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Aubrey Thomas de Vere: A Poet's Journey through the 19th Century |

Aubrey Thomas de Vere: A Poet’s Journey through the 19th Century

Aubrey Thomas de Vere, born on 10th January 1814 at Curragh Chase, Co. Limerick, embarked on a remarkable literary and intellectual voyage during the 19th century. The third son in a family of five sons and three daughters, his lineage boasted a prestigious heritage. His father, Aubrey Thomas Hunt, later known as Sir Aubrey de Vere, was the 2nd baronet, and his mother, Mary Spring Rice, hailed from the esteemed Rice family of Mount Trenchard, Co. Limerick. Mary Spring Rice was also the sister of Thomas Spring Rice, who would go on to become the 1st Lord Monteagle. This formidable family backdrop set the stage for Aubrey’s life.

Young Aubrey’s early years were nurtured at the family’s picturesque residence at Curragh Chase. Privately tutored during his formative years, he encountered a tutor who, at one point, questioned his intellectual abilities, dubbing him “an idiot.” However, this initial assessment would undergo a significant revision. Another tutor, Edward Johnstone, held more optimistic expectations for his pupil and introduced Aubrey to the enchanting world of English poetry, igniting a lifelong passion.

Intriguingly, the young Aubrey, following in the literary footsteps of his father, commenced his journey into the realm of poetry. His maiden poetic composition was penned in 1832, the same year he embarked on his academic endeavours at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), commencing his studies at the age of eighteen. During his tenure at Trinity, a prominent figure, William Rowan Hamilton, the renowned mathematician and astronomer, left an indelible mark on the budding poet. His studies were directed primarily towards metaphysics, with a particular focus on the philosophical works of Immanuel Kant and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, Aubrey’s academic pursuits were rather unconventional as he strayed from the traditional undergraduate curriculum. Nevertheless, his intellectual acumen was recognized when he was awarded the Downes premium in 1837 for a theological essay.

After completing his studies at Trinity in 1838, de Vere contemplated the possibility of entering the established church. However, this path was not pursued with great seriousness. Instead, he chose to dedicate his time to travel and further literary exploration. His wanderlust took him on a journey across notable destinations in 1838-39, including Oxford, Cambridge, Rome, and Switzerland. It was during his visit to Oxford in 1838, at the zenith of the Tractarian movement, that he crossed paths with the eminent John Henry Newman. Additionally, Sir Henry Taylor, a distinguished poet and public servant, became a lifelong friend during this period. Connections formed within his family also played a crucial role in shaping his literary network. His elder brother, Vere, and his cousin, Stephen Spring Rice, introduced Aubrey to the illustrious Apostles club at Cambridge. This intellectual and literary coterie counted among its members such luminaries as Alfred Tennyson and Richard Monckton Milnes. Moreover, de Vere’s sojourn in Italy kindled an enduring affection for the city of Rome, leaving an indelible mark on his literary and personal odyssey.

Aubrey Thomas de Vere: A Literary Journey and Lifelong Connections

Aubrey Thomas de Vere’s profound admiration for the esteemed poet William Wordsworth remained a constant throughout his life. Their paths converged in 1841, when they met in the bustling heart of London. This encounter blossomed into a cherished friendship that would significantly influence de Vere’s literary voyage. In 1843, de Vere received an invitation that would be a pivotal moment in his life, as he was welcomed to Wordsworth’s serene abode, Rydal Mount in Cumberland. This invitation opened the door to a deeper connection with Wordsworth’s neighbors and friends, thus weaving the tapestry of his life with influential personalities. Notably, it was during this period that he struck up a significant friendship with Sara Coleridge, daughter of the renowned Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

De Vere’s quest for literary and intellectual enlightenment led him to the heart of London in 1845. During his sojourn, he had the privilege of meeting luminaries of the literary and intellectual world. Among those he encountered were Alfred Tennyson, Thomas and Jane Carlyle, Robert Browning, and Richard Holt Hutton. Notably, Richard Holt Hutton hailed from a prominent Dublin unitarian family and was the nephew of John Hutton. He held a deep interest in theology and went on to serve as the editor of The Spectator from 1861 to 1897.

