israel. Its laws were living traditions; and for traditions the Irish had ever retained the Eastern reverence.

In the Druids no formidable enemy was found; it was the Bards who wielded the predominant social influence. As in Greece, where the sacerdotal power was small, the Bards were the priests of the national Imagination, and round them all moral influences had gathered themselves. They were jealous of their rivals; but those rivals won them by degrees. Secknall and Fiacc were Christian Bards, trained by St. Patrick, who is said to have also brought a bard with him from Italy. The beautiful legend in which the Saint loosened the tongue of the dumb child was an apt emblem of Christianity imparting to the Irish race the highest use of its natural faculties. The Christian clergy turned to account the Irish traditions, as they had made use of the Pagan temples, purifying them first. The Christian religion looked with a genuine kindness on whatever was human, except so far as the stain was on it; and while it resisted to the face what was unchristian in spirit, it also, in the Apostolic sense, "made itself all things to all men." As legislator, Saint Patrick waged no needless war against the ancient laws of Ireland. He purified them, and he amplified them, discarding only what was unfit for a nation made Christian. Thus was produced the great "Book of the Law," or "Senchus Mohr," compiled A.D. 439.

The Irish received the Gospel gladly. The great and the learned, in other nations the last to believe, among them commonly set the example. With the natural disposition of the race an appropriate culture had concurred. It was one which at least did not fail to develop the imagination, the affections, and a great part of the moral being, and which thus indirectly prepared ardent natures, and not less the heroic than the tender, to seek their rest in spiritual things, rather than in material or conventional. That culture, without removing the barbaric, had blended it with the refined. It had created among the people an appreciation of the beautiful, the pathetic, and the pure. The early Irish chronicles, as well as songs, show how strong among them that sentiment had ever been. The Borromean Tribute, for so many ages the source of relentless wars, had been imposed in vengeance for an insult offered to a woman; and a discourtesy shown to a poet had overthrown an ancient dynasty. The education of an Ollambh occupied twelve years; and in the third century, the time of Oiseen and Fionn, the military rules of the Feine included provisions which the chivalry of later ages might have been proud of. It was a wild, but not wholly an ungentle time. An unprovoked affront was regarded as a grave moral offence; and severe punishments were ordained, not only for detraction, but for a word, though uttered in jest, which brought a blush on the cheek of a listener. Yet an injury a hundred years old could meet no forgiveness, and the life of man was war! It was not that laws were wanting; a code, minute in its justice, had proportioned a penalty to every offence, and specified the Eric which was to wipe out the bloodstain in case the injured party renounced his claim to right his own wrong. It was not that hearts were hard--there was at least as much pity for others as for self. It was that anger was implacable, and that where fear was unknown, the war field was what among us the hunting field is.

The rapid growth of learning as well as piety in the three centuries succeeding the conversion of Ireland, prove that the country had not been till then without a preparation for the gift. It had been the special skill of Saint Patrick to build the good which was lacked upon that which existed. Even the material arts of Ireland he had pressed into the service of the Faith; and Irish craftsmen had assisted him, not only in the building of his churches, but in casting his church bells, and in the adornment of his chalices, crosiers, and ecclesiastical vestments. Once elevated by Christianity, Ireland's early civilisation was a memorable thing. It sheltered a high virtue at home, and evangelised a great part of Northern Europe; and amidst many confusions it held its own till the true time of barbarism had set in--those two disastrous centuries when the Danish invasions trod down the sanctuaries, dispersed the libraries, and laid waste the colleges to which distant kings had sent their sons.

Perhaps nothing human had so large an influence in the conversion of the Irish as the personal character of her Apostle. Where others, as Palladius, had failed, he succeeded. By nature, by grace, and by providential training, he had been specially fitted for his task. We can still see plainly even the finer traits of that character, while the land of his birth is a matter of dispute, and of his early history we know little, except that he was of noble birth, that he was carried to Ireland by pirates at the age of sixteen, and that after five years of bondage he escaped thence, to return A.D. 432, when about forty-five years old; belonging thus to that great age of the Church which was made illustrious by the most eminent of its Fathers, and tasked by the most critical of its trials. In him a


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