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Title: Celtic Literature
Author: Arnold, Matthew
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1891 Smith, Elder and Co. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]



                                THE STUDY
                                    OF
                            CELTIC LITERATURE


                                * * * * *

                                    BY

                              MATTHEW ARNOLD

                                * * * * *

                             Popular Edition

                                * * * * *

                                  LONDON

                  SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE
                                   1891

                         [_All rights reserved_]



INTRODUCTION.


THE following remarks on the study of Celtic Literature formed the
substance of four lectures given by me in the chair of poetry at Oxford.
They were first published in the _Cornhill Magazine_, and are now
reprinted from thence.  Again and again, in the course of them, I have
marked the very humble scope intended; which is, not to treat any special
branch of scientific Celtic studies (a task for which I am quite
incompetent), but to point out the many directions in which the results
of those studies offer matter of general interest, and to insist on the
benefit we may all derive from knowing the Celt and things Celtic more
thoroughly.  It was impossible, however, to avoid touching on certain
points of ethnology and philology, which can be securely handled only by
those who have made these sciences the object of special study.  Here the
mere literary critic must owe his whole safety to his tact in choosing
authorities to follow, and whatever he advances must be understood as
advanced with a sense of the insecurity which, after all, attaches to
such a mode of proceeding, and as put forward provisionally, by way of
hypothesis rather than of confident assertion.

To mark clearly to the reader both this provisional character of much
which I advance, and my own sense of it, I have inserted, as a check upon
some of the positions adopted in the text, notes and comments with which
Lord Strangford has kindly furnished me.  Lord Strangford is hardly less
distinguished for knowing ethnology and languages so scientifically than
for knowing so much of them; and his interest, even from the
vantage-ground of his scientific knowledge, and after making all due
reserves on points of scientific detail, in my treatment,—with merely the
resources and point of view of a literary critic at my command,—of such a
subject as the study of Celtic Literature, is the most encouraging
assurance I could have received that my attempt is not altogether a vain
one.

Both Lord Strangford and others whose opinion I respect have said that I
am unjust in calling Mr. Nash, the acute and learned author of
_Taliesin_, _or the Bards and Druids of Britain_, a ‘Celt-hater.’  ‘He is
a denouncer,’ says Lord Strangford in a note on this expression, ‘of
Celtic extravagance, that is all; he is an anti-Philocelt, a very
different thing from an anti-Celt, and quite indispensable in scientific
inquiry.  As Philoceltism has hitherto,—hitherto, remember,—meant nothing
but uncritical acceptance and irrational admiration of the beloved
object’s sayings and doings, without reference to truth one way or the
other, it is surely in the interest of science to support him in the
main.  In tracing the workings of old Celtic leaven in poems which embody
the Celtic soul of all time in a mediæval form, I do not see that you
come into any necessary opposition with him, for your concern is with the
spirit, his with the substance only.’  I entirely agree with almost all
which Lord Strangford here urges, and indeed, so sincere is my respect
for Mr. Nash’s critical discernment and learning, and so unhesitating my
recognition of the usefulness, in many respects, of the work of
demolition performed by him, that in originally designating him as a
Celt-hater, I hastened to add, as the reader will see by referring to the
passage, {0a} words of explanation and apology for so calling him.  But I
thought then, and I think still, that Mr. Nash, in pursuing his work of
demolition, too much puts out of sight the positive and constructive
performance for which this work of demolition is to clear the ground.  I
thought then, and I think still, that in this Celtic controversy, as in
other controversies, it is most desirable both to believe and to profess
that the work of construction is the fruitful and important work, and
that we are demolishing only to prepare for it.  Mr. Nash’s scepticism
seems to me,—in the aspect in which his work, on the whole, shows it,—too
absolute, too stationary, too much without a future; and this tends to
make it, for the non-Celtic part of his readers, less fruitful than it
otherwise would be, and for his Celtic readers, harsh and repellent.  I
have therefore suffered my remarks on Mr. Nash still to stand, though
with a little modification; but I hope he will read them by the light of
these explanations, and that he will believe my sense of esteem for his
work to be a thousand times stronger than my sense of difference from it.

To lead towards solid ground, where the Celt may with legitimate
satisfaction point to traces of the gifts and workings of his race, and
where the Englishman may find himself induced to sympathise with that
satisfaction and to feel an interest in it, is the design of all the
considerations urged in the following essay.  Kindly taking the will for
the deed, a Welshman and an old acquaintance of mine, Mr. Hugh Owen,
received my remarks with so much cordiality, that he asked me to come to
the Eisteddfod last summer at Chester, and there to read a paper on some
topic of Celtic literature or antiquities.  In answer to this flattering
proposal of Mr. Owen’s, I wrote him a letter which appeared at the time
in several newspapers, and of which the following extract preserves all
that is of any importance:—

‘My knowledge of Welsh matters is so utterly insignificant that it would
be impertinence in me, under any circumstances, to talk about those
matters to an assemblage of persons, many of whom have passed their lives
in studying them.

‘Your gathering acquires more interest every year.  Let me venture to say
that you have to avoid two dangers in order to work all the good which
your friends could desire.  You have to avoid the danger of giving
offence to practical men by retarding the spread of the English language
in the principality.  I believe that to preserve and honour the Welsh
language and literature is quite compatible with not thwarting or
delaying for a single hour the introduction, so undeniably useful, of a
knowledge of English among all classes in Wales.  You have to avoid,
again, the danger of alienating men of science by a blind partial, and
uncritical treatment of your national antiquities.  Mr. Stephens’s
excellent book, _The Literature of the Cymry_, shows how perfectly
Welshmen can avoid this danger if they will.

‘When I see the enthusiasm these Eisteddfods can awaken in your whole
people, and then think of the tastes, the literature, the amusements, of
our own lower and middle class, I am filled with admiration for you.  It
is a consoling thought, and one which history allows us to entertain,
that nations disinherited of political success may yet leave their mark
on the world’s progress, and contribute powerfully to the civilisation of
mankind.  We in England have come to that point when the continued
advance and greatness of our nation is threatened by one cause, and one
cause above all.  Far more than by the helplessness of an aristocracy
whose day is fast coming to an end, far more than by the rawness of a
lower class whose day is only just beginning, we are emperilled by what I
call the “Philistinism” of our middle class.  On the side of beauty and
taste, vulgarity; on the side of morals and feeling, coarseness; on the
side of mind and spirit, unintelligence,—this is Philistinism.  Now,
then, is the moment for the greater delicacy and spirituality of the
Celtic peoples who are blended with us, if it be but wisely directed, to
make itself prized and honoured.  In a certain measure the children of
Taliesin and Ossian have now an opportunity for renewing the famous feat
of the Greeks, and conquering their conquerors.  No service England can
render the Celts by giving you a share in her many good qualities, can
surpass that which the Celts can at this moment render England, by
communicating to us some of theirs.’

Now certainly, in that letter, written to a Welshman and on the occasion
of a Welsh festival, I enlarged on the merits of the Celtic spirit and of
its works, rather than on their demerits.  It would have been offensive
and inhuman to do otherwise.  When an acquaintance asks you to write his
father’s epitaph, you do not generally seize that opportunity for saying
that his father was blind of one eye, and had an unfortunate habit of not
paying his tradesmen’s bills.  But the weak side of Celtism and of its
Celtic glorifiers, the danger against which they have to guard, is
clearly indicated in that letter; and in the remarks reprinted in this
volume,—remarks which were the original cause of Mr. Owen’s writing to
me, and must have been fully present to his mind when he read my
letter,—the shortcomings both of the Celtic race, and of the Celtic
students of its literature and antiquities, are unreservedly marked, and,
so far as is necessary, blamed. {0b}  It was, indeed, not my purpose to
make blame the chief part of what I said; for the Celts, like other
people, are to be meliorated rather by developing their gifts than by
chastising their defects.  The wise man, says Spinoza admirably, ‘_de
humana impotentia non nisi parce loqui curabit_, _at largiter de humana
virtute seupotentia_.’  But so far as condemnation of Celtic failure was
needful towards preparing the way for the growth of Celtic virtue, I used
condemnation.

The _Times_, however, prefers a shorter and sharper method of dealing
with the Celts, and in a couple of leading articles, having the Chester
Eisteddfod and my letter to Mr. Hugh Owen for their text, it developed
with great frankness, and in its usual forcible style, its own views for
the amelioration of Wales and its people.  _Cease to do evil_, _learn to
do good_, was the upshot of its exhortations to the Welsh; by _evil_, the
_Times_ understanding all things Celtic, and by _good_, all things
English.  ‘The Welsh language is the curse of Wales.  Its prevalence, and
the ignorance of English have excluded, and even now exclude the Welsh
people from the civilisation of their English neighbours.  An Eisteddfod
is one of the most mischievous and selfish pieces of sentimentalism which
could possibly be perpetrated.  It is simply a foolish interference with
the natural progress of civilisation and prosperity.  If it is desirable
that the Welsh should talk English, it is monstrous folly to encourage
them in a loving fondness for their old language.  Not only the energy
and power, but the intelligence and music of Europe have come mainly from
Teutonic sources, and this glorification of everything Celtic, if it were
not pedantry, would be sheer ignorance.  The sooner all Welsh
specialities disappear from the face of the earth the better.’

