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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alexander B. Grosart

Joseph John Murphy (1827–1894)

THE PROSE of Joseph John Murphy is familiar enough to those who are en rapport with present-day philosophic-scientific high thinking. His “Habit and Intelligence in Connection with the Laws of Matter and Force,” “The Scientific Bases of Faith,” and other masterly works have been accepted as of unique value and as likely to remain classics, but only to a limited circle is he known as a poet. He was born in Belfast on the 13th of January, 1827, both of his parents being Friends or Quakers. It is one of the curiosities of family history that this name Murphy—long so out-and-out Irish—is historically English. The first-comer to Ireland of the name arrived in Strafford’s time. He was a liveryman of the city of London, and the first of the name of Murphy that ever was in Ireland. Joseph Murphy was born into exceptional advantages, as his parents were of considerable wealth and of high social standing. The father was a merchant manufacturer—a pioneer of the great Ulster trade that remains distinctive to-day. His education was almost wholly “at home”—id est, he had no University training, a loss due to the fact that Nonconformists were then excluded from all the Universities. He was always studious, and an omnivorous reader, but independent and outspoken in his judgments, sentiments, opinions, speculations. Later in life his former large income was much reduced by unfortunate investments, but to his honour be it told he continued to be open-handed and generous up to his full means to every good cause. The sorrow is that no memoir of him has yet appeared. So masculine an intellect, so many-sided a thinker, and so strenuously bold a speculator (but ever on a basis of patiently observed and recorded facts), should certainly not go without adequate record. Toward the evening of his life he held office within the Diocese of Down, of the disestablished Church of Ireland, and rendered it yeoman service. He married happily, but was childless. He died on the 25th of January, 1894, and was interred in the cemetery of Malone, just outside the borough of Belfast.

From his boyhood Joseph Murphy was given to rhyming and love of poetry. He must have written a considerable quantity, but he was exacting in quality. Hence his slender volume entitled “Sonnets and other Poems, chiefly Religious” (1890) is of purged and sifted electness. Pensive reflection, tranquil faith hardly won, heavenly aspiration, and sweet graciousness characterise these poems. The workmanship is excellent; the variety noticeable; the teaching catholic—after Denison Maurice and Robertson of Brighton. Now and again are notes that haunt. Few will gainsay that this poet is worthy of a place in this series.