Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)


Letter 1



July 17th, 1775.

On the 2d instant, I landed on George's Quay in Dublin, after a passage of near thirty hours, which is sometimes made in eight, and generally in less than twelve.

The sea was so calm, that though we went aboard at seven in the morning, darkness only made us lose sight of the Head. Before night I grew sickish, and therefore retired to my bed; but for the last seven or eight hours, I was free from every complaint except hunger, which I felt more keenly than I had done for some years before. This I considered as a good omen; and my health, I trust, is verging towards a re-establishment, by following your judicious advice.


The sun shone bright as we entered the bay of Dublin; which was beyond comparison the finest view I had ever seen. It is a spacious amphitheatre, bounded mostly by a high shore. The country all round is spangled with white villas, which being then highly burnished by the sun, had a glorious effect. The city is not seen to advantage from the water, yet the landskip was upon the whole highly picturesque; being horizoned in some places by mountains, exactly conical, called the Sugar-loaf Hills. I am persuaded you would not grudge a journey hither for this single prospect. It must, however, be owned, that the full enjoyment of it is precarious, since it depends on a number of circumstances, which can seldom concur, as the season of the year, the time of the day, and the clearness of the sky, when you enter the bay; and above all, a freedom from pain.

The magnitude of this city is much greater than I imagined; I conclude it to be nearer a fourth, than a fifth of that of London. Viewing it from any of its towers, it seems to be more; but from walking the streets, I should take it to be less. To correct these contrary impressions of sense, some certain


standard is necessary. I have reduced Sayer's pocket-map of London, and a map of Dublin, prefixed to its Directory, to the same scale, and from thence it appears, that Dublin is half as long as London; if therefore their figures were similar, the latter would be exactly four times larger than the former; but London is more protended in length, Dublin being nearly circular. On the other hand, to compensate for the dissimilarity of figures, there is a larger proportion of ground unoccupied by houses in the map of Dublin, than in that of London.

In the year 1754, the return of houses in this city was 12,857, in 1766 it was 13,194: so that however rapidly it may have increased since, we cannot suppose it to have above 13,500 houses at this day, which falls far short of one-fourth of the number of houses in London. Yet I should think there is not such a disproportion in the number of inhabitants, since, according to Dr. Price, ‘651,580 are very probably much greater, but cannot be less, than the true number of inhabitants in London.’

In the year 1731, the numbers of each house were carefully taken by Dr. Tisdal,


in two parishes within the city, and two in the suburbs of Dublin; from which he computed, at a medium, 12 1/12 to each house; adding, that seventy persons have been known to live in one house. In this respect, the present state of Dublin resembles the antient state of London. For you know that the annual christenings and burials, in the ninety-seven parishes within the walls, have been reduced at least to one half within a century; formerly, several families were crowded together, and those classes of men, who contented themselves with one house, must now have two.

We may then suppose that the number of families is near double the number of houses, and reckoning six to a family, or twelve to a house, there will be above 160,000 souls in Dublin; but say five to a family, and the number will be 135,000. The general computation here, is 150,000; but they, who allow but four and a half to a house, will say, that, instead of being under, I am far above the truth. Let it however be considered, that I go not upon mere technical calculation; I have one grand datum, the actual numbers in four parishes.


Though the bills of mortality kept here are not without their uses, yet from them alone, we can form no just estimate of the numbers at large. A vast majority of the inhabitants are papists; and of the protestants, the dissenters are not the least numerous; consequently, the children of all, except those of the establishment, being baptised privately, the christenings cannot be supposed to be registered regularly; and the Roman catholics burying in old cemeteries without the city, their numbers cannot be ascertained in the bills.

Dublin is seen to great advantage from any of its steeples, the blue slating having a finer effect than you can imagine. The best view of it that I have had from its environs, was from the Phoenix Park. This is the Hyde Park of Dublin, but much more extensive than that of London; and would be exquisitely beautiful, if dressed and planted; but, except some thorns, and the clumps of elm planted by lord Chesterfield in 1745, there are very few trees upon it. Whence it got the name of Phoenix I cannot learn; however, his lordship, in conformity to the name,


name, raised in one part of it a handsome column of free stone, fluted, with a phoenix at top, expiring in a blaze. The inscription on the die informs you that he erected the column, and embellished the park, at his own expence, for the recreation of the citizens of Dublin. His name is still held in veneration among them.

