We're delighted to present an extract from A Sixty-Drop Dose of Laudanum, originally published in 1839 by James Clarence Mangan (1803-49) and taken from the fascinating new anthology The Other Irish Tradition, edited by Rob Doyle.
Irish writing, we are told, is currently enjoying a renaissance. Strange, original talents are blossoming, wielding styles and perspectives as variant as the inspirations they bring to bear on their work. The Other Irish Tradition seeks to situate this recent flowering within the centuries-long efforts of Irish writers to experiment and to innovate, to make the form of the novel new and strange again. From Laurence Sterne to Flann O’Brien and beyond, this anthology presents both highly familiar and relatively obscure writers from across the history of Irish fiction, offering a fresh perspective on and a provocative reshuffling of the literary canon.
A Sixty-Drop Dose of Laudanum
Laudanum: from laudare, to praise, this drug being one of the most praiseworthy in the Materia Medica.—Cullen.
You may exhibit thirty, fifty, eighty, or a hundred drops to produce sleep; every thing depends on the temperament; but where your object is to excite and enliven, I recommend you to stop short at sixty.—Brown.
"A dose to dose Society:" quoth the Trumpeter—"then it must be uncommon strong, comrade!"—Adventures of a Half-crown.
So saying, he shed sixty drops of the liquid in his black flask into a cup, muttering mysterious words all the while.—The Rival Magicians.
Childe Harold, e. iii. st. xxxiv.
Many literary beginnings are difficult; many the reverse. Where there is much taste there is much hesitation: where energy predominates the novice enters on his career with a bold and joyous heart eager to scale "the steep where Fame’s proud temple shines afar." Thus poets in their youth begin in gladness,Though thereof comes in the end despondency and madness. Our first efforts, it is true, are not always our happiest. Neither are our first loves. Yet both are most dear to our recollections; for with all first things there is associated a certain mysterious magic. Who are they that can forget their first kiss—the first hand they pressed—the first fiddle they played (some few play this through life)—the first time they bade their friends farewell—
Lo di ch’ han detto a dolci amici a Dio
or "the first dark day of nothingness" after the death of a relative? Byron has celebrated the old Athenians as
First in the race that led to God’s goal,
and Moore deeply excites our sympathies by his song to the American damsel whom he met when a little girl, on the banks of the Schuylkill, all wool, furs, muffs and boas—
When first I met thee, warm and young
We have all heard the antiquarian ditty concerning the period at which yews were first seen in burying-grounds
— O do you remember the first time eye met yew?
We recall our "first grey hair" which brought us wisdom—the first day of April, which made fools of us again—the first day of the year, with its bells,
—and that sweet time
When first we heard their ding-dong chime.
And shall not I hereafter call to mind this first specimen of the genuine "Black Drop" that ever trickled from my pen with that mingling "of sweet and bitter fancies" inseparable from a review of whatever is interesting in the Past?
It is impossible that a man can ever make a transcendent artist, that is, that he can excel in music, sculpture, painting, &c. unless he be endowed with a capacious understanding. Just principles with reference to the Fine Arts cannot, in my opinion, coexist with illiberal or erroneous notions upon general subjects. Persuade me who can that Nincompoop Higglethwaites, Esquire, who knows neither the world nor himself—who has studied neither books nor men—can possess a genius for music! A genius for eliciting sounds of all degrees of intonation through the medium of certain machinery I readily grant him—but how can he pretend to move the passions—he who has himself no passions— who knows nothing about them—who regards them as superfluities—and the sum total of whose ambition is to become a correct copyist of the rules of his art? A musician, forsooth! Bah! He has about as much title to the name of musician as an ape has to that of man.
This earth may be characterised as the Great Emporium of the Possible, from whence contingencies are for ever issuing like exports from a warehouse. And Necessity is to the moral world what Fashion is to the social—the parent of perpetual fluctuations. The changes through which men and nations, and their feelings, manners, and destinies are passing and must pass, are not experimental merely; they are superinduced by irresistible, though to a philosophical eye obvious, agencies. When all the varieties of all those changes shall be exhausted, "then is the end nigh;" the Emporium will be thrown down as useless; and the Possible, taught a lesson by the Past, will thenceforth take refuge in spheres from which vicissitude and destruction shall be altogether excluded.
Sir L. Bulwer’s last portrait—that prefixed to his Leila—I take to be a total failure—in fact, a regular humbug. The look is precisely that of a man whom the apparition of a long-legged spider on the wall is about to send into strong hysterics. And such a look was called up for the nonce! Surely the author of Pelham must have lost all sympathy with the ludicrous when he suffered this to be thrust under the public eye. The affectation was the more supererogatory as Bulwer is really a well-favoured gentleman, the everyday expression of his physiognomy being of quite as stare-arresting an order as he need wish to see transferred either to canvas or foolscap.
If you desire to padlock a punster’s lips never tell him that you loathe puns: he would then perpetrate his atrocities for the sake of annoying you. Choose another course: always affect to misunderstand him. When an excruciator has been inflicted on you, open wide your eyes and mouth for a minute, and then, closing them again abruptly, shake your head, and exclaim, "Very mysterious!" This kills him.
I should far and away prefer being a great necromancer to being a great writer or even a great fighter. My natural propensities lead me rather to seek out modes of astonishing mankind than of edifying them. Herein I and my propensities are clearly wrong; but somehow I find that almost every thing that is natural in me is wrong also.
The Other Irish Tradition (published by Dalkey Archive) is out now.