First published in London in 1847 by Chapman and Hall and republished here on fully-searchable CD-Rom is John Smith's Irish Diamonds; or, a Theory of Irish Wit & Blunders: Combined with other Kindred Subjects. Containing some 194 printed pages John Smith's publication is less offensive and more amusing to a contemporary readership that it would initially appear.
Published at the height of the Famine in Ireland, the caricatures of the Irish peasantry, their wit and predilection to think with the heart instead of the head, according to the author and Maria Edgeworth would appear with hindsight to be more than a little crass and the pictures that adorn the publication are the stereotypical Paddy and Mr. Punch, that could be found throughout the latter's publication at this time. However, Smith's Irish Diamonds is not all that it would appear to be at first inspection, not least because of the real nature of the author, John Smith and his illustrator, the redoubtable 'Phiz'.
John Smith was for many years the editor of the Liverpool Mercury and apart from the publication under review also had to his credit publications on mathematics and grammar and was a former lecturer of 'education and geographical science'. However, it was an event that took place in 1819 that was to form and shape Smith's opinions on government and placed him firmly with the plight of the working classes in both pre-Victorian and Victorian Britain. This sympathy with the ordinary man is redolent in his pursuit of what made the Irish as well as the Scots and English funny - or in some cases not. In his capacity as editor of the Liverpool Mercury, Smith was on the platform with other journalists at the meeting that took place at St. Peter's Field on 16th August 1819. Together with Richard Carlile, Smith left the platform before the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry arrived and the event that has gone down in history as the 'Peterloo Massacre' took place. Smith later gave evidence in favour of the protesters and published and pamphlet on events of that fateful day entitled An Impartial Narrative of the Late Melancholy Occurrences in Manchester and is commemorated by statue in Liverpool.
The illustrator of Smith's Irish Diamonds was 'Phiz' or Halbot Knight Browne (1815-1882) renowned at the time as the illustrator of many of Charles Dickens' best known works as well as those of Charles Lever and Harrison Ainsworth. Smith's Irish Diamonds is an attempt to define and state what makes Irish wit and humour unique and stand apart from the rest of Britain. In this attempt Smith presents chapters on what makes wit and blunder in general and presents an overall theory of Irish wit in particular. These are followed by examples of Irish wit and humour, English humour and examples of wit and blunders from around the world. As a study in the sayings and humour or a people only a generation removed from their native language, Smith's observations on Irish humour, played-out against the backdrop of colonisation and the Famine show a large measure of pathos and humility by the author making Smith's Irish Diamonds a fascinating and unexpected read.
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First published in 1821 by an anonymous author calling themselves a 'Real Paddy', this edition of Real Life in Ireland, was published in London in 1904 and has as its subtitle 'of the day and night scenes, rovings, rambles, sprees, bulls, blunders, Boddekeation and blarney of Brian Boru, Esq., and his elegant friend Sir Shawn O'Dogherty; Exhibiting a real picture of characters, manners, etc., in high and low life in Dublin and various parts of Ireland embellished with humorous coloured engravings, from original engravings by the most eminent artists'.
Commentators have observed that Real Life in Ireland was a natural continuation of Pierce Egan's (1772-1849) hilarious volumes on Life in London. Indeed, the anonymous Real Paddy has sometime been attributed to Egan. Like Life in London, Real Life in Ireland was initially shunned by educated readers and even a quick glance at the language and misdeeds of the central characters, Brian Boru and Sir Shawn O'Doherty, reveal that such a publication may once have been able to cause and give offence. However, Real Life in Ireland is more akin to the works of Flann O'Brien and although written nearly 200 years ago is very readable and very funny.
Opening with the discharge of Shawn O'Dogherty from college in Dublin with a small fortune to spend, he is joined from the country by his friend Brian Boru, who along the way is regaled by the stories of Peg O'Shambles, a one-time cockle picker from Ringsend in Dublin, who has fallen on hard times due to her alcoholic husband's misdeeds. Accompanied by many humerus cartoons of Brian Boru's adventures, the characters travel from Belfast to make merry in Dublin. While the characters in Real Life in Ireland might be fictitious the places, events and the Hiberno-Irish featured throughout are not. Although a comparison with James Joyce's travels through Dublin is perhaps hardly appropriate, Real Life in Ireland provides a clear account of Dublin and its inhabitants, as well as the major sights and attractions of its suburbs. Perhaps unintentionally, Real Life in Ireland has left and account of the 'real' trials and tribulations of Ireland in the 1820s? For example, the new harbour at Dalkey is rightly criticised as a waste of money and time the long awaited visit of George IV lamented, but not much regretted.
All-in-all, the 368 pages of Real Life in Ireland make for a highly entertaining and extremely funny read and has much to recommend it to a modern readership that might be unfamiliar with its kind.
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