In March 1874, Douglas Hyde began another journey. This time it was no voyage out, nor did it require that he board the
train from Ballaghaderreen to Dublin as he had when he had been taken to school in Kingstown. Instead, by means of a simple diary whose field of exploration was his own consciousness, he traveled inward. His vehicle, neither elegant nor new, was an old cash book covered in mottled paper that had been used by his mother for household accounts. Along with scratched-out sums and abbreviated notes, its inside cover was inscribed twice with her name ("Bessy Hyde," and then "Bessie Hyde"), twice with his own ("D. Hyde," partly obscured by a large inkblot, then "Douglas Hyde," with flourishing capitals). Douglas added also a drawing of a snub-nosed witch or dunce with unruly hair. In this first of many diaries Hyde was to keep throughout much of his long life, he set out to discover worlds not yet imagined, even in his fourteen-year-old fancy: external worlds that he helped to create; worlds within him that developed gradually as, traveling silently and alone through his inner universe, his more daring leaps of dream and imagination undetected, he was assured protection from the kind of misstep or misjudgment that in 1873 had made him the butt of schoolmate jokes and jibes.
Among educated Victorians, diaries were, of course, commonplace. The nineteenth century, R. L. Stevenson had once declared, was the age of the optic nerve in literature. Letters and journals of the period typically contain visual observations and descriptions that provide a continuing source of information about Victorian society. But the nineteenth century also prized subjectivity: it was an era of confession, reflection, and self-examination. In its private and public writings, documentary as well as fictional, what appear to be external truths often mask inner responses to outer realities. Toward the end of the century psychological novels and tales were increasingly in vogue; even short fictions serialized in newspapers as "letters," "journals," or "true accounts" reveal the trend toward subjectivity.
Books and newspapers were numerous in the Hyde household, yet at first Douglas's boyhood diary, unaffected by popular fashion, seems much like that of any country-bred fourteen-year-old:
Got new boots from Narry on Feb 1
Had two new lambs on March
Snow on March 9. Heavy on March 10
Pa made a double shot at snipe at the flash on March
I shot a jackdaw Pa shot two snipe on March 10
Pa shot a jackdaw
Snow & frost on March 11
Pa shot a jackdaw on March 12
Thaw on March 12
Began thathing [sic ] the cowhouse
Out shooting shot a partridge & field hare on Mar 13
Took a ride on the pony
Pa went to French park fine day 14
Sunday Fine day 15
Wet day 16
Fine day 17
Fine day. Shot a seagull, took a ride
Pa out shooting. Shot 2 snipe 18
Finished thaching [sic ] the cowhouse 18
Hart gave me a black-thorn 18
Connolly began harrowing 18
Rough day. Pa out shooting shot a snipe. Ma's sheep had two lambs 19
Fine day. Ma's sheep had a lamb. 20
Arthur came home from Dublin. Wet day. O went to London on the 21
Arthur out shooting and shot a snipe, fine day took a ride on the pony 23
Hart gave Arthur a black-thorn on the 23
Very fine day. Pa and Arthur went to Cornwall [the Irish town, not the English
district] Connolly harrowing. I sowed some oats 24
Connolly branded the lambs. Pa shot a couple of rooks for the oats. Fine day.
Connolly bought 2 calves at Ballagh a derreen [sic ] for f 12s 10 25
Connolly harrowing, pretty fine day. Pa went to Slievroe [sic ] & gave cigars to
a man who had astma [sic ] on 26th
Had a third lamb. Very wet day. Harrowed a little 27
Although the voice of these entries—matter-of-fact, noncommittal, emotionally remote from events observed—strongly resembles the diary voice of Douglas's older brother Arthur at the same age, Arthur was far neater than Douglas and wrote with a businesslike dispatch. The diary of his adolescent years was also more efficiently circumscribed in terms of purpose: with few exceptions he confined his terse accounts to the arrival and departure of housemaids, the daily bird kill, and lessons completed. Typical of Arthur's diary entries, "7 November 1866. Shot 2 redwings, did 30 lines of Salust" provides, characteristically, few clues to anything beyond his immediate concerns.
