Hubert Butler’s grand-daughter, Suzanna Crampton of Maidenhall, Bennettsbridge was in Aras An Uachtaran on Wednesday last to meet President Michael D Higgins. It coincided with the publication of the fifth volume of her grandfather’s wonderful book of essays, The Appleman and the Poet.
A fascinating and insightful read, this volume, completes a 30 year odyssey embarked upon by the publishers, The Lilliput Press and the family back in 1984. “Our flagship author has finally come home,” welcomed by Fintan O’Toole in his foreword: ‘One of the great joys of these essays is the discovery of sentences as sharp and lithe as a Toledo rapier.’ - O’Toole said.
Beginning with ‘Russian Dispatches 1932–1946,’ Butler gives an evocative description – from the viewpoint of a bourgeois teacher – of a society in dissolution, before the onset of Stalin’s Great Purge, as show farms give way to show trials, the iron curtain descends across Europe, and Communism and Christianity locked horns.
Part Two, ‘Peace News Papers 1948–1958,’ largely derives from the weekly Peace News, in which Butler debates and defends with steely precision Ireland’s neutrality, pacifism, and the integrity of Yugoslavia, ‘where we know that in 1941 and 1942 one very pious government [Croatia’s] perpetrated the greatest massacre in the history of Christendom.’
‘Autobiographies’ contains some of Butler’s most affecting work. It describes his parents at Maidenhall; details his education in England; reflects on a universal sexuality; has a poignant piece on deafness and concludes with the Virgilian essay of the book’s title. Part Four, ‘Musings of an Irish Protestant,’ expresses Butler’s potent sense of an Anglo-Irish identity and community: from the ‘right of private judgment’ proclaimed at the 1782 Dungannon Convention, in a line of descent from Charlemont, Henry Grattan, Wolfe Tone and Emmet, via Davis, Standish O’Grady, Parnell and Griffith, to Yeats and the men of 1916 – all independent spirits. ‘Family Matters’ addresses the Butlers