And I need hardly say, that I myself, as so often happens to me at the
hands of my own countrymen, was cruelly judged by the _Times_, and most
severely treated.  What I said to Mr. Owen about the spread of the
English language in Wales being quite compatible with preserving and
honouring the Welsh language and literature, was tersely set down as
‘arrant nonsense,’ and I was characterised as ‘a sentimentalist who talks
nonsense about the children of Taliesin and Ossian, and whose dainty
taste requires something more flimsy than the strong sense and sturdy
morality of his fellow Englishmen.’

As I said before, I am unhappily inured to having these harsh
interpretations put by my fellow Englishmen upon what I write, and I no
longer cry out about it.  And then, too, I have made a study of the
Corinthian or leading article style, and know its exigencies, and that
they are no more to be quarrelled with than the law of gravitation.  So,
for my part, when I read these asperities of the _Times_, my mind did not
dwell very much on my own concern in them; but what I said to myself, as
I put the newspaper down, was this: ‘_Behold England’s difficulty in
governing Ireland_!’

I pass by the dauntless assumption that the agricultural peasant whom we
in England, without Eisteddfods, succeed in developing, is so much finer
a product of civilisation than the Welsh peasant, retarded by these
‘pieces of sentimentalism.’  I will be content to suppose that our
‘strong sense and sturdy morality’ are as admirable and as universal as
the _Times_ pleases.  But even supposing this, I will ask did any one
ever hear of strong sense and sturdy morality being thrust down other
people’s throats in this fashion?  Might not these divine English gifts,
and the English language in which they are preached, have a better chance
of making their way among the poor Celtic heathen, if the English apostle
delivered his message a little more agreeably?  There is nothing like
love and admiration for bringing people to a likeness with what they love
and admire; but the Englishman seems never to dream of employing these
influences upon a race he wants to fuse with himself.  He employs simply
material interests for his work of fusion; and, beyond these, nothing
except scorn and rebuke.  Accordingly there is no vital union between him
and the races he has annexed; and while France can truly boast of her
‘magnificent unity,’ a unity of spirit no less than of name between all
the people who compose her, in England the Englishman proper is in union
of spirit with no one except other Englishmen proper like himself.  His
Welsh and Irish fellow-citizens are hardly more amalgamated with him now
than they were when Wales and Ireland were first conquered, and the true
unity of even these small islands has yet to be achieved.  When these
papers of mine on the Celtic genius and literature first appeared in the
_Cornhill Magazine_, they brought me, as was natural, many communications
from Welshmen and Irishmen having an interest in the subject; and one
could not but be painfully struck, in reading these communications, to
see how profound a feeling of aversion and severance from the English
they in general manifested.  Who can be surprised at it, when he observes
the strain of the _Times_ in the articles just quoted, and remembers that
this is the characteristic strain of the Englishman in commenting on
whatsoever is not himself?  And then, with our boundless faith in
machinery, we English expect the Welshman as a matter of course to grow
attached to us, because we invite him to do business with us, and let him
hold any number of public meetings and publish all the newspapers he
likes!  When shall we learn, that what attaches people to us is the
spirit we are of, and not the machinery we employ?

Last year there was a project of holding a Breton Eisteddfod at Quimper
in Brittany, and the French Home Secretary, whether wishing to protect
the magnificent unity of France from inroads of Bretonism, or fearing
lest the design should be used in furtherance of Legitimist intrigues, or
from whatever motive, issued an order which prohibited the meeting.  If
Mr. Walpole had issued an order prohibiting the Chester Eisteddfod, all
the Englishmen from Cornwall to John o’ Groat’s House would have rushed
to the rescue; and our strong sense and sturdy morality would never have
stopped gnashing their teeth and rending their garments till the
prohibition was rescinded.  What a pity our strong sense and sturdy
morality fail to perceive that words like those of the _Times_ create a
far keener sense of estrangement and dislike than acts like those of the
French Minister!  Acts like those of the French Minister are attributed
to reasons of State, and the Government is held blameable for them, not
the French people.  Articles like those of the _Times_ are attributed to
the want of sympathy and of sweetness of disposition in the English
nature, and the whole English people gets the blame of them.  And
deservedly; for from some such ground of want of sympathy and sweetness
in the English nature, do articles like those of the _Times_ come, and to
some such ground do they make appeal.  The sympathetic and social virtues
of the French nature, on the other hand, actually repair the breaches
made by oppressive deeds of the Government, and create, among populations
joined with France as the Welsh and Irish are joined with England, a
sense of liking and attachment towards the French people.  The French
Government may discourage the German language in Alsace and prohibit
Eisteddfods in Brittany; but the _Journal des Débats_ never treats German
music and poetry as mischievous lumber, nor tells the Bretons that the
sooner all Breton specialities disappear from the face of the earth the
better.  Accordingly, the Bretons and Alsatians have come to feel
themselves a part of France, and to feel pride in bearing the French
name; while the Welsh and Irish obstinately refuse to amalgamate with us,
and will not admire the Englishman as he admires himself, however much
the _Times_ may scold them and rate them, and assure them there is nobody
on earth so admirable.

And at what a moment does it assure them of this, good heavens!  At a
moment when the ice is breaking up in England, and we are all beginning
at last to see how much real confusion and insufficiency it covered;
when, whatever may be the merits,—and they are great,—of the Englishman
and of his strong sense and sturdy morality, it is growing more and more
evident that, if he is to endure and advance, he must transform himself,
must add something to his strong sense and sturdy morality, or at least
must give to these excellent gifts of his a new development.  My friend
Mr. Goldwin Smith says, in his eloquent way, that England is the
favourite of Heaven.  Far be it from me to say that England is not the
favourite of Heaven; but at this moment she reminds me more of what the
prophet Isaiah calls, ‘a bull in a net.’  She has satisfied herself in
all departments with clap-trap and routine so long, and she is now so
astounded at finding they will not serve her turn any longer!  And this
is the moment, when Englishism pure and simple, which with all its fine
qualities managed always to make itself singularly unattractive, is
losing that imperturbable faith in its untransformed self which at any
rate made it imposing,—this is the moment when our great organ tells the
Celts that everything of theirs not English is ‘simply a foolish
interference with the natural progress of civilisation and prosperity;’
and poor Talhaiarn, venturing to remonstrate, is commanded ‘to drop his
outlandish title, and to refuse even to talk Welsh in Wales!’

But let us leave the dead to bury their dead, and let us who are alive go
on unto perfection.  Let the Celtic members of this empire consider that
they too have to transform themselves; and though the summons to
transform themselves he often conveyed harshly and brutally, and with the
cry to root up their wheat as well as their tares, yet that is no reason
why the summons should not be followed so far as their tares are
concerned.  Let them consider that they are inextricably bound up with
us, and that, if the suggestions in the following pages have any truth,
we English, alien and uncongenial to our Celtic partners as we may have
hitherto shown ourselves, have notwithstanding, beyond perhaps any other
nation, a thousand latent springs of possible sympathy with them.  Let
them consider that new ideas and forces are stirring in England, that day
by day these new ideas and forces gain in power, and that almost every
one of them is the friend of the Celt and not his enemy.  And, whether
our Celtic partners will consider this or no, at any rate let us
ourselves, all of us who are proud of being the ministers of these new
ideas, work incessantly to procure for them a wider and more fruitful
application; and to remove the main ground of the Celt’s alienation from
the Englishman, by substituting, in place of that type of Englishman with
whom alone the Celt has too long been familiar, a new type, more
intelligent, more gracious, and more humane.



THE STUDY OF CELTIC LITERATURE


    ‘They went forth to the war, but they always fell.’

                                                                   OSSIAN.

SOME time ago I spent some weeks at Llandudno, on the Welsh coast.  The
best lodging-houses at Llandudno look eastward, towards Liverpool; and
from that Saxon hive swarms are incessantly issuing, crossing the bay,
and taking possession of the beach and the lodging-houses.  Guarded by
the Great and Little Orme’s Head, and alive with the Saxon invaders from
Liverpool, the eastern bay is an attractive point of interest, and many
visitors to Llandudno never contemplate anything else.  But, putting
aside the charm of the Liverpool steamboats, perhaps the view, on this
side, a little dissatisfies one after a while; the horizon wants mystery,
the sea wants beauty, the coast wants verdure, and has a too bare
austereness and aridity.  At last one turns round and looks westward.
Everything is changed.  Over the mouth of the Conway and its sands is the
eternal softness and mild light of the west; the low line of the mystic
Anglesey, and the precipitous Penmaenmawr, and the great group of Carnedd
Llewelyn and Carnedd David and their brethren fading away, hill behind
hill, in an aërial haze, make the horizon; between the foot of
Penmaenmawr and the bending coast of Anglesey, the sea, a silver stream,
disappears one knows not whither.  On this side, Wales,—Wales, where the
past still lives, where every place has its tradition, every name its
poetry, and where the people, the genuine people, still knows this past,
this tradition, this poetry, and lives with it, and clings to it; while,
alas, the prosperous Saxon on the other side, the invader from Liverpool
and Birkenhead, has long ago forgotten his.  And the promontory where
Llandudno stands is the very centre of this tradition; it is Creuddyn,
_the bloody city_, where every stone has its story; there, opposite its
decaying rival, Conway Castle, is Diganwy, not decaying but long since
utterly decayed, some crumbling foundations on a crag top and nothing
more; Diganwy, where Mael-gwyn shut up Elphin, and where Taliesin came to
free him.  Below, in a fold of the hill, is Llan-rhos, the church of the
marsh, where the same Mael-gwyn, a British prince of real history, a bold
and licentious chief, the original, it is said, of Arthur’s Lancelot,
shut himself up in the church to avoid the Yellow Plague, and peeped out
through a hole in the door, and saw the monster and died.  Behind among
the woods, is Gloddaeth, _the place of feasting_, where the bards were
entertained; and farther away, up the valley of the Conway towards
Llanrwst, is the Lake of Ceirio-nydd and Taliesin’s grave.  Or, again,
looking seawards and Anglesey-wards you have Pen-mon, Seiriol’s isle and
priory, where Mael-gwyn lies buried; you have the _Sands of Lamentation_
and Llys Helig, _Heilig’s Mansion_, a mansion under the waves, a
sea-buried palace and realm.  _Hac ibat Simois_; _hic est Sigeia tellus_.

