||EDWARD MARTYN'S PATHS TO IRELAND
There are some references to Greece in the earliest writings of Edward Martyn (1859-1923), the Irish cultural nationalist from Tulira Castle in County Galway, which were cursorily examined by Denis Gwynn during the late 1920s in preparation for his complilation of Edward Martyn and the Irish Revival. Gwynn had been commissioned to write the memoir by Father Cyril Ryan, the Provincial of the Irish Carmelite, into whose safe keeping a seriously ill Martyn had entrusted his personal papers and other treasured items in 1922.
Selections from the Martyn Papers, partly transcribed and partly summarised by Gwynn, included a draft of a Martyn short story, re-written several times but never published, about an Irish country house, Crofton Court and its owner Gerald Crofton. Included in the story is a description of Grecian features in an Irish country house. In the great hall stood the high chimney piece supported by two Atlantes, masterpieces of seventeenth-century wood-carving. In the bright Dutch garden with beds of beautiful old-fashioned flowers stood a pedestal which had a marble copy of Apollino with his arm cast gracefully over his head. In the library, there was stored a great range of books on the shelves with a prominent place reserved for the books about Greece which had many Crofton pencillings.
There were ... the sermons of St.John Chrysostom, St.Basil's Homilies, and a liturgy of the Greek Church... Winckelmann and Goethe... The Journal of Hellenic Studies, the report of the German Government upon the excavations at Olympia...Upon the table lay a superb volume with coloured plates illustrating Byzantine Architecture. (Gwynn, 61-9)
The character of the young English guest at Crofton Court was a portrait of Sir William Geary, a fellow student of Martyn at Christ Church College Oxford who later shared rooms with Martyn at Pump Court in London. Geary, a barrister, became a frequently welcomed guest at Tulira during those years when Martyn was an Unionist landlord very much under the thumb of his mother and frequently absenting himself in London to sidestep his mother's matchmaking tendencies. Letters of thanks to Martyn from Geary for truly wonderful times at Tulira survived in the Martyn papers, from which Gwynn reproduced a few quotations, without actually naming Geary. In one of these letters, the non-Catholic Geary responded to the news that Martyn, in a serious fit of Catholic scruples occasioned by his intense attraction to the Greek Classical world, had destroyed the manuscript of a long poem based on a visit to Greece in 1888:
Now I would never advocate publishing anything directly contrary to Christianity...As a matter of fact I perceived nothing whatever incompatible in your poems as far as I read; how could there be in the Pheidas and Pericles...Why not consult some eminent theologian of your Church thereon? This at all events is what Pascal did. He had given up writing for reasons like you, but during insomnia, having thought out some problem and written it, he showed it to a friend of great piety, who told him to publish. (Gwynn, 76-9)
The linking of Hellenism and severe personal crisis was used by George Moore in the novel Mike Fletcher (1889) in which John Norton burns his Greek-inspired poems:
A great battle raged; and growing at every moment less conscious of all his soul's salvation, he walked through the streets...Decision came upon him like the surgeon's knife. It was in the cold darkness of his rooms at Pump Court...taking his manuscript, he lighted it in the gas. He held it till it was well on fire, and then threw it all blazing under the grate. (Mike Fletcher, 11)
John Norton had appeared in Moore's earlier novel A Mere Accident (1889) and reappeared in the collection of short stories Celibates (1895). What regularly characterised Moore's attempts to portray his old sparring partner 'dear Edward' was the stripping away of any Irish context. Moore's version of Martyn as Norton amounted to little more than the melodrama of an English Catholic neurotic male virgin. More than thirty years later, with Moore and Martyn by then estranged friends, the character of Hugh Monfert was dissected in a final story about Martyn which depicted, with a final vindictive flourish, a pathetically thwarted English Catholic homosexual. Martyn's Hellenism kept on nagging Moore, as is evidenced in the reference to Monfert's poem where Pheidas leads Pericles to the top of the Parthenon 'explaining the sculptures as they ascend'. (In Single Strictness, 730)
The prominence given to the admonitions of Geary letter in Gwynn's memoir, and Moore's fictional preoccupation with his distant cousin as a seriously disturbed homosexual victim of Catholic Church teaching ignored both the crucial historical fact of Martyn's rapid decision after the minor crisis of scruples in the late 1880s to move quickly onto the level of an argument about world culture in the light of Winckelmann's idea of Greece which he understood to be a view of society which should accord primacy, though not exclusiveness, to the development of the multiple artistic gifts of its people. This was attractive territory for Martyn since his visit in 1881 to the Roman Villa Albani, where Winckelmann had been the curator of antiquities. That visit inspired a hero-worshipping poem 'The Genius of the Villa Albani' which was only finally published over forty years later by D.P. Moran in The Leader 29 April, 1911:
Spirit of old! Winckelmann! pilgrim cast
In solitude through modern life to roam...
