Art Bennett was an important part of the Ulster cultural revival of the late eighteenth-early nineteenth century. By sheer chance, my friend Tom McKeown found the photocopied note reproduced below, among his papers, with nothing attached to indicate its origin or meaning. That does not stop us from speculating!
Pray accept of this short dedication which may serve as a specimen. In your good sense you will understand that laying the foundation of the history would require some time from me and I considered this the speediest. Now you are at your free will whether to proceed or stop here. I’ll play either games with equal cheerfulness and were it not that I thought that my proposal for writing it in Irish was as welcome to you as a shower of rain to a sunburned clime, I would not agree but may I conclude from your delay that you are dubious either of my abilities or principle. Write by the return of post. Surely don’t say Forkhill on the letter hereafter – as the list was there until this morning and I watching for it in Camlough.
Yours truly as usual and ever will
Here is my speculated explanation.
Bennett was poor and like most scholars, needed sponsors who paid for work completed. The person is question here may have commissioned some ‘history’ and Bennett had previously supplied a synopsis and awaited confirmation on whether to proceed. Art was proficient in Irish (and from the composition of this missive, obviously in English too) and clearly preferred to compose in Gaelic, but now doubted – because of the patron’s obvious delay in response – whether the language, or his abilities or principle, was the cause of second thoughts.
Art tells the patron he is not to reply to Forkhill (Bennett’s former address) but to his present place of residence at Camlough. Whatever the content of ‘the list’ that had lain in Forkhill until ‘this morning’ clearly didn’t please the poet. His patience has been taxed. He orders that the other ‘reply by return of post’.
I’d like to hear your speculation in regard to this note.
Better still, some of you may have solid information to impart.
Did Art Bennett write a ‘history’ and is it among his surviving oeuvre? English or Irish? Where is it available to view? Who was the patron?
Whatever else, the note is a valuable curio. It indicates that Irish was already fighting for its very survival. Bennett’s use of English is strangely modern.
What else do you read from all this?
Please share your thoughts!