Title: Castle Rackrent: An Hibernian Tale, Taken from Facts, and From the Manners of the Irish Squires, Before the Year 1782.
Author: Mary Shelley.
Genre: Fiction, literature, historical fiction, humour, satire.
Publication Date: 1800.
Summary: Set prior to the Constitution of 1782. It tells the story of the Rackrent family, and their sequential mismanagement of their estate. Their steward, Irish Catholic Thady Quirk, tells of four generations of Rackrent heirs—the dissipated spendthrift Sir Patrick O'Shaughlin, the litigious Sir Murtagh Rackrent, the cruel husband and gambling absentee Sir Kit Rackrent, and the generous but improvident Sir Condy Rackrent.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ The prevailing taste of the public for anecdote has been censured and ridiculed by critics, who aspire to the character of superior wisdom: but if we consider it in a proper point of view, this taste is an incontestable proof of the good sense and profoundly philosophic temper of the present times. Of the numbers who study, or at least who read history, how few derive any advantage from the labors! The heroes of history are so decked out by the fine fancy of the professed historian; they talk in such measured prose, and act from such sublime or such diabolical motives, that few have sufficient taste, wickedness or heroism, to sympathize in their fate. Besides, there is such uncertainty even in the best authenticated antient or modern histories; and that love of truth, which in some minds in innate and immutable, necessarily leads to a love of secret memoirs and private anecdotes. We cannot judge either of the feelings or of the characters of men with perfect accuracy from their actions or their appearance in public; it is from their careless conversations, their half finished sentences, that we may hope with the greatest probability of success to discover their real characters.
♥ That the great are not as happy as they seem, that the external circumstances of fortune and rank do not constitute felicity, is asserted by every moralist; the historian can seldom, consistently with his dignity, pause to illustrate this truth, it is therefore to the biographer we must have recourse. After we have beheld splendid characters playing their parts on the great theatre of the world, with all the advantages of stage effect and decoration, we anxiously beg to be admitted behind the scenes, that we may take a nearer view of the actors and actresses.
♥ That the ignorant may have their prejudices as well as the learned cannot be disputed, but we see and despise vulgar errors; we never bow to the authority of him who has no great name to sanction his absurdities. The partiality which blinds a biographer to the defects of his hero, in proportion as it is gross ceases to be dangerous; but if it be concealed by the appearance of candor, which men of great abilities best know how to assume, it endangers our judgment sometimes, and sometimes our morals. If her Grace the Duchess of Newcastle, instead of penning her lord's elaborate eulogium, had undertaken to write the life of Savage, we should not have been in any danger of mistaking an idle, ungrateful libertine, for a man of genius and virtue. The talents of a biographer are often fatal to his reader. For these reasons the public often judiciously countenances those, who without enlargement of mind to draw any conclusions from the facts they relate, simply pour forth anecdotes and retail conversations, with all the minute prolixity of a gossip in a country town.
♥ A few days before his death he was very merry; it being his honour's birth-day, he called my great grandfather in, God bless him! to drink the company's health, and filled a bumper himself, but could not carry it to his head, on account of the great shake in his hand—on this he cast his joke, saying, "What would my poor father say to me if he was to pop out of the grave, and see me now?—I remember, when I was a little boy, the first bumper of claret he gave me after dinner, how her praised me for carrying it so steady to my mouth—Here's my thanks to him—a bumper toast"—Then he fell to singing the favorite song he learned from his father—for the last time, poor gentleman—he sung it that night as loud and hearty as ever, with a chorus—
He that goes to bed, and goes to bed sober,
Falls as the leaves do, falls as the leaves do, and dies in October—
But he that goes to bed, and goes to bed mellow,
Lives as he ought to do, lives as he ought to do, and dies an honest fellow.
Sir Patrick died that night—just as the company rose to drink his health with three cheers, he fell down in a sort of a fit, and was carried off—they sat it out, and were surprised, on enquiry, in the morning, to find it was all over with poor Sir Patrick.