To tell the simple grandeur of Greek art,
And in its calm sublimely to rejoice.
Immortal form and youth thy haven of peace,
Great father of us all who love old Greece.
Martyn's exorcism of his scruples, documented in his novel Morgante the Lesser (published under the pseudonym of 'Sirius'), produced a version of Hellenism, linked yet significantly different to Pater's view - a fact which was never noted in Irish Revival memoirs. Morgante has been long ago consigned to literary oblivion as far as virtually all the Irish Cultural Revival scholars in academic institutions are concerned. Yet it was in Morgante that Martyn developed his own individually distinctive view of Greece, an interpretation which he firmly set in the polemical context of the conflict between materialist and idealist impulses which he was already observing in nineteenth century Europe, no doubt encouraged by his reading of his mentor, Thomas Carlyle, whose many books were prominent on the shelves of his library at Tulira Castle. In Morgante, Martyn's imagined Greece as an utopia on the all-male Greek island of Agathopolis - an uncloistered version of the all-male monastic Greek island of Mount Athos. By a subtle interweaving of his readings of the works of Winckelmann, John Chrysostom and Walter Pater, Martyn achieved a new synthesis of thought and feeling.
The civilised way of life of 'the uncloistered monks' on Martyn's Greek island of Agathopolis was imbued with Winckelmann's ideal of 'serenity', or Heiterkeit, as interpreted by Pater - the quality which Pater admired in Winckelmann who fingered 'pagan marbles with unsigned hands, with no sense of shame or loss.' (Pater, 114-149). Martyn imagined the men who came voluntarily to live on Agathopolis ready to be trained to harness together an enthusiastic love of beauty and an absolute freedom from 'sensuality' inspired by memory of how the great sculptors of Greece worked. Martyn's spokesman in the novel Theophilus proclaimed that the Greeks combine 'an enthusiastic love of beauty with an absolute freedom from sensuality, which is the temperament in which the great sculptors of Greece worked...Witness the the marbles of Pheidas: is there anything of voluptousness about them?' (Morgante, 277-8)
The conundrum, never consistently addressed by Pater, was how the supreme purity of the Hellenic Ideal might be transfigured into the Christian Ideal. The writings of Chrysostom here provided essential guidance for the intellectually inquisitive Martyn. Given Martyn's instinctive opposition to his mother's rule in Tulira as an all-embracing matriarch, Chrysostom's opposition to the ways of the Empress Eudoxia and his advocacy of the monastic ideal of celibacy must have greatly appealed to Martyn for the sheer drama of Chrysostom's confrontation of an Empress determined to lead a life of extravagance and ornament in Byzantium and determined to have erected a great statue of herself in front of the vestibule of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia in brazen mockery of the splendour of Byzantine liturgy within the Emperor Justinian's great cathedral. Eventually the Empress succeeded in exiling Chrysostom from Byzantium. In his treatise De Virginitate (written c.386), Chrysostom advocated the vocation to the monastic life where silence ruled in the heart, as in a quiet harbour, and a still greater peace in the soul. Martyn went further than Chrysostom by imagining uncloistered celibate men on Agathopolis, as in a great university, with the celibate benevolent 'Dictator' as the model of leader freely elected to direct the whole project of creating a viable alternative society to the widespread materialism and sensationalism of the age. (Morgante, 249-291)
The prospect of sacred liturgical music of the old Greek Church on Agathopolis, still in communion with Rome, produced in Martyn great enthusiasm:
Our church choirs, composed of very deep bass and marvellously sweet treble voices, vie in excellence with the renowned singers of the Sistine Chapel at Rome or of St. Isaac's Cathedral at St. Petersburg...Unspoiled by any instrumental accompaniment, the choristers chant in thrilling tone those plaintive old harmonies of our Greek hymns and responses, which even linger among the cupola when silence has settled upon the lips that gave them birth. (Morgante, 277)
The far and wide concerns of the elected Dictator of this Greek island state of Agathopolis ranged far beyond the cult of solemn liturgy. The Dictator decreed that the riches of the wealthy should be directed towards the furtherance of religious, charitable and philosophical aims. The Dictator set an example by becoming the patron of both the arts and sciences. While the most honoured citizens among the artists were the sculptors working in the tradition of the Greek Palaestra, scientists were encouraged to create the practical conveniences of civilisation and to achieve a cultural harmony between physical science and metaphysics; and the athletes were urged to continue the Greek tradition of gymnasia and athletic exhibitions.