The bulk of this city is like the worst parts of St. Giles's; but the new streets are just as good as ours. They have finished one side of a square, called Merion's Square, in a very elegant style. Near it is a square called Stephen's Green, round which is a gravel walk of near a mile: here, genteel company walk in the evenings, and on Sundays, after two o'clock, as with us in St. James's Park. This square has some grand houses, and is in general well built. The great inequality of the houses instead of diminishing, does, in my opinion, add to its beauty. The situation is cheerful, and the buildings around it multiply very fast.

Almost all the tolerable houses, and streets, have been built within forty years. Since the year 1685, the increase has been amazing. Sir William Petty relates, that


there were then but 6,400 houses; it must, however, be observed, that Sir William varies prodigiously in his accounts: ‘Memorandum, says he, that in Dublin, where there are but four thousand families, there are 1,271 alehouses and brewhouses;’ near a third of the whole: yet, in other places, he says, there are near 7000 families.

The quays of Dublin are its principal beauty; they lie on each side the river, which is banked, and walled in, the whole length of the city; and at the breadth of a wide street from the river on each side, the houses are built fronting each other, which bas a grand effect. When these quays are paved like the streets of London, we shall have nothing to compare with them.

The Liffey runs for about two miles almost straight through the city, and over it are thrown five bridges; two of which, Essex and Queen's Bridges, are newly built. The former, has raised foot-paths, alcoves, and balustrades, like Westminster; the latter, is exceedingly neat, and like the other, of a white stone, coarse but hard, which is


found near the city. The remaining three are as poor structures as you can conceive.

Essex Bridge fronts Capel-street, one of the largest in town, to the north, and Parliament-street, a new and exceedingly neat trading street, to the south: at the end of which, is nearly finished an Exchange, a most elegant structure, which does the merchants who conduced the building of it great honour; the expence being mostly defrayed by lotteries. The whole is of white stone, richly embellished with semicolumns of the Corinthian order, a cupola, and other ornaments.

Near this, on a little eminence, stands his Majesty's castle, the residence of the chief governor; consisting of two large courts, called the upper and lower castle-yard: In the lower is the treasury, and some other public offices. Though there is little grandeur in the appearance of either, yet, upon the whole, this castle is far superior to the palace of St. James's, in the exterior, as well as in the size, and elegance of the rooms within. Over the gates, leading to the upper yard, are two handsome statues, one of Justice, the other of Fortitude; these,


with an equestrian statute of William III. in College Green, another of George II. in the centre of Stephen's Green, and a third of George I. in the Mayoralty Garden, make up the sum total of the statuary, I could either see or hear of, in Dublin; unless we reckon the two upon the Tholsel (the Guildhall of Dublin) which I don't know whether to call monarchs or lord mayors.

But to expect many works of the fine arts in a country, but just recovering from an almost uninterrupted warfare of near six hundred years, would be to look for the ripe fruits of autumn in the lap of spring. Even London cannot boast of many, considering its mighty opulence. A single church, on the continent, is sometimes decorated with more statues, than are to be seen in the greatest city of Europe.

There are but few public buildings here of any note; some, however, there are. The parliament-house is truly a most august pile, and admirably constructed in all its parts. The house of lords is beautiful; the house of commons capacious and convenient. The front is a grand portico,


in form of the Greek PI, supported by lofty columns of Portland stone; behind this, and over the house of commons, is raised an oblate dome, which not appearing from the street, gives a heaviness to the perspective, and the want of statues over the portico increases it; but, could it be viewed in its geometrical elevation, it would appear a very light structure.

Near the parliament-house stands the university, consisting of two squares; in the whole of which are thirty-three buildings, of eight rooms each. Three sides of the farther square are of brick, the fourth is a most superb library, which, being built of very bad stone, is unfortunately mouldering away. The inside is, at once, beautiful, commodious, and magnificent; embellished with the busts of several antient and modern worthies. A great part of the books on one side were collected by archbishop Usher, who was one of the original members of this body, and without comparison the most learned man it ever produced. The remainder on the same side were the bequest of a Dr. Gilbert, who, it is said, collected them for the purpose to which they are now applied.


Since his time, which is above forty years, their number has not been much increased, though there are many vacant shelves on the other side. Of course the modern publications in this library are very few; yet I am told there is a sufficient fund for purchasing every thing that comes out.

If this be true, there is some ground for the severity of the following little epigram, written upon the rebuilding the front of the college:

  1. Our Alma mater, like a whore.
    Worn out with age and sin.
    Paints, and adorns herself the more.
    The more she rots within.

The new square, three sides of which have been built within these twenty years, by parliamentary bounty, and from thence, called Parliament Square, is of hewn stone, of a coarse grain, but so hard, that it may bid defiance to the corroding tooth of Time. The front of it next the city, is ornamented with pilasters, festoons, &c. but upon the whole there is nothing very striking in its appearance.