♥ He would have gained it, they say, for certain, had it pleased Heaven to have spared him to us, and it would have been at the least a plump two thousand a year in his way; but things were ordered otherwise, for the best to be sure. He dug up a fairy-mount against my advice, and had no luck afterwards. Though a learned man in the law, he was a little too incredulous in other matters. I warned him that I heard the very Banshee that my grandfather heard, before I was born long, under Sir Patrick's window a few days before his death. But Sir Murtagh thought nothing of the Banshee, nor of his cough with a spitting of blood, brought on, I understand, by catching cold in attending the courts, and overstraining his chest with making himself heard in one of his favorite causes.
♥ It was a very spirited letter, to be sure: Sir Kit sent his service, and the compliments of the season, in return to the agent, and he would fight whim with pleasure to-morrow, or any day, for sending him such a letter, if he was born a gentleman, which he was sorry (for both their sakes) to find (too late) he was not.
♥ Had she meant to make any stay in Ireland, I stood a great chance of being a great favorite with her, for when she found I understood the weather-cock, she was always finding some pretence to be talking to me, and asking me which way the wind blew, and was it likely, did I think, to continue fair for England.—But when I saw she had made up her mind to spend the rest of her days upon her own income and jewels in England, I considered her quite as a foreigner, and not at all any longer as part of the family.—She gave no vails to the servants at Castle Rackrent at parting, notwithstanding the old proverb of "as rich as a Jew," which, she being a Jewish, they built upon with reason.—But from first to last she brought nothing but misfortunes amongst us; and if it had not been all along with her, his honor Sir Kit would have been now alive in all appearance.—Her diamond cross was, they say, at the bottom of it all; and it was a shame for her, being his wife, not to show more duty, and to have given it up when he condescended to ask so often for such a bit of as trifle in his distresses, especially when he all along made it no secret he married for money.—But we will not bestow another thought upon her.
♥ It has been maliciously and unjustly hinted, that the lower classes of the people in Ireland pay but little regard to oaths; yet it is certain that some oaths or vows have great power over their minds.—Sometimes they swear they will be revenged on some of their neighbors; this is an oath they never are known to break.—But what is infinitely more extraordinary and unaccountable, they sometimes make a vow against whiskey; these vows are usually limited to a shore time.—A woman who has a drunken husband is most fortunate if she can prevail upon him to go to the priest, and make a vow against whiskey for a year, or a month, or a week, or a day.
♥ "And am I to walk through all this crowf of people, my dearest love?" said she to Sir Condy, meaning us servants and tenants, who had gathered at the back gate—"My dear (said Sir Condy) there's nothing for it but to walk, or to let me carry you as far as the house, for you see the back road's too narrow for a carriage, and the great piers have tumbled down across the front approach, so there's no driving the right way by reason of the ruins"—"Plato, thou reasonest well!" said she, or words to that effect, which I could no ways understand; and again, when her foot stumbled against a broken bit of a car wheel, she cried out—"Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!"—Well, thought I, to be sure if she's no Jewish like the last, she is a mad woman for certain, which is as bad: it would have been as well for my poor master to have taken up with poor Jude, who is in her right mind any how.
She was dressed like a mad woman, moreover, more than like any one I ever saw afore or since, and I could not take my eyes off her, but still followed behind her, and her feathers on the top of her hat were broken going in at the low back door..
♥ ..and to be sure I thought she knew best, especially as Sir Condy said nothing to it one way or the other. All he asked, God bless him! was to live in peace and quietness, and have his bottle, or his whiskey punch at night to himself.—Now this was little enough, to be sure, for any gentleman..
♥ So concluding, he took his candle and walked off to his room, and my lady was in her tantarums for three days after, and would have been so much longer, no doubt, but some of her friends, young ladies and cousins and second cousins, came to Castle Rackrent, by my poor master's express invitation, to see her, and she was in a hurry to get up, as Mrs. Jane called it, a play for them, and so got well, and was as finely dressed and as happy to look at as ever, and all the young ladies who used to be in her room dressing of her said in Mrs. Jane's hearing, that my lady was the happiest bride ever they had seen, and that to be sure a love match was the only thing for happiness, where the parties could any way afford it.