As I walked up and down, looking at the waves as they washed this Sigeian
land which has never had its Homer, and listening with curiosity to the
strange, unfamiliar speech of its old possessors’ obscure
descendants,—bathing people, vegetable-sellers, and donkey-boys, who were
all about me, suddenly I heard, through the stream of unknown Welsh,
words, not English, indeed, but still familiar.  They came from a French
nursery-maid, with some children.  Profoundly ignorant of her
relationship, this Gaulish Celt moved among her British cousins, speaking
her polite neo-Latin tongue, and full of compassionate contempt,
probably, for the Welsh barbarians and their jargon.  What a revolution
was here!  How had the star of this daughter of Gomer waxed, while the
star of these Cymry, his sons, had waned!  What a difference of fortune
in the two, since the days when, speaking the same language, they left
their common dwelling-place in the heart of Asia; since the Cimmerians of
the Euxine came in upon their western kinsmen, the sons of the giant
Galates; since the sisters, Gaul and Britain, cut the mistletoe in their
forests, and saw the coming of Cæsar!  _Blanc_, _rouge_, _rocher champ_,
_église_, _seigneur_,—these words, by which the Gallo-Roman Celt now
names white, and red, and rock, and field, and church, and lord, are no
part of the speech of his true ancestors, they are words he has learnt;
but since he learned them they have had a worldwide success, and we all
teach them to our children, and armies speaking them have domineered in
every city of that Germany by which the British Celt was broken, and in
the train of these armies, Saxon auxiliaries, a humbled contingent, have
been fain to follow; the poor Welshman still says, in the genuine tongue
of his ancestors, {4} _gwyn_, _goch_, _craig_, _maes_, _llan_,
_arglwydd_; but his land is a province, and his history petty, and his
Saxon subduers scout his speech as an obstacle to civilisation; and the
echo of all its kindred in other lands is growing every day fainter and
more feeble; gone in Cornwall, going in Brittany and the Scotch
Highlands, going, too, in Ireland; and there, above all, the badge of the
beaten race, the property of the vanquished.

But the Celtic genius was just then preparing, in Llandudno, to have its
hour of revival.  Workmen were busy in putting up a large tent-like
wooden building, which attracted the eye of every newcomer, and which my
little boys believed (their wish, no doubt, being father to their
belief,) to be a circus.  It turned out, however, to be no circus for
Castor and Pollux, but a temple for Apollo and the Muses.  It was the
place where the Eisteddfod, or Bardic Congress of Wales, was about to be
held; a meeting which has for its object (I quote the words of its
promoters) ‘the diffusion of useful knowledge, the eliciting of native
talent, and the cherishing of love of home and honourable fame by the
cultivation of poetry, music, and art.’  My little boys were
disappointed; but I, whose circus days are over, I, who have a
professional interest in poetry, and who, also, hating all one-sidedness
and oppression, wish nothing better than that the Celtic genius should be
able to show itself to the world and to make its voice heard, was
delighted.  I took my ticket, and waited impatiently for the day of
opening.  The day came, an unfortunate one; storms of wind, clouds of
dust, an angry, dirty sea.  The Saxons who arrived by the Liverpool
steamers looked miserable; even the Welsh who arrived by land,—whether
they were discomposed by the bad morning, or by the monstrous and
crushing tax which the London and North-Western Railway Company levies on
all whom it transports across those four miles of marshy peninsula
between Conway and Llandudno,—did not look happy.  First we went to the
Gorsedd, or preliminary congress for conferring the degree of bard.  The
Gorsedd was held in the open air, at the windy corner of a street, and
the morning was not favourable to open-air solemnities.  The Welsh, too,
share, it seems to me, with their Saxon invaders, an inaptitude for show
and spectacle.  Show and spectacle are better managed by the Latin race
and those whom it has moulded; the Welsh, like us, are a little awkward
and resourceless in the organisation of a festival.  The presiding genius
of the mystic circle, in our hideous nineteenth-century costume, relieved
only by a green scarf, the wind drowning his voice and the dust powdering
his whiskers, looked thoroughly wretched; so did the aspirants for bardic
honours; and I believe, after about an hour of it, we all of us, as we
stood shivering round the sacred stones, began half to wish for the
Druid’s sacrificial knife to end our sufferings.  But the Druid’s knife
is gone from his hands; so we sought the shelter of the Eisteddfod
building.

The sight inside was not lively.  The president and his supporters
mustered strong on the platform.  On the floor the one or two front
benches were pretty well filled, but their occupants were for the most
part Saxons, who came there from curiosity, not from enthusiasm; and all
the middle and back benches, where should have been the true
enthusiasts,—the Welsh people, were nearly empty.  The president, I am
sure, showed a national spirit which was admirable.  He addressed us
Saxons in our own language, and called us ‘the English branch of the
descendants of the ancient Britons.’  We received the compliment with the
impassive dulness which is the characteristic of our nature; and the
lively Celtic nature, which should have made up for the dulness of ours,
was absent.  A lady who sat by me, and who was the wife, I found, of a
distinguished bard on the platform, told me, with emotion in her look and
voice, how dear were these solemnities to the heart of her people, how
deep was the interest which is aroused by them.  I believe her, but still
the whole performance, on that particular morning, was incurably
lifeless.  The recitation of the prize compositions began: pieces of
verse and prose in the Welsh language, an essay on punctuality being, if
I remember right, one of them; a poem on the march of Havelock, another.
This went on for some time.  Then Dr. Vaughan,—the well-known
Nonconformist minister, a Welshman, and a good patriot,—addressed us in
English.  His speech was a powerful one, and he succeeded, I confess, in
sending a faint thrill through our front benches; but it was the old
familiar thrill which we have all of us felt a thousand times in Saxon
chapels and meeting-halls, and had nothing bardic about it.  I stepped
out, and in the street I came across an acquaintance fresh from London
and the parliamentary session.  In a moment the spell of the Celtic
genius was forgotten, the Philistinism of our Saxon nature made itself
felt; and my friend and I walked up and down by the roaring waves,
talking not of ovates and bards, and triads and englyns, but of the
sewage question, and the glories of our local self-government, and the
mysterious perfections of the Metropolitan Board of Works.

I believe it is admitted, even by the admirers of Eisteddfods in general,
that this particular Eisteddfod was not a success.  Llandudno, it is
said, was not the right place for it.  Held in Conway Castle, as a few
years ago it was, and its spectators,—an enthusiastic multitude,—filling
the grand old ruin, I can imagine it a most impressive and interesting
sight, even to a stranger labouring under the terrible disadvantage of
being ignorant of the Welsh language.  But even seen as I saw it at
Llandudno, it had the power to set one thinking.  An Eisteddfod is, no
doubt, a kind of Olympic meeting; and that the common people of Wales
should care for such a thing, shows something Greek in them, something
spiritual, something humane, something (I am afraid one must add) which
in the English common people is not to be found.  This line of reflection
has been followed by the accomplished Bishop of St. David’s, and by the
_Saturday Review_, it is just, it is fruitful, and those who pursued it
merit our best thanks.  But, from peculiar circumstances, the Llandudno
meeting was, as I have said, such as not at all to suggest ideas of
Olympia, and of a multitude touched by the divine flame, and hanging on
the lips of Pindar.  It rather suggested the triumph of the prosaic,
practical Saxon, and the approaching extinction of an enthusiasm which he
derides as factitious, a literature which he disdains as trash, a
language which he detests as a nuisance.

I must say I quite share the opinion of my brother Saxons as to the
practical inconvenience of perpetuating the speaking of Welsh.  It may
cause a moment’s distress to one’s imagination when one hears that the
last Cornish peasant who spoke the old tongue of Cornwall is dead; but,
no doubt, Cornwall is the better for adopting English, for becoming more
thoroughly one with the rest of the country.  The fusion of all the
inhabitants of these islands into one homogeneous, English-speaking
whole, the breaking down of barriers between us, the swallowing up of
separate provincial nationalities, is a consummation to which the natural
course of things irresistibly tends; it is a necessity of what is called
modern civilisation, and modern civilisation is a real, legitimate force;
the change must come, and its accomplishment is a mere affair of time.
The sooner the Welsh language disappears as an instrument of the
practical, political, social life of Wales, the better; the better for
England, the better for Wales itself.  Traders and tourists do excellent
service by pushing the English wedge farther and farther into the heart
of the principality; Ministers of Education, by hammering it harder and
harder into the elementary schools.  Nor, perhaps, can one have much
sympathy with the literary cultivation of Welsh as an instrument of
living literature; and in this respect Eisteddfods encourage, I think, a
fantastic and mischief-working delusion.

