LIKE most Irish reminiscences of this century, Life and the Dream begins by making us want to take pas sage at once for Dublin. But we remember that our ship would also have to plow a course backward through time, beyond two wars and a thousand yesterdays, back to the years when one could travel at will without a passport through an open world, when the old AustroHungarian Umpire still supported the Continent in delicate balance. “They called the Austrian Empire a ramshackle empire,”James Joyce remarked to the Colums after its destruction. “I wish to God there were more such empires.”So do many others who remember those days.
The account of Mary Colum’s girlhood in Ireland before the first war is the recovery of a vanished world. When she went up to the I Diversity of Dublin she entered the circle of Irish writers, revolutionaries, and eccentrics who make the Dublin of that, period seem an enchanted city bathed in the stormy light of tragedy Georgian drawing rooms and rosy, eighteenth-century brick under a volcanic sunset. In those days she began close friendships with Yeats, A.E., Sarah Purser, and Aland Gonne that were to last until their deaths. She saw the beginning of the Abbey Theatre and the attendant dramas both within and without its walls. At the University, too, she met and married Padraie Column The steady glow of this marriage quite unobtrusively permeates the whole book. Jn 1916 the Colum’s came to America. Except for periods in Europe and Hawaii, America has been their home ever since.
Mrs. Colum’s portraits, well-rounded yet intimate, are unsurpassed. Here are Yeats, Padraie Pearse, Maud Gonne, Janies Joyce, Elinor Wylie, and, on smaller canvases, Wilfred Sea wen Blunt, Sir Jioger Casement, Eady Gregory fin a gentler pose than usual), Harriet Alonroe, Amy Lowell, the Franklin Roosevelt s, and a host of writers, scholars, and society people in Ireland, America, and Frame. The descriptive backgrounds sometimes have the sensuous tang of scenes from Proust.. Yet cities and salons are not all; passages like those dealing with the tinkers of the Irish countryside (the memory of George Borrow is here unavoidable) or with the grandeurs of the Hawaiian volcano are unforgettable.
Amid the cliques and claques of the literary windnulls, Mrs. Colum brandishes no lance. Her remarks on literary works are as sound and impersonal in these pages as in her volume of criticism, From These Fonts. Her writers stand out in the clear light of good common sense. If we discern a sparkle of malice in the high-lighting of Harriet Monroe, it is merely the reflection of the searching ray on that, lady’s own brass. Not knowing Mrs. Colum personally, I close her book with the feeling that if I did know her, I should fear no injustice at her hands. That is a real tribute to an author of memoirs.