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Gerald Griffin

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.
   
Around 1810 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 fiction.
   
1820 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 vulnerable nature.
   
1823 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.
   
1823 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 rejected.
   
January–May 1824 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 while.
   
June 1824 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.'[1]
   
1825 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.
   
1826 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.
   
1827 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).
   
1829 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 material.
   
1830 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.
   
1832 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.
   
1835 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 his editors.
   
1836 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.
   
1837 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.
   
April 1838 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.
   
September 1838 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, Gisippus.
   
1839 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.
   
1840 He contracted 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.
   
1842 A final set of stories, Talis qualis, or, Tales of the Jury Room was published posthumously.

Footnotes

1. Gerald Griffin 1803–1840: A critical biography, John Cronin.

Sources:
John Cronin, Gerald Griffin (1803–1840): A Critical Biography, Cambridge University Press 1978.
Daniel Griffin, 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.

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