The normal Irish man of letters begins as something of a Utopian. Kettle was always too much of a pessimist—he himself would have said a realist—to yield easily to romance. As a very young man he edited in Dublin a paper called The Nationist, for which he claimed, above all things, that it stood for “realism” in politics. Some men are driven into revolution by despair: it was as though Kettle had been driven into reform by despair. He admired the Utopians, but he could not share their faith. “If one never got tired,” he wrote in a sketch of the International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart in 1907, “one would always be with the revolutionaries, the re-makers, with Fourier and Kropotkin. But the soul’s energy is strictly limited; and with weariness there comes the need for compromise, for ‘machines,’ for reputation, for routine. Fatigue is the beginning of political wisdom.” One finds the same strain of melancholy transmuting itself into gaiety with an epigram in much of his work. His appreciation of Anatole France is the appreciation of a kindred spirit. In an essay called The Fatigue of Anatole France in The Day’s Burden he defended his author’s pessimistic attitude as he might have defended his own:
A pessimism, stabbed and gashed with the radiance of epigrams, as a thundercloud is stabbed by lightning, is a type of spiritual life far from contemptible. A reasonable sadness, chastened by the music of consummate prose, is an attitude and an achievement that will help many men to bear with more resignation the burden of our century.
How wonderfully, again, he portrays the Hamlet doubts of Anatole France, when, speaking of his bust, he says: “It is the face of a soldier ready to die for a flag in which he does not entirely believe.” And he goes on:
He looks out at you like a veteran of the lost cause of intellect, to whose soul the trumpet of defeat strikes with as mournful and vehement a music as to that of Pascal himself, but who thinks that a wise man may be permitted to hearten himself up in evil days with an anecdote after the manner of his master Rabelais.
Kettle himself practised just such a gloom shot with gaiety. He did not, however, share Anatole France’s gaiety of unbelief. In some ways he was more