Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XXXVIII
THE PARTING BENEDICTION, &c. (1849)

IT was 'a bright windy afternoon' as the 'red-haired ferryman' took Forster and Carlyle across Lough Swilly.1 There lay in front of them then a 'bare country as before, as always in this island, but with a Scotch aspect rather than Irish, beggary and rags having now become quite subordinate.' It seemed 'too populous' for the visible means of subsistence, however. There were many 'clusters of cottages, slated here, but visibly hungry'- looking. Only some 'attorneys' country-seats' seemed prosperous. After seven miles they turned a corner and suddenly saw Londonderry, 'rising red and beautiful' on its bluff or hill, the Foyle running 'broad and clear past the farther side of it, moderately supplied with ships. (It is) the prettiest-looking town I have seen in Ireland.'

In their hotel they soon received a call from 'the most influential (Presbyterian) layman in Ulster,' James McKnight, now editing the Derry Standard.2 He had heard from Duffy that Carlyle was coming; and it may be added that this was the same "Dr. McKnight" who next year, 1850, was to preside at the Dublin Conference which Duffy was contriving, and which started the Tenant League. At present his task was to take Carlyle and his companion through Derry and show them the historical old cannon and the other sights of the town. He answered questions frankly, telling all he knew, and unconsciously revealed the animosities raging then and there,--London Companies versus Derry Town, and so on. Carlyle could see he was 'an honest kind of man,' with 'a kind little orderly polite wife,' and pleased them both by accepting their invitation to breakfast on Monday, to meet some Notables of Derry.

By 1849 Dr. McKnight had been for some years the

____________________
1
Reminiscences of My Irish Journey, by T., p. 253-62.
2
My Life in Two Hemispheres, by Sir C. Gavan Duffy, I, pp. 203-05, II, pp. 29-38, etc.

-192-

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