CELT document E900012-002

Books that influenced "Luke Delmege"

Patrick Augustine Sheehan

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Books that influenced “Luke Delmege”

Some years ago the Weekly Register published an interesting series of papers under the general title of “Books That Have Influenced Me.” Mr. W. S. Lilly discussed under this character Newman's Essay on Development; Mrs. Blundell (“M. E. Francis”), The Mill on the Floss; Montgomery Carmichael, all the works of Count Joseph de Maistre. Curiously enough, Father George Tyrrell, S.J., selected Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass; while the strange choice of Lionel Johnson was Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Rev. P. A. Sheehan, P.P., of Doneraile, contributed to the series the following account of some of the literary influences that have helped to make him the author of The Triumph of Failure, My New Curate, and now Luke Delmege, last of all—for the present.

We fear that Charles William Russell, D.D., would hardly be recognised under the terms by which this whilom Maynooth student describes him here— “one of the greatest of European littérateurs.” His best writings in the Edinburgh Review and the Dublin Review were, of course, anonymous, and earned for him no reputation among the general public; yet for forty years, as Professor and President at Maynooth, he did an amount of literary work which for quality and quantity was astounding, when we remember his other absorbing employments and all his surroundings. We remember hearing Aubrey de Vere one day remark to Judge O'Hagan that Dr. Russell seemed to him the very ideal of a literary man, especially in his capacity for taking a keen, intelligent interest in so many diverse species of literature.

I cannot now remember who was the kind friend that placed the books in my hands; but I cannot easily forget the sensation of wonder and surprise and delight when the music and the mystery of In Memoriam and the Promethean wisdom of Carlyle's Past and Present were revealed to me. It was far back in the sixties, and in halls where literature had to be studied surreptitiously, and under the uncongenial, but very effective shadows of Perrone or Récéveur. It was a serious thing to be detected in such clandestine studies, and I dare say our superiors were quite right in  p.110 insisting that we should rigidly adhere to the system of pure scholasticism, which was a college tradition. But was not our President one of the greatest of European littérateurs? And what danger could deter us from escaping from the sawpits of logic into the gardens of literature—from Barbara, Celarent, Darii, into the moonlight and the melody of Tennyson? Then one day our venerable Professor, whom we frequently tried to decoy from syllogisms into extemporised lectures on literature, read for us in his grand, sonorous tones the prologue to In Memoriam:—
“Strong Son of God! immortal love!”
It was his imprimatur, and this was the consecrated union of Literature and Theology, and our conquest was complete. Let me say that the keenest pleasures of my life I reaped just then from the pages of Tennyson; and if I rebelled a little at his foolish philosophy of faith in doubt, and criticised too keenly a clearly padded line,—the music and the glamour swept criticism aside; and that curious twilight of colour which the great poet cast over all his conceptions, mediaeval or modern, haunted me into all the grey and sombre experiences of middle life. I could have wished that one, to whom I was so deeply indebted, had died with the Book of Psalms, instead of Cymbeline in his hand. I thought it affectation, or the heresy of art for its own sake carried to the threshold of eternity. And when I read in the January number, 1893, of the Nineteenth Century “that Tennyson was rather a Theist than a Christian,” I had pity for a lost friend, and sympathy for a dethroned idol.

But if Tennyson influenced sentiment, or created taste, Carlyle made a deeper, more profound, and more lasting impression. His gospel of work, at once the curse and blessing of humanity, became the synopsis of all practical natural Theology for me far into middle life. It took many years and some suffering to see that this attractive gospel of work for its own sake, and divorced from a higher motive, would be very limited in its practical bearings and issues on human life; and that, at the last, this too was vanity. And yet it is a noble lesson to the young that which tells:—
‘There is a perennial nobleness and sacredness in work. Were he never so benighted, never so forgetful of his high calling, there is always hope for a man in a man that actually and earnestly works; in Idleness alone is there perpetual  p.111 despair. [...] Consider how in the meanest sorts of labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a real harmony, the instant he sets himself to work. [...] The man is now a man. The blessed glow of labour is in him; is it not as purifying fire, wherein all poison is burned up, and of sour smoke itself is made bright, blessed flame?’ (Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, Chapter 11.) These are brave words for the young. I demurred somewhat to this inference:—
“Work, never so mammonish, mean, is in communication with Nature.”
But my whole soul went out to the man who wrote:—
‘Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a work, a life-purpose; he has found it, and will follow it. [...] Labour is Life; from the inmost heart of the worker rises his God-given Force, the sacred, celestial, Life-essence breathed into him by Almighty God; —from his inmost heart awakens him to all nobleness—to all knowledge, self-knowledge and much else, as soon as work fitly begins. Knowledge? The knowlege that holds good in working, cleave thou to that, for Nature itself accredits that, says Yea to that. Properly, thou hast no other knowledge, but what thou hast got by working; the rest is yet all a hypothesis of knowledge, a thing to be argued of in schools, a thing floating in the clouds, in endless logic vortices, till we try and fix it. “Doubt of whatever kind can be ended by action alone.”’ (Ibid.)

