Chronology of Gerald Griffin
|See also his Bibliography.
|12 December 1803
|Gerald Griffin was born in Limerick into a kind of middle class
that he has often portrayed in his fiction: the substantial Catholic
farmer. He was the twelfth of the fifteen surviving children in his
family. His father, Patrick Griffin, was a brewery farmer, and his
mother, Ellen Griffin, of the ancient Gaelic family of the O'Briens,
was very cultivated and much interested in literature.
|When he was seven or eight years old, the family moved some
twenty-eight miles westward from Limerick into a house named Fairy
Lawn, where he had an idyllic childhood with a close-knit family. He
received a good classical education which was often of a scrappy and
haphazard nature, reflecting both his father's declining fortunes
and the whole character of Catholic education at this time. He was
also deeply influenced by the beautiful surroundings of the house,
situated on a hill above the Shannon estuary, with a beautiful
contryside through which Ireland's biggest river reaches the sea. It
was probably there where his poetic imagination had its first
impressions of natural beauty which he conveyed so often in his
|Patrick Griffin, having failed in various business enterprises,
decided to emigrate with most of his family to Pennsylvania. Gerald
Griffin remained in Ireland, as well as his older brother, Dr
William Griffin (1794–1848), with whom he went to live in Adare, co.
Limerick. He never saw his parents again and this sundering of the
family circle clearly had a devastating effect on his sensitive and
|He had already thought in the past in following his brother's
footsteps in medicine, but had finally abandoned the idea, and a
meeting with John Banim influenced his choice of a literary career.
Banim's play Damon and Pythias had been successfully
produced at Covent Garden in May that year, with William Charles
Macready and Charles Kemble in the title roles.
|Gerald Griffin completed a full-length tragedy, Aguire
(now lost). Reluctantly, William let him try his luck for making a
literary career in London, after being extremely impressed by the
quality of the piece, and Gerald left Adare. Unfortunatey, his
ambitions received an early set-back when he submitted his tragedy
to the judgement of a London actor, probably Macready, and was
|A letter of February indicates that Gerald had already completed
his play Gisippus, with four acts of which he gave to Banim
for suggestions. In the mean time, Gerald was also associated with a
Spanish Friend, Valentine Llanos, in a project for translating
Spanish works into English, hoping to make some money from this. The
bleakest time of his London experience occured for the first six
months of this very year, when he was impoverished and in poor
health, depressed by bad news of his brother's illness and by the
death of various relatives and desperate by the fact that he was
constantly running backward and forward in his career with doubts
that he would ever make any mark in the literary world. His
relationship with his well-wishing friend Banim had gradually
deteriorated, even if he tried to help him offering suggestions for
his novels, meetings with influential people, or financial aid.
Gerald declined all his invitations and finally neglected his
friend entirely and disappeared from everyone's view for a
|He came back and started to make a living by writing under a
wide variety of pseudonyms for various London journals, including
the Literary Gazette and the News of Literature and
Fashion. On the 5th, the first of nine other pieces, Irish
Satire, indexed in the Literary Gazette under the
general title Horae Monomienses came out. His work is based
on his knowledge of Irish customs and consists mainly of pieces in
which the Irish and their practices are explained and interpreted to
an English audience. He had a 'feeling that he must offer himself as
interpreter of a Gaelic-speaking people and of an emergent
Anglo–Irish, [and this] is to be characteristic of all of Griffin's
prose output and is to affect his writing to the very end.'
|Griffin started to write regularly for the periodical The
News of Literature and Fashion some sketches of London life and
sent them anonymously, refusing for a long time to reveal his
identity to the editor, who seemed to have tried hard to discover
his contributor's name. They finally met, and Griffin got the
reviewing department of Walker's paper, and became a critic
and regular theatrical reviewer. John Cronin has remarked that
there was a huge difference between his works for both
newspapers. Here Griffin was playing the role of the
fashionable London journalist, and all traces of his Irish
nationality were erased. He despised much of what he did for The
News of Literature and Fashion, but his ceaseless activity
inside the newspaper shows how large had been the range of his
interests: comic verse, reviews of books and plays, articles on
opera etc. However, he soon concluded that the London theatre,
controlled by a handful of powerful actor-managers, was interested
only in grand spectacle, and that his serious drama would not
prosper in such a climate.
|Gerald started to take an interest himself in writing a
collection of Irish stories, which was rather tough for him to focus
on because of constant pressure at work. The News of Literature
and Fashion ceased publication that very year. Griffin finally
completed his work and Holland–Tide came out.
