From The Leader, November 7, 1908.
A good many years ago, when I was about 15, I was going to a Latin school in Kanturk. One day, as I was on my way from home, going towards that town, I met, at a place called Cáim Caraige, a boy who was considerably bigger and older than I was. He saw some books under my arm. He took one, and looked through some of its pages. It was a Greek book. After a good look at it, he spoke:—
‘Tell me, Pether,’ said he, ‘did you ever write a navvil?’ ‘No,’ said I, rather astonished. ‘Ach!’ said he, ‘’tis very aisy to write a navvil. I wrote a navvil myself wance. All you’d have to do is to get a bye an’ a girl to fall in love with aich other, and then to get some fella to be making mischief betune um.’
Look over the whole range of English fiction. What is it all but that country boy’s ‘navvil’! ‘A bye an’ a girl to fall in love with aich other,’ and ‘someone to make mischief betune um!’
No change. No new thought. Not a single new idea. All the talk we hear about ‘plot’ and ‘art,’ and ‘originality,’ save the mark! is only talk about some new jingle rung on the very same three strings! In order to ring those new jingles, all the lowest and most degrading phases of the lowest and most degrading of human passions are searched for and exhibited to the mind of the reader. Then, and here is the point which answers the above question: the most polished refinement of diction is used for the purpose of covering, but not hiding, the vilest matter. That refined diction is poisonous language. It is rotten language, as rotten as anything which is corrupt. It is unwholesome. It ruins the mental health of those who read those English ‘navvils,’ just as rotten food would ruin their bodily health. The minds which feed on those ‘navvils’ become injured in every way. Their faith becomes weakened. So does their patriotism, if they have got patriotism at all. A language, any language, is unwholesome, or poisonous, when it is a mere gilding for a poisonous or unwholesome pill.