We have lying before us a proof of the design for the title-page and cover of the Spirit of the Nation. It is not the work or thought of anyone connected with the Nation, it was the gift of friendship from one differing in many things from us, and we may speak freely of it. Look at it, reader, as we run over the design. Like everything good, its beauty will grow on you, you will have looked often ere you have seen it all and you will return to it with fresh pleasure. In the centre of it, the name is inscribed on a pillar of stone.. Over it an Irish eagle is soaring from a serpent, vast, wounded and hissingthe bird is safeneed we translate the allegory?
But we come to the main designit is simple in its means, great in its design, and perfect in its execution. On one side of the picture is a young bard, harp-bearing. The hills of Ireland are behind him, he has come down full of strength, and wisdom, and faith. He played with the fair hair of the cataract till his ears grew filled with its warningshe has toiled up the mountain till his sinews stiffened and his breath deserted him, for he was full of passion and resolvehe has grown strange among the tombs, and perchance has softened, too, in the hazel glen, but now he has another, or rather his one great mission, the dream of his childhood before him, and he
p.165moves along through the land. There are laurels on his brow, he has no sense of their touchhe has awakened the slumbers of ages, and he treads on a broken chain, yet he has no eye nor hand for these tokens of fame, he is full of his great thought, abstracted from all else, even from his own echoes. An old bard, vast, patriarchal, rigid with years for he might have harped at the landing of Owen Roe) sat tranced and clutching his harp of broken chords. The singing of the ministrel of the Nation has broken the old harper's spell, and his hand is rising, and there is life coming into his huge rocky face. Two young brothers in arms (friends and patriots) are looking wildly at the passing bard, and as his song swells louder, there is fierce daring in their eyes and limbs. They are in old Irish costume, barred,2 cloak and trews; one wears the gold torque of an Irish knight, the other grasps a yet sheathed swordit will be drawn.
Disconnected from this immediate group (and sunk in the corners of the structure, beneath whose antique arch the minstrel has past) are figures of the four provinces. Leinster sits gazing in historic grief at the shield bearing England's leopards. Under that shield is a skull, the emblem of Dermod's fatal treason. But Leinster, that holds Dublin and Tara, and Clontarf, and Wexford (the last adventurers for liberty) may forgive her friend for telling the treason of her king, and the more so, as a fairer being never made sorrow sweet. To Munsterexuberant Munstera child is leading lambs, and he totters under this rich sheaf. Ulster is seated
p.166among the basalt rocks of the Causeway. She has hope and anxiety in her face and action; and she proudly shows the red hand of O'Neill on her shield. And Connaught sits on the shore the wave comes as a wild subject to her fair feet and dreaming she looks where the sun sinks behind the western waters. Nothing can surpass the grace of form, the simple force of thought, the noble disposition of limb and drapery, and the masterly lightness of touch in all these figures.
We feel hearty pleasure in speaking of this most beautiful design, the most original and thoughtful that we have yet seen in this country. Retzsch never surpassed it, and the only alloy to our pleasure is a little envy, lest everyone should say, as we did when we first saw the design, that there was more poetry in it than in any poem in this volume. We again repeat our hope that this is but the beginning of a series of national designs to which every Irish artist of ability may contribute. We cannot yet arrange the frescoes of our Parliament House; but the panels of the Conciliation Hall3 are yet to be filled, and the prizes of the Association4 for historical pictures to be given.