I have roused this Macaomh of mine again, having allowed him to slumber for two years. Like those panoplied kings that are said to sleep in Aileach, he has only been awaiting a call. I send him out now to publish tidings of sundry pageantries, pomps, and junketings: festivities to which my friends and I are inviting the men of Ireland, not altogether out of the largeness of our hearts, but with ulterior motives appertaining to the weal of a certain College. I send him out too in order that with his hero’s voice he may utter three shouts on a hill in celebration of the completion of the fifth year of a certain gallant adventure.
To be plain, St. Enda’s College has now been at work for five years, and we propose to commemorate the achievement of the lustrum by making a very determined effort to reduce the wholly preposterous debt which we incurred in our early months for buildings. There are some adventures so perilous that no one would ever go into them except with the gay laughing irresponsibility of a boy; they are not to be “scanned” beforehand; one does one’s deed without thinking, as a boy on the playfield strikes for goal, and whether one wins or fails, one laughs. It is really the only thing to do. Such an adventure, I think, has been St. Enda’s, and such the spirit in which we have gone into it. Not that we have not had a very serious purpose and a very high conception of our duly, but that we have found these things compatible with hearts as merry as the hearts of the saints; or rather supportable only by a hilarity as of heaven. Such burdens as we undertook five years ago would assuredly have crushed us if we had been gloomy worldlings, persons oppressed with bank balances and anxious about the rise and fall of stocks or the starting prices of racehorses. Fortunately the cares of competency have never existed for us, hermits of a happy hermitage. Having no little things to be troubled about, we have been able to busy ourselves with great adventures. Yet, we are worldly enough to desire to lighten out burdens, and generous enough to admit others to a share in our perils. Whence these excursions and alarums of ours at the Abbey Theatre, at Jones’s Road, and elsewhere: it is our way of helping others to achieve sanctity.
It has been sung of the Gael that his fighting is always merry and his feasting always sad. Several recent books by foreigners have recorded the impression of Ireland as a sad, an unutterably sad country, because their writers have seen the Gael chiefly at his festivals: at the Oireachtas, at a race meeting, at a political dinner addressed by Mr. John Dillon. And it is a true impression, for the exhilaration of fighting has gone out of Ireland, and for the past decade most of us have been as Fionn was after his battles — “in heaviness of depression and horror of self-questioning.” Here at St. Enda’s we have tried to keep before us the image of Fionn during his battles — careless and laughing, with that gesture of the head, that gallant smiling gesture, which has been an eternal gesture in Irish history; it was most memorably made by Emmet when he mounted the scaffold in Thomas Street, smiling, he who had left so much, and most recently by those Three who died at Manchester. When people say that Ireland will be happy when her mills throb and her harbours swarm with shipping, they are talking as foolishly as if one were to say of a lost saint or of an unhappy lover: “That man will be happy again when he has a comfortable income.” I know that Ireland will not be happy again until she recollects that old proud gesture of hers, and that laughing gesture of a young man that is going into battle or climbing to a gibbet.
What I have just written has reminded me of a dream I had nearly four years ago. I dreamt that I saw a pupil of mine, one of our boys at St. Enda’s, standing alone upon a platform above a mighty sea of people; and I understood that he was about to die there for some august cause, Ireland’s or another. He looked extraordinarily proud and joyous, lifting his head with a smile almost of amusement; I remember noticing his bare white throat and the hair on his forehead stirred by the wind, just as I had often noticed them on the hurling field. I felt an inexplicable exhilaration as I looked on him, and this exhilaration was heightened rather than diminished by my consciousness that the great silent crowd regarded the boy with pity and wonder rather than with approval — as a fool who was throwing away his life rather than a martyr that was doing his duty. It would have been so easy to die before an applauding crowd or before a hostile crowd: but to die before that silent, unsympathetic crowd! I dreamt then that another of my pupils stepped upon the scaffold and embraced his comrade, and that then he tied a white bandage over the boy’s eyes, as though he would resent the hangman doing him that kindly office. And this act seemed to me to symbolize an immense brotherly charity and loyalty, and to be the compensation to the boy that died for the indifference of the crowd.
This is the only really vivid dream I have ever had since I used to dream of hobgoblins when I was a child. I remember telling it to my boys at a school meeting a few days later, and their speculating as to which of them I had seen in my dream: a secret which I do not think I gave away. But what recurs to me now is that when I said that I could not wish for any of them a happier destiny than to die thus in the defence of some true thing, they did not seem in any way surprised, for it fitted in with all we had been teaching them at St. Enda’s. I do not mean that we have ever carried on anything like a political or revolutionary propaganda among the boys, but simply that we have always allowed them to feel that no one can finely live who hoards life too jealously: that one must be generous in service, and withal joyous, accounting even supreme sacrifices slight. Mr. J. M. Barrie makes his Peter Pan say (and it is finely said) “To die will be a very big adventure,” but, I think, that in making my littleboy in “An Ri” offer himself with the words “Let me do this little thing,” I am nearer to the spirit of the heroes.
I find that in endeavouring to show that we are joyous at St. Enda’s I have become exceedingly funereal. One of my pupils has accused me of “sternly organizing merry-makings.” The truth is that it is from the boys that live in this place that its joyousness comes, and if we share in the joy it is by rising to their height from our own slough of despond. When we attempt to be joyful on our own account the joy sometimes hangs fire. Mr. MacDonagh has told me how, when we were preparing the first number of An Macaomh, I came to him one evening with a face of portentous gravity and begged him to be humorous. I explained that An Macaomh was too austere, too esoteric: it needed some touch of delicate Ariel-like fancy, some genial burst of Falstaffian laughter. Mr. MacDonagh is one of the most fanciful and humorous men, but even he could not become Ariel-like or Falstaffian to order. He and I sat in our respective rooms for a whole evening lugubriously trying to be humorous; but our thoughts were of graves and worms and epitaphs, of unpaid bills, of approaching examinations, of certain Anglo-Irish comedies: the memory of it is still dreary. The next day at luncheon the clear voice of a boy spoke and the imp humour was in our midst: he told us the history of the Peacock of Hyderabad; and An Macaomh was saved.