For all serious purposes in modern literature (and trifling purposes in
it who would care to encourage?) the language of a Welshman is and must
be English; if an Eisteddfod author has anything to say about punctuality
or about the march of Havelock, he had much better say it in English; or
rather, perhaps, what he has to say on these subjects may as well be said
in Welsh, but the moment he has anything of real importance to say,
anything the world will the least care to hear, he must speak English.
Dilettanteism might possibly do much harm here, might mislead and waste
and bring to nought a genuine talent.  For all modern purposes, I repeat,
let us all as soon as possible be one people; let the Welshman speak
English, and, if he is an author, let him write English.

So far, I go along with the stream of my brother Saxons; but here, I
imagine, I part company with them.  They will have nothing to do with the
Welsh language and literature on any terms; they would gladly make a
clean sweep of it from the face of the earth.  I, on certain terms, wish
to make a great deal more of it than is made now; and I regard the Welsh
literature,—or rather, dropping the distinction between Welsh and Irish,
Gaels and Cymris, let me say Celtic literature,—as an object of very
great interest.  My brother Saxons have, as is well known, a terrible way
with them of wanting to improve everything but themselves off the face of
the earth; I have no such passion for finding nothing but myself
everywhere; I like variety to exist and to show itself to me, and I would
not for the world have the lineaments of the Celtic genius lost.  But I
know my brother Saxons, I know their strength, and I know that the Celtic
genius will make nothing of trying to set up barriers against them in the
world of fact and brute force, of trying to hold its own against them as
a political and social counter-power, as the soul of a hostile
nationality.  To me there is something mournful (and at this moment, when
one sees what is going on in Ireland, how well may one say so!) in
hearing a Welshman or an Irishman make pretensions,—natural pretensions,
I admit, but how hopelessly vain!—to such a rival self-establishment;
there is something mournful in hearing an Englishman scout them.
Strength! alas, it is not strength, strength in the material world, which
is wanting to us Saxons; we have plenty of strength for swallowing up and
absorbing as much as we choose; there is nothing to hinder us from
effacing the last poor material remains of that Celtic power which once
was everywhere, but has long since, in the race of civilisation, fallen
out of sight.  We may threaten them with extinction if we will, and may
almost say in so threatening them, like Cæsar in threatening with death
the tribune Metellus who closed the treasury doors against him: ‘And when
I threaten this, young man, to threaten it is more trouble to me than to
do it.’  It is not in the outward and visible world of material life,
that the Celtic genius of Wales or Ireland can at this day hope to count
for much; it is in the inward world of thought and science.  What it
_has_ been, what it _has_ done, let it ask us to attend to that, as a
matter of science and history; not to what it will be or will do, as a
matter of modern politics.  It cannot count appreciably now as a material
power; but, perhaps, if it can get itself thoroughly known as an object
of science, it may count for a good deal,—far more than we Saxons, most
of us, imagine,—as a spiritual power.

The bent of our time is towards science, towards knowing things as they
are; so the Celt’s claims towards having his genius and its works fairly
treated, as objects of scientific investigation, the Saxon can hardly
reject, when these claims are urged simply on their own merits, and are
not mixed up with extraneous pretensions which jeopardise them.  What the
French call the _science des origines_, the science of origins,—a science
which is at the bottom of all real knowledge of the actual world, and
which is every day growing in interest and importance—is very incomplete
without a thorough critical account of the Celts, and their genius,
language, and literature.  This science has still great progress to make,
but its progress, made even within the recollection of those of us who
are in middle life, has already affected our common notions about the
Celtic race; and this change, too, shows how science, the knowing things
as they are, may even have salutary practical consequences.  I remember,
when I was young, I was taught to think of Celt as separated by an
impassable gulf from Teuton; {14} my father, in particular, was never
weary of contrasting them; he insisted much oftener on the separation
between us and them than on the separation between us and any other race
in the world; in the same way Lord Lyndhurst, in words long famous,
called the Irish ‘aliens in speech, in religion, in blood.’  This
naturally created a profound sense of estrangement; it doubled the
estrangement which political and religious differences already made
between us and the Irish: it seemed to make this estrangement immense,
incurable, fatal.  It begot a strange reluctance, as any one may see by
reading the preface to the great text-book for Welsh poetry, the
_Myvyrian Archæology_, published at the beginning of this century, to
further,—nay, allow,—even among quiet, peaceable people like the Welsh,
the publication of the documents of their ancient literature, the
monuments of the Cymric genius; such was the sense of repulsion, the
sense of incompatibilty, of radical antagonism, making it seem dangerous
to us to let such opposites to ourselves have speech and utterance.
Certainly the Jew,—the Jew of ancient times, at least,—then seemed a
thousand degrees nearer than the Celt to us.  Puritanism had so
assimilated Bible ideas and phraseology; names like Ebenezer, and notions
like that of hewing Agag in pieces, came so natural to us, that the sense
of affinity between the Teutonic and the Hebrew nature was quite strong;
a steady, middleclass Anglo-Saxon much more imagined himself Ehud’s
cousin than Ossian’s.  But meanwhile, the pregnant and striking ideas of
the ethnologists about the true natural grouping of the human race, the
doctrine of a great Indo-European unity, comprising Hindoos, Persians,
Greeks, Latins, Celts, Teutons, Slavonians, on the one hand, and, on the
other hand, of a Semitic unity and of a Mongolian unity, separated by
profound distinguishing marks from the Indo-European unity and from one
another, was slowly acquiring consistency and popularising itself.  So
strong and real could the sense of sympathy or antipathy, grounded upon
real identity or diversity in race, grow in men of culture, that we read
of a genuine Teuton,—Wilhelm von Humboldt—finding, even in the sphere of
religion, that sphere where the might of Semitism has been so
overpowering, the food which most truly suited his spirit in the
productions not of the alien Semitic genius, but of the genius of Greece
or India, the Teutons born kinsfolk of the common Indo-European family.
‘Towards Semitism he felt himself,’ we read, ‘far less drawn;’ he had the
consciousness of a certain antipathy in the depths of his nature to this,
and to its ‘absorbing, tyrannous, terrorist religion,’ as to the opener,
more flexible Indo-European genius, this religion appeared.  ‘The mere
workings of the old man in him!’ Semitism will readily reply; and though
one can hardly admit this short and easy method of settling the matter,
it must be owned that Humboldt’s is an extreme case of Indo-Europeanism,
useful as letting us see what may be the power of race and primitive
constitution, but not likely, in the spiritual sphere, to have many
companion cases equalling it.  Still, even in this sphere, the tendency
is in Humboldt’s direction; the modern spirit tends more and more to
establish a sense of native diversity between our European bent and the
Semitic and to eliminate, even in our religion, certain elements as
purely and excessively Semitic, and therefore, in right, not combinable
with our European nature, not assimilable by it.  This tendency is now
quite visible even among ourselves, and even, as I have said, within the
great sphere of the Semitic genius, the sphere of religion; and for its
justification this tendency appeals to science, the science of origins;
it appeals to this science as teaching us which way our natural
affinities and repulsions lie.  It appeals to this science, and in part
it comes from it; it is, in considerable part, an indirect practical
result from it.

In the sphere of politics, too, there has, in the same way, appeared an
indirect practical result from this science; the sense of antipathy to
the Irish people, of radical estrangement from them, has visibly abated
amongst all the better part of us; the remorse for past ill-treatment of
them, the wish to make amends, to do them justice, to fairly unite, if
possible, in one people with them, has visibly increased; hardly a book
on Ireland is now published, hardly a debate on Ireland now passes in
Parliament, without this appearing.  Fanciful as the notion may at first
seem, I am inclined to think that the march of science,—science insisting
that there is no such original chasm between the Celt and the Saxon as we
once popularly imagined, that they are not truly, what Lord Lyndhurst
called them, _aliens in blood_ from us, that they are our brothers in the
great Indo-European family,—has had a share, an appreciable share, in
producing this changed state of feeling.  No doubt, the release from
alarm and struggle, the sense of firm possession, solid security, and
overwhelming power; no doubt these, allowing and encouraging humane
feelings to spring up in us, have done much; no doubt a state of fear and
danger, Ireland in hostile conflict with us, our union violently
disturbed, might, while it drove back all humane feelings, make also the
old sense of utter estrangement revive.  Nevertheless, so long as such a
malignant revolution of events does not actually come about, so long the
new sense of kinship and kindliness lives, works, and gathers strength;
and the longer it so lives and works, the more it makes any such
malignant revolution improbable.  And this new, reconciling sense has, I
say, its roots in science.

