The following sympathetic little pen sketch is from my half-sister Emily. Emily, of course, knew my brother before I was born; so I am sure her few reminiscences will be read with great interest.
Two things struck me very forcibly whilst reading the various contributions which have been sent to me. Without exception, everyone who knew my brother—remotely or intimately—has been impressed by the same two dominant traits in his character: his reserve and his quiet strength and determination.
I, also, have always been conscious of this quiet strength which lay behind Pádraig’s gentleness; and his reserve has been a sort of barrier between us many a time. As I myself am even more reserved than he ever was, it can be imagined how shy of each other we sometimes were.
But whenever my brother was among his beloved children his reserved vanished like mist under the genial rays of the sun. In one of his poems he wrote:
Of riches or of store
I shall not leave behind me
(Yet I deem it, O God, sufficient)
But my name in the heart of a child.
AN ELDER SISTER’S RECOLLECTIONS OF PÁDRAIG PEARSE
‘My recollections of Pádraig, whom I knew only as “Pat,” are neither very startling (writes Emily) nor very full of incidents. In one sense, however, they are exceedingly real and vivid, even though I knew him best only when he was a tiny boy.
‘Perhaps the lack of incidents is due to the fact that his natural reserve, his gentle shyness, his silent thoughtfulness were, even in childhood, his chief characteristics: characteristics which were the principal factors in his marvellously dominant personality, and which made him the man he was.
‘Pat’s sweet uncomplaining patience when, as a tiny boy, he was very ill, is one of my clearest memories. He must have suffered severely; yet never once did I hear him utter a cry of complaint. Self-repression was part of the gentle boy’s nature. And again, Pat steals back into my memory as a child taking a childish delight in toys; and delighting also in his brother’s and sisters’ enjoyment.
‘I picture him at my wedding—a comely little page, royally dressed in ruby velvet and heavy lace, a truly princely little figure; reserved, shy, and silent, with a wonderfully calm self-possession which sat strangely on his small figure.
‘And so I like him to remain in my mind; for it is so that he stands out most vividly—a beautiful picture of bygone years.
‘Little did I dream of the power that my small, velvet-clad page was to hold some day in his frail-looking tiny person!
‘One other precious memory I hold of my brother. It was after a lapse of years, during which period I had not had many opportunities of seeing him. He had left boyhood behind him; and all singular powers of his personality seemed to have grown with him.
‘He was reciting “Seumas O’Brien” at a Magic Lantern entertainment given by my father to a few friends. The young reciter was tense with emotion, so thoroughly did he realise the sentiments of the piece. Seumas O’Brien and his wrongs, the sufferings of his people and country, seemed to have entered into my brother and set his soul on fire!
‘If the child dwells in my memory, as a small person silently thinking out a great purpose that was born with him; so, also, does the young man—only a boy, indeed—live in my recollections of later years. A grave, forceful man, with the same purpose. And this purpose an exalted one—newly sprung to glowing life! A keen, deliberate purpose which would not die, but which would, in the future, be fully accomplished!’
Emily Pearse McGloughlin.
Emily, like many others, was particularly impressed by the force and sincerity of Pádraig’s histrionic powers.
All his life he was a devoted disciple of the dramatic art. When he was a mere child he began to write plays and to teach us how to act them. The fine art of elocution always made a strong appeal to him; and his manner of reciting was peculiarly impressive and arresting. Even in the quiet parts of his pieces there was ever a hidden fire—an ardent sincerity—held in check, but burning fervidly all the while.
A favourite piece of his when he was quite young was an old ballad called ‘The Glen of Aherlow.’ It was rather a mediocre piece, yet Pat put such a power and pathos into his rendering of it, that it was a real pleasure to listen; and the very ordinary verse with their doubtful prosody became quite beautiful and fine.
‘Little Jim’ was another pathetic piece which Pat learned from Auntie Margaret who used to sing it to him. As my brother couldn’t sing a note, he did the next best thing and recited it. ‘Fontenoy’ and ‘The Death of the Old Year,’ were two other favourites of his.
That charming old ballad ‘Seumas O’Brien’ was, I think, my brother’s favourite recitation. Our father, although he was an Englishman, was a great admirer of good Irish ballad poetry. He used to recite ‘Seumas O’Brien’ himself with exquisite feeling, and he loved to hear his small son recite it also.
At St Enda’s, when the beloved Head would be amongst his boys, ‘Seumas O’Brien’ was always clamoured for. One of his pupils, Desmond Ryan, in his book The Man Called Pearse comments on this fact.
