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JAMES CLARENCE MANGAN (1803-1849)

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Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 569 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JAMES CLARENCE MANGAN (1803-1849), Irish poet, was born in Dublin on the 1st of May 1803. His baptismal name was James, the " Clarence" being his own addition. His father, a grocer, who boasted of the terror with which he inspired his children, had ruined himself by imprudent speculation and extravagant hospitality. The burden of supporting the family fell on James, who entered a scrivener's office, at the age of fifteen, and drudged as a copying clerk for ten years. He was employed for some time in the library of Trinity College, and in 1833 he found a place in the Irish Ordnance Survey. He suffered a disappointment in love, and continued ill health drove him to the use of opium. He was habitually the victim of hallucinations which at times threatened his reason. For Charles Maturin, the eccentric author of Melmoth, he cherished a deep admiration, the results of which are evident in his prose stories. He belonged to the Comet Club, a group of youthful enthusiasts who carried on war in their paper, the Comet, against the levying of tithes on behalf of the Protestant clergy. Contributions to the Dublin Penny Journal followed; and to the Dublin University Magazine he sent translations from the German poets. The mystical tendency of German poetry had a special appeal for him. He chose poems that were attuned to his own melancholy temperament, and did much that was excellent in this field. He also wrote versions of old Irish poems, though his knowledge of the language, at any rate at the beginning of his career, was but slight. Some of his best-known Irish poems, however, O'Hussey's Ode to the Maguire, for instance, follow the originals very closely. Besides these were " translations " from Arabic, Turkish and Persian. How much of these languages he knew is uncertain, but he had read widely in Oriental subjects, and some of the poems are exquisite though the original authors whom he cites are frequently mythical. He took a mischievous pleasure in mystifying his readers, and in practising extraordinary metres. For the Nation he wrote from the beginning (1842) of its career, and much of his best work appeared in it. He afterwards contributed to the United Irishman. On the loth of June 1849 he died at Meath Hospital, Dublin, of cholera. It was alleged at the time that starvation was the real cause. This statement was untrue, but there is no doubt that his wretched poverty made him ill able to withstand disease. Mangan holds a high place among Irish poets, but his fame was deferred by the inequality and mass of his work, much of which lay buried in inaccessible newspaper files under his many pseudonyms, " Vacuus," " Terrae Filius," " Clarence," &c. Of his genius, morbid though it sometimes is, as in his tragic autobiographical ballad of The Nameless One, there can be no question. He expressed with rare sincerity the tragedy of Irish hopes and aspirations, and he furnished abundant proof of his versatility in his excellent nonsense verses, which are in strange contrast with the general trend of his work. An autobiography which appeared in the Irish Monthly (1882) does not reproduce the real facts of his career with any fidelity. For some time after his death there was no adequate edition of his works, but German Anthology (1845), and The Poets and Poetry of Munster (1849) had appeared during his lifetime. In 185o Hercules Ellis included thirty of his ballads in his Romances and Ballads of Ireland. Other selections appeared subsequently, notably one (1897), by Miss L. I. Guiney. The Poems of James Clarence Magan (1903),, and the Prose Writings (1904), were both edited by D. J. O'Donoghue, who wrote in 1897 a complete account of the Life and Writings of the poet.
End of Article: JAMES CLARENCE MANGAN (1803-1849)
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