However, on these indirect benefits of science we must not lay too much
stress.  Only this must be allowed; it is clear that there are now in
operation two influences, both favourable to a more attentive and
impartial study of Celtism than it has yet ever received from us.  One
is, the strengthening in us of the feeling of Indo-Europeanism; the
other, the strengthening in us of the scientific sense generally.  The
first breaks down barriers between us and the Celt, relaxes the
estrangement between us; the second begets the desire to know his case
thoroughly, and to be just to it.  This is a very different matter from
the political and social Celtisation of which certain enthusiasts dream;
but it is not to be despised by any one to whom the Celtic genius is
dear; and it is possible, while the other is not.



I.


To know the Celtic case thoroughly, one must know the Celtic people; and
to know them, one must know that by which a people best express
themselves,—their literature.  Few of us have any notion what a mass of
Celtic literature is really yet extant and accessible.  One constantly
finds even very accomplished people, who fancy that the remains of Welsh
and Irish literature are as inconsiderable by their volume, as, in their
opinion, they are by their intrinsic merit; that these remains consist of
a few prose stories, in great part borrowed from the literature of
nations more civilised than the Welsh or Irish nation, and of some
unintelligible poetry.  As to Welsh literature, they have heard, perhaps,
of the _Black Book of Caermarthen_, or of the _Red Book of Hergest_, and
they imagine that one or two famous manuscript books like these contain
the whole matter.  They have no notion that, in real truth, to quote the
words of one who is no friend to the high pretensions of Welsh
literature, but their most formidable impugner, Mr. Nash:—‘The Myvyrian
manuscripts alone, now deposited in the British Museum, amount to 47
volumes of poetry, of various sizes, containing about 4,700 pieces of
poetry, in 16,000 pages, besides about 2,000 englynion or epigrammatic
stanzas.  There are also, in the same collection, 53 volumes of prose, in
about 15,300 pages, containing great many curious documents on various
subjects.  Besides these, which were purchased of the widow of the
celebrated Owen Jones, the editor of the _Myvyrian Archæology_, there are
a vast number of collections of Welsh manuscripts in London, and in the
libraries of the gentry of the principality.’  The _Myvyrian Archæology_,
here spoken of by Mr. Nash, I have already mentioned; he calls its
editor, Owen Jones, celebrated; he is not so celebrated but that he
claims a word, in passing, from a professor of poetry.  He was a
Denbighshire _statesman_, as we say in the north, born before the middle
of last century, in that vale of Myvyr, which has given its name to his
archæology.  From his childhood he had that passion for the old treasures
of his Country’s literature, which to this day, as I have said, in the
common people of Wales is so remarkable; these treasures were unprinted,
scattered, difficult of access, jealously guarded.  ‘More than once,’
says Edward Lhuyd, who in his _Archæologia Britannica_, brought out by
him in 1707, would gladly have given them to the world, ‘more than once I
had a promise from the owner, and the promise was afterwards retracted at
the instigation of certain persons, pseudo-politicians, as I think,
rather than men of letters.’  So Owen Jones went up, a young man of
nineteen, to London, and got employment in a furrier’s shop in Thames
Street; for forty years, with a single object in view, he worked at his
business; and at the end of that time his object was won.  He had risen
in his employment till the business had become his own, and he was now a
man of considerable means; but those means had been sought by him for one
purpose only, the purpose of his life, the dream of his youth,—the giving
permanence and publicity to the treasures of his national literature.
Gradually he got manuscript after manuscript transcribed, and at last, in
1801, he jointly with two friends brought out in three large volumes,
printed in double columns, his _Myvyrian Archæology of Wales_.  The book
is full of imperfections, it presented itself to a public which could not
judge of its importance, and it brought upon its author, in his lifetime,
more attack than honour.  He died not long afterwards, and now he lies
buried in Allhallows Church, in London, with his tomb turned towards the
east, away from the green vale of Clwyd and the mountains of his native
Wales; but his book is the great repertory of the literature of his
nation, the comparative study of languages and literatures gains every
day more followers, and no one of these followers, at home or abroad,
touches Welsh literature without paying homage to the Denbighshire
peasant’s name; if the bard’s glory and his own are still matter of
moment to him,—_si quid mentem mortalia tangunt_,—he may be satisfied.

Even the printed stock of early Welsh literature is, therefore,
considerable, and the manuscript stock of it is very great indeed.  Of
Irish literature, the stock, printed and manuscript, is truly vast; the
work of cataloguing and describing this has been admirably performed by
another remarkable man, who died only the other day, Mr. Eugene O’Curry.
Obscure Scaliger of a despised literature, he deserves some weightier
voice to praise him than the voice of an unlearned bellettristic trifler
like me; he belongs to the race of the giants in literary research and
industry,—a race now almost extinct.  Without a literary education, and
impeded too, it appears, by much trouble of mind and infirmity of body,
he has accomplished such a thorough work of classification and
description for the chaotic mass of Irish literature, that the student
has now half his labour saved, and needs only to use his materials as
Eugene O’Curry hands them to him.  It was as a professor in the Catholic
University in Dublin that O’Curry gave the lectures in which he has done
the student this service; it is touching to find that these lectures, a
splendid tribute of devotion to the Celtic cause, had no hearer more
attentive, more sympathising, than a man, himself, too, the champion of a
cause more interesting than prosperous,—one of those causes which please
noble spirits, but do not please destiny, which have Cato’s adherence,
but not Heaven’s,—Dr. Newman.  Eugene O’Curry, in these lectures of his,
taking as his standard the quarto page of Dr. O’Donovan’s edition of the
_Annals of the Four Masters_ (and this printed monument of one branch of
Irish literature occupies by itself, let me say in passing, seven large
quarto volumes, containing 4,215 pages of closely printed matter), Eugene
O’Curry says, that the great vellum manuscript books belonging to Trinity
College, Dublin, and to the Royal Irish Academy,—books with fascinating
titles, the _Book of the Dun Cow_, the _Book of Leinster_, the _Book of
Ballymote_, the _Speckled Book_, the _Book of Lecain_, the _Yellow Book
of Lecain_,—have, between them, matter enough to fill 11,400 of these
pages; the other vellum manuscripts in the library of Trinity College,
Dublin, have matter enough to fill 8,200 pages more; and the paper
manuscripts of Trinity College, and the Royal Irish Academy together,
would fill, he says, 30,000 such pages more.  The ancient laws of
Ireland, the so-called Brehon laws, which a commission is now publishing,
were not as yet completely transcribed when O’Curry wrote; but what had
even then been transcribed was sufficient, he says, to fill nearly 8,000
of Dr. O’Donovan’s pages.  Here are, at any rate, materials enough with a
vengeance.  These materials fall, of course, into several divisions.  The
most literary of these divisions, the _Tales_, consisting of _Historic
Tales_ and _Imaginative Tales_, distributes the contents of its _Historic
Tales_ as follows:—Battles, voyages, sieges, tragedies, cow-spoils,
courtships, adventures, land-expeditions, sea-expeditions, banquets,
elopements, loves, lake-irruptions, colonisations, visions.  Of what a
treasure-house of resources for the history of Celtic life and the Celtic
genius does that bare list, even by itself, call up the image!  The
_Annals of the Four Masters_ give ‘the years of foundations and
destructions of churches and castles, the obituaries of remarkable
persons, the inaugurations of kings, the battles of chiefs, the contests
of clans, the ages of bards, abbots, bishops, &c.’ {25}  Through other
divisions of this mass of materials,—the books of pedigrees and
genealogies, the martyrologies and festologies, such as the _Féliré of
Angus the Culdee_, the topographical tracts, such as the
_Dinnsenchas_,—we touch ‘the most ancient traditions of the Irish,
traditions which were committed to writing at a period when the ancient
customs of the people were unbroken.’  We touch ‘the early history of
Ireland, civil and ecclesiastical.’  We get ‘the origin and history of
the countless monuments of Ireland, of the ruined church and tower, the
sculptured cross, the holy well, and the commemorative name of almost
every townland and parish in the whole island.’  We get, in short, ‘the
most detailed information upon almost every part of ancient Gaelic life,
a vast quantity of valuable details of life and manners.’ {26}

And then, besides, to our knowledge of the Celtic genius, Mr. Norris has
brought us from Cornwall, M. de la Villemarqué from Brittany,
contributions, insignificant indeed in quantity, if one compares them
with the mass of the Irish materials extant, but far from insignificant
in value.

We want to know what all this mass of documents really tells us about the
Celt.  But the mode of dealing with these documents, and with the whole
question of Celtic antiquity, has hitherto been most unsatisfactory.
Those who have dealt with them, have gone to work, in general, either as
warm Celt-lovers or as warm Celt-haters, and not as disinterested
students of an important matter of science.  One party seems to set out
with the determination to find everything in Celtism and its remains; the
other, with the determination to find nothing in them.  A simple seeker
for truth has a hard time between the two.  An illustration or so will
make clear what I mean.  First let us take the Celt-lovers, who, though
they engage one’s sympathies more than the Celt-haters, yet, inasmuch as
assertion is more dangerous than denial, show their weaknesses in a more
signal way.  A very learned man, the Rev. Edward Davies, published in the
early part of this century two important books on Celtic antiquity.  The
second of these books, _The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids_,
contains, with much other interesting matter, the charming story of
Taliesin.  Bryant’s book on mythology was then in vogue, and Bryant, in
the fantastical manner so common in those days, found in Greek mythology
what he called an arkite idolatry, pointing to Noah’s deluge and the ark.
Davies, wishing to give dignity to his Celtic mythology, determines to
find the arkite idolatry there too, and the style in which he proceeds to
do this affords a good specimen of the extravagance which has caused
Celtic antiquity to be looked upon with so much suspicion.  The story of
Taliesin begins thus:—

‘In former times there was a man of noble descent in Penllyn.  His name
was Tegid Voel, and his paternal estate was in the middle of the Lake of
Tegid, and his wife was called Ceridwen.’