During the period when he wrote Morgante the Lesser, the Unionist landlord Martyn, like his fellow absentee landlord George Moore, seems to have felt that Ireland as a nation was a barren ground for sowing seeds of cultural idealism. Reference to his native country was conspicuous by its absence from Morgante - there is but a single reference in a brief account of an Irish invasion by evangelical female mariners who were quickly put to flight when the crafty Irish discovered that conversion would not lead to acquiring land for next to nothing! (Morgante, 132-3) An understanding of why and how and to what result Martyn discovered a path from Greece to Ireland is a rarely told story. Yet some knowledge of that story is essential if the full story of Martyn's unique role in the Revival is ever to be objectively recorded. Without a close reading of Morgante, a mapping of Martyn's path from Greece to Ireland becomes impossible. Those who have even laid a casual eye on the cover of a copy of Morgante, let alone read it, are on the shortest of short lists. Doubtless the absence of reference to Martyn''s only novel in the writings of Yeats , Moore and Lady Gregory has encouraged very busy Revival scholars not to waste their invaluable time closely reading texts, already long consigned to the margins of their academic agenda. In very brief, what the inquisitive reader today will find in Morgante, whose genre is satiric romance, is a well structured synthesis of three strong imaginative strains: a satire against the growth of Morgante''s 'Enteris'm' or the practice of attention-seeking windy celebrity, which draws inspiration from Rabelais; a romance of the uncloistered monks of Agathopolis, which draws inspiration from Wincklemann, Chrysostom and Pater; and a revealing autobiographical quest for self-interpretation, which draws inspiration from Carlyle's Sartor Resartus.
Shortly after the publication of Morgante in 1890, Martyn decided, as it were, to return from Greece to Ireland by way of Norway as a result of seeing performances in London of the plays of Henrik Ibsen. Before Ibsen, Martyn had revelled in the ancient Greek Theatre with its literary vigour, strict codes for all performers who were restricted to troupes of men and boys in masks, and performances in bare amphitheatres without the distractions of fashionable scenery. (Morgante, 273-4) After Ibsen, Martyn became convinced that modern theatre, as a protest against the distortions of theatre on the nineteenth century commercial stages, should take on the form of the 'exquisitive music' of dramatic psychology. The fact that Ibsen's dramatic psychology repelled average playgoers only stimulated Martyn's belief in Ibsenite plays as the best way forward for Irish theatre. Martyn could not resist linking Ibsen's drama of the mind with Greece:
Much of this was in a way foreshadowed in ancient Greek drama; nothing happens on the stage, only the action of emotion is advancing. That is how there is subtle affinity with the antique in the Ibsen drama...the emotion is large and simple in the antique, with the great Norwegian it is intellectually subtle.
For Martyn the ardent musician, Ibsen's style of dramatic writing closely resembled the symphonic structures of Beethoven by manifesting 'a thematic development seemingly inexhaustible...where each idea is exhibited, and made to recur and explained, and coloured with turns...like changes in varied keys.' For Martyn the Revivalist, the national character of Ibsen's drama , 'primarily intensely Norwegian', stimulated Martyn's empathy with a cultural hero.(Gwynn, 142-8) It was largely under the inspiration of Norway, then, that Martyn was inspired to move beyond the satiric romance of Morgante by writing for the stage about his own situation at Tulira Castle in the three plays which I have dubbed The Tulira Trilogy and which marked the beginnings of the Irish Dramatic Movement which he co-founded in 1899 with W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.