Simultaneously with this birth in my mind of a great, new principle, there sprang up an admiration for silent strength, such as was manifested in the history of Abbot Samson. The quiet, self-contained man, retiring and hidden, until he was brought into prominence by his election as Abbot, and then suddenly developing energies and qualities for governing, hitherto dormant and unsuspected, had a wonderful fascination for me. Even now, I think sometimes that his example may well be studied and copied by those who are placed in power, and have assumed the responsibilities of ruling men. But when Carlyle afterwards applied his principle to such mock-heroes as Mahomet and Luther, I confess I began to see that there was something needed to sanctify strength; and that brute force, material or intellectual, can never be by itself an object of veneration. And, when, as in the case of some of Carlyle's heroes, it was associated with positive cruelty and injustice, especially in some of his heroes of the French Revolution, it was quite clear that such philosophy was not only Paganism in disguise, but was simply the ethics of the cannibal and the brute. Later still, his Latter-day Pamphlets created simple disgust; his contemptuous disdain for the Papacy and Papal  p.112 ceremonial I regarded as the ravings of a Roundhead after a “revival”; then, one day, I chanced to read a sentence he uttered, when passing a roadside Calvary in Normandy: “Poor fellow! and your time, too, is drawing to a close.” I closed Carlyle for ever. But judging from my own experience, and taking into account the natural repulsion to Carlylean teaching that a Catholic must feel, I am led to think that his influence on the minds of countless young Englishmen and Americans must have been very great. And I was not surprised a few years ago to find that a number of young American Catholics, visiting London for the first time, made their maiden pilgrimage to that famous house in Cheyne Row, Chelsea. I have retained from the débris into which my idol collapsed, but two principles: Know thy work, and do it! And let that work be ohne hast aber ohne rast. Let me also say, that these words have often given me a vivid picture of the operations of the Eternal mind in the government of His universe; and that the constant appeal of Carlyle to the “Eternal verities,” the “everlasting silences,” the final triumph of truth, the final discomfiture, and defeat of fraud and untruth, although sounding painfully like cant, have still a ring of sincerity, and, as such, must influence for good, the minds and hearts of the young.

I have often in later life asked myself what was the charm that affected me so powerfully in these two writers—what was the note, so peculiar to themselves, that awakened echoes which were silent under the most powerful solicitations of other great writers? And it took many years to discover that the spell was the enchantment and mystery of that idealism, which is common to all great thinkers from Plato downwards; and which approaches so nearly in its discoveries and effects to faith, that in Catholic hands it may yet become the most powerful auxiliary of the latter. Though liable to grave abuse, when misdirected or unsustained by a superior revelation, it is at once the great central problem of all modern philosophy, and to many minds it may be the gateway to the truth. A certain writer has put it thus:—
‘The grand question of philosophy is whether the material world furnishes only a summation of sensual impressions, or whether it is really and truly a revelation? That is, can we or can we not see through material phenomena into a region which is not appreciable by sense? To put the question in a clear light, we ask: Is the material world a final object, which conveys only sensual impressions—or is the material world a book that affords  p.113 sensual impression, and which, over and above that sensual impression, conveys an intellectual meaning intended by the Author? A dog looking at a book sees the same that a man sees; but he understands not the intellectual meaning intended to be conveyed to the reader by the aid of the symbols. Is, then, the universe an object final, or a book? This is the great question of philosophy. If we admit it to be a book as St. Paul does (Rom. i. 20), we thereby admit science to be truly a revelation.’ (Theory of Human Progression, Patrick Edward Dove, 1851, p. 248.)

It may be said that this was the aspect under which, first Wordsworth, then Tennyson and Carlyle viewed the outer creation.

I rejected Carlyle, then, for the friend introduced by Carlyle, and the steady companion of my maturer years—Jean Paul. I could never understand why Goethe could be considered the first intellect of Germany. His irregular and licentious life, his brutality towards helpless women, and the covert atheism and pagan voluptuousness that pervade his writings, repelled me. On the other hand, the simplicity and pathos, the rich quiet humour, the total absence of uncleanness or vulgarity in dealing with the humblest and homeliest subjects, and the sublimation by poetic instinct of the most ordinary incidents of human life—in a word, the broad humanity of this great writer, Richter, and his perception of the awful sanctity of human life, worked out under the stars, and with all the unseen worlds for witnesses and audience, strike me as the noble characteristics of the best dramatic work that has ever been given to the world. Who, that has ever read it, can forget Richter's Dream of the Dead Christ, or his Dream of the Universe, as translated by De Quincey? These passages are for the “dim, religious light” of cathedrals; but his Analecta, as many admirers have given them to the world, are an Enchiridion of beautiful thoughts, startling similes, and antitheses, that make one gasp and wonder. Is this the soul of Shakespeare come again, and embodied in this strong, massive, homely and beloved German master? So far as style is concerned, and all the essentials of a prose-poem—humour and gentleness, strength, and sublimity—Richter is the one writer whom I should like, far off, to imitate.

