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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Francis Sylvester Mahony (Father Prout) (1804–1866)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by John Malone
 
FOR nothing is the Scythian race of Europe’s westernmost island more remarkable than for the delightful and sympathetic character of that individual of the human species so peculiar to the country’s history, the Irish Parish Priest. In childhood and in youth avid of learning, gathering its fruits as a “poor scholar” amid the hedge-rows of his famine-oppressed fields and pastures, he becomes in manhood the soldier of fortune and knight-errant of human thought. When in maturer years he receives the message of his ministry, he carries out the duty of his state with a dignity and fervor largely interspersed with a thousand quirks of native wit and irrepressible humor. Quick with sympathy, tender with consolation, and strong as any bog-trotter, with an arm ready to wield a pike and a back ready to bear a burden, second to none in generosity as a host or geniality as a comrade,—the power of the saggart over his people is as absolute as that of any czar, and as sweet as that of the All-Father whose human type he is.  1
  In that brilliant company assembled about a table made immortal as that of Arthur by the genius of Maclise, there smiles, by a happy chance, beside the grave face of our own Washington Irving, the gracious and restless genius of him who brought that wonderful and fascinating element into hostile English literature through the personality of our beloved friend of Watergrasshill, “Father Prout.”  2
  Francis Sylvester Mahony (I beg the reader to put the accent upon the first syllable of the patronymic) was born in a humble family of the city of Cork in the year 1804, and was, as the first-born, disposed to the priesthood, in accordance with the rule of Irish families. He passed through the ordinary ways of education in his own country, until he was thought sufficiently qualified to enter upon his studies for the sacred office. With this end in view he was placed in the College of the Jesuits at Amiens in France. After serving under the strict rule of that order in various colleges of the Continent for the period necessary to fulfill his novitiate, he became attached, in the capacity of disciplinary prefect, to the college of Clongowes Wood in his native country. The military rigor of the Jesuit order sent him forth under marching orders, after a brief period of service amongst his own people, and he seems to have passed from house to house in Italy and Germany, according to the usual plan adopted by the order for the detachment from individuals of ties of place and comradeship. These ties seem to have been too strongly secured to the young Irishman, for he was allowed to withdraw from the schools of the disciples of Loyola, and to complete his priestly equipment and ordination amongst those not bound by the rules of monastic life. It is certain that he was made a priest in Italy, whence he returned to his native city, where for a time he occupied the position of curate to a gentle pastor, whose useful and consoling ministry had never extended beyond the charm of the sound of “Shandon Bells.”  3
  Very little has been told of Father Prout’s life while he followed the course of studies prescribed by the Jesuit schools; but imagination affords a special delight to those who contemplate that mind seething with the irrepressible chemistry of wit, vainly striving to accommodate itself to the tasks imposed upon the young recruits of that most rigorous and perfect of human institutions for the subjection of self.  4
  The schoolmaster from Marlborough Street, “Billy” Maginn, was directly responsible for the introduction of “Father Prout” to the great world. When we reflect that the “Wizard of the North” had so grandly set an example of anonymity to the younger generation, it is not to be wondered at that so many gems of brilliant thought first gleamed to the sun of Fame through the rough coating of fictitious authorship, or that Mahony sheltered his bantlings under such a cover.  5
  When the supposed “Frank Cresswell” communicated to wits and worldlings the beloved contents of Father Prout’s strong chest, it was not long before the youngsters about Grub Street realized that there was a new pen in town; and, fully equipped as they were for the enjoyable game of literary hide-and-seek, then so much in vogue amongst them, they soon brought to their coterie the dearest and best of that knightly circle of the pen. Father Frank Mahony, priest, poet, inimitable jester, loving friend, faithful steadfast Irishman, and Christian gentleman. How glorious were the days and nights of those “Fraserians” no one can be ignorant who looks around that circle, which, beginning with Maginn and the decanters, is carried on by Barry Cornwall, Southey, Thackeray, Churchill, Murphy, Ainsworth, Coleridge, Hogg, Fraser, Crofton Croker, Lockhart, Theodore Hook, d’Orsay, and Carlyle, to Mahony and Irving. At this time Father Prout always wrote his name, according to the English method, without the “O’”; but in his last years he returned again to the use of the dignified prefix of his ancestral family.  6
  In Fraser he poured out the treasure of a heart full of wisdom and odd conceits, and overflowing with brilliant translations from the classics of old and new tongues, and rogueries of his own invention attributed to old and famous or unknown names, for the mystification of the jolly and mischievous crew which swarmed from royal and noble drawing-rooms, through the lobbies of Drury Lane and Covent Garden, to the supper-rooms and convivial resorts which filled the neighborhood of Printing-House Square.  7
  It was Charles Dickens’s idea which made Father Mahony one of the first, and certainly one of the best, foreign correspondents. The two met one day as “Prout” was about to depart for Italy; and “Boz” suggested that the priest should furnish the Daily News with letters on the state of social affairs in Rome, during those eventful days which closed the Pontificate of Gregory XVI. and opened that of Pius IX. Could anything have made “Prout’s” name more famous, it must have been the recognition of his peculiar fitness for this work, which speedily followed the publication of his letters over the pseudonym of “Sylvester Savonarola,” first given in the News, and republished in book form under the title of ‘Final Reliques of Father Prout,’ by Blanchard Jerrold.  8
  It was during the year 1834 that, in Cork, “Father Prout” began his literary career. It was in 1866 that, in Paris, under the direction of Father Lefèvre of the Society of Jesus, he received the last sacraments of his church, and went from the dear neighborhood of the “New Street of the Little Fields,” where he had once cozily settled his good friends the newly married Thackerays, to the company of the comrades of Christ who are mustered out of active service militant.  9
 
 
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