The presence of Greece remains somewhat veiled in the first play of the Trilogy, The Heather Field. In this play which has many fleeting echoes of Morgante, the dreaming Irish landlord Carden Tyrrell, at the age of thirty, falls victim to a wildly distorted dream about the cultivation of a wild heather field on his estate on the west coast of Ireland. The play revisits the central ground of Morgante: Tyrrell the ineffectual Irish landlord longs for a fruitful life-work, just as the Dictator of Agathopolis does; but, unlike the Greek's fully imagined utopia, the Irish landlord's dream collapses when the untameable heather field undermines all his efforts at self-expression. Tyrrell's eventual nervous breakdown is a metaphor of what would have happened if Martyn had obeyed his mother's wishes to behave like a responsible member of the Galway unionist gentry. The play's power is overwhelmingly Ibsenite in terms of psychology, symbolism and self-portraiture.
Tyrrell is psychologically ill-equipped to discharge his landlord duties during a turbulent period of great tenant unrest and agitation in Ireland. As a child, Tyrrell saw nothing real in the world outside his fairy dreams; and as a man, he married strictly within the narrow conventions of gentry parties and balls in the county. One of Tyrrell's happiest memories is of boy choristers singing Palestrina in Cologne Cathedral: 'How pure the silver voice chords soared to the vaults of stone.' (Tulira Trilogy, 41 ). These words movingly echo Martyn's enthusiasm for church music in the great Byzantine Cathedral of Agathopolis: 'Unspoiled by any instrumental accompaniment, the choristers chant in thrilling tones those plaintive old harmonies of our Greek hymns and responses, which ever linger among the mosaics in the cupola, when silence has settled upon the lips that gave them birth. ' (Morgante, 277). While the memories of choristers does not direct Tyrrell to fruitful action, the reference anticipates Martyn''s own battle to found the Palestrina Choir in Dublin''s Pro-Cathedral which was successful in 1903.
Tyrrell retreats to the library where his art books remind him of distant aesthetic pleasures and about which he can talk only to his beloved younger brother Miles: 'Look in this architectural book there are plates representing some buildings we saw then. Here is a Romanesque house at Boppart on the Rhine...the bishop's house at Wurzburg...what a genius these medieval architects had.' (Tulira Trilogy, 45) Tyrrell's wife Grace has little time for her husband's aesthetic notions when she surveys his library: 'Goodness me, what a litter the room is in with all these books and papers...You imagine yourself the busiest man in the world; and as a matter of fact you have nothing to do.' (Tulira Trilogy, 45). Grace's sentiments echo the view of Morgante's father Fitz-Ego in his declaration of love for England: 'For after all, in England, is it not almost everybody's highest ambition to move in fashionable society? I should like to know what is the use of philosophy, art, literature, everything, if they do not lead to this result.'' (Morgante, 102)
Tyrrell's choice of the Heather Field project as a form of self-assertion is central to the play's symbolism. The project proclaims the ideal of reclaiming every inch of waste land on the estate but on a totally literal level. Tyrrell proclaims: 'There is something creative about it - this changing of the face of the country...When from the ideal world of my books, these people forced me to such business, I was bound to find the extreme of its idealisation.' (Tulira Trilogy, 64 ) Like Ibsen's Wild Duck, Martyn's symbol of the Heather Field is like 'a magnet and the characters in the play so many filings held together by this centrepetal force' (Meyer, 561), and encompasses Tyrrell's eventual nervous breakdown and the ways in which the other characters contribute to and perceive his madness. It is left to his fellow landlord and friend Barry Ussher to intervene to help to save the estate for his wife Grace and his young son Kit whose fate are beyond the comprehension of the dreamer who finally hears only boys''s voices: 'The voices - yes, they are filling the house - those white-stoled children of the morning. The voices, I hear them now as triumphant in a silver glory of song.'' (Tulira Trilogy,92 ). These visionary voices are very far removed the majestic iceberg of Agathopolis 'which soars in its cold purity amid the abominable seas of the worl'd'. (Morgante, 291) Ussher ends the play with an epitaph on the Irish landlord who failed to survive:' 'The wild heath has broken out again in the heather fiel'd.' (Tulira Trilogy, 92) If Mar'tyn's ideal Dictator is a symbol of cultural triumph in Morgante, the Irish landlord is a symbol of cultural failure in The Heather Field.