Early in 1846, de Vere returned to his native Ireland, where he was confronted with the harrowing reality of the potato famine. The devastating effects of this catastrophic event deeply moved him, compelling him to take action. His compassion and dedication led him to become actively involved with the relief committees striving to alleviate the suffering. He embarked on a multifaceted approach, appealing to his circle of friends and the local gentry families to raise funds. He engaged in the distribution of much-needed grain and earnestly explored the possibility of emigration as a means of escape for the beleaguered populace.

The spirit of benevolence extended within the de Vere family, as his brothers also devoted themselves to the cause, tirelessly working to assist those living in poverty around Curragh Chase. Notably, the bond between Stephen and Aubrey was marked by a profound sense of empathy, resulting in an almost daily exchange of correspondence that would endure throughout their lives. This familial synergy served as a testament to their shared commitment to alleviating the suffering of those affected by the dire circumstances of the time.

Aubrey de Vere: A Poet in the Literary Tapestry

Aubrey Thomas de Vere hailed from a family with a strong literary tradition, and it is chiefly as a poet that he etches his place in history. Despite having penned verses since as early as 1832, his debut publication, “The Waldenses and Other Poems,” did not grace the literary world until 1842. It was during the haunting backdrop of the famine that his pen wove the poignant tapestry of “A Year of Sorrow,” a poem that found its home in the collection “Inisfail” published in 1861. This evocative piece eloquently narrates the misery endured during the harsh winter of 1846-47.

In addition to his poetic works, de Vere ventured into the realm of prose, notably with “English Misrule and Irish Misdeeds” in 1848. This publication cast a critical eye upon British governance in Ireland and bore witness to de Vere’s profound comprehension of the intricate socio-economic intricacies underlying the Irish situation. His insights were shaped by his active involvement in philanthropic efforts during the famine years, lending an invaluable depth to his understanding.

De Vere’s poetry delves into themes of the supernatural and the religious, interwoven with an exploration of the pivotal role of spirituality in the construction of national identities, with a particular focus on Ireland. His elegant verses, such as “The Children of Lir” and “The Legend of St. Patrick” (published in 1872), unveiled his imaginative and pioneering fascination with the myths and legends that are an integral part of Ireland’s cultural tapestry. While some contemporary critics have cast aspersions, deeming his works as a mere exploitation of his homeland for material, it is vital to consider that his perspective on Ireland was not that of a political nationalist. Rather, he perceived Ireland’s destiny as something attainable on a spiritual plane, transcending mere political boundaries.

In his literary portfolio, de Vere’s ambition and solemnity extended to the creation of dramatic works in blank verse. “Saint Thomas of Canterbury” (1876) and “Alexander the Great” (1874) stand as notable examples of his forays into the world of drama. During his lifetime, these works garnered widespread recognition, yet, like many other contemporaneous efforts of this nature, they have found limited readership in the present day.

Aubrey Thomas de Vere’s literary legacy is a tapestry woven with threads of spirituality, history, and a profound connection to the cultural and mythological tapestry of Ireland. His contributions as a poet and his understanding of Ireland’s complexities continue to be subjects of contemplation for those seeking to understand the multifaceted facets of the Emerald Isle’s identity.

Aubrey Thomas de Vere: A Journey of Faith

The year 1846 marked a pivotal juncture in Aubrey Thomas de Vere’s life. The passing of his father, combined with the grim backdrop of the famine, stirred profound religious sentiments within him. Despite the reservations expressed by friends like Carlyle, he embarked on a transformative journey that would alter the course of his spiritual life. On the 15th of November in 1851, de Vere made the extraordinary decision to embrace Roman Catholicism. The setting for this profound conversion was the archbishop’s chapel in Avignon, France, where he was joined by Henry Edward Manning, who would later ascend to the position of cardinal archbishop of Westminster.

De Vere’s conversion was indeed remarkable, given his background and the prevailing circumstances of his time. The step he took carried a profound personal and spiritual significance, representing a unique chapter in his life’s narrative. In 1854, John Henry Newman, who had assumed the role of rector at the Catholic University in Dublin, appointed de Vere as a professor of political and social science. Although he did author some lectures and would later publish them, the number of students under his tutelage remained sparse. A bout of scarlet fever further complicated matters, impeding his ability to fulfill his academic responsibilities. As a result, he resigned from his professorial position in 1858.

