Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mangan, James
MANGAN, JAMES (1803–1849), Irish poet, commonly called James Clarence Mangan, born at No. 3 Fishamble Street, Dublin, on 1 May 1803, was son of a grocer there. The father, James Mangan, a native of Shanagolden, co. Limerick, had, after marrying Catherine Smith of Fishamble Street (whose family belonged to Kiltale, co. Meath), commenced business in Dublin in 1801. In a few years the elder Mangan found himself bankrupt through ill-advised speculations in house property. The son James was educated at a school in Saul's Court, Dublin, where he learned Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian, under Father Graham, an erudite scholar. But at an early age he was obliged to obtain employment in order to support the family, which consisted of two brothers and a sister, besides his parents. For seven years he toiled in a scrivener's and for three years in an attorney's office, earning small wages, and being subject to merciless persecution from his fellow-clerks on account of his eccentricities of manner. He soon contracted a fatal passion for drink, from which he never freed himself. Dr. Todd, the eminent antiquary, gave him some employment in the library of Trinity College, and about 1833 Dr. Petrie found him a place in the office of the Irish ordnance survey, but his irregular habits prevented his success in any walk of life.
As early as 1822 Mangan had contributed ephemeral pieces of verse to various Dublin almanacs. These are enumerated in Mr. McCall's slight memoir. In 1831 he became a member of the Comet Club, which numbered some of the leading Dublin wits among its members, and he contributed verse to their journal, the 'Comet,' generally over the signature of 'Clarence,' which he subsequently adopted as one of his Christian names. He also wrote for a notorious sheet called 'The Dublin Penny Satirist.' He had mastered German in order to read German philosophy, and it was to the 'Comet' that he sent his first batch of German translations. In 1834 his first contribution to the 'Dublin University Magazine' appeared, and much prose and verse followed in the same periodical, the majority being articles on German poetry with translations. He also issued many pieces which he pretended were renderings from the Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and Coptic. He was wholly ignorant of those languages, but his wide reading in books about the East enabled him to give an oriental colouring to his verse. Nor were his adaptations of Irish poetry made directly from the originals, for he was ignorant of Irish, and depended on prose translations made for him by Eugene O'Curry and John O'Daly. His connection with the 'Dublin University Magazine' brought important additions to his scanty income, but his indulgence in drink was inveterate, and rendered him incapable of regular application. He wrote only at fits and starts and lived a secluded life. About 1839 he became acquainted with Charles (now Sir Charles) Gavan Duffy, who was then editing the 'Belfast Vindicator,' and to this journal Mangan sent some characteristically humorous pieces, using the signature of 'The Man in the Cloak.' When the 'Nation' was started in 1842, with Duffy as editor, Mangan wrote for the second number over the signatures of 'Terræ Filius' and 'Vacuus.' Duffy treated him generously and gave him for a time a fixed salary, but Mangan's excesses led to difficulties between them. His contributions to the paper for the next three years were few. After 1845 he wrote more regularly for the 'Nation,' but when the second editor, Mitchel, left it in 1848, Mangan followed him and became a contributor to Mitchel's new paper, the 'United Irishman.' Poems of his also appeared in the 'Irishman' of 1849, a paper started after the temporary suppression of the 'Nation,' as well as in the 'Irish Tribune' (1848) and 'Duffy's Irish Catholic Magazine' (1847), the latter a venture of the publisher Duffy, who must be distinguished from the editor of the 'Nation.' The various signatures adopted from time to time by Mangan were, besides those already mentioned, 'A Yankee,' 'Monos,' 'The Mourne-r,' and 'Lageniensis,' all which were used in the 'Nation' between 1846 and 1848.
Mangan's friends sought in vain to induce him to take the pledge from Father Mathew. At length his mode of life brought on an illness which necessitated his removal to St. Vincent's Hospital in May 1848. On his recovery he met with an accident and was obliged to enter Richmond Surgical Hospital. Finally he caught the cholera, in the epidemic that raged in Dublin in 1849, and died in Meath Hospital on Wednesday, 20 June 1849. Hercules Ellis tells a sensational story to the effect that on proceeding to the hospital he heard from the house-surgeon that Mangan's death was not caused by cholera but by starvation. He also says that 'in his pocket was found a volume of German poetry, in translating which he had been engaged when struck down by illness. In his hat were found loose papers on which his last efforts in verse were feebly traced by his dying hand' (Romances and Ballads, Introd. p. xiv).
Mangan was unmarried. In his fanciful and untrustworthy autobiography, which first appeared in the 'Irish Monthly' of 1882, and is included among his 'Essays in Prose and Verse,' he relates an unhappy love-story, of which he claimed to be the hero. His personal appearance is thus described by Duffy: 'When he emerged into daylight he was dressed in a blue cloak, midsummer or midwinter, and a hat of fantastic shape, under which golden hair as fine and silky as a woman's hung in unkempt tangles, and deep blue eyes lighted a face as colourless as parchment. He looked like the spectre of some German romance rather than a living creature' (Young Ireland, 1883, p. 297). A portrait of him, drawn after his death, was executed by Mr. (now Sir) F. W. Burton, and is in the National Gallery, Dublin.
Mangan was probably the greatest of the poets of Irish birth, although his merits have been exaggerated by some of his editors. His translations and paraphrases are remarkably spirited, and his command of language is no less notable than his facility in rhyming and his ear for melody.
Mangan never wrote for any journal out of Ireland. About 1845 it was proposed to bring out an edition of his poems in London, Gavan Duffy offering to bear a portion of the expense, but nothing came of the proposal. Thirty of Mangan's ballads were issued in Hercules Ellis's 'Romances and Ballads of Ireland,' Dublin, 1850. An incomplete edition of his poems, edited by Mitchel, appeared in New York in 1859. In 1884 the Rev. C. P. Meehan edited a collection of his 'Essays in Prose and Verse.' But this fails to include an interesting series of sketches by him of prominent Irishmen which appeared in the 'Irishman' of 1849. Other volumes by him are: 1. 'German Anthology,' 8vo, 2 vols. Dublin, 1845; another edition, with introduction by the Rev. C. P. Meehan, entitled 'Anthologia Germanica,' 18mo, Dublin, 1884. 2. 'The Poets and Poetry of Munster,' translated by J. C. M., and edited by John O'Daly, 8vo, Dublin, 1849; second edition, 1850; third edition, with introductory memoir by the Rev. C. P. Meehan, 1884. 3. 'The Tribes of Ireland,' a satire by Ængus O'Daly, with poetical translation by J. C. M., 8vo, Dublin, 1852. 4. 'Irish and other Poems' (a small selection), 12mo, Dublin, 1886.