In the second play of the Tulira Trilogy, Maeve, the inner life of the central character, daughter of the increasingly impoverished Prince of Burren, Colman O'Heynes, contemplates the ruins of a round tower, reads West Connacht poetry by the bard Dorban and often browses through an art book of Greek sculpture with many photographs. Maeve longs to imagine closer links between Greek sculpture and the Celtic arts of long ago, after she has observed links between Greek and Celtic ornament. Maeve's inspired dream is that the pattern of Celtic youth should follow the perfection of Greek youth as revealed in the Greek sculpture which has already been celebrated by Martyn in his only novel: 'The rare beauty of form and movement in our youth as seen in the circus or exercising ground where the noblest traditions of the Greek Palaestra are maintained, accustoms the eye of our sculptor ever to what is fittest for his art.' (Morgante, 277-8) The Prince of Burren knows little of his daughter's inner life - like Grace Tyrrell, his sole and very understandable utilitarian concern is to use marriage between his daughter and a rich Englishman as the last resort to end the family''s shameful poverty. The wealthy Englishman chosen as husband for Maeve is well-meaning, affable but incapable of entering into Maeve''s world of personal belief:
HUGH: I see nothing but ruins - that mysterious round tower - the stony mountains - and your gray castle through the leafless boughs of great ash trees...
MAEVE: Tuatha de Danaan, those tall beautiful children of Dagda Mor. It is said they were the old people of Erin and were afterwards worshipped as gods.
HUGH: But do you believe they were really gods?
MAEVE: Oh, no - only a race whose great beauty still haunts our land, (Tulira Trilogy, 108-9)
Unlike the off-stage Irish peasants dramatised mainly as social threat in The Heather Field, the peasant woman Peg Inerny, a former family servant, encourages Maeve to seek the mythic way back to the ancient beautiful people of Ireland
PEG: Your love is dreaming among the rocks of these mountains, Princess.
MAEVE: Oh, how I have grown to love these stony mountains.
PEG: They are the pleasure haunts of many a beautiful ghost.
MAEVE: The many beautiful buried in that cairn.
PEG: Oh, what a world there is underneath that cairn.
MAEVE: Yes, the great beautiful Queen Maeve who ruled over Connacht hundreds of years ago, (Tulira Trilogy, 111)
Maeve conjures up a mystical lover who holds out the promise to connect the Greek and the Celtic worlds:
MAEVE: I am haunted by a boyish face close hooded with short gold hair and every member of his slender, faultess body goes straight to my heart like a fairy melody. Oh, he has a long journey; - for that land of beauty was never so far away as it is tonight...Oh, the beautiful frosty night!...The greatest beauty like the old Greek sculpture is always cold. My Prince of the hoar-dew. My golden love, let me see you once more in that aureole of crimson sky.' (The Tulira Trilogy, 122-3)
The interchange between Irish ice and Greek sun is imagined as ensuring the absolute freedom from sensuality (associated by Pater and Martyn with the marbles of Pheidas). That freedom characterises the lives of the 'uncloistered monks' of Agathopolis. Maeve might be described as an uncloistered nun', except that one should remember that Maeve chooses to identify strongly with the pre-Christian world of Queen Maeve's Court Procession emerging from the nearby cairn. The Irish gentry in the ancient world are celebrated by a Chorus of Boy Pages or Choristers: 'Their bodies are graceful and majestic,/These sons of queens and kings.' (The Tulira Trilogy, 125)
What renders Martyn's dramatic achievement here so remarkable is the blending of the inner psychology and the outer theatricality, both of which qualities the presentation of Agathopolis, in the lecture by Theophilus, poignantly lacks. Maeve reveals herself as an uncompromising patriot and aesthete, enthralled by the union of Celtic and Greek beauty, in the historical context of an largely unsympathetic nineteenth century Ireland. The procession of boy choristers here sing not to accompany Catholic liturgy but in the solemn, dream-like procession of Queen Maeve with her many ancient Irish attendants. The symbolical closure of the drama occurs when the young Maeve