One other book I must mention, Emile Saisset's Essay on Religious Philosophy. This book was a distinct revelation. To one accustomed to the catechetical style of question and answer in all our manuals of Catholic Philosophy, it was a novelty, and a pleasing one, to find the great problems of religious philosophy  p.114 treated with all the graces of style and charm of subdued eloquence in which our French contemporaries are the recognised masters. Written from a Theistic standpoint, these two volumes need only to be continued into the developments of the Christian revelation to become recognised manuals of philosophy. Alas! the writer stops short just here; and his work is truncated and imperfect. But it suggests the reflection, when will our great Catholic apologist arise, to give us, no longer the dry skeletons of catechetical philosophy, but the divine figure, as she appeared to Boëthius of old, clothed in all the fairest forms of human speech, and adapted, so far as her visible presentment requires, to the idiosyncrasies of the age? Surrounded by all the safeguards of defined and dogmatic truth, she needs only to be known to be loved, as men have always loved her, even in the inconsistent and puerile systems that have deflected her beauty and her truth. Such is the thought that haunts all the pages of such a philosopher as Saisset, who, recognising its truth dimly, quotes largely from St. Augustine and St. Anselm, St. Thomas and Suarez, Malebranche, Fénelon, Leibnitz, and Pascal.

Those were my intellectual guides, at least in purely literary matters. In professional studies, my deepest attachment is to St. Augustine, whose City of God, though read fragmentarily, has had a profound influence on my mind. In the higher life, I confess my indebtedness to that noble book, Lessius de Perfectionibus Divinis, to the Meditations and Soliloquies of St. Augustine, and to that best of uninspired writings — the Imitation of Christ.


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Title (uniform): Books that influenced "Luke Delmege"

Author: Patrick Augustine Sheehan

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Funded by: School of History, University College, Cork

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Date: 2013

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  • [Details to follow.]

Canon Sheehan on the Internet

  • http://www.canonsheehanremembered.com.


  1. Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (=Jean Paul), 'Rede des toten Christus vom Weltgebäude herab, daß kein Gott sei', in: Jean Paul, Blumen-, Frucht- und Dornenstücke, oder Ehestand, Tod und Hochzeit des Armenadvokaten F. St. Siebenkäs (Berlin 1796–97).
  2. Herman Joseph Heuser, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: the story of an Irish parish priest as told chiefly by himself in books, personal memoirs, and letters (New York 1917).
  3. Arthur Coussens. P. A. Sheehan, zijn leven en zijn werken (Brugge/Bruges 1923).
  4. John Hennig, 'Jean Paul in Irland', Modern Language Review, 40/3 (July 1945) 190-196:194.
  5. Michael P. Linehan, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile: Priest, Novelist, Man of Letters (Dublin 1952).
  6. James O'Brien (ed.), The Collected Letters of Canon Sheehan of Doneraile, 1883–1913 (Wells 2013).
  7. James O'Brien, Canon Sheehan of Doneraile 1852–1913: Outlines for Literary Biography (Wells 2013). [Bibliographical references 205–11.]
  8. Joachim Fischer, 'Canon Sheehan und die deutsche Kultur', In: Joachim Fischer, Das Deutschlandbild der Iren 1890–1939, (Heidelberg: Winter 2000).

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‘Books that influenced ”Luke Delmege”’. In: The Irish Monthly‍ 30.344. Ed. by SJ Matthew Russell, pp. 109–114.

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  editor 	 = {},
  title 	 = {Books that influenced "Luke Delmege"},
  journal 	 = {The Irish Monthly},
  editor 	 = {Matthew Russell, SJ},
  address 	 = {Dublin},
  publisher 	 = {Irish Jesuit Province},
  date 	 = {February 1902},
  volume 	 = {30 },
  number 	 = {344 },
  pages 	 = {109–114}


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Creation: By Patrick Augustine Sheehan (1852–1913)

Date: February 1902

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Keywords: prose; 20c; literary influences; catholicism

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  1. 2014-11-28; 2013-11-11: Additions to bibliographical details made. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2013-07-27: File proofed (2); more content mark-up applied; SGML and HTML versions created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2013-07-16: Text proofed (1); structural and some content mark-up added. Header created; file parsed. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2013-07-16: Text scanned. (file capture Beatrix Färber)

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