Unfocused and unhurried, Douglas's very different chronicle meanders like the river Suck, washing impersonally over a broader range of observations: the weather, the activities of others, changes in flora and fauna, anything that happened into his stream of consciousness at the moment of writing. At times the stream narrowed to a trickle, leaving wide margins and interlinear spaces to be filled with sketches and doodles. Some sketches are caricatures. One labeled "owner of this
book" shows a male figure holding a bouquet. Others—detailed drawings of guns, flintlocks, pistols, tumblers, and pitchers on tables—display a draftsmanlike skill. Words wind between and around these illustrations, their letters difficult to contain within narrowly ruled lines. Wherever Douglas's pen paused, ink formed pools that obliterated what he had written, sometimes obscuring half a page or more. When the stream moved on he did not bother to rescue what had been lost. At times his pen moved hastily, uncertainly, impatiently scratching out letters that had not been formed as intended. Occasionally he lingered over a page, embroidering his firm, round, open letters, double-inking and thickening lines, shading spaces, and enhancing capitals with elaborate flourishes and curlicues. The leisure he devoted to these graphics contrasts with the short shrift he gave to the syntax, diction, and punctuation of his elliptical sentences and phrases.
Despite similarities in diary voice, Douglas at fourteen was in fact the opposite of his brother Arthur in almost every respect. Nor was he much like Oldfield or even Annette, although with his sister he always had a strong bond of affection and understanding not evident in his relations with his brothers. As in many families, these differences in personality seem related in part to sequence of birth. Arthur, born November 10, 1853, had been named not only for his own father and the three earlier Reverend Arthur Hydes who had preceded the rector of Tibohine into the ministry but also for the Arthur Hyde who had been knighted by Elizabeth I and had established the Irish branch of the family in Cork. The burden of family tradition and expectation fell heavily upon him. Oldfield, born almost a year to the day after Arthur, was so close in age as to be constantly paired with him, as if the two were twins, creating a situation that Oldfield often vehemently rejected. Douglas, the fourth son, born January 17, 1860, was separated from his elder brothers not only by an expanse of years but by the intervening birth of Hugh, who did not survive infancy. Fifth and last born May 19, 1865, was Annette, younger than Douglas by five years (therefore much younger than Oldfield and Arthur), and the only daughter. Her brothers were understood to be the care and responsibility of their father; different attitudes and expectations shaped her future and placed her, during childhood and adolescence, under her mother's supervision.
More removed than his brothers and sister from his father's passions and his mother's concerns, Douglas had in some respects the easiest childhood. Less closely supervised, he was freer to come and go unques-
tioned, to let his imagination wander, to speculate on aspects of his own nature and the nature of others, and to sketch and doodle and experiment with ways of putting his thoughts and feelings on paper in the poems, prose pieces, and drawings of 1873–1876 found in his exercise books and diaries.
It was in a diary entry of March 28, 1874, that Douglas tested a new voice, different from any he ever had used before—his own voice in Irish: "Wet day Thoine moisther war shane a l'oure ulk de Arthure oge [italics ours]. Had a fight with the gloves with Michael Lavin. Pa made a double shot at rooks for the oats." He had previously used his phonetic system to copy into his exercise book Irish words and phrases that he had heard, but this was his first recorded attempt to put his own thoughts and observations into a form of written Irish.
Among Hyde scholars, Dominic Daly has devoted the most time and effort to analyzing Hyde's phonetic script and suggesting readings for key passages. "Thoine moisther," he notes, a recurrent phrase in Hyde's boyhood-diary Irish, and the two words with which the March 18, 1874, Irish entry begins, is easily identified as tá an máistir (the master is); "shane" is surely sé féin (himself), with the f aspirated as it usually is in conversation. Less convincing is Daly's suggestion that "a l'oure ulk de Arthure oge" may be transliterated as a labhair olc de Arthure óg , which Daly translates as "who spoke badly of young Arthur." A major problem is "war," for which Daly tentatively offers i bhfeirg (angry), admitting that it does not provide the link necessary to make sense out of the whole.
