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

Letter 4


I am growing very fond of Dublin; I shall not be able to leave it without regret. My letters of credit and recommendation have procured me full as many invitations as I could have wished. It is customary for almost every gentleman, who dines with our friend, to ask you for a day; nay, they will sometimes invite the whole company to be of your party. This hospitable custom is still very prevalent, though not so much, I am told, as it has been.

With respect to drinking, I have been happily disappointed; the bottle is circulated freely, but not to that excess we have heard it was, and I of course dreaded to find. Common sense is resuming her empire; the practice of cramming guests is already exploded, and that of gorging them is daily losing ground. Wherever I have yet been, I was always desired to do just as I would chuse; nay, I have been at some tables, where the practice of drinking healths, at dinner, was entirely laid aside.


Let the custom originate whence it may, it is now unnecessary; in many cases it is unseasonable, and in all superfluous.

The tables of the first fashion are covered just as in London; I can see scarcely any difference, unless it be that there is more variety here. Well-bred people, of different countries, approach much nearer to each other in their manners, than those who have not seen the world. This is visible in the living of the merchants of London and Dublin; with these, you never see a stinted dinner, at two o'clock, with a glass of port after it; but, you find a table, not only plentifully, but luxuriously spread, with choice of wines, both at dinner, and after it; and, which gives the highest zeal to the entertainment, your host receives you with such an appearance of liberality, and indeed urbanity, as is very pleasing. Here, they betray no attention to the counter, discover no sombrous gloom of computation, but display an open frankness and social vivacity of spirit.

I have been more than once entertained with a history of the good-fellowship of this


country, by persons who look back with horror on the scenes of their youth; when there was no resisting the torrent of fashion. They tell you, that a large goblet called a constable, used to be placed on the table in terrorem, which he who flinched his glass, was obliged to drink. They have recounted with rueful countenances, what constables have been swallowed, what doors have been locked, what imprisonments have been endured, before they were finished,i. e. sent away like fleckered darkness, reeling before the sun's path, and Titan's burning wheels. I am for Horace's rule,

Siccet inequales calices conviva solutus1
Insanis legibus, seu quis capit acria fortis2
Pocula, seu modicis humescit laetius.3

The toping part of the world may, however, defend itself upon the authority of the Grecian laws of drinking, reported and approved by Cicero. Lex est quae in Graecorum conviviis obtinetur, aut bibat aut abeat. Et recte. Aut enim fruatur aliquis pariter cum aliis voluptate potandi; aut ne sobrius in violentiam vinolentorum incidat ante discedat.’’

Marcus Tullis Cicero, Tusculanarum Disputationum Liber Quintus, 41.


Hospitality is unquestionably a virtue, yet I suspect, that what is commonly so called, is not the characteristic virtue of a very civilized, certainly not of any trading nation. Dublin is, I suppose, the least hospitable part of Ireland. In some parts of the kingdom, which I purpose visiting, I am told that a beggar comes in, sits down, and fares as the rest of the family; and that ‘green grow the grass before your door,’ is their most malicious imprecation.

If London be less hospitable than Dublin, it should be considered that a stranger is a greater rarity here than there. Wherever the means of accommodation are universally at hand, there the reason of gratuitous entertainment ceases. Indeed, if a person be in a country where the comforts of life are not to be purchased, and if he be taken in and entertained, this should be called humanity. True hospitality is quite another thing; and this my fond partiality leads me to think is still to be found, in as high a degree in England, as in any other country.

The old Britons were as hospitable as the old Milesians, yet the want of this endearing


quality is objected to them by Scaliger, among his other reproaches of the English nation. As to the hospitibus feros Britannos, it does not refer to this disposition, but to that asperity with which they treated the Romans, who invaded their country. In those parts of England, where they subsist less by commerce than agriculture, this antient virtue is still to be found: and even in Ireland, we must go to the remote parts, if we would see it in perfection. Wherever the spirit of commerce has taken full possession, there hospitality is quite excluded; they cannot exist together; the one goes out as the other comes in. Is there such a word as hospitality in a Dutch dictionary? If there is, it must be marked as obsolete.

Though I, and other English who come here, should be losers, I wish most heartily that this country were less hospitable than it is, for then I should hope to see it in a sphere above such little attentions. And though I very highly prize the character, I cannot help thinking that the Irish pride themselves too much upon it. They should reflect, if hospitality has continued longer among them than us, that was only because


they were longer oppressed by a feudal government: which gave birth to a custom here called coshering; the source of the most grievous exactions. The lord of the soil came with his retinue, and lived with his vassals as long as they could supply him with subsistence. All things became in common, and the oppressed slave thought himself honoured in being reduced to beggary, by giving his meat and drink with a good grace and cheerful countenance. These manners survived after their cause was happily removed.

If you prefer the men of this country for their hospitality, and the women for their beauty, you are likely to live well with them. The ladies are, I believe, full as handsome as ours, yet it was sometime before I could bring myself to think so. I have been several times at the New Gardens, the only place of public resort at present; the first time I was there, I should have been a very niggard in my praise of Irish beauty; the second time, I thought better of it, and could pick out many pretty faces; now I have not the smallest doubt, but that personal perfections


are distributed here, in as full measure and proportion, as on our side the channel.

We should not be precipitate in our decisions upon questions of this nature; I was at first deceived merely by the different modes of dress. Feathers, and other ornaments, have not yet made their way hither. It must, however, be confessed, that the middle ranks here want that art of setting off their beauty, and displaying their charms, that they have in London. But ladies of fashion are just as you see them there, with all that exact and finished neatness, which enters into the character of English females.

They are said not to walk as well as with us. If the fact be so, I should rather attribute it to the badness of the streets, than to any wrong conformation of limbs. A stranger may be easily deceived in this respect, as there is a numerous class of women, who walk the streets of London, that is almost unknown here. So that it is difficult to form a true estimate. In another generation, when the sides of these streets are flagged, the ladies of Dublin may


be as much praised, for their walking, as those of London.

It is deemed almost a reproach for a gentlewoman to be seen walking these streets. An old lady of quality told me last night, when speaking on this subject, that for her part, truly she had not once walked over Essex Bridge, since she was a girl. Now Essex Bridge is the grand pass here, as Charing Cross is in London. As she had nearly lost the use of her limbs, I suppose she thought her consequence was proportionably enhanced in my eyes.

If it were not for dancing, of which they are passionately fond, the poor girls must all become cripples. It is impossible they should excel in what they do not practise; but, if they walk ill, they certainly dance well. For last night, you must know, I was at a ball, and never enjoyed one more in my life. There is a sweet affability and sparkling vivacity in these girls, which is very captivating.

I am, &c.