appears at dawn as sitting at an open window - dead. Her death represents the triumph of visionary will-power, even though Maeve's sacrifice of the prospect of an ordinary successful life within the terms of her father's arranged marriage schemes can only seem totally pointless to her neighbours. Her death marks social failure and personal triumph. Martyn dramatises the personal triumph of Maeve with its dimension of heroic self-sacrifice to suggest strongly an Irish political allegory, which appears to have been picked up by the play''s first audiences. After the first performances, Lady Gregory greatly admired Martyn''s play for 'taking one into a beautiful dream worl'd' and noted that the anti-English 'touches' were much applauded. (Seventy Years, 356-9)
However, the symbolism of Maeve cannot be restricted to the conflict between Ireland's preference for the ancient worlds and the seemingly inevitable prospect of the English way of progress. The play, unlike the London sections of Morgante, simply lacks any depth of anti-English feeling. At no point is Hugh presented as the hard-hearted colonialist. Maeve's sister Finola is so well disposed towards him that she will probably marry him out of affection and please her father by restoring the fortunes of the O'Heynes family with the help of English money. Martyn's play seems far removed from contemporary Irish political nationalism, a point which George Moore recognised when he claimed that in Maeve 'human emotion is the whole of the play.' (Preface to 1899 edition, xxvii) The cultural politics implied in the drama is the suggestion that Maeve's vision of the union of the Celtic and the Greek might inspire the Irish nation towards a cultural revival with strong European dimensions and might encourage the collaboration of gentry and peasantry in a joint cultural enterprise. In retrospect, Martyn saw Maeve not as any form of nationalist propaganda but as a display of the dramatic art which 'made a girl pine and die for a lover who had no existence, and gave it a semblance of truth.' (Gwynn, 145) The art of the great Norwegian is well to the fore in the play, especially evident in the dramatisation of the strong-willed Irish aesthete in love with Tir-nan-Ogue and in the symbolism of the triumph of Maeve self-sacrifice. Maeve is the only play in the Tulira Trilogy where the aesthetic and cultural idealism of Agathopolis is relocated in Ireland, ancient and modern. Maeve as fin-de-siecle aesthete and Irish cultural nationalist is the role in which Martyn longed to cast himself.
Maeve's personal predilections link her to the Martyn at Oxford who espoused the love of the white purity of Greek sculpture. The whiteness of Greek sculpture was central to Pater's aesthetics because it represented the colourless image of remoteness and purity of beauty. Maeve's intense longing for her Celtic/Greek Prince is further masked by the fact that the love-object is a ghost. Is Martyn's praise of Maeve's romantic attachment to a young man's sexless beauty merely a clever literary ruse to sidestep all suspicion of sexual desire? The idea of purity as essential to the beauty of the Greek sculptures of youths was Pater's view, perhaps developed out of his awareness of the conflict between desire and guilt experienced by Christians who became enthralled by the supreme beauty of ancient Greek youths. In debates about the links between Victorian Hellenism and male homosexuality, the whiteness of the beauty is often seen as a mask for homoerotic desire. In the case of Martyn's Maeve, there is a chaste displacement of her passion for the Prince: her freely chosen chastity intensifies the longing and her death perpetuates the longing. What happens on the one hand is that Maeve's human longings have been sublimated into the symbol of sublime aesthetic contemplation; but what happens on the other hand is the resurgence of a patriotic Irish Princess. In an article published in the Dublin Daily Express on 28 Jamuary 1899, AE's instinctively detected in the play 'the current of subtle spiritual reverie which is characteristic of the awakening genius of the Gael'. Only when the subtle interweaving of Greek aestheticism and Irish Cultural nationalism by means of Norwegian dramaturgy are focused can this play's considerable power be brought fully to life on the stage.