Nothing could well be simpler; but what Davies finds in this simple
opening of Taliesin’s story is prodigious:—

‘Let us take a brief view of the proprietor of this estate.  Tegid
Voel—_bald serenity_—presents itself at once to our fancy.  The painter
would find no embarrassment in sketching the portrait of this sedate
venerable personage, whose crown is partly stripped of its hoary honours.
But of all the gods of antiquity, none could with propriety sit for this
picture excepting Saturn, the acknowledged representative of Noah, and
the husband of Rhea, which was but another name for Ceres, the genius of
the ark.’

And Ceres, the genius of the ark, is of course found in Ceridwen, ‘the
British Ceres, the arkite goddess who initiates us into the deepest
mysteries of the arkite superstition.’

Now the story of Taliesin, as it proceeds, exhibits Ceridwen as a
sorceress; and a sorceress, like a goddess, belongs to the world of the
supernatural; but, beyond this, the story itself does not suggest one
particle of relationship between Ceridwen and Ceres.  All the rest comes
out of Davies’s fancy, and is established by reasoning of the force of
that about ‘bald serenity.’

It is not difficult for the other side, the Celt-haters, to get a triumph
over such adversaries as these.  Perhaps I ought to ask pardon of Mr.
Nash, whose _Taliesin_ it is impossible to read without profit and
instruction, for classing him among the Celt-haters; his determined
scepticism about Welsh antiquity seems to me, however, to betray a
preconceived hostility, a bias taken beforehand, as unmistakable as Mr.
Davies’s prepossessions.  But Mr. Nash is often very happy in
demolishing, for really the Celt-lovers seem often to try to lay
themselves open, and to invite demolition.  Full of his notions about an
arkite idolatry and a Helio-dæmonic worship, Edward Davies gives this
translation of an old Welsh poem, entitled _The Panegyric of Lludd the
Great_:—

‘A song of dark import was composed by the distinguished Ogdoad, who
assembled on the day of the moon, and went in open procession.  On the
day of Mars they allotted wrath to their adversaries; and on the day of
Mercury they enjoyed their full pomp; on the day of Jove they were
delivered from the detested usurpers; on the day of Venus, the day of the
great influx, they swam in the blood of men; {29} on the day of the Sun
there truly assemble five ships and five hundred of those who make
supplication: O Brithi, O Brithoi!  O son of the compacted wood, the
shock overtakes me; we all attend on Adonai, on the area of Pwmpai.’

That looks Helio-dæmonic enough, undoubtedly; especially when Davies
prints _O Brithi_, _O Brithoi_! in Hebrew characters, as being ‘vestiges
of sacred hymns in the Phœnician language.’  But then comes Mr. Nash, and
says that the poem is a middle-age composition, with nothing
Helio-dæmonic about it; that it is meant to ridicule the monks; and that
_O Brithi_, _O Brithoi_! is a mere piece of unintelligible jargon in
mockery of the chants used by the monks at prayers; and he gives this
counter-translation of the poem:—

‘They make harsh songs; they note eight numbers.  On Monday they will be
prying about.  On Tuesday they separate, angry with their adversaries.
On Wednesday they drink, enjoying themselves ostentatiously.  On Thursday
they are in the choir; their poverty is disagreeable.  Friday is a day of
abundance, the men are swimming in pleasures.  On Sunday, certainly, five
legions and five hundreds of them, they pray, they make exclamations: O
Brithi, O Brithoi!  Like wood-cuckoos in noise they will be, every one of
the idiots banging on the ground.’

As one reads Mr. Nash’s explanation and translation after Edward
Davies’s, one feels that a flood of the broad daylight of common-sense
has been suddenly shed over the _Panegyric on Lludd the Great_, and one
is very grateful to Mr. Nash.

Or, again, when another Celt-lover, Mr. Herbert, has bewildered us with
his fancies, as uncritical as Edward Davies’s; with his neo-Druidism, his
Mithriac heresy, his Crist-celi, or man-god of the mysteries; and above
all, his ape of the sanctuary, ‘signifying the mercurial principle, that
strange and unexplained disgrace of paganism,’ Mr. Nash comes to our
assistance, and is most refreshingly rational.  To confine ourselves to
the ape of the sanctuary only.  Mr. Herbert constructs his monster,—to
whom, he says, ‘great sanctity, together with foul crime, deception, and
treachery,’ is ascribed,—out of four lines of old Welsh poetry, of which
he adopts the following translation:—

‘Without the ape, without the stall of the cow, without the mundane
rampart, the world will become desolate, not requiring the cuckoos to
convene the appointed dance over the green.’

One is not very clear what all this means, but it has, at any rate, a
solemn air about it, which prepares one for the development of its
first-named personage, the ape, into the mystical ape of the sanctuary.
The cow, too,—says another famous Celt-lover, Dr. Owen, the learned
author of the Welsh Dictionary,—the cow (_henfon_) is the cow of
transmigration; and this also sounds natural enough.  But Mr. Nash, who
has a keen eye for the piecing which frequently happens in these old
fragments, has observed that just here, where the ape of the sanctuary
and the cow of transmigration make their appearance, there seems to come
a cluster of adages, popular sayings; and he at once remembers an adage
preserved with the word _henfon_ in it, where, as he justly says, ‘the
cow of transmigration cannot very well have place.’  This adage, rendered
literally in English, is: ‘Whoso owns the old cow, let him go at her
tail;’ and the meaning of it, as a popular saying, is clear and simple
enough.  With this clue, Mr. Nash examines the whole passage, suggests
that _heb eppa_, ‘without the ape,’ with which Mr. Herbert begins, in
truth belongs to something going before and is to be translated somewhat
differently; and, in short, that what we really have here is simply these
three adages one after another: ‘The first share is the full one.
Politeness is natural, says the ape.  Without the cow-stall there would
be no dung-heap.’  And one can hardly doubt that Mr. Nash is quite right.

Even friends of the Celt, who are perfectly incapable of extravagances of
this sort, fall too often into a loose mode of criticism concerning him
and the documents of his history, which is unsatisfactory in itself, and
also gives an advantage to his many enemies.  One of the best and most
delightful friends he has ever had,—M. de la Villemarqué,—has seen
clearly enough that often the alleged antiquity of his documents cannot
be proved, that it can be even disproved, and that he must rely on other
supports than this to establish what he wants; yet one finds him saying:
‘I open the collection of Welsh bards from the sixth to the tenth
century.  Taliesin, one of the oldest of them,’ . . . and so on.  But his
adversaries deny that we have really any such thing as a ‘collection of
Welsh bards from the sixth to the tenth century,’ or that a ‘Taliesin,
one of the oldest of them,’ exists to be quoted in defence of any thesis.
Sharon Turner, again, whose _Vindication of the Ancient British Poems_
was prompted, it seems to me, by a critical instinct at bottom sound, is
weak and uncritical in details like this: ‘The strange poem of Taliesin,
called the _Spoils of Annwn_, implies the existence (in the sixth
century, he means) of mythological tales about Arthur; and the frequent
allusion of the old Welsh bards to the persons and incidents which we
find in the _Mabinogion_, are further proofs that there must have been
such stories in circulation amongst the Welsh.’  But the critic has to
show, against his adversaries, that the _Spoils of Annwn_ is a real poem
of the sixth century, with a real sixth-century poet called Taliesin for
its author, before he can use it to prove what Sharon Turner there wishes
to prove; and, in like manner, the high antiquity of persons and
incidents that are found in the manuscripts of the
_Mabinogion_,—manuscripts written, like the famous _Red Book of Hergest_,
in the library of Jesus College at Oxford, in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries,—is not proved by allusions of the old Welsh bards,
until (which is just the question at issue) the pieces containing these
allusions are proved themselves to possess a very high antiquity.  In the
present state of the question as to the early Welsh literature, this sort
of reasoning is inconclusive and bewildering, and merely carries us round
in a circle.  Again, it is worse than inconclusive reasoning, it shows so
uncritical a spirit that it begets grave mistrust, when Mr. Williams ab
Ithel, employed by the Master of the Rolls to edit the _Brut y
Tywysogion_, the ‘Chronicle of the Princes,’ says in his introduction, in
many respects so useful and interesting: ‘We may add, on the authority of
a scrupulously faithful antiquary, and one that was deeply versed in the
traditions of his order—the late Iolo Morganwg—that King Arthur in his
Institutes of the Round Table introduced the age of the world for events
which occurred before Christ, and the year of Christ’s nativity for all
subsequent events.’  Now, putting out of the question Iolo Morganwg’s
character as an antiquary, it is obvious that no one, not Grimm himself,
can stand in that way as ‘authority’ for King Arthur’s having thus
regulated chronology by his Institutes of the Round Table, or even for
there ever having been any such institutes at all.  And finally, greatly
as I respect and admire Mr. Eugene O’Curry, unquestionable as is the
sagacity, the moderation, which he in general unites with his immense
learning, I must say that he, too, like his brother Celt-lovers,
sometimes lays himself dangerously open.  For instance, the Royal Irish
Academy possesses in its Museum a relic of the greatest value, the
_Domhnach Airgid_, a Latin manuscript of the four gospels.  The outer box
containing this manuscript is of the fourteenth century, but the
manuscript itself, says O’Curry (and no man is better able to judge) is
certainly of the sixth.  This is all very well.  ‘But,’ O’Curry then goes
on, ‘I believe no reasonable doubt can exist that the _Domhnach Airgid_
was actually sanctified by the hand of our great Apostle.’  One has a
thrill of excitement at receiving this assurance from such a man as
Eugene O’Curry; one believes that he is really going to make it clear
that St. Patrick did actually sanctify the _Domhnach Airgid_ with his own
hands; and one reads on:—

‘As St. Patrick, says an ancient life of St. Mac Carthainn preserved by
Colgan in his _Acta Sanctorum Hiberniæ_, was on his way from the north,
and coming to the place now called Clogher, he was carried over a stream
by his strong man, Bishop Mac Carthainn, who, while bearing the Saint,
groaned aloud, exclaiming: “Ugh!  Ugh!”