An alternate reading, based on identifying "war" as "bhfuair" and "l'oure" as leabhar , provides Tá an máistir, an bhfuair sé féin an leabhar olc de Arthure óg? (ungrammatical Irish for "The master, did he himself get/take the bad book from young Arthur?"). This not only makes sense but has the virtue of credibility, given the Reverend Arthur Hyde's relationship with his eldest son. Omission of the an before bhfuair is easily explained by the fact that it is scarcely audible if not dropped altogether in conversation; for similar reasons an before leabhar would be reduced to "a." As for the question mark, even in English, Douglas was careless about punctuation, so its omission cannot be considered significant. A parlor game, however, easily could be made of other possible readings.
More significant than a literal translation of this uncertain line is the way in which Douglas's new voice introduced in his diary entry of March 28, 1874, drops the purely objective, matter-of-fact, and non-
committal stance imitative of Arthur to express, if only obliquely, perceptions concerning his relationships with those around him. This new persona changes figure and ground: it presents him as an observer rather than a participant within the family circle. Its diction is that of Seamas Hart, William Connolly, Mrs. Connolly, the Lavins, and Dockry, the Irish country people with whom his unsupervised days were spent. It interposes distance between himself and selected others. Although Daly regards "Thoine moisther" (the master), "Arthure oge" (young Arthur), and (in later entries) "Thoine moisthuress" or "moistrass" (the mistress) as merely a result of Douglas's "having picked up his Irish from listening to the servants and the local people who had dealings with the Rectory," the effect of these terms is to emphasize separation. The Irish equivalents of "Pa" and "Ma," the English terms Douglas normally used to refer to his father and mother, are "Da" and "Mam," not "thoine moisther" and "thoine moistrass" —and as he never, in English or Irish, referred to his father by his first name, he had no reason of course, to add "oge" (Irish óg , young) to "Arthure" to distinguish brother from father.
That Douglas's shift in figure and ground is intentional and specific is evident in its selectivity: although names of other family members (e.g., "Fiach" for Hunt; "Sisilla" for Cecilly) are Irished, the people themselves are not distanced but rather drawn along with Douglas into his new milieu. As Douglas developed greater fluency in Irish, his Irish persona (which he later referred to as "Dubhglas de h-Íde") used language with an even greater sophistication that reflected on the one hand ambivalence toward felt social and psychological relationships within each of the two worlds to which he belonged, and on the other hand acceptance of the duality of his own attitudes and emotions. Clearly he did not want to discard his English persona but to maintain distinctions between the English and Irish selves he had identified within him. His treatment of his relationship with James, or Seamas, Hart, is a case in point: In English entries the voice of the narrative I is that of the son of the Reverend Arthur Hyde, kinsman of Lord de Freyne; the gamekeeper, called simply "Hart," is presented as a minor figure. In Irish entries, the narrative I is a country boy; the gamekeeper, called "Shamus," is a major presence, a loved and respected friend, companion, and father figure.
As Douglas's use of Irish improved and increased, examples of his hidden persona proliferated, revealing emotional qualities of hitherto unrecognized perspectives and relationships. Eventually his visible and
invisible selves were reintegrated in the public figure known to the world as An Craoibhin, but in 1874 and for some years after, only his diaries held evidence of how different young Douglas was from the boy his family and friends thought that they knew.
In the months that followed March 28, 1874, Douglas introduced French in addition to Irish into his diary entries. When his vocabulary in one or the other did not provide the words he needed, he sometimes combined the two languages in a single hodgepodge expedient. At first he advanced faster in French, but as a small but steady stream of new Irish words were added to his phonetically written Irish, he found new opportunities to use what he called "Gaeliclish." On April 19 he completed in Irish a sentence begun in Greek. These verbal experiments signaled not only his future linguistic interests and ability but also the extent to which language was for him what paint is to the artist or sound to the composer: a means of self-expression, a medium for interpreting life.