I believe that many teachers fail because instead of endeavouring to raise themselves to the level of their pupils (I mean the moral, emotional, and imaginative level), they endeavour to bring their pupils down to theirs. For a high, if eccentric moral code, a glad and altruistic philosophy, a vision of ultimate beauty and truth seen through the fantastic and often humorous figments of a child’s dreams, the teacher substitutes the mean philosophy of the world, the mean code of morals of the countinghouses. Our Christianity becomes respectability. We are not content with teaching the ten commandments that God spake in thunder and Christ told us to keep if we would enter into life, and the precepts of the Church which He commanded us to hear: we add thereto the precepts or commandments of Respectable Society. And these are chiefly six:
Thou shalt not be extreme in anything — in wrong-doing lest thou be put to gaol, in right-doing lest thou be deemed a saint;
Thou shalt not give away thy substance lest thou become a pauper,
Thou shalt not engage in trade or manufacture lest thy hands become grimy,
Thou shalt not carry a brown paper parcel lest thou shock Rathgar;
Thou shalt not have an enthusiasm lest solicitors and their clerks call thee a fool;
Thou shalt not endanger thy Job.
One has heard this shocking morality taught in Christian schools, expounded in Christian newspapers, even preached from Christian pulpits. Those things about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and that rebuke to Martha who was troubled about many things are thought to have no relevancy to modern life. But if that is so Christianity has no relevancy to modern life, for these are of the essence of Christ’s teaching.
The great enemy of practical Christianity has always been respectable society. Respectable society has now been reinforced by political economy. I feel sure that political economy was invented, not by Adam Smith, but by the devil. Perhaps Adam Smith was the human instrument of whom that wily one made use, even as he made use of the elder Adam to pervert men to the ways of respectability. Be certain that in political economy there is no Way of Life either for a man or for a people. Life for both is a matter, not of conflicting tariffs, but of conflicting powers of good and evil; and what have Ricardo and Malthus and Stuart Mill to teach about this? Ye men and peoples, burn your books on rent theories and land values and go back to your sagas.
If you will not go back to your sagas, your sagas will come to you again in new guise: for they are terrible immortal things, not capable of being put down by respectable society or by political economy. The old truths will find new mouths, the old sorrows and ecstasies new interpretation. Beauty is the garment of truth, or perhaps we should put it that beauty is the substance in which truth bodies itself forth; and then we can say that beauty, like matter, is indestructible, however it may change in form. When you think that you have excluded it by your brick walls it flows in upon you, multitudinous. I know not how the old beauty will come back for us in this country and century; through an Irish theatre perhaps, or through a new poetry welling up in Irish-speaking villages. But come back it will, and its coming will be as the coming of God’s angel, when
“… seems another morn
Risen on mid-noon…”
I have to perform here the noble duty of giving thanks. First, there is a friend of St. Enda’s whom I do not name, for I do not know that he would like me to name him. He and two other friends of older date have made St. Enda’s a fact; for, though not what the world calls very wealthy, they have enabled me, whom certainly the world would call very poor, to found and to carry on this College. And I have to thank many other friends ranging from little boys up to church dignitaries, and including the parents of nearly all my pupils, for an unshaken loyalty to an ideal and to a place which by many are still misunderstood and distrusted.
Then coming to quite contemporary events, I have to thank the good people who looked to the organization of the St. Enda’s Fete and Drawing of Prizes. And I have to thank Mr. W B. Yeats and his fellow-workers at the Abbey Theatre for a very great generosity — a special performance which they arranged to give for us on the evening of May 17th. Mr. Yeats, in a lecture on Rabindranath Tagore, had spoken of Mr. Tagore’s school for Indian boys as “the Indian St. Enda’s.” A friend of mine, interested by this, suggested that we should go to Mr. Yeats and ask him whether his Theatre could not do something to help St. Enda’s. We had hardly time to frame our project in words when Mr. Yeats assented to it; and then he did a more generous thing still, for he offered to produce for the benefit of St. Enda’s the play of Mr. Tagore’s to the production of which he had been looking forward as to an important epoch in the life of the Abbey — the first presentation to Europe of a poet who, he thinks, is possibly the greatest now living. And he invited me to produce a St. Enda’s play along with Mr. Tagore’s I understood then more clearly than ever that no one is so generous as a great artist; for a great artist is always giving gifts.
The play we decided to produce along with “The Post Office” was my morality, “An Ri.” We had enacted it during the previous summer, with much pageantry of horses and marchings, at a place in our grounds where an old castellated bridge, not unlike the entrance to a monastery, is thrown across a stream. Since that performance I had added some speeches with the object of slightly deepening the characterization; and our boys were already rehearsing it for indoor production. Of Mr. Tagore’s play I knew nothing except what I had heard from Mr. Yeats, but, I saw that both of us had had in our minds the same image of a humble boy and of the pomp of death, and that my play would be as it were antiphonal to his. Since I have seen Mr. Tagore’s manuscript I have realized that the two plays are more similar in theme than I had suspected, and that mine will be to his in the nature of an “amen;” for in our respective languages, he speaking in terms of Indian village life, and I in terms of an Irish saga, we have both expressed the same truth, that the highest thing anyone can do is to serve.