|Feeling that this success had given him a foothold in the
library world, and at the insistence of his brother William, Gerald
left London and so the most painful and critical part of his early
experience, and returned home with his brother to Ireland. His
second volume of stories, Tales of the Munster Festivals
came out. It seems that his London experiences which had so
embittered him in some respects also had more positive and
beneficial effects of providing him with a measure of detachment on
Irish issues as we can see from the introduction. Critics would
reproach him later to have lost this mature and fruitful attitude to
his work as an Irish expatriate novelist, when he took refuge in an
'ideal Ireland' in The Invasion (1832).
|That year saw Griffin's best and most celebrated novel, The
Collegians, which combines a hero whose psychology paralleled
the author's own with a vivid depiction of a society in decay. This
same year, he attended lectures in Law at the newly opened
London University. Later, he published another three volumes of
diction containing two long stories, The Rivals and Tracy's
Ambition, which appeared under that joint title. Shortly after
this attempt to acquire a formal education, Griffin got into the
lengthy preparation of his historical novel, The Invasion.
This task took him to libraries in Dublin and elsewhere in search of
|For several months he had a close-knit friendship with the
Fishers who deeply admired his work (at this time, he was writing
The Christian Physiologist) and probably felt in love with
Lydia Fisher, daughter of the well–known Irish Quaker writer Mary
Leadbeater and wife of Jack Fisher, a properous Quaker merchant of
Limerick. This ambiguous relationship with the charming and literary
woman saw a correspondence and verses exchanged between the two of
them, but the different religious persuasions brought Gerald's
friendship with the family to an end. However, both Gerald and Lydia
continued to write to each other.
|Thomas Moore had been offered by the electors of Limerick to
stand for the representation of the city. So, Gerald Griffin with
his brother William were asked to be the bearers of the letter and
bring it to Moore. Thomas Moore declined the offer but gave them an
opportunity to enjoy his society, about which they were extremely
delighted, and Gerald would describe it in great detail later, in a
letter addressed to Lydia Fisher.
|Tales of My Neighbourhood was eventually published that
year. This was the last collection of his tales published before his
death. He also paid his last visit to London this very year to see
|He surprised his family by making a visit to France. The purpose
and precise destination of this visit still remain a secret. On his
return, he resumed his life of regular study and devotion.
|He appears to have spent the year quietly at home. It seems that
he had once discussed with Daniel, his brother, the possibility of
having a vocation for the priesthood. Griffin's thoughts were
turning more and more to the religious life. His sisters, Lucy and
Anna, had already entered convents and he was deeply saddened by the
recent death of his beloved cousin, Matt, in India.
|Daniel convinced him to go on a three-week trip to Scotland
which they both enjoyed as well as the sightseeing. Daniel had
included in his Life diverse extracts of Gerald's notebook
about the trip.
|Gerald informed his family of his intention of joining the
Christian Brothers' Teaching Order. He entered the novitiate at
North Richmond Street, Dublin on September 8. He seems to have
embarked on his new career with intense dedication, abandoning his
literary work entirely. He was then admitted to the religious habit
on the feast of St Theresa and embarked on a two-year novitiate. It
seems that his distaste for his earlier vocation had been allayed to
the extent that he was willing to undertake the composition of a few
tales of a pious nature, but it also appears that he has been
desperately determined to avoid as much as possible the renewal of
old contacts and the reopening of painful associations with Lydia
Fisher or his sister Lucy. Most of his papers were destroyed by
Gerald himself, preserving only a few poems and the tragedy,
|In June Gerald was transferred to the Cork house of his Order,
at the North Monastery, where he continued to teach and to practise
his chosen spiritual life. The Christian Brothers were at this time
engaged in the production of their first set of school books and it
appears that Gerald helped with the editing of these
and contributed some of his own works to the new volumes. His
literary enthusiasm was far from completely dead, despite his
previous wish to stop writing. He was at this time, in fact, engaged
on the unfinished story The Holy Island.
typhus fever and died a few days later, on 12 June 1840. He was
buried in the community's graveyard on 15 June. In the same year,
Gisippus had a successful production at Drury Lane, with
Macready in the title role.
|A final set of stories, Talis qualis, or, Tales of the Jury
Room was published posthumously.
1. Gerald Griffin 1803–1840: A critical
biography, John Cronin.
John Cronin, Gerald Griffin (1803–1840): A Critical
Biography, Cambridge University Press 1978.
The Life of Gerald Griffin, by his brother. London, Dublin
& Edinburgh: Simpkin and Marshall, 1843.
See also John Cronin, 'Griffin, Gerald (1803–1840)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 (online at http://www.oxforddnb.com).
Compiled by Juliette Maffet (Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand), February 2012, with
assistance from Beatrix Färber.