The image below shows the front cover of the poetry collection Vespers and Compline : a Soggarth’s Sacred Verses. It was published in 1900 by Burns & Oates in London. “Soggarth” was a variant spelling of “sagart” , the Irish word for priest. The priest in question was Matthew Russell SJ, poet, pastor, and editor of the Irish Monthly from 1873 to his death in 1912. The book is one of five collections of poems and prayers composed by Fr Russell which we hold in the library.
In the metres and rhyme of his devotional verse, Fr Russell was able to capture his own faith, address that of his readers, and express his sense of Jesuit culture. I’ll give two examples. The first comes from the book Madonna: Verses on Our Lady and the Saints, and is a poem called “Memorare”. Here the poet offers a new translation of the traditional Marian prayer as his first verse, and then adds two further verses of his own. He engages with his readers not only in the poem, but by means of a footnote. He is concerned that readers might not know by heart the original “Memorare”, so in the footnote he prints the Latin version and an English translation then in use. It is against this background that his readers could experience the new poem, and its sentiments of personal Marian devotion.
On the second point concerning Fr Russell’s celebration of Jesuit culture, I found some interesting examples in the books Altar Flowers: a book of prayers in verse (3rd ed. 1912) and A Soggarth’s Last Verses (1911). These includes poems celebrating Jesuit saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier, a translation from French of “The Seven Thoughts of a True Jesuit”, a couplet summarizing the five points of the Ignatian examen, and an affectionate image of the industrious Jesuit community at Dublin’s Saint Francis Xavier Church, in the autobiographical poem “The Elevens of a Long Lifetime”:
Emmanuel at 44
Was my first of books galore.
Xavier’s holy Dublin hive
was my home at 55.
Fr Matthew died while spending a second period attached to St Francis Xavier Church (1903 - 1912). His reputation rests largely on his influence and achievements as editor of The Irish Monthly, in which he published numerous contemporary novelists, poets and essayists including Oscar Wilde, Aubrey de Vere, Rosa Mulholland and Hilaire Belloc.
But it satisfied him also to find a readership for his own literary efforts: the verses and prayers which he had penned, “accidentally” as he said, during his life as a Jesuit priest. One of his readers was Fr Stephen Brown, our founder, who in an account of his own spiritual reading published in The Irish Rosary in 1946, referred to Fr Matthew as “a writer who helped me greatly in early days”.