Remembered by his contemporaries as a bohemian, James Clarence Mangan was a victim of morbid melancholy, opium, and alcohol. He was prone to painful introspection, which, intensified by his Catholicism, led to frequent withdrawals from friends, family, and society. This, combined with his recurring financial difficulties and physical neglect, resulted in a troubled, though artistically intensive, life and an early death at the age of forty-six.
The poet was born in Dublin, where he spent his whole life. His father gave up his position as a schoolteacher to run the grocery business he had inherited through his wife. He sent James to a Jesuit school where the boy started learning Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian—languages that would determine to a great extent the course of his career. A rather eccentric child, he experienced severe difficulties dealing with the “outside” world and withdrew into an eight-year-long state of blindness, allegedly caused by excessive exposure to rain. His relatives found him hard to reach and considered him “mad.”
Mangan was fifteen when he became the family’s breadwinner—his father had gone bankrupt. The first job he took was at a scrivener’s office. It was at this time that he started publishing his first poems in the Grant’s and New Ladies’ almanacs and when his mysterious blindness disappeared. Two years later, however, in 1820, an illness and a severe emotional disturbance led to a diagnosis of hypochondriasis. His poetic apprenticeship ended in 1826, but his ill health persisted. By this time, Mangan had moved away from his family and had started publishing nationalistic poetry. He continued earning a meager living by doing clerical work. In 1833, he supported a parliamentary petition for repeal of the Act of Union between Ireland and Britain. His political activism motivated him also to start learning Gaelic and establish close contacts with Gaelic scholars.
In 1834, the Dublin University Magazine, Ireland’s most prestigious periodical at the time, started accepting Mangan’s poetry for publication. This marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration; in Dublin University Magazine, the twenty-two chapters of Mangan’s...
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