In the third play of the Tulira Trilogy An Enchanted Sea , there are many links suggested between Ireland and Greece. There are two Irish country houses: Fonthill by the sea where its fifteen-year old owner, Guy Font, lives with his aunt and guardian Rachel Font; and further inland, there is Castle Mask where Lord Mask, some eight years older than Guy, lives alone after an Oxford education and who travels occasionally to Greece, a country which he loves. Mask was yet another Martyn self-portrait:
MASK: I went to Greece from the Greek movement in Oxford, where the luminous pages of Winckelmann opened to us a vision of antique life.
GUY: I think, Mask, you see Greece everywhere in the world.
MASK: She was the beauty of the world. Youths and temples transfigured in plastic sunlight - galleys gliding like swans in the white Piraeus, while their oars break into creamy veins the blue marble of the seas -!
GUY: This is an enchanted sea. (Tulira Trilogy, 159)
Mask is enchanted by the beautiful Guy who becomes his sole guide to a vision of the sea which links the Celtic sea-god Mannannan and the Greek sea-god Poseidon. Mask's enchantment with Guy is absorbed into the young peer's dream-world as he recalls a dream which he had in Constantinople on the site of Ceasar's palace overlooking the sea:
MASK: It changed my life: for a voice spoke to me in that dream. It told me to leave that land and sea because they were dead. It told me to go where their genius had fled and was sleeping.
GUY: Here in this country, Mask –
MASK: Here in the Insula Sacra - the Ogygia of Homer and our Hellenic ancestors - the genius is here and will soon reawaken, and he will revive the arts, and trades and letters in our ancient tongue which all will speak again. Let us be ready to minister.
(Tulira Trilogy, 160).
Amid Mask's budding ideas for the revival of al the arts in Ireland, the Irish-Greek boy seems destined to symbolise Ireland's ancient genius and a modern nation's imagination.. The searching of Mask and Guy for beauty in the enchanted sea-caves is inspired by aesthetic and national dreams and, indeed their quest recalls the way in which Agathopolis begins to live in the hearts of the men who travel to the island for enlightenment: 'Our city has grown up and lives in the hearts...of men in the world, though not of it...drawn to those sunlit shores. (Morgante, 252) Certainly there is an absence of a developed psychology in the dramatisation of the friendship between Mask and Guy - between the much travelled Oxford Hellenist and the elfin-looking boy who is so closely in touch with the mysteries of Ireland, including its language which he has learned from the peasants. This insignificance of private life also characterises the lives of the uncloistered monks on Agathopolis: 'The fact is we live much in the cloudless sunlight, transact our business chiefly in public...Privacy is almost unknown to us.' (Morgante, 279) The public life of Mask and Guy seems destined to promote a certain kind of Irish cultural revival, but their premature deaths ensured that such a revival had to remain still-born. As in Maeve, the quest for beauty ends in death but while there is a sense of imaginative triumph in Maeve's death, the deaths of the two friends suggests only a sense of deep pessimism in the face of the strength of the destructive forces rampaging in Ireland which Martyn symbolised in the plotting of Rachel Font.
The central dramatic focus in the play is Mrs. Font, which is a savage portrait of Martyn's own mother. Mrs. Font is primarily driven by: an overwhelming desire to arrange, for Irish country house advantage, a marriage between Agnes her daughter and Lord Mask; her superstition-ridden opposition to the Irish ways of the local peasantry from which she herself has only recently arisen; and her determination to murder without any compunction the young person who stands in the way of her plans - her nephew Guy Font. In the creation of Mrs. Font as a mother whose savagery stems from displacement, Martyn transforms, with acknowledgements to Ibsen, the misogynistic version of Morgante's mother, Amentia, into a compelling psychological study of the lovingly destructive mother. Mrs. Font's passion to restore Fonthill, through intermarriage with Castle Mask, resembles the materialist ambition of the Prince of Burren in Maeve, but Mrs. Font's plotting is not at the margins but at the very centre of the drama. Her ferocious opposition to any superstitious meddlings with 'an enchanted sea'' is relentless and unalterable. When Guy has been duped into taking his scheming aunt into sea-caves, she drowns him and hopes that the death will be considered an accident; but a few secretly observant hostile peasants eventually denounce her to the police in revenge for her many social injustices. Instead of falling into step after Guy''s disappearance with Mrs. Fon't's designs, Mask searches the caves in the hope of finding Guy alive but 'then suddenly there came a mountain wave that caught and swept him into the deep water...he sank.' (Tulira Trilogy ).