‘“Upon my good word,” said the Saint, “it was not usual with you to make
that noise.”

‘“I am now old and infirm,” said Bishop Mac Carthainn, “and all my early
companions in mission-work you have settled down in their respective
churches, while I am still on my travels.”

‘“Found a church then,” said the Saint, “that shall not be too near us”
(that is to his own Church of Armagh) “for familiarity, nor too far from
us for intercourse.”

‘And the Saint then left Bishop Mac Carthainn there, at Clogher, and
bestowed the _Domhnach Airgid_ upon him, which had been given to Patrick
from heaven, when he was on the sea, coming to Erin.’

The legend is full of poetry, full of humour; and one can quite
appreciate, after reading it, the tact which gave St. Patrick such a
prodigious success in organising the primitive church in Ireland; the new
bishop, ‘not too near us for familiarity, nor too far from us for
intercourse,’ is a masterpiece.  But how can Eugene O’Curry have imagined
that it takes no more than a legend like that, to prove that the
particular manuscript now in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy was
once in St. Patrick’s pocket?

I insist upon extravagances like these, not in order to throw ridicule
upon the Celt-lovers,—on the contrary, I feel a great deal of sympathy
with them,—but rather, to make it clear what an immense advantage the
Celt-haters, the negative side, have in the controversy about Celtic
antiquity; how much a clear-headed sceptic, like Mr. Nash, may utterly
demolish, and, in demolishing, give himself the appearance of having won
an entire victory.  But an entire victory he has, as I will next proceed
to show, by no means won.



II.


I said that a sceptic like Mr. Nash, by demolishing the rubbish of the
Celtic antiquaries, might often give himself the appearance of having won
a complete victory, but that a complete victory he had, in truth, by no
means won.  He has cleared much rubbish away, but this is no such very
difficult feat, and requires mainly common-sense; to be sure, Welsh
archæologists are apt to lose their common-sense, but at moments when
they are in possession of it they can do the indispensable, negative part
of criticism, not, indeed, so briskly or cleverly as Mr. Nash, but still
well enough.  Edward Davies, for instance, has quite clearly seen that
the alleged remains of old Welsh literature are not to be taken for
genuine just as they stand: ‘Some petty and mendicant minstrel, who only
chaunted it as an old song, has tacked on’ (he says of a poem he is
discussing) ‘these lines, in a style and measure totally different from
the preceding verses: “May the Trinity grant us mercy in the day of
judgment: a liberal donation, good gentlemen!”’  There, fifty years
before Mr. Nash, is a clearance like one of Mr. Nash’s.  But the
difficult feat in this matter is the feat of construction; to determine
when one has cleared away all that is to be cleared away, what is the
significance of that which is left; and here, I confess, I think Mr. Nash
and his fellow-sceptics, who say that next to nothing is left, and that
the significance of whatever is left is next to nothing, dissatisfy the
genuine critic even more than Edward Davies and his brother enthusiasts,
who have a sense that something primitive, august, and interesting is
there, though they fail to extract it, dissatisfy him.  There is a very
edifying story told by O’Curry of the effect produced on Moore, the poet,
who had undertaken to write the history of Ireland (a task for which he
was quite unfit), by the contemplation of an old Irish manuscript.  Moore
had, without knowing anything about them, spoken slightingly of the value
to the historian of Ireland of the materials afforded by such
manuscripts; but, says O’Curry:—

‘In the year 1839, during one of his last visits to the land of his
birth, he, in company with his old and attached friend Dr. Petrie,
favoured me with an unexpected visit at the Royal Irish Academy.  I was
at that period employed on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, and at the
time of his visit happened to have before me on my desk the _Books of
Ballymote and Lecain_, _The Speckled Book_, _The Annals of the Four
Masters_, and many other ancient books, for historical research and
reference.  I had never before seen Moore, and after a brief introduction
and explanation of the nature of my occupation by Dr. Petrie, and seeing
the formidable array of so many dark and time-worn volumes by which I was
surrounded, he looked a little disconcerted, but after a while plucked up
courage to open the _Book of Ballymote_ and ask what it was.  Dr. Petrie
and myself then entered into a short explanation of the history and
character of the books then present as well as of ancient Gaedhelic
documents in general.  Moore listened with great attention, alternately
scanning the books and myself, and then asked me, in a serious tone, if I
understood them, and how I had learned to do so.  Having satisfied him
upon these points, he turned to Dr. Petrie and said:—“Petrie, these huge
tomes could not have been written by fools or for any foolish purpose.  I
never knew anything about them before, and I had no right to have
undertaken the History of Ireland.”’

And from that day Moore, it is said, lost all heart for going on with his
_History of Ireland_, and it was only the importunity of the publishers
which induced him to bring out the remaining volume.

_Could not have been written by fools or for any foolish purpose_.  That
is, I am convinced, a true presentiment to have in one’s mind when one
looks at Irish documents like the Book of Ballymote, or Welsh documents
like the _Red Book of Hergest_.  In some respects, at any rate, these
documents are what they claim to be, they hold what they pretend to hold,
they touch that primitive world of which they profess to be the voice.
The true critic is he who can detect this precious and genuine part in
them, and employ it for the elucidation of the Celt’s genius and history,
and for any other fruitful purposes to which it can be applied.  Merely
to point out the mixture of what is late and spurious in them, is to
touch but the fringes of the matter.  In reliance upon the discovery of
this mixture of what is late and spurious in them, to pooh-pooh them
altogether, to treat them as a heap of rubbish, a mass of middle-age
forgeries, is to fall into the greatest possible error.  Granted that all
the manuscripts of Welsh poetry (to take that branch of Celtic literature
which has had, in Mr. Nash, the ablest disparager), granted that all such
manuscripts that we possess are, with the most insignificant exception,
not older than the twelfth century; granted that the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries were a time of great poetical activity in Wales, a
time when the mediæval literature flourished there, as it flourished in
England, France, and other countries; granted that a great deal of what
Welsh enthusiasts have attributed to their great traditional poets of the
sixth century belongs to this later epoch,—what then?  Does that get rid
of the great traditional poets,—the Cynveirdd or old bards, Aneurin,
Taliesin, Llywarch Hen, and their compeers,—does that get rid of the
great poetical tradition of the sixth century altogether, does it merge
the whole literary antiquity of Wales in her mediæval literary antiquity,
or, at least, reduce all other than this to insignificance?  Mr. Nash
says it does; all his efforts are directed to show how much of the so
called sixth-century pieces may be resolved into mediæval,
twelfth-century work; his grand thesis is that there is nothing primitive
and pre-Christian in the extant Welsh literature, no traces of the
Druidism and Paganism every one associates with Celtic antiquity; all
this, he says, was extinguished by Paulinus in AD. 59, and never
resuscitated.  ‘At the time the Mabinogion and the Taliesin ballads were
composed, no tradition or popular recollection of the Druids or the
Druidical mythology existed in Wales.  The Welsh bards knew of no older
mystery, nor of any mystic creed, unknown to the rest of the Christian
world.’  And Mr. Nash complains that ‘the old opinion that the Welsh
poems contain notices of Druid or Pagan superstitions of a remote origin’
should still find promulgators; what we find in them is only, he says,
what was circulating in Wales in the twelfth century, and one great
mistake in these investigations has been the supposing that the Welsh of
the twelfth, or even of the sixth century, were wiser as well as more
Pagan than their neighbours.’

