Emma Goldman, The Social Significance of the Modern Drama
(Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1914; The Gorham Press, Boston, U.S.A.)
THE IRISH DRAMA: LENOX ROBINSON
TIMOTHY HURLEY, an old farmer, slaves all his life and mortgages his farm in order to enable his children to lead an idle, parasitic life.
Started on this road toward so-called culture by the school-master, William Lordan, Hurley's children leave their father's farm and in due time es. tablish themselves in society as priest, lawyer, secretary and chemist, respectively.
The secretary son is ashamed of his lowly origin and denies it. The lawyer son is much more concerned with his motor car than with the condition of the farm that has helped him on his feet. The priest has departed for America, there to collect funds for Church work. Only Maurice, the youngest son of Timothy Hurley, remains at home as the farm drudge, the typical man with the hoe.
Jack Hurley, the chemist, and Timothy's only daughter Mary, retain some loyalty to the old place, but when they return after an absence of years, they find themselves out of touch with farm life, and they too turn their back on their native heath. Jack Hurley's notion of the country is that of most city people: nature is beautiful, the scenery lovely, so long as it is someone else who has to labor in the scorching sun, to plow and toil in the sweat of his brow.
Jack and his wife Mildred are both extremely romantic about the farm.
Jack. It stands to reason farming must pay enormously. Take a field of oats, for instance; every grain that's sown gives a huge percentage in return. . . . I don't know exactly how many grains a stalk carries, but several hundred I'm sure . . . why, there's no investment in the world would give you a return like that.
But soon they discover that every grain of corn does not yield hundreds of dollars.
Maurice. You can't have a solicitor, and a priest, and a chemist in a family without spending money, and for the last ten years you've been all drawing money out of the farm . . . there's no more to drain now. . . . Oh, I suppose you think I'm a bloody fool not to he able to make it pay; but sure what chance have I and I never taught how to farm? There was money and education wanted to make priests and doctors and gentlemen of you all, and wasn't there money an' education wanted to make a farmer of me? No; nothing taught me only what I picked up from my father and the men, and never a bit of fresh money to put into the farm only it all kept to make a solicitor of Bob and a chemist of you.
During Jack's visit to the farm a fire breaks out and several buildings on the place are destroyed. Much to the horror of the well-bred Jack.. he learns that his father himself had lit the match in order to get " compensation." He sternly upbraids the old farmer.
Jack. Didn't you see yourself how dishonest it was?
Timothy. Maybe 1 did, but I saw something more, and that was that I was on the way to being put out of the farm.
Jack is outraged; he threatens to inform on his own people and offers to stay on the farm to help with the work. But two weeks' experience in the field beneath the burning sun is more than delicate Jack can stand. He suffers fainting spells, and is in the end prevailed upon by his wife to leave.
Mary, old Hurley's daughter, also returns to the farm for rest and quiet. But she finds no peace there, for the city is too much in her blood. There is, moreover, another lure she cannot escape.
Mary. I was too well educated to be a servant, and I was never happy as one, so to better myself I learned typing... It's a hard life, Jack, and I soon found out how hard it was, and I was as dissatisfied as ever. Then there only seemed one way. out of it . . . and he .. . . my employer, I mean. . . . I went into it deliberately with my eyes open. You see, a woman I knew chucked typing and went in for this and I saw what a splendid time she had, and how happy she was -- and I was so miserably unhappy -- and how she had everything she wanted and I had nothing, and . . . and . . . But this life made me unhappy, too, and so in desperation I came home; but I've grown too far away from it all, and now I'm going back. Don't you see, Jack, I'm not happy here. I thought if I could get home to the farm and the old simple life it would be all right, but it isn't. Everything jars on me, the roughness and the hard living and the coarse food -- oh,. it seems ridiculous -- but they make me physically ill. I always thought, if I could get away home to Knockmalgloss I could start fair again. . . . So I came home, and everything is the same, and everyone thinks that I'm as pure and innocent as when I went away, but . . . but . . . But, Jack, the dreadful thing is I want to go back . . . . I'm longing for that life, and its excitement and splendor and color.
In her misery and struggle a great faith sustains Mary and keeps her from ruin. It is the thought of her father, in whom she believes implicitly as her ideal of honesty, strength and incorruptibility. The shock is terrible when she learns that her father, even her father, has fallen a victim to the cruel struggle of life,--that her father himself set fire to the buildings.
Mary. And I thought he was so simple, so innocent, so unspoiled! . . . Father, the simple, honest peasant, the only decent one of us. I cried all last night at the contrast! His unselfishness, his simplicity. . . . Why, we ' re all equally bad now -- he and I -- we both sell ourselves, he for the price of those old houses and I for a few years of splendor and happiness. . . .
The 'Only one whom life seems to teach nothing is Schoolmaster Lordan. Oblivious of the stress and storm of reality, he continues to be enraptured with education, with culture, with the opportunities offered by the large cities. He is, particularly proud of the Hurley children.
Lordan. The way you've all got on 1 1 tell you what, if every boy and girl I ever taught had turned out a failure I'd feel content and satisfied when I looked at all of you and saw what I've made of you.
Mary. What you've made of us? I wonder do you really know what you've made of us?
Lordan. Isn't it easily seen? One with a motor car, no less. . . . It was good, sound seed I sowed long ago in the little schoolhouse and it's to-day you're all reaping the harvest.
"Harvest" is a grim picture of civilization in its especially demoralizing effects upon the people who spring from the soil. The mock culture and shallow education which inspire peasant folk with awe, which lure the children away from home, only to crush the vitality out of them or to turn them into cowards and compromisers. The tragedy of a civilization that dooms the tillers of the soil to a dreary monotony of hard toil with little return, or charms them to destruction with the false glow of city culture and ease 1 Greater still this tragedy in a country like Ireland, its people taxed to the very marrow and exploited to the verge of starvation, leaving the young generation no opening, no opportunity in life.
It is inevitable that the sons and daughters of Ireland, robust in body and spirit, yearning for things better and bigger, should desert her. For as Mary says, " When the sun sets here, it's all so dark and cold and dreary." But the young need light and warmth -- and these are not in the valley of ever-present misery and want.
"Harvest" is an expressive picture of the so. cial background of the Irish people, a background somber and unpromising but for the streak of dawn that pierces that country's dark horizon in the form of the inherent and irrepressible fighting spirit of the true Irishman, the spirit of the Fenian revolt whose fires often slumber but are never put out, all the ravages of our false civilization notwithstanding.
To Next Essay: T. G. Murray: Maurice Harte
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Anarchy Archives