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Cowley in precocity, a Shenstone in style, he enjoyed a fair reputation during his brief lifetime, and had a more successful career, in all its vicissitudes, than many of his contemporaries.
Dr. Johnson praised him : “Although Cunningham cannot be admitted to a very high rank among poets, he may be allowed to possess a considerable share of genius. His poems have peculiar sweetness and elegance; his sentiments are generally natural ; his language simple, and appropriate to his subject.' This was said of his volume of ' Pastoral Poems,’ in the composition of which he was a disciple and imitator of Shenstone. His ‘Day: a Pastoral,' is in every respect excellent, and is one of the best poems of that description in the English language. But notwithstanding contemporary praise and appreciation, his name is to-day strange-almost unknown.
John Cunningham was the son of a Dublin wine merchant, and was born in that city in 1729. He wrote verses and ballads at twelve years of age which found refuge in 'Poets' Corners' in the newspapers, and eventually sunk to street-singers-presumably their fit destination At seventeen he wrote 'Love in a Mist;' a farce which was not unsuccessful in Dublin. At twenty he was a strolling player, and made a name in the English provinces. At thirty-four he retired from the stage, settled in Newcastle-on-Tyne, wrote his 'Pastorals' and 'Poems; and after a long and painful illness died in 1773. He rewarded the kindness of the Newcastle folk, with whom as a player he had been ever a favourite, by immortalising the beer manufactured in the town; and, although the versification betrays his nationality-rhyming
placed with feast,' and diseases' with raises '-his song, ‘Newcastle Beer,' is, of its kind, a good drinking
song, full of jollity and humour, and without a touch of coarseness. The ‘Holiday Gown; or, I'd Wed if I were not too Young,' is a song of surpassing excellence ; and these two compositions alone entitle Cunningham to no mean place in Irish anthology.
KANE O'HARA is, in the biographical notices, said to have been a younger son of a gentleman whose children moved in the fashionable circles of Dublin, in the middle of the last century. So little, however is known of his parentage and early life that the date of his birth is variously assigned to any year between 1715 and 1733. That he died on the 17th June, 1782, is an ascertained fact, and that during his lifetime he enjoyed a great and deserved popularity, and earned a fame which lasted long after his death, are matters of history. He made his reputation by his burlesques—to which he exclusively devoted himself—and his knowledge of music, the vivacity of his style, the humour of his songs, situations and dialogues, insured in almost every instance an immediate success and popularity to his writings. His Tom Thumb' was produced at Covent Garden in 1780. It is based on Fielding's 'Tom Thumb, of which work it is recorded of Dean Swift that he never laughed but twice in his life, once at a trick performed by a conjurer, and once at the scene where Tom Thumb kills the ghost. To have caused the great grim Dean to laugh is a superlative tribute to Fielding's mirth-moving qualities, and yet it is generally allowed that O'Hara's version excels Fielding's, in humour as in every other respect. His fiist burlesque, the well-known ‘Midas,' is unquestionably almost, if not altogether, his best. It was meant to throw ridicule on the Italian operas, and was produced in the old Dublin Theatre in Crow Street in January, 1764 ; was reproduced in Covent Garden in the following month in a condensed form, and was repeated nine times during the season-no small distinction in those days. In 1773 'The Golden Pippin' was brought out, also at Covent Garden Theatre, and the success that attended its production was considerably enhanced by the acting and singing of Nan Catley. In 1775 the 'Two Misers? was. performed ; and in 1777, at the Haymarket Theatre, April Day' was produced.
Of Kane O'Hara's personal history some meagre particulars have been preserved. His conversation, as is the case with many witty and humorous writers, gave no indication of the wit and humour of his burlesques. Indeed, he is generally spoken of as dull and tiresome in the manner and style of his talk. He was a remarkably tall man— cruel tall' in the words of a contemporary joke -'with the appearance of an old fop with spectacles and an antiquated wig. He lived and probably died in Molesworth Street, Dublin, and it was through his influence and exertions the Musical Academy of Ireland, of which he became vice-president, was founded in 1758.
The usual uncertainty and haziness envelops the life of Andrew Magrath, the last Irish poet who wrote in his native language. Hardiman in his ‘Minstrelsy,' in language of doubtful eulogy, says: “As a poet he not only excelled the mob of English gentlemen who wrote with ease, but also many of those whom Dr. Johnson has designated
English poets. His habits and writings closely resembled those of Prior. Like him, Magrath delighted in mean company. His life was irregular, negligent, and sensual. He has tried all styles from the grotesque to the solemn, and has not so failed in any as to incur derision or disgrace.'
He was a prolific writer of songs 'of a jovial, amatory, and political nature ;' and in Munster, more especially in his own county of Limerick, he was known in his lifetime and is even still remembered, because of his wit and eccentricity, by an Irish nickname which means ‘Mixture of Drollery,' or 'Merry-dealer.' He was a friend of contemporary poetasters. He was born in Limerick by the banks of the Maig' sometime about 1720—1725, and was alive in 1790; but he seems to have melted, mist-like, out of the world, for the time and circumstances of his death -beyond that it is traditionally said he died at the house of one O'Donnell, near Kilmallock, and to him bequeathed his voluminous and versatile manuscripts—are known no better than the time of his birth. He seems to have become a kind of schoolmaster occasionally, and to have been a drunkard and licentiate always. He was migratory in his habits, “a roving blade' who lampooned and ridiculed those obnoxious to him with a free spirit, and had to rove further to escape the vengeance he invoked. He was a sot amongst sots, but always seems to have been esteemed as a personage even by the most degraded ; and notwithstanding his mode of life he lived to a ripe old age, 'an eccentric genius, but true poet. He was buried in Kilmallock churchyard, near which it is said he breathed his last; but we are informed there is no stone to mark his grave, and no inscription therefore to supply us with the dates of his birth and death.
THOMAS DERMODY is one of the most remarkable figures in Irish literature. With a brilliant and extraordinary genius, and all the mental qualities to make a great and wonderful writer, he led a life of such utter depravity, and died so young and so miserable, that the mind alternates between feelings of loathing at the degraded tastes and bestial life, and of compassion on him for the splendid abilities and the many accomplishments wrecked and misapplied. Of him, Raymond, his biographer, wrote: His poetical powers may be said to have been intuitive, for some of his best pieces were composed before he had reached twelve years of age. His language was nervous, polished, and fluent. His wonderful classical knowledge, added to a memory uncommonly powerful and comprehensive, furnished him with allusions that were appropriate, combinations that were pleasing, and sentiments that were dignified. He had an inquisitive mind, but could never resist the temptations which offered to seduce him from his studies. No one ever wrote with greater facility; his mind was stored with such a fund of observation, such an accumulation of knowledge gathered from science and from nature, that his thoughts, when wanted, rushed upon him like a torrent, and he could compose with the rapidity with which another could transcribe. There is scarcely a style of composition in which he did not in some degree excel. The descriptive, the ludicrous, the didactic, the sublime, each, when occasion required, he treated with skill, with acute remark, imposing humour, profound reflection, and lofty magnificence.' And on the whole, this is not an exaggerated description of Dermody's