Why, what a wonderful thing is this!  We have, in the first place, the
most weighty and explicit testimony,—Strabo’s, Cæsar’s, Lucan’s,—that
this race once possessed a special, profound, spiritual discipline, that
they were, to use Mr. Nash’s words, ‘wiser than their neighbours.’
Lucan’s words are singularly clear and strong, and serve well to stand as
a landmark in this controversy, in which one is sometimes embarrassed by
hearing authorities quoted on this side or that, when one does not feel
sure precisely what they say, how much or how little; Lucan, addressing
those hitherto under the pressure of Rome, but now left by the Roman
civil war to their own devices, says:—

‘Ye too, ye bards, who by your praises perpetuate the memory of the
fallen brave, without hindrance poured forth your strains.  And ye, ye
Druids, now that the sword was removed, began once more your barbaric
rites and weird solemnities.  To you only is given knowledge or ignorance
(whichever it be) of the gods and the powers of heaven; your dwelling is
in the lone heart of the forest.  From you we learn, that the bourne of
man’s ghost is not the senseless grave, not the pale realm of the monarch
below; in another world his spirit survives still;—death, if your lore be
true, is but the passage to enduring life.’

There is the testimony of an educated Roman, fifty years after Christ, to
the Celtic race being then ‘wiser than their neighbours;’ testimony all
the more remarkable because civilised nations, though very prone to
ascribe to barbarous people an ideal purity and simplicity of life and
manners, are by no means naturally inclined to ascribe to them high
attainment in intellectual and spiritual things.  And now, along with
this testimony of Lucan’s, one has to carry in mind Cæsar’s remark, that
the Druids, partly from a religious scruple, partly from a desire to
discipline the memory of their pupils, committed nothing to writing.
Well, then come the crushing defeat of the Celtic race in Britain and the
Roman conquest; but the Celtic race subsisted here still, and any one can
see that, while the race subsisted, the traditions of a discipline such
as that of which Lucan has drawn the picture were not likely to be so
very speedily ‘extinguished.’  The withdrawal of the Romans, the
recovered independence of the native race here, the Saxon invasion, the
struggle with the Saxons, were just the ground for one of those bursts of
energetic national life and self-consciousness which find a voice in a
burst of poets and poetry.  Accordingly, to this time, to the sixth
century, the universal Welsh tradition attaches the great group of
British poets, Taliesin and his fellows.  In the twelfth century there
began for Wales, along with another burst of national life, another burst
of poetry; and this burst _literary_ in the stricter sense of the word,—a
burst which left, for the first time, written records.  It wrote the
records of its predecessors, as well as of itself, and therefore Mr. Nash
wants to make it the real author of the whole poetry, one may say, of the
sixth century, as well as its own.  No doubt one cannot produce the texts
of the poetry of the sixth century; no doubt we have this only as the
twelfth and succeeding centuries wrote it down; no doubt they mixed and
changed it a great deal in writing it down.  But, since a continuous
stream of testimony shows the enduring existence and influence among the
kindred Celts of Wales and Brittany, from the sixth century to the
twelfth, of an old national literature, it seems certain that much of
this must be traceable in the documents of the twelfth century, and the
interesting thing is to trace it.  It cannot be denied that there is such
a continuous stream of testimony; there is Gildas in the sixth century,
Nennius in the eighth, the laws of Howel in the tenth; in the eleventh,
twenty or thirty years before the new literary epoch began, we hear of
Rhys ap Tudor having ‘brought with him from Brittany the system of the
Round Table, which at home had become quite forgotten, and he restored it
as it is, with regard to minstrels and bards, as it had been at
Caerleon-upon-Usk, under the Emperor Arthur, in the time of the
sovereignty of the race of the Cymry over the island of Britain and its
adjacent islands.’  Mr. Nash’s own comment on this is: ‘We here see the
introduction of the Arthurian romance from Brittany, preceding by nearly
one generation the revival of music and poetry in North Wales;’ and yet
he does not seem to perceive what a testimony is here to the reality,
fulness, and subsistence of that primitive literature about which he is
so sceptical.  Then in the twelfth century testimony to this primitive
literature absolutely abounds; one can quote none better than that of
Giraldus de Barri, or Giraldus Cambrensis, as he is usually called.
Giraldus is an excellent authority, who knew well what he was writing
about, and he speaks of the Welsh bards and rhapsodists of his time as
having in their possession ‘ancient and authentic books’ in the Welsh
language.  The apparatus of technical terms of poetry, again, and the
elaborate poetical organisation which we find, both in Wales and Ireland,
existing from the very commencement of the mediæval literary period in
each, and to which no other mediæval literature, so far as I know, shows
at its first beginnings anything similar, indicates surely, in these
Celtic peoples, the clear and persistent tradition of an older poetical
period of great development, and almost irresistibly connects itself in
one’s mind with the elaborate Druidic discipline which Cæsar mentions.

But perhaps the best way to get a full sense of the storied antiquity,
forming as it were the background to those mediæval documents which in
Mr. Nash’s eyes pretty much begin and end with themselves, is to take,
almost at random, a passage from such a tale as _Kilhwch and Olwen_, in
the _Mabinogion_,—that charming collection, for which we owe such a debt
of gratitude to Lady Charlotte Guest (to call her still by the name she
bore when she made her happy entry into the world of letters), and which
she so unkindly suffers to remain out of print.  Almost every page of
this tale points to traditions and personages of the most remote
antiquity, and is instinct with the very breath of the primitive world.
Search is made for Mabon, the son of Modron, who was taken when three
nights old from between his mother and the wall.  The seekers go first to
the Ousel of Cilgwri; the Ousel had lived long enough to peck a smith’s
anvil down to the size of a nut, but he had never heard of Mabon.  ‘But
there is a race of animals who were formed before me, and I will be your
guide to them.’  So the Ousel guides them to the Stag of Redynvre.  The
Stag has seen an oak sapling, in the wood where he lived, grow up to be
an oak with a hundred branches, and then slowly decay down to a withered
stump, yet he had never heard of Mabon.  ‘But I will be your guide to the
place where there is an animal which was formed before I was;’ and he
guides them to the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd.  ‘When first I came hither,’ says
the Owl, ‘the wide valley you see was a wooded glen.  And a race of men
came and rooted it up.  And there grew a second wood; and this wood is
the third.  My wings, are they not withered stumps?’  Yet the Owl, in
spite of his great age, had never heard of Mabon; but he offered to be
guide ‘to where is the oldest animal in the world, and the one that has
travelled most, the Eagle of Gwern Abwy.’  The Eagle was so old, that a
rock, from the top of which he pecked at the stars every evening, was now
not so much as a span high.  He knew nothing of Mabon; but there was a
monster Salmon, into whom he once struck his claws in Llyn Llyw, who
might, perhaps, tell them something of him.  And at last the Salmon of
Llyn Llyw told them of Mabon.  ‘With every tide I go along the river
upwards, until I come near to the walls of Gloucester, and there have I
found such wrong as I never found elsewhere.’  And the Salmon took
Arthur’s messengers on his shoulders up to the wall of the prison in
Gloucester, and they delivered Mabon.

Nothing could better give that sense of primitive and pre-mediæval
antiquity which to the observer with any tact for these things is, I
think, clearly perceptible in these remains, at whatever time they may
have been written; or better serve to check too absolute an acceptance of
Mr. Nash’s doctrine,—in some respects very salutary,—‘that the common
assumption of such remains of the date of the sixth century, has been
made upon very unsatisfactory grounds.’  It is true, it has; it is true,
too, that, as he goes on to say, ‘writers who claim for productions
actually existing only in manuscripts of the twelfth, an origin in the
sixth century, are called upon to demonstrate the links of evidence,
either internal or external, which bridge over this great intervening
period of at least five hundred years.’  Then Mr. Nash continues: ‘This
external evidence is altogether wanting.’  Not altogether, as we have
seen; that assertion is a little too strong.  But I am content to let it
pass, because it is true, that without internal evidence in this matter
the external evidence would be of no moment.  But when Mr. Nash continues
further: ‘And the internal evidence even of the so-called historic poems
themselves, is, in some instances at least, opposed to their claims to an
origin in the sixth century,’ and leaves the matter there, and finishes
his chapter, I say that is an unsatisfactory turn to give to the matter,
and a lame and impotent conclusion to his chapter; because the one
interesting, fruitful question here is, not in what instances the
internal evidence opposes the claims of these poems to a sixth-century
origin, but in what instances it supports them, and what these
sixth-century remains, thus established, signify.

So again with the question as to the mythological import of these poems.
Mr. Nash seems to me to have dealt with this, too, rather in the spirit
of a sturdy enemy of the Celts and their pretensions,—often enough
chimerical,—than in the spirit of a disinterested man of science.  ‘We
find in the oldest compositions in the Welsh language no traces,’ he
says, ‘of the Druids, or of a pagan mythology.’  He will not hear of
there being, for instance, in these compositions, traces of the doctrine
of the transmigration of souls, attributed to the Druids in such clear
words by Cæsar.  He is very severe upon a German scholar, long and
favourably known in this country, who has already furnished several
contributions to our knowledge of the Celtic race, and of whose labours
the main fruit has, I believe, not yet been given us,—Mr. Meyer.  He is
very severe upon Mr. Meyer, for finding in one of the poems ascribed to
Taliesin, ‘a sacrificial hymn addressed to the god Pryd, in his character
of god of the Sun.’  It is not for me to pronounce for or against this
notion of Mr. Meyer’s.  I have not the knowledge which is needed in order
to make one’s suffrage in these matters of any value; speaking merely as
one of the unlearned public, I will confess that allegory seems to me to
play, in Mr. Meyer’s theories, a somewhat excessive part; Arthur and his
Twelve (?) Knights of the Round Table signifying solely the year with