1902 Encyclopedia > Gerard Griffin

Gerard Griffin
Irish novelist and dramatic writer

GERALD GRIFFIN, (1803-1840), an Irish novelist and dramatic writer, was descended from a family of good position, and was born at Limerick 12th December 1803. He was the youngest of nine sons. After attending for some time the school of an eccentric preceptor in Limerick, he, on the removal of the family in 1810 to Fairy Lawn, a country place on the banks of the Shannon, was placed under the instruction of a private tutor, but in 1814 he returned to Limerick to attend a classical school. In his youth his devotion seems to have been pretty equally divided between books and out-door recreations with the rod and gun. His parents and a portion of the family emigrated in 1820 to America, but he and some others were left with an elder brother who was settled as a medical practitioner at Adart near Limerick, and under his direction Gerald made some progress in medical studies with the view of adopting that profession. It would appear, however, that very soon his intentions underwent a change, for, besides devoting a large part of his time to literary composition, he as early as his eighteenth year undertook for a short time the editorship of a newspaper in Limerick. Having completed a tragedy, Aguire, which was highly lauded by his friends, he finally in 1823 set out for London with the purpose of "revolu-tionizing the dramatic taste of the time by writing for the stage." Notwithstanding, however, the efforts and recom-mendations of the novelist Banim, who showed him great kindness, he found no manager willing to accept any of his plays ; and for a considerable period he had such a hard and wearisome struggle with poverty and disappoint-ment as permanently to injure his health. For some time he barely supported himself by reporting trials for the newspapers and by various kinds of hack work ; but his prospects began to brighten a little when he obtained occupation as a parliamentary reporter, and gradually the Literary Gazette, the News of Literature, and other periodicals of standing began to look upon his contributions with favour. Some of his dramatic pieces were accepted also by one of the theatres; and the publication in 1827 of a series of tales under the title of Holland Tide was so successful that he at once set about the preparation of a similar series, which appeared the same year in two volumes under the title of Tales of the Minister Festivcds, and were still more popular. In 1828 appeared the Collegians, afterwards so successfully adapted for the stage under the title of the Colleen Bavin. It is said to have been the favourite novel of O'Connell; and, besides exhibiting that masterly delineation of both the pathetic and the humorous features of Irish character already shown in his other works, it was written with a verve and a dramatic intensity and realism far sur-passing all his previous or subsequent efforts. His principal other works are The Invasion, The Rivals, Tracey's Ambition, and The Tales of Five Senses. He is also the author of a number of lyrics which are generally pervaded by a tender and sad cast of sentiment. When Griffin appeared to have achieved the literary success for which he had had such a hard struggle, he began to feel a growing distaste for his profession. He became doubtful as to the moral influence of his writings, and as to whether on that account he had not been " misspending his time ; " and ultimately he came to the conclusion that his true sphere of duty was to be found within the walls of a monastery,—a resolve doubtless partly attributable to the state of his health. He was admitted into a Dublin monastery in September 1838 under the name of Brother Joseph, and in the following summer he removed to Cork, where he died of typhus fever 12th June 1840. Previous to adopting the monastic habit he burned all his manuscripts; but Gisippus, a tragedy which he had composed in his twenty-fifth year, accidentally escaped destruction, and in 1842 was put on the Drury Lane stage by Mr Macready, and acted with great success. The collected works of Gerald Griffin were published in 1843 in eight volumes, with a memoir by his brother. See also Dublin University Magazine for February 1844.

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