♥ Now Sir Condy had it from the best authority, that there were two writs come down to the Sheriff against his person, and the Sheriff, as ill luck would have it, was no friend of his, and talked how he must do his duty, and how he would do it, if it was against the first man in the country, or even his own brother, let alone one who had voted against him at the last election, as Sir Condy had done.
♥ Some of our friends were dumb-founded, by the lawyers asking them—had they ever been upon the ground where their freeholds lay?—Now Sir Condy being tender of the consciences of them that had not been on the ground, and so could not swear to a freehold when cross-examined by them lawyers, sent out for a couple of cleaves-full of the sods of his farm of Gulteeshinnagh: and as soon as the sods came into town he set each man upon his sod, and so then ever after, you know, they could fairly swear they had been upon the ground.*—We gained the day by this piece of honesty.
* This was actually done at an election in Ireland.
♥ "Is that Sir Condy Rackrent in the chair?" says a stranger man in the crowd—"The same," says I—who else should it be? God bless him!"—"And I take it then you belong to him," says he.—"Not at all," (says I) "but I live under him, and have done so these two hundred years and upwards, me and mine."—It's lucky for you, then," rejoins he, "that he is where he is, for was he any where else but in the chair this minute he'd be in a worse place, for I was sent down on purpose to put him up, and here's my order for so doing in my pocket."—It was a writ that villain the wine merchant had marked against my poor master, for some hundreds of an old debt which it was a shame to be talking of at such a time as this.—"Put it in your pocket again, and think no more of it any ways for seven years to come, my honest friend, (says I), he's a member a Parliament now, praised be God, and such as you can't touch him; if you'll take a fool's advice, I'd have ye keep out of the way this day, or you'll run a good chance of getting your deserts amongst my master's friends, unless you chuse to drink his health like every body else."—"I've no objection to that in life," said he; so we went into one of the public houses kept open for my master.
♥ "To be sure, (says he, still cutting his joke) when a man's over head and shoulders in debt, he may live the faster for it and the better if he goes the right way about it—or else how is it so many live on so well, as we see every day, after they are ruined?"—"How is it, (says I, being a little merry at the time) how is it but just as you see the ducks in the kitchen yard just after their heads are cut off by the cook, running around and round faster than when alive."
♥ I took myself to the servants' hall in the evening to smoke my pipe as usual, but missed the bit of talk we used to have there sadly, and ever after was content to stay in the kitchen and boil my little potatoes*, and put up my bed there; and every post day I looked in the newspaper, but no news of my master in the house.
* My little potatoes—Thady does not mean by this expression that his potatoes were less than other people's, or less than the usual size—little is here used only as an Italian diminutive, expressive of fondness.
♥ I finished fastening up my slate against the broken pane, and when he came out, I wiped down the window seat with my wig*..
* Wigs were formerly used instead of brooms in Ireland, for sweeping or dusting tables, stairs, &c. The Editor doubted the fact till he saw a labourer of the old school sweep down a flight of stairs with his wig; he afterwards put it on his head again with the utmost composure, and said, "Oh please your honour, it's never a bit the worse."
It must be acknowledged that these men are not in any danger of catching cold by taking off their wigs occasionally, because they usually have fine crops of hair growing under their wigs.—The wigs are often yellow, and the hair which appears from beneath them black; the wigs are usually too small, and are raised up by the hair beneath, or by the ears of the wearers.
♥ A wake in England is a meeting avowedly for merriment—in Ireland, it is a nocturnal meeting avowedly for the purpose of watching and bewailing the dead; but in reality for gossipping and debauchery.
♥ At the coronation of one of our monarchs, the king complained of the confusion which happened in the procession—The great officer who presided told his majesty, "That it should not be so next time."
♥ "Jason! (says I) don't be trusting to him, Judy. Sir Condy, as I have good reason to know, spoke well of you, when Jason spoke very indifferently of you, Judy."—"No matter (says Judy), it's often men speak the contrary just to what they think of us."—"And you the same way of them, no doubt, (answers I).