For Douglas, progress in Irish did not come easily. It required repeated modification of the simplest phrases as his ear detected new aspects of non-English sounds. Alert to differences in pronunciation and intonation patterns among individual speakers, he constantly varied the form in which he recorded common expressions. Before he wrote he tried each phrase himself, twisting his tongue around strange-sounding phonemes as best he could, searching for English-language sounds that could be combined to indicate them. If Irish lines in his diary are sometimes undecipherable, it is because this form of mimicry, based on what he thought his ear had heard as well as what his tongue had tried to reproduce, at times resulted in strange constructions.
Like most students of Irish as a second language, Douglas struggled also with syntax. However much he tried to guard against intrusions from English, in the process of weaving simple Irish sentences into short descriptive passages he inevitably mangled constructions. Some nonstandard expressions that he continued to use long after he achieved fluency were not, however, the result of his own linguistic errors or misunderstandings but adoptions from the changing idiom of north Roscommon which became a bogus currency when that dialect vanished.
By spring of 1875 Douglas was able to sustain a short written narrative in both French and Irish. But while French diary entries revealed an acquaintance with literature as well as language, Irish
entries—which he continued to write phonetically—reflected only the oral culture. For the moment there was no remedy for this situation, for he was without either tutors literate in Irish or Irish books from which he might learn to read and write on his own. Then in August, Hyde found in a storage cupboard of the glebe house an Irish-language Church of Ireland catechism left behind by one of his father's predecessors. With the English version readily available as a trot, he immediately set himself the task of learning to form Irish letters, spell Irish words, and understand Irish grammar.
As a result of Douglas's experiments linking voice and language, three personae began to take shape in his diary entries during 1874–1876. Chief among them was of course his English persona, expressed in the public voice so much like that of his brother Arthur. Very much that of a squire in the making, it presents him as prosaic, proper, restrained in his expression of feelings, uncritical in his acceptance of his own social and economic position, confident, and satisfied. The idiom of upper-class English is evident in its diction (e.g., "fetched capitally" to describe Diver's performance in retrieving a duck downed by his gun). Its interest in the environment is focused on sports and on the practical aspects of estate management. It is the voice of privilege and plenty, of the writer of the drinking songs recorded in his exercise book, of an Ascendancy lad who regards ample supplies of porter, whiskey, and tobacco as perquisites of a young squire's life.
With this English persona filtering out any hint of unpleasantness, Hyde's diary in English shows little evidence of family tension, incompatibility, anger, resentment, or even mere disagreement: it paints a family portrait in which brothers, sister, mother ("Ma"), and father ("Pa," or "Governor") enjoy a genial, stress-free relationship in a benign world. Unmentioned is the agrarian unrest that threatened the Irish social order of the 1870s. Awareness of the violent character of nearby confrontations is evident only in the report that at the Sligo races four landlords, "Harman King & 3 others," were "stabbed by a man of the name of Clancy." Little else suggests concern with contemporary political or intellectual issues or an interest in world events. Shooting is the major interest, the goal of Douglas's English persona being always to increase the number of "things" killed. No empathy for bird or animal, no awareness of one as a living creature, is ever expressed. The "things" themselves are regarded as no more than targets. A list at the end of the 1875 diary names the books Douglas has been reading, but
their texts are not discussed, nor is there any mention of daily lessons or recitations. The general impression (accepted by Dominic Daly and Diarmid Coffey) is that as a boy Douglas Hyde was "no bookworm." If it were not for his exercise book of 1873–1876 and a later, more detailed diary account of his reading and study during this period, it would be easy to assume that, scholastically, Douglas was the unidentified dunce who sometimes shows up in his drawings.