After some important holiday, he writes, or school excursion (generally to some Wicklow glen or among the Dublin hills), we would insist upon, not a speech, but the recitation, ‘Seumas O’Brien,’ which, after long and coercive applause, we would succeed in getting. Pearse, to our delight, would lay immense emphasis upon ‘the judge was a crabbed old chap,’ and startle us with the passion he threw into the lines,
Your sabres may clatter, your carbines go bang,
But if you want hanging, ’tis yourselves you must hang!
In Shakespearean recitations my brother was exceedingly good. His rendering of the famous oration of Mark Antony was quite beautiful. As in ‘Seumas O’Brien,’ his quick transition from extreme quietness to fierce passion was quite out of the ordinary and was tremendously effective. With the tenderness of a mother crooning over her child, he would murmur Antony’s endearing words over the dead body of his friend:
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds—poor, poor, dumb mouths—
And bid them speak for me.
But as a wild triumphant challenge would come the closing lines of Antony’s speech, flung out in ringing, exulting tones, rapid, and stinging:
But were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits, and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar, that should move
The stones of Rome to rise—and MUTINY!
But if Pat’s sudden change from quietness to tense vehemence was startling, his equally swift veering from gravity to unbounded hilarity was still more remarkable. This idiosyncrasy was very often the cause of friction between us. Pat and Willie and Alfred were all very fond of the tragedy Macbeth; and the four of us learned virtually the whole of the play. Pat took the title role, whilst I, of course, played Lady Macbeth. Unfortunately, however, Pat’s risibility always completely overcame him the instant he addressed me by any endearing term, and he used to break into uncontrollable laughter! This made the whole business absolutely farcical. To see the grave Scotsman holding his sides with hilarity, to hear his helpless peals of mirth was too ridiculous. I used to become seriously annoyed. I would work up the scene most dramatically, and then Pat would ruin it.
It would run something after this fashion:
Lady Macbeth: ‘Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor!’
(‘Great Glamis’ would show signs of acute enjoyment!) ‘Greater than both, by the all-hail, hereafter!’ (Worthy Cawdor on the point of suffocation as his Lady gracefully kissed his hand!) ‘Thy letters have transported me beyond this ignorant present
And I now feel the future in the instant!’
Macbeth (in choked tones): ‘My dearest love! Duncan comes here—’ (‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’).
And here would occur an utter collapse of the tragic Scot!
I used to rail at him, and Willie—who was a splendid actor and a most reliable one—used to implore his facetious brother to be sensible and get on with the business in hand. But we might as well have spoken to the wind. Pat would sprawl on the sofa, shrieking; and there was nothing for it but to start on some other part of the play—the scene with the witches, or the scene between Macbeth and Banquo. Pat made a fearsome witch, and his voice was awesome enough to satisfy the most fastidious witch that ever rode a broomstick.
But eventually I divorced my eccentric husband, and Willie took his place. We were reciting for a priest one evening, and Pat, as usual, spoiled the scene. I was so furious that I would not act that part with him again.
Both my brothers used to act the famous Quarrel Scene from Julius Caesar. Pat took the part of Brutus, and Willie that of the wily Cassius. Pat was fine in that scene—dignified, keen, and commanding; a splendid foil to Willie’s equally good rendering of the tricky, affected Cassius.
As a matter of fact, though few people seem to know it, my elder brother possessed an acute sense of humour. He would appreciate a joke against himself more than anyone I ever knew. I remember an instance of this. He was expecting a distinguished lady, called Miss McNaughton, for afternoon tea. As luck had it, my mother was also expecting a visitor, namely, a new maid, on the same evening. Pat heard the bell, and knew that someone had arrived. Assuming at once that the arrival was his visitor, he strode into the drawingroom in a most lordly manner. In his magnificently courteous fashion, and with his characteristic little bow, he held out his hand, saying cordially: ‘Miss McNaughton, I believe!’
Whatever he believed, the new maid certainly did not; and her expression of profound astonishment—amounting almost to stupefaction—caused my brother to feel vaguely that something was wrong, somewhere. My sister and mother signalled frantically to him across the room to go away, which he did as quickly as possible, leaving the maid wondering at the eccentric behaviour of the master of the house. When Pat heard the real truth of the matter, he became positively uproarious; and it was quite a while before his mirth subsided. On one occasion, a gentleman was telling him about some very effective fluid for exterminating slugs. Its name was ‘Slugeen.’ Whether it was the name itself, or the gentleman’s quaint manner of pronouncing the name, that tickled my brother’s ear, I cannot tell. All I know is that he was seized with an uncontrollable impulse to laughter and had to bury his head in the sofa-cushion and thus stifle his merriment behind the gentleman’s back, while the latter wondered why his host had become suddenly dumb. Willie and I, in the meantime—in choked voices ourselves—had to start on some engrossing topic or other in order to distract our visitor’s attention until Pat had regained sufficient command of his features to resume his part in the general conversation.