Yesterday, for the first time since I started publishing reprints of out-of-print books in 2005, I faced a dilemma about whether it was right to publish a book at all. In the end, I decided that it was, but with a kind of health warning like the ones that are found on packets of cigarettes. The book in question is called Ireland from One or Two Neglected Points of View and it was first published by Hatchards of Piccadilly in 1888, price ‘one shilling and sixpence.’
On the cover of the copy that I have, which I picked up in a box of ‘hard to sell’ books in a secondhand bookshop in Norfolk, it says that the book was written by “the Author of Hints to Country Bumpkins, etc.” Written on the front cover in ink is the name of that author, H. (Henry) Strickland Constable, of Wassand Hall. Wassand is in Sigglesthorne parish, near Hornsea Mere, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
I’m interested in Irish history but when I started to read the book I discovered that it was possibly one of the most vilely racist pieces of literature that I’ve ever come across – and I’ve read Mein Kampf (well, sort of, I read the first few chapters) and quite a few works by minor and very forgettable British fascists. This book, however, appears to have been written by someone who was completely insane. To put it briefly, it is a racist attack on the Irish, or as the author sometimes refers to them “Celts,” with, unsurprisingly, a little bit of anti-Semitism thrown in. Oh, and he doesn’t much like the French either. I’ve seen things like this before, but it’s the virulence of the hatred in this book that is really shocking which is why I seriously doubt the author’s sanity.
Allowing him to be mad is a cop-out, though. Unfortunately, Henry Constable had done some “research,” and is keen to demonstrate that he was not alone in his opinions. He quotes some very reputable sources, such as Thomas Carlyle (“the Celts of Connemara are white, not black; but it is not the colour of the skin that determines the savagery of the man”), the Spectator and Charles Kingsley, who says “But I was haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don’t believe they are our fault. I believe, on the contrary, that they are happier and better for being under our rule. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much.”
It feels quite painful even to copy that last statement. The “horrible landscape” by the way, is the Sligo of William Butler Yeats’ poetry, of Lissadell and Innisfree. There are many more similar examples in the book and, naturally, Constable throws a chapter on Socialism in for good measure. I haven’t read the book, just skimmed through it, but it appears that it was intended mainly to be an attack on Gladstone and his policies in Ireland.
Henry Strickland Constable eventually became a Baronet. This is a description of Wassand Hall from Bulmer’s Directory of Yorkshire, 1892:
“Wassand, is a distinct manor and estate containing about 400 acres, situated two miles south-west from Hornsea. It anciently belonged to the Abbey of Meaux, and about the beginning of the sixteenth century it was in the possession of St. Mary’s Abbey, York. In 1530, it was purchased by Dame Joan, widow of Sir William Constable, of Caythorpe, Knt., and is now the property of Henry Strickland Constable, Esq.
“Wassand Hall, the seat of this gentleman, is a fine mansion in the Italian style, erected in 1813, by the Rev. Charles Constable. It stands in a well wooded park, at the west end of Hornsea mere. The lawns, pleasure grounds, and gardens are of considerable extent, and all tastefully laid out.
“The remote ancestor of the Constables was Roaldus, Constable of Richmond. The Wassand branch are descended from William Constable, Esq., of Caythorpe, youngest son of Sir Robert Constable, Knt., of Flamborough. Henry Strickland Constable, Esq., the present owner of the estate, is the third son of the late Sir George Strickland, Bart., who in 1865, assumed the name of Cholmley, by Mary, daughter of the late Rev. Charles Constable, of Wassand. He married in 1860, Cornelia Ann, daughter of the late Colonel Dumaresq, and has besides other issue, a son and heir, Captain Frederick Charles Strickland Constable, J.P.
“The family has held a distinguished position in the county from a very early period. From a list compiled by Mr. Hockney, it appears that between the years 1206 and 1701, the Constable family furnished 28 High Sheriffs to the county.”
But to return to my problem, I decided that the book should be republished. There is still a great deal of ignorance about the level and violence of anti-Irish racism at least amongst the British upper classes. The book will mainly be of interest to academics but I think it’s important for people to know what was thought about other races, however uncomfortable it is for us to read now. It is not rational or morally right, but it is was the mentality of at least some in the late nineteenth century.
So to continue my dilemma, I had to find a cover illustration for the CD on which I was republishing the book as a facsimile. I was not short of examples of appalling cartoons of Irishmen depicted as apes, or gurning monsters. If you click the link below, you’ll go to an excellent online article by Gwen Sharp, and see some mainly American examples, but it’s not for the faint hearted. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/10/06/negative-stereotypes-of-the-irish/
Punch magazine seem to be particularly keen on this kind of thing and there are many examples of their jollity at portraying Irish people as fools or animals. But I’ve decided to leave the cover illustration as a simple map of Ireland rather than reprint any of them.
No doubt Henry Constable was “100% Anglo Saxon with perhaps just a dash of Viking,” as Tony Hancock so memorably puts it in The Blood Donor, or perhaps his ancestors immigrated after the Norman Conquest, like so many of the aristocracy. No doubt the Constables had a pleasant life in their fine mansion “in the Italian style” with their pleasure gardens and lawns, as part of the local Yorkshire squirearchy and magistracy, sentencing local people for poaching and suchlike activities. We can only speculate as to how the name Constable should be pronounced.