The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick/Preface

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The present volume has three objects in view: first, to present the life of Saint Patrick without writing a history of the national church which he founded or introducing irrelevant matter; secondly, to place his life and character before the reader as they have been handed down to us in the most ancient extant documents, without overcoating or withholding anything in the originals; and, thirdly, to deliver to the public at as low a price as possible the original documents grouped together.

At first I had intended to present the Seven Lives of St. Patrick as published by Colgan; but, to my knowledge, there is no copy of the Acta Triadis Thaumaturgæ in this country, and the four lives which I have omitted—that is, by Benignus, Patrick Junior, Eiselan the Wise, and Probus—are of little consequence. The metrical life by St. Fiech is undoubtedly the most ancient and the most removed from saintly imaginings of miracles. The other two, that by Saint MacEvin and that by Jocelin, appear to have been elaborate compendiums of stories written in antecedent ages and extant in their time, concerning Saint Patrick. Of the life by Saint Fiech I have made a rude translation corresponding with the original; of the Tripartite I have given Professor Hennessy's version; and of the extraordinary biography by Jocelin I reproduce, for the first time in this country, the rendering from Colgan by Mr. Swift, as published by the Hibernia Press Company, at Dublin, in 1809. Colgan's Latin version of the Life of Saint Patrick by Jocelin is given by the Bollandists, and may be seen in many libraries in this country; but the original Lives, as published at Louvain, are at the Irish College in Rome and at Trinity College, Dublin. A copy may be found elsewhere, but, if so, it is exceedingly valuable, forasmuch as it is exceedingly rare. The Life of Saint Patrick by Saint Fiech will convey an estimate of his character about the time of his death; the Tripartite life by Saint MacEvin will probably impart the notions of the eighth century; and the life by Jocelin will communicate the exaggerations of mediæval times in the twelfth century. The public will thus have fairly placed before them the thoughts of ages about Saint Patrick through seven centuries after his death. I supply the reader with the Confession and Epistle attributed to Saint Patrick, though I incline to the opinion that they are the issue of an age subsequent to that of Ireland's Saint. The Chronotaxis or Chronological Table at the end of the book I have made out from the work by the Bollandists, which seems to have been prepared with scholarly and judicious diligence.

Of the illustrations, it is to be stated that the one prefixed to the life of St. Fiech has been an heirloom in the family of Counsellor Sheehan, of this city, and is taken from an old Irish prayer-book, supposed to be between three and five hundred years old. The frontispiece and the illustration fronting the Tripartite Life are taken from the Spicelegium, were engraved by Messengham, with the approbation of the French King and the Paris Archbishop, at Paris, in 1629, and were reproduced at Dublin in 1809. They are now re-engraved for the first time in this country. The illustration prefixed to the life by Jocelin is of ancient date, and supposed to have been suggested by the representation of St. Patrick in the Kilkenny Cathedral.

I hold myself responsible in no way whatsoever for the statements of St. Fiech, St. MacEvin, or Jocelin, but I present to the reader what they asserted they had received from antiquity. Their narratives may be pronounced fables, or legends, or inventions, or superstitions, or histories. On their intrinsic merits I am silent, except inasmuch as they breathe a firm belief in the omnipresence of God amongst men, strangely at variance with the lifeless, frosty indifference of our own day, and are, in addition, savored with a holy heat of charity and a high moral tone. Without comment, then, from me, I present to you in America, kind readers, Saint Patrick, the Apostle and Patron of Ireland and the Irish race, as I received him from my ancestors. I neither overstate, nor under-estimate, nor withheld anything. Judge for yourselves.