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character as a poet, though it may seem so. to know the right and choose the wrong,' he dragged on a life in which mean beggary and dissipation alternated with literary work marked by much beauty, learning, humour, pathos and genius-and at the early age of twenty-seven, disgraced, dishonoured, but yet immortalised, he was buried in Lewisham graveyard.
In the entire record of literary genius we find no such character as Dermody. Some one has called him the Chatterton of Ireland—a comparison surely not to Chatterton's advantage. It can scarcely be credited-would have scarcely been credited by Mr. Shandy, who made researches into the history of precociousness, and quoted some peculiar examples thereof-that this Dermody was as an infant an accomplished wine-bibber, a deliberate drunkard. It is said he inherited this taste from his father, a schoolmaster in Ennis; but hereditary theories will not sufficiently explain the recorded fact that at the age of ten Dermody was a confirmed and seasoned whisky-drinker.
He was born in 1775 at Ennis, the son of a schoolmaster there, who afterwards moved to Galway; and we read that in 1785 he abandoned or pretended to abandon the bottle-a temporary awakening and repentance caused by the death of an elder brother. We are more surprised at this than to hear that at this age he had written much, for Cowley and Pope and others are standing examples of juvenile powers. Soon after the death of this elder brother, Dermody, animated by the 'History of Tom Jones' to a life of adventure, secretly started for Dublin with two shillings in his pocket, and there commenced a career full of vicissitude, but more full of wretchedness and sickening depravity. No youth of his
class ever had such opportunities; no one abused such opportunities as he did. Had he led a life of industry, rectitude, and sobriety, his name might to-day have been that of the National Poet of Ireland—a far greater than Moore. As it was, though rescued time after time out of the mire, he always turned again to it, till at length disgusted Patronage and exhausted Friendship cast him adrift to die in the gutter he loved.
When he arrived in Dublin, yet a mere child, he spent his time hovering around bookstalls. The owner of such a stall, fearful of a theft, and watching the boy, discovered him one day, not thieving, but reading a Greek author; whereupon he employed the furtive student to teach his son the classics.' The engagement was cut short by Dermody's drunkenness. The bookseller compassionately procured him a new employment, which was soon lost through the same cause. He managed to make friends with several gentlemen studying at Trinity College, who befriended him, to be imposed on by him. Mr. Owenson, the actor, Lady Morgan's father, took an interest in him and introduced him to a Dr. Young, who volunteered to advance his studies and support him. But studies were neglected, and Dermody, possessed of his old devil, dismissed to destitution once more. But Fortune befriended the prodigy. A clergyman—a Mr. Austen, rector of Maynooth-noticed him, took him to his house, raised a subscription amongst his friends for the maintenance and education of the young genius. But to no avail; Dermody, after repeated offences, was again expelled.
Mr. Owenson for the second time obtained for him a patron-a Mr. Atkinson, on whose advice and recommendation the Dowager Countess of Moira adopted the boy
poet, sending him to the Rev. Mr. Boyd, of Killeigh, under whom, at her expense, he was to be perfected in his studies. Here for a time he was steady and made progress in learning. He added knowledge of French and Italian to his acquaintance with the dead languages; he delighted Lady Moira, who was proud of her protégé ; but the old habit again conquered him, and again he is out on the world, not entirely friendless, for Lady Moira is ready with her purse for his destitution. He wrote afterwards of her the lines commencing:
'Ah! deeds of tenderness to earth unknown,
But her forbearance is soon exhausted, and, sunk to the lowest depths of debauchery and wretchedness, friendless and destitute, he tries to gain a living by writing political pamphlets. He would walk sixteen miles to solicit a subscriber's name, and, disappointed and penniless, pledge his very shoe-buckles for a drink. This was in 1793, when he was eighteen years of age. Pamphlets and politics did not pay, and he essayed a new and facile composition, begging letters. At this point of his career he was saved from death by starvation by Mr. AttorneyGeneral Wolfe (afterwards the ill-fated Chief Justice Lord Kilwarden), who placed him in Trinity College, undertaking to pay the expenses of his education and contribute thirty pounds a year towards his maintenance. Another splendid opportunity thrown away!
The next we hear of Dermody is serving as a private soldier-somewhat reformed, for he is promoted to be a sergeant. He goes to England with his regiment, gains Lord Moira's favour, and by it obtains a lieutenancy of some kind. While a soldier, and when in his nineteenth
year, he wrote a poem called 'The Retrospect.' He retired from the army on half-pay; and the next scene is a relapse to the old vicious course, and Dermody starving in a cobbler's garret. He is rescued this time by Mr. Raymond, afterwards his biographer, who induces him to collect his poems and to have them published. This is done; the collection is dedicated to the Lady Moira whose patronage and protection he thrice forfeited; it is a success, and on its proceeds he lives respectable for a while-for a little while. Back he sinks to debauchery and misery. But he has made a name as a poet and satirist, and Laureate Pye procures for him money-grants from the Benevolent Royal Literary Fund. These minister not to his mind, but to his vices; his constitution is broken down, and to retrieve wasted and lost health he is advised to seek change of air. Another volume is issued, full of merit and power, but no patronage is present to secure purchasers. Friends are all alienated; and neglected, in utter poverty and friendlessness, he finds refuge in a hovel in a purlieu of Sydenham. Raymond discovers him and again succours him; but he is past succour, and after lingering for a day or two he dies, aged twenty-seven years and six months.
His life was of such persistent depravity that it is repulsive; his character was unredeemed by a single virtue; yet when we turn to his poetry we must feel regret that such noble talents were unfostered, were stained with vice and soaked in drink. The song 'The Sensitive Linnet,' written before he was ten years of age, is worthy of the Elizabethan age. His 'Contentment in Adversity' is full of humour:
'In a cold empty garret contented I sit,
Here's a health then to Fate, and to Fortune her daughter
What can be finer or purer than those lines in 'Patronage,' where he speaks of the consolations he discerns through the sable shroud of sorrow which wraps him? Friendship solaces him :
'And fair Devotion, brightly fleeting by,
Whence seraphs, leaning from th' angelic quire,
We have alluded to the comparison which some one has instituted between Dermody and Chatterton. There is one similitude that will occur to everyone. Chatterton's 'Farewell to Bristol' is suggested by Dermody's 'Farewell to Ireland.' Chatterton wrote:
'Farewell Bristolia's dingy piles of brick,
Lovers of mammon, worshippers of trick ;
And so on in this strain. Chatterton's contempt and wrath were perhaps due to a real cause. Dermody's 'Farewell to Ireland,' written in 1794, is masterly in invective, but is a monument of ingratitude and callousWe may quote it here, as it cannot find place in the subsequent pages; it will show what a versatile genius the boy was dowered with, and justify our regrets at his misspent, wretched, brief life:
'Rank nurse of nonsense, on whose thankless coast