Aubrey Thomas de Vere’s journey towards Roman Catholicism and his subsequent foray into academia stand as testament to the complex tapestry of his life, marked by deep spiritual exploration and the profound impact of historical events on his personal and professional trajectory.

Aubrey Thomas de Vere: The Later Years

From around 1860 onwards, Aubrey Thomas de Vere chose to make his family residence at Curragh Chase the focal point of his life. It was here that he welcomed visits from friends and engaged in a robust exchange of correspondence with fellow writers and kindred spirits. His enduring fascination with Irish legend and history found its expression in “Inisfail: A Lyrical Chronicle of Ireland,” published in 1861. This work, which sought to versify six centuries of Irish history, stood as one of his most esteemed creations and garnered significant critical acclaim.

In 1898, Lady Augusta Gregory approached de Vere with a request for financial support for her groundbreaking Irish theatre project. Remarkably, he was the first person she turned to for assistance, and his encouraging response held a special place in her heart, representing a blessing from an older generation upon the new venture. As the years advanced, de Vere outlived many of his closest friends, and the spectre of nostalgia infused his final years. In 1897, he shared his reflections in “Recollections,” offering insights into his personal journey. The following year, he embarked on a poignant pilgrimage to the Lake District, reacquainting himself with early haunts like Rydal and Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley.

The final chapter of Aubrey Thomas de Vere’s life unfolded at Curragh Chase, where he peacefully passed away on the 21st of January in 1902. Unmarried, he found his resting place in a cemetery affiliated with the Church of Ireland in Askeaton, Co. Limerick. His legacy endures as a testament to his deep connection to Irish culture and his profound literary contributions that continue to captivate readers and scholars alike.

Aubrey Thomas de Vere: The Man and His Literary Legacy

Aubrey Thomas de Vere possessed a charming personality that was as distinctive as his literary contributions. His tall, slender physique was matched by a dignified and graceful manner, reflecting the grace and elegance that characterized him. While his poetry, though regarded as accomplished and classic, may carry the marks of its era, rendering it less accessible to later generations, de Vere’s literary legacy remains a source of influence and significance.

Beyond his poetry, de Vere delved into travel writing, crafting “Picturesque Sketches of Greece and Turkey” in 1850. This travelogue offers a unique window into his exploration of these captivating lands and provides an interesting perspective. Among his peers, many recognized him as a critic of considerable prowess, suggesting that his talents in critique may have exceeded those as a poet.

De Vere’s lasting literary impact can be observed in works such as “Recollections” and two volumes of essays centered on literature and ethics, published in 1887 and 1889. In these essays, he reflects on his friendships, including those with Sir Henry Taylor and Wordsworth, as well as other prominent writers with whom he shared personal connections. These writings stand as his most enduring and significant contributions, offering profound insights into the literary world and ethical considerations of his time.

Aubrey Thomas de Vere, a man of both charm and literary influence, has left an indelible imprint on the realm of letters. His works continue to be treasured for the unique perspectives they provide on the literary and ethical landscape of his era.

Sources Cited for Further Reference:

  1. Aubrey de Vere, “Recollections of Aubrey de Vere” (1897).
  2. John Gunning, “Aubrey de Vere” (1902).
  3. Wilfred Ward, “Aubrey de Vere, a Memoir” (1904).
  4. J. Hallam, “Lord Tennyson and His Friends” (1911).
  5. Augusta Gregory, “Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter in Autobiography” (1913), pages 9–11.
  6. “Irish Book Lover,” volume V, number 7 (1914), page 114.
  7. Richard Fallis, “Irish Renaissance” (1977), pages 52 and 65.
  8. “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography” (ODNB).
  9. Chris Morash, “The Little Black Rose Revisited: Church, Empire and National Destiny in the Writing of Aubrey de Vere,” “Canadian Journal of Irish Studies,” volume XX, number 2 (2004), pages 45–52.
  10. “Register of the Aubrey de Vere papers, 1886–1905,” available at www.bc.edu/bc.org/avp/ulib/Burns/index.html (August 2006).
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