Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Institutions of Dublin (Author: Thomas Osborne Davis)

Institutions of Dublin: No. 2

In any community it is desirable to have Literary Institutions, as well classified as legal offices, and as free from counteraction; but it is especially desirable here now. Our literary class is small, and its duties measureless. The diseased suction of London—the absence of gentry, offices, and Legislature—the heart-sickness that is on every thoughtful man without a country—the want of a large, educated, and therefore book-buying class—and (it must be confessed) the depression and distrust produced by rash experiments and paltry failure, have left us with few men for a great work. Probably the great remedy is the restoration of our Parliament—bringing back, as it would, the aristocracy and the public offices, giving society and support to Writers and Artists, and giving them a country's praise to move and a country's glory to reward them.

But one of the very means of attaining nationality is securing some portion of that literary force which would gush abundantly from it; and therefore, consider it how you will, it is important to increase and economise the exertions of the literary class in Ireland. Yet the reverse is done. Institutions are multiplied instead of those being made efficient which exist; and men talk as proudly of the new Teach-'em-everything-in-no-time Society as if its natty laws were a library, its desk a laboratory and a museum, and its


members fresh labourers, when all they have done is to waste the time of persons who had business, and to delude those who had none, into the belief that they were doing good. Ephemeral things! which die not without mischief—they have wasted hours and days of strong men in spinning sand, and leave depression growing from their tombs.

It is a really useful deed to rescue from dissipation, or from idle reading, or from mammon-hunting, one strong, passionate man or boy, and to set him to work investigating, arranging, teaching. It is an honest task to shame the broidered youth from meditation on waistcoats and the display of polka steps into manly pursuits. It is an angel's mission (oftenest the work of love) to startle a sleeping and unconscious genius into the spring and victory of a roused lion. But it is worse than useless to establish new associations and orders without well considering first whether the same machinery do not already exist and rust for want of the very energy and skill which you need too. There is a bridge in a field near Blarney Castle where water never ran. It was built ‘at the expense of the county.’ These men build their mills close as houses in a capital, taking no thought for the stream to turn them.

We have already censured this, in some detail, with reference to societies for the promotion of the Fine Arts, and have urged the formation, out of all these fiddling, clashing bodies, of some one great institution for the promotion of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, with a Museum, a Library, a Gallery, and Lecturers, governed by professional minds, great enough to be known and regarded by the people, and popular and strong enough to secure Government support.


Similar defects exist everywhere. Take the Dublin Society for example. Nothing can be more heterogeneous than its objects. We are far from denying its utility. That utility is immense, the institution is native, of old standing (it was founded in 1731), national, and, when it wanted support, our pen was not idle in its behalf.

But we believe its utility greatly diminished by its attempting too many things, and especially by including objects more fitly belonging to other institutions; and on the opposite side it is maimed, by the interference of other bodies, in its natural functions. The Dublin Society was founded for the promotion of husbandry and other useful arts. Its labours to serve agriculture have been repeated and extensive, though not always judicious. It has also endeavoured to promote manufactures. It has gardens and museums fitter for scientific than practical instruction, admirable lecturers, a library most generously opened, a drawing-school of the largest purposes and of equivocal success, and various minor branches.

The Irish Academy has some of this fault. It endeavours to unite antiquarianism and abstract science. Its meetings are alternately entertained with mathematics and history, and its transactions are equally comprehensive. We yield to none in anxiety for the promotion of antiquarian studies; we think the public and the government disgraced by the slight support given to the Academy. We are not a little proud of the honour and strength given to our country by the science of MacCullagh, Hamilton, and Lloyd2; but we protest against the


attempt to mix the armoury of the ancient Irish, or the Celtic dialects, or the essay on Round Towers, with trigonometry and the calculus, whether in a lecture-room or a book.

Let us set down, as we find them, some of the Literary and Scientific Institutions. There are the Royal Dublin Society, the Royal Irish Academy (we wish these royalties were dropped—no one minds them), the Irish Archaeological Society, the Royal Zoological Society, the Geological Society, the Dublin Natural History Society, the Dublin Philosophical Society, the Royal Agricultural Society, &c., &c. Now, we take it that these bodies might be usefully reduced to three, and if three moderate government grants were made under conditions rewarding such a classification, we doubt not it would instantly be made.

In the first place, we would divorce from the Irish Academy the scientific department, requiring Trinity College to form some voluntary organisation for the purpose. To this non-collegiate philosophers should be admitted, and, thus disencumbered, we would devote the Academy to antiquities and literature—incorporate with it the Archaological Society—transfer to it all the antiques (of which it had not duplicates) in Trinity College, the Dublin Society, &c., and enlarge its museums and meeting-room. Its section of ‘polite literature’ has long been a name— it should be made real. There would be nothing inconvenient or strange in finding in its lecture-rooms or transactions the antiquities and literature of Ireland, diversified by general historical, critical, and aesthetical researches.

The Dublin Society would reasonably divide into two sections. One, for the promotion of


husbandry, might be aggrandised by tempting the Agricultural Society to join it, and should have a permanent museum, an extensive farm, premiums, shows, publications, and special lecturers. The second section, for the encouragement of manufactures, should have its museum, work-shops, and experiment ground (the last, perhaps, as the agricultural farm), and its special lecturers. The library might well be joint, and managed by a joint committee, having separate funds. The general lecturers on chemistry and other such subjects might be paid in common. The drawing school (save that for pattern and machine drawing) might be transferred to the Art Institution; and the botanic garden and museum of minerals to a third body we propose.

This third body we would form from a union of the Zoological, the Geological, the Natural History, and all other such societies, and endow it with the Botanic and Zoological Gardens—give it rooms for a general and for a specially Irish museum, and for lecture rooms in town, and supply it with a small fund to pay lecturers, who should go through the provinces.

We are firmly convinced that this re-arrangement of the Institutions of Dublin is quite practicable, would diminish unproductive expenses, economise the time, and condense the purposes of our literary, scientific, and artistical men, and increase enormously the use of the institutions to the public.

Of course the whole plan will be laughed at as fanciful and improbable; we think it easy, and we think it will be done.