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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Samuel Lover (1797–1868)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
THE LOVABLE Irishman who wrote ‘The Low-Backed Car,’ ‘The Irish Post-Boy,’ and ‘Widow Machree,’ was, as Renan said, kissed by a fairy at his birth. He had that indomitable joyousness of spirit which neither stress of circumstances, nor personal sorrows, nor long-continued illness could abate. Besides this charming gayety, the generous fairy godmother bestowed on him the most various talents. He was a miniature-painter, a marine-painter, a clever etcher in the days when good etching was little practiced, a caricaturist, a composer, an accomplished singer, a novelist, and a dramatist. And with all this versatility, he possessed an immense capacity for hard work.  1
  He was born in 1797, in Dublin, where his father was a comfortable stock-broker. From his mother, whom he worshiped, he inherited his musical talents, his sensitive temperament, and his upright character. She died when he was twelve years old, but her influence never left him.  2
  Stockbroker Lover wished to make a good businessman of his clever son; who however, if he consented to add columns of figures and to correct stock lists by day, consoled himself with the practice of music and painting by night. The disgusted father sent him off to a London business house of the Gradgrind order, which had had much success in uprooting any vagrant flowers of fancy from the minds of its apprentices. But in this instance the experiment failed. At the age of seventeen, young Lover resolved to turn his back forever on day-book and ledger and set up as an artist, although he had yet to learn his craft.  3
  He had saved a little money; he found music-copying and occasional sketching to do; and after three frugal years of close study, he exhibited some excellent miniatures and asked for patronage. Before the invention of the daguerreotype and the photograph, every “genteel” household had its collection of portraits on ivory; and the young painter made his way at once, on the score of being a capital good fellow. He could sing to his own accompaniment songs of his own composing; he could draw caricatures of an entire dinner-company; he could recite in the richest brogue, Irish stories of his own writing: and every social assemblage welcomed him.  4
  In 1832 he had the good fortune to paint an admirable miniature of Paganini, which the best critics pronounced a study worthy of Gerard Dow. The admiration it excited in London led in time to his removal thither. His gift for friendship soon attracted to his fireside clever personages like Talfourd, Campbell, Jerrold, Mahony, Barham, Mrs. Jamieson, Allan Cunningham, Lady Blessington, Sydney Smith, Maclise, and Wilkie. Moore was already an old friend. The beautiful Malibran and the clever Madame Vestris became his patrons, and his work was soon the fashion.  5
  He had already published—illustrated by his own etchings—a successful series of Irish sketches, containing that delightful absurdity ‘The Gridiron,’ and ‘Paddy the Piper.’ After settling in London he brought out a second volume of the ‘Legends and Tales,’ and became a contributor to the new Bentley’s Miscellany. His three-volume novel of ‘Rory O’More’ appeared in 1836. Of the title character Mahony wrote: “Hearty, honest, comic, sensible, tender, faithful, and courageous, Rory is the true ideal of the Irish peasant,—the humble hero who embodies so much of the best of the national character, and almost lifts simple emotion to the same height as ripened mind.” This novel Lover dramatized with immense success; which encouraged him to write ‘The White Horse of the Peppers,’ three or four other plays, two or three operettas for Madame Vestris, and both the words and music of ‘Il Paddy Whack in Italia,’ a capital whimsicality. His portrait was included in Maclise’s ‘Gallery of Celebrities’; and Blackwood “discovered” him as “a new poet who is also musician, painter, and novelist, and therefore quadruply worth wondering at.”  6
  It was his clever countrywoman, Lady Morgan, who first prompted him to the writing of Irish songs. His ‘Rory O’More’ took the general fancy. To its strains the Queen at her coronation was escorted to Buckingham Palace. To its strains the peasant baby in its box cradle fell asleep. To its strains Phelim O’Shea footed the reel at Limerick Fair, and the ladies at Dublin Castle trod their quadrille.  7
  ‘Molly Carew,’ a better piece of work, would doubtless have attracted equal favor, had not the music been more difficult. ‘Widow Machree,’ written for the whimsical tale of ‘Handy Andy,’ is full of Irish character. ‘What Will Ye Do, Love?’ written also for ‘Handy Andy,’ fairly sings itself; and ‘How to Ask and Have’ is as pretty a piece of coquetry as any gray-eyed and barefooted beauty ever devised. ‘The Road of Life,’ which is the song of the Irish post-boy, was Lover’s own favorite, because of its note of unobtrusive pathos. In another group are included the laughing ‘Low-Backed Car,’ ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me,’ ‘Mary of Tipperary,’ ‘Molly Bawn,’ and ‘The Bowld Sojer Boy.’ In all, Lover published two hundred and sixty-three songs, for more than two hundred of which he wrote or adapted the music.  8
  ‘Handy Andy,’ his best novel, was published in 1842. It is almost without a plot; but unrivaled as a sketch of the blundering, stupid, inconsequent peasant, whose heart is as kind as his head is dense.  9
  In 1844 appeared Lover’s most elaborate novel, ‘Treasure Trove’; not so good a piece of work as its predecessors. His eyesight had begun to fail, and his purse was light. He therefore invented an entertainment called “Irish Evenings,” in which he read his own stories and sang his own songs. Successful in England and Ireland, he decided in 1846 to try his fortune in the United States, where he traveled from Boston to New Orleans and back to Montreal, appearing before delighted audiences. On his return to England in 1848 he produced “American Evenings,” whose Yankee songs and backwoods stories met with great favor.  10
  During the last years of his life he wrote songs and magazine papers, and painted pictures; but attempted no continuous literary work. His health was delicate; and the need of constant labor, happily, was over. He removed to the soft climate of St. Helier’s, on the Isle of Jersey; and there the kindly gentleman and accomplished artist faded gently out of life. He died in the midsummer of 1868, and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. He loved his race with an affection not the less fond that it was not uncritical; and it is his merit to have written the best Irish peasant sketches and the best Irish peasant songs in the language.  11

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