The provost's house, in the same line, has an elegant little front, entirely of Portland stone; yet altogether I cannot say that it pleases my eye. It is a close copy of a house in London, one side of which looks into Cork Street, and the other into Burlington Street; but the architect, like other servile imitators, not knowing how to avail himself of his original, nor considering that its depth, which exceeded its length, was screened at both ends by the contiguous houses, left the end of this naked and unadorned, without even a range of windows to interrupt the deformity; so that; seen diagonally from College Green, it produces a most aukward effect; for the façade and gable, though joined together, are evidently not of a piece.

The chapel is as mean a structure as you can conceive; destitute of monumental decoration within, it is no better than a Welsh church without. The old hall, where college exercises are performed, is in the same range, and built in the same style. The new hall, indeed, where they dine, is a fair and large room. In their museum are but few objects which could long detain your curiosity, except


a set of figures in wax, representing females in every state of pregnancy. They are done upon real skeletons, and are the labours of almost the whole life of a French artist. You may remember they were exhibited several years ago in London. My Lord Shelburne purchased them, and made a present of them to this university.

The number of students is very variable; it is said to fluctuate upon the tide of peace and war. About forty years ago, the numbers were pretty nearly the same they are now, that is about 400. At the close of the last war, the numbers upon their books were less than 300. And so few went into the ministry at that period, that curates were wanting for the service of country parishes. It was therefore judged expedient to ordain upon Scotch degrees, which are obtained for the attendance of as many months, as years in England or Ireland. At present, few gentlemen of fortune who have not either the advowson of a living in their family, or some peculiar episcopal or parliamentary connection, chuse to dedicate their sons to the church; as the education is too expensive for a curacy of fifty


pounds a year. Yet, they tell you, these few years of peace have produced such a redundancy of candidates for orders, that a nomination is not procured without some difficulty.

As this seminary was founded and endowed by Queen Elizabeth, you will be astonished to hear that they have neither statue, bust, nor picture of their benefactress. The original foundation consisted of a provost, three fellows, and three scholars; which has from time to time been augmented to twenty-two fellows, seventy scholars, and thirty sizers. Of the fellows, seven are called seniors, and in them is lodged the government of the whole body, subject nevertheless to the provost's controul, without whose consent, as sovereign, no act of theirs is valid. The other fifteen are of course called juniors. By their standing they become seniors, and consequently there is no incentive to emulation among them: the instruction of the youth, both in humanity and the arts, falls within their province.

The scholars are elected at three years standing, according to their proficiency


in the classics, by a majority of the seven seniors, and hold their scholarships only for four years; that is, till the standing of master of arts. The fellows are eligible, at the beginning of any Trinity term, after they have obtained a batchelor's degree, by the majority of seniors also, for their proficiency in the learned languages, history, logic, and the sciences. But though all the seven should agree in the choice of both scholars and fellows, the provost can chuse whatever candidate he will, without a concurring voice: this mode of election, they call nomination. The prerogative, however, is but rarely exercised.

The fellows hold their places, while they chuse to live unmarried; the income of a senior fellow is supposed to be, communibus annis, above seven hundred pounds; but, as it depends upon the renewal of leases, it is uncertain. The emoluments of the junior fellows are their commons, and forty pounds a year, besides lectureships, which together amount to a hundred: and if they be industrious and popular, they get so many pupils, that some of them have very large incomes. The provostship is supposed


to be worth near three thousand pounds a year.

Among the students are three distinct ranks, fellow-commoners, pensioners, and sizers. The first are so called from dining with the fellows; for which privilege, however, they pay little more than the pensioners, who dine by themselves, according to their classes. The great difference is in the rate of tuition; yet, as they get degrees a year sooner than pensioners, there is, upon the whole, little difference in the expence. The sizers, or servitors, pay nothing for their board; they carry up the dishes to the fellows table, which they attend, and afterwards dine upon what comes from it. These wear black gowns, of coarse stuff, without sleeves. Pensioners wear gowns of the same form, but of fine stuff, with hanging sleeves and tassels. Commoners wear gowns of the same shape and stuff, but with sleeves and velvet collars. Noblemen, knights, and sons of noblemen, wear gowns of the same shape with commoners, but with gold and silver tassels.

Though I have a deal more to say of this great town, I shall at present lay down


the pen out of pure mercy to you; for though you like travelling over such grounds as I have carried you, yet I imagine you would rather go by short stages.