Part 15, Chapter 1 : T. G. Murray, Maurice Harte
Part 15, Chapter 1
"MAURICE HARTE" portrays the most sinister force which holds the Irish people in awe -- that heaviest of all bondage, priestcraft.
Michael Harte, his wife Ellen, and their son Owen are bent on one purpose; to make a priest of their youngest child Maurice. The mother especially has no other ambition in life than to see her son "priested." No higher ideal to most Catholic mothers than to consecrate their favorite son to the glory of God.
What it has cost the Hartes to attain their ambition and hope is revealed by Ellen Harte in the conversation with her sister and later with her husband, when he informs her that he cannot borrow any more money to continue the boy in the seminary.
Mrs. Harte. If Michael and myself have our son nearly a priest this day, 'tis no small price at all we have paid for it. . . . Isn't it the terrible thing, every time you look through that window, to have the fear in your heart that 'tis the process-server you'll see and he coming up the boreen ?
Old Harte impoverishes himself to enable his son to finish his studies. He has borrowed right and left, till his resources are now entirely exhausted. But he is compelled to try another loan.
Michael. He made out 'twas as good as insulting him making such a small payment, and the money that's on us to be so heavy. "If you don't wish to sign that note," says he, " you needn't. It don't matter at all to me one way or the other, for before the next Quarter Sessions 'tis Andy Driscoll, the process-server, will be marching up to your door." So what could I do but sign? Why, 'twas how he turned on me in a red passion. "And isn't it a scandal, Michael Harte," says he, " for the like o' you, with your name on them books there for a hundred and fifty pounds, and you with only the grass of nine or ten cows, to be making your son a priest? The like of it," says he, " was never heard of before."
Mrs. Harte. What business was it of his, I'd like to know? Jealous of us I There's no fear any of his sons will ever be anything much!
Michael. I was thinking it might do Maurice some harm with the Bishop if it came out on the papers that we were up before the judge for a civil bill.
Mrs. Harte. . . . 'Tisn't once or twice I told you that I had my heart set, on hearing Maurice say the marriage words over his own brother.
Maurice comes home for the summer vacation, looking pale and emaciated. His mother ascribes his condition to the bad city air and hard study at school. But Maurice suffers from a different cause. His is a mental struggle: the maddening struggle of doubt, the realization that he has lost his faith, that he has no vocation, and that he must give up his divinity studies. He knows how fanatically bent his peo ple are on having him ordained, and he is tortured by the grief his decision will cause his parents. His heart is breaking as he at last determines to inform them.
He reasons and pleads with his parents and implores them not to drive him back to college. But they cannot understand. They remain deaf to his arguments; pitifully they beg him not to fail them, not to disappoint the hope of a lifetime. When it all proves of no avail, they finally disclose to Maurice their gnawing secret: the farm has been mortgaged and many debts incurred for the sake of enabling him to attain to the priesthood.
Michael. Maurice, would you break our hearts?
Maurice. Father, would you have your son live a life of sacrilege? Would you, Father? Would you?
Mrs. Harte. That's only foolish talk. Aren't you every bit as good as the next?
Maurice. I may be, but I haven't a vocation. . . . My mind is finally made up.
Mrs. Harte. Maurice, listen to me -listen to me!
If it went out about you this day, isn't it destroyed forever we'd be? Look! The story wouldn't be cast in Macroom when we'd have the bailiffs walking in that door. The whole world knows he is to be priested next June, and only for the great respect they have for us through the means o' that, 'tisn't James McCarthy alone, but every other one o' them would come down on us straight for their money. In one week there wouldn't be a cow left by us, nor a horse, nor a lamb, nor anything at all! . . . Look at them books. 'Tis about time you should know how we stand here. . . . God knows, I wouldn't be hard on you at all, but look at the great load o' money that's on us this day, and mostly all on your account.
Maurice. Mother, don't make my cross harder to bear.
Mrs. Harte. An' would you be seeing a heavier cross put on them that did all that mortal man and woman could do for you?
Maurice. Look! I'll wear the flesh off my bones, but in pity spare me 1Mrs. Harte. And will you have no pity at all on us and on Owen here, that have slaved for you all our lives ?
Maurice. Mother! Mother!
Mrs. Harte. You'll go back? 'Tis only a mistake?
Maurice. Great God of Heaven 1 . . . you'll kill me.
Michael. You'll go back, Maurice? The vocation will come to you in time with the help of God. It will, surely.
Maurice. Don't ask me! Don't ask me!
Mrs. Harte. If you don't how can I ever face outside this door or lift my head again? . . . How could I listen to the neighbors making pity for me, and many a one o' them only glad in their hearts? How could I ever face again into town o' Macroom?
Maurice. Oh, don't.
Mrs. Harte. I tell you, Maurice, I'd rather be lying dead a thousand times in the graveyard over Killnamartyra
Maurice. Stop, Mother, stop 1 I'll--I'll go back as--as you all wish it.
Nine months later there is general rejoicing at the Hartes': Maurice has passed his examina. tions with flying colors; he is about to be ordained, and he is to officiate at the wedding of his brother Owen and his wealthy bride.
Ellen Harte plans to give her son a royal wel. come. Great preparations are on foot to greet the return of Maurice. He comes back--not in the glory and triumph expected by his people, but a driveling idiot. His mental struggle, the agony of whipping himself to the hated task, proved too much for him, and Maurice is sacrificed on the altar, of superstition and submission to paternal authority.
In the whole range of the Irish drama " Maurice Harte " is the most Irish, because nowhere does Catholicism demand so many victims as in that unfortunate land. But in a deeper sense the play is of that social importance that knows no limit of race or creed.
There is no boundary of land or time to the resistance of the human mind to coercion; it is worldwide. Equally so is the rebellion of youth against the tyranny of parents. But above all does this play mirror the self-centered, narrow, ambitious love of the mother, so disastrous to the happiness and peace of her child. For it is Ellen Harte, rather than the father, who forces Maurice back to his studies. From whatever viewpoint, however, "Maurice Harte" be considered, it carries a dramatically powerful message of wide social significance.
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