Uncourteous Reception by Sir Richard Musgrave

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (5) | Start of Chapter

"Sir Richard," said the old man, putting his pipe in his pocket, "will sartainly consider your case. He is a good man, and his wife is a kind woman." And now, with three fine potatoes in my stomach, and thrice the number of blessings on my head, I departed to the "great man's" abode. The sea was dashing against the gravelly beach at the front of the dwelling; an air of comfort was shed around; and when the porter responded to my knock, and had gone to present my card, I looked about the hall, and seeing no false appendages of greatness, and being soon invited into the parlor by the gentleman himself, I felt as much at ease as when eating my potatoes in the cabin. I introduced myself, and the object of my errand, while he peered at me over his spectacles, and seemed to listen with attention. He read my letter of introduction, and returned it without note or comment. I stated the exigencies of my case, as a stranger in a strange land, and asked if he could give any information as to whether the English government had really taken the liberty to open and retain letters. He looked silently upon me, with a gaze which seemed to say, "I wish this insignificant woman could finish her story, and let me return to my lunch." "I may be keeping you from dinner, sir." "I was taking lunch, madam; my dinner hour is five." "Do you know, sir, and will you tell me, whether you think this report true or false?" No answer: he took out his watch; I understood the signal, and rose to depart. "I can give you no advice on this subject." As I was going into the hall he said, "May be you would take something to eat." "I am not hungry, sir," replied I. My heart rejected this coldly proffered bread. Then did the cabin woman's potato look doubly valuable, and I blessed God that he had left some poor in the world, that every vestige of humanity and kind feeling might not be swept from the earth.

The heart of a stranger was emphatically mine. I had travelled a distance of twenty miles for the privilege of being treated with the coldest indifference by a titled gentleman. Yet I was not sorry. I at least learned something. This man was celebrated for his urbanity of manners and kindness of heart; the well intentioned friends who advised me to apply to him were certain that he would solve my difficulties; and I had gone more in complaisance to their good feelings, than from a favorable opinion of the undertaking on my part. I had visited Ireland to see the poor, to learn its manners and customs, and how they would treat American strangers in any and every condition. I was placed in peculiar circumstances, and a few kind words, if they would not have helped me out of my dilemma, would have cost him but little, and have been grateful to me. But not even a generous look could be gained, and I hoped my friends would see that this boasting of the benevolence of great men is often but boasting, and whoever follows them to get good, will generally find himself in pursuit of an ignis fatuus, which, perchance may land him in a quagmire.

The sail back upon the enchanting Blackwater was if possible more pleasant than in the morning. The setting sun cast a mellow light on tower, castle, ivied abbey, and tree; and the vesper song of the bird, seeking its shelter for the night, had a soothing effect upon my mind after my zig-zag pursuit of Irish aristocracy.

To atone for yesterday's adventure, the good people of the lodging-house advised a ramble to Lismore, as castles, bridges, and churches, besides "Lord Devonshire" himself, were all there. A plain-looking man offered his services as my guide, for Lismore was on his route home, and he knew every nook and corner "right well," and would show me all with the greatest pleasure. But we must take a circuitous road, and call on another "great and good man," who could not give an unkind look, for he was "made up of goodness." In vain I pleaded my excuses; my guide was a familiar acquaintance of the gentleman's, and could remove all impediments to an introduction, and I was obliged to yield. We went over gravelled walks, through rich lawns, and sheltered pathways, till behind a high wall we saw the numerous chimneys of this "great and good man." He was a Scotchman and a Presbyterian. A laborer on the top of the wall called out, "The master is at dinner, and cannot be seen."

A nurse with a sweet infant in her arms was sitting upon a stile, and half an hour was beguiled in listening to the good qualities of both master and mistress, till the kind girl, eager to acquaint the hospitable woman that an American lady was without, hastened in, and I saw her no more. "The master is coming," said my guide, "and I will go and tell him who you are." He did so, and I was a mile on my way to Lismore, when he overtook me, muttering that the man had returned from giving orders to his men, and they went to the stile, and no American was there. I had stopped a full half hour for the hospitable mistress, who knew I was in waiting, and then went away. Not a cabin in all Ireland would have treated a stranger thus.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.