The persona presented in Douglas's diary entries in French is strikingly different. It expresses a reverence for life and ambivalent feelings toward the killing of a hare in an account of an incident in which he is the boy with the gun: "I tried to take a shot at one of the rabbits, but the gun failed me because the powder was wet," begins the French text. Subsequent shots also fail as the rabbit crouches, trembling, before him. Finally, "the fourth time I killed him. The poor rabbit was so filled with fear that he could not move." Other French entries reveal a persona that is less lusty, more sophisticated than Douglas's English persona. Boastful accounts of drinking sessions are reduced to wry references to a brief "malade " both caused and remedied by drinking "l'eau de vie ." Response to the natural beauty of the world is poetically if inaccurately and ungrammatically expressed in such lines as "Ils avait beaucoup de astres dans le soir." The French persona celebrates a capacity for tenderness and sensitivity that he repressed—for a time at least—in English. It demonstrates also a greater interest in "un livre ."
Douglas's Irish persona seems shier and less sophisticated. It immediately retreats to sidelined observer in situations involving members of his own immediate family but is foregrounded when, alone and conscious of the natural world on a frosty morning, it expresses a sense of being at one with the universe. In the company of Hart, Lavin, Mrs. Connolly, and other Irish speakers (all referred to by their names in Irish), it is described as socially engaged, sitting before the fire, drinking, smoking, and talking. Its gregariousness in this company contrasts with the reserve of the solitary persona of English entries whose encounters with local people (referred to by English names) occur for the most part by accident, when he is out walking with his brother Arthur or alone with his dog. The cumulative effect does not come quite to the point of casting Douglas's Irish persona in the role of local country lad, but it does present the narrative I of Irish entries as more at home among country people than with the Anglo-Irish of manor and glebe house.
As Douglas improved his ability to communicate in Irish, his diary
entries began to show distinctions between subjects chosen for treatment in English and those recorded in Irish. English becomes the language of facts and events related to his Anglo-Irish milieu (his home, his father's library, the church in Tibohine, its parishioners, family friends and relations, and Ascendancy-class neighbors). Roscommon weather, flora, and fauna are (to the extent that vocabulary was available) noted in Irish, as are facts and anecdotes from Irish history, and stories learned from Hart, Connolly, and Dockry.
On March 23, 1875, less than six months after he had successfully written his first short, simple narrative in Irish, Douglas tackled a complex account of a curious incident in which a pooka, or ghostly apparition, resembling his brother Arthur (at that time in Dublin) suddenly opened the door of a room in which he and other family members were entertaining visitors, the Lloyds, and then just as suddenly disappeared. Annette was close to the apparition; so was Hyde's mother. The account is given verisimilitude by the report that this was not the ghost's first visit: it had been seen before by his aunt Emily and his mother; by Jane Drury, a former local schoolteacher who had become a member of the Hyde household (she is buried with the Hydes in the Tibohine churchyard); and by a painter working about the house whom it had so frightened when it appeared on the stone stairs that he nearly had collapsed from fright. Although still dependent on his phonetic system, Douglas imbues this story with a sense of wonder and suspense. He skillfully arranges details so that he first captures reader attention with the announcement that something extraordinary has happened; second, he states his facts simply and matter-of-factly, to answer the immediate question of what has happened; third, he names unimpeachable eyewitnesses (Annette and Hyde's mother, who were even closer to the apparition than the Lloyds) to silence the incredulous; and he concludes with testimony designed to remove any question of error or conspiracy (the same thing, observed by a workman, had happened here before). Interestingly, Hyde does not call on himself as witness, although he is among those reported to have been present. Instead, he presents the entire story (Daly identifies it as possibly one told to Douglas by Seamas Hart) through the reports of others. In an interview late in his life Hyde stated that his lifelong interest in the art of storytelling had begun when he was a boy. The art of this narrative suggests that by 1875 this interest was well developed—and that he already had decided that his storyteller would be his Irish persona.