Vol. 3: Barry, Kevin.

Type: Article

Barry, Kevin. ‘James Usher (1720-72) and the Irish Enlightenment.’, Eighteenth-century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 3 (1988), pp 115-122.

The topic of this essay is James Usher, a catholic convert and man of letters who is almost completely unknown today, despite the fact that he wrote on Irish politics and made important contributions to musical aesthetics, the Irish enlightenment and the counter-enlightenment. As an extreme opponent to Lockean epistemology, empiricism and self-interest, Usher believed privation and loss to be “a positive value and an index of the humanity of desire”; he also considered the penal laws to be “self-defeating and an embarrassment to the protestant interest which they are intended to support”. The article discusses Usher’s life, his personal experiences of deprivation and loss, his theories on the sublime and self-preservation, and his philosophy on the arts and the human mind – which Barry sees as “an extension of Edmund Burke’s philosophy of language”. He suggests that Usher’s life and writings made him “the first exponent of Irish romanticism”.