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TO THE IRISH MELODIES.
THE recollections connected, in my mind, with that early period of my life, when I first thought of interpreting in verse the touching language of my country's music, tempt me again to advert to those long past days; and, even at the risk of being thought to indulge overmuch in what Colley Cibber calls "the great pleasure of writing about one's self all day," to notice briefly some of those impressions and influences under which the attempt to adapt words to our ancient Melodies was for some time meditated by me, and, at last, undertaken.
There can be no doubt that to the zeal and industry of Mr. Bunting his country is indebted for the preservation of her old national airs. During the prevalence of the Penal Code, the music of Ireland was made to share in the fate of its people. Both were alike shut out from the pale of civilized life; and seldom anywhere but in the huts of the proscribed race could the sweet voice of the songs
of other days be heard. Even of that class, the itinerant harpers, among whom for a long period our ancient music had been kept alive, there remained but few to continue the precious tradition; and a great music-meeting held at Belfast in the year 1792, at which the two or three still remaining of the old race of wandering harpers assisted, exhibited the last public effort made by the lovers of Irish music, to preserve to their country the only grace or ornament left to her, out of the wreck of all her liberties and hopes. Thus what the fierce legislature of the Pale had endeavoured vainly through so many centuries to effect, the utter extinction of Ireland's Minstrelsy, the deadly pressure of the Penal Laws had nearly, at the close of the eighteenth century, accomplished; and, but for the zeal and intelligent research of Mr. Bunting, at that crisis, the greater part of our musical treasures would probably have been lost to the world. It was in the year 1796 that this gentleman published his first volume; and the national spirit and hope then wakened in Ireland, by the rapid spread of the democratic principle throughout Europe, could not but insure a most cordial reception for such a work;
- flattering as it was to the fond dreams of Erin's early days, and containing in itself, indeed, remarkable testimony to the truth of her claims to an early date of civilization.
It was in the year 1797 that, through the medium of Mr. Bunting's book, I was first made acquainted
with the beauties of our native music. A young friend of our family, Edward Hudson, the nephew of an eminent dentist of that name, who played with much taste and feeling on the flute, and, unluckily for himself, was but too deeply warmed with the patriotic ardour then kindling around him, was the first who made known to me this rich mine of our country's melodies; -a mine, from the working of which my humble labours as a poet have since derived their sole lustre and value. About the same period I formed an acquaintance, which soon grew into intimacy, with young Robert Emmet. He was my senior, I think, by one class, in the university; for when, in the first year of my course, I became a member of the Debating Society,- a sort of nursery to the authorized Historical Society, I found him in full reputation, not only for his learning and eloquence, but also for the blamelessness of his life, and the grave suavity of his manners.
Of the political tone of this minor school of oratory, which was held weekly at the rooms of different resident members, some notion may be formed from the nature of the questions proposed for discussion, one of which, I recollect, was, "Whether an Aristocracy or a Democracy is most favourable to the advancement of science and literature?" while another, bearing even more pointedly on the relative position of the government and the people, at this crisis, was thus significantly propounded:-"Whether a soldier was bound, on all occasions, to obey the