At the climax in An Enchanted Sea, Rachel Font's suicide takes place in her pretentious great hall which had been turned by Guy into a gymnasium with a rope on the staircase for his athletic exercises. The circumstances of her death appear as a scorching parody of the glorious restoration envisaged for the Irish county house of Fonthill, for which she had intrigued so unrestrainedly and so unashamedly. What rescues the ending of An Enchanted Sea from crude melodrama is Martyn's relentless probing of the socially self-defeating drives in Mrs Font and of the strong sense of the cultural threat of her legacy which can lead only to a tragic devastation of Ireland's 'enchanted sea'.
Martyn's burgeoning national hopes surfaced most enthusiastically when he declared himself to be wholeheartedly on the side of the Irish revival immediately after his mother's death in 1898. Henceforth Martyn hoped that the Irish would be prepared to broaden their education as they embarked on the making of a modern Ireland; but his cross-cultural visions had minimal influence on the overall direction of the Irish Revival. The subsequent drama of Martyn himself being consigned to the periphery and to the pillory of the Irish Revival as the talentless outsider has been glossed over in the recent seemingly endless accounts of the Irish Dramatic Movement which have settled too frequently and too conveniently for merely a narrowly focused history of the Abbey Theatre. What this selective approach has never acknowledged is the key evidence of Martyn's Morgante the Lesser and The Tulira Trilogy. So Martyn's achievements amount only to 'the road not taken'; but perhaps the time is now ripe for a review of the reasons why that road was not taken and how it might still be undertaken.
The Heather Field is the tragedy of floundering idealism. Maeve is the tragedy of visionary aestheticism. An Enchanted Sea is the tragedy from the clash between culture and pragmaticism. The Tulira Trilogy is concerned, above all, to dramatise the failure of national dreaming. In An Enchanted Sea, Commander Lyle R.N. says : 'This lonely sea was suited to the visionaries who have passed with their visions away. Women have no strength in such things. You who have awakened to real life, can find no place here.' (Tulira Trilogy, 195-6) The last word in the Tulira Trilogy is spoken by Agnes Font, cousin of the Irish-Greek boy Guy and would-be bride of the Irish-Hellenist Mask. When Commander Lyle offers her the prospect of a safe non-visionary life, the last word of Agnes - 'Perhaps holds out the prospect that the young woman might well decide to take the other road - surely more than a glimmer of hope at the end of the trilogy sequence?
Martyn's Tulira Trilogy of Irish plays awaits rediscovery and experimental production in Ireland, after almost a century of wanton neglect. One can only hope that if the plays are actually read in the context of Martyn's life and times that a 'Perhaps!' will become a 'Yes!' when it comes to the restoration to the Irish cultural agenda of these three most interesting plays
Lady Gregory, Our Irish Theatre (New York: Putnam, 1913)
Denis Gwynn, Edward Martyn and the Irish Revival (London: Cape, 1930)
Edward Martyn, Morgante the Lesser by Sirius (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1890)
The Heather Field and Maeve (London: Duckworth, 1899)
The Tale of a Town and An Enchanted Sea (London: Fisher Unwin,1902)
The Tulira Trilogy of Edward Martyn, Irish Symbolist Dramatist edited and introduced by Jerry Nolan (Lewiston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mallen Press, 2003)
M. Meyer, Ibsen (London: Cardinal, 1992)
George Moore, A Mere Accident (London: Vizetelly, 1887)
Mike Fletcher (London: Ward & Downey, 1889)
Celibates (London: Walter Scott, 1895)
In Single Strictness (London: Heinemann, 1922)
Jerry Nolan, Six Essays on Edward Martyn (Lewiston/Lampeter: The Mellen Press, 2004)
Walter Pater,The Renaissance, Introduction by A. Phillips (Oxford;World Classics, 1986)
W.R.W. Stephens, Saint John Chrysostom (London: Murray, 1883) for commentary on 'De Virginitate'.
(A shorter version of this essay was read as a paper at the IASIL Conference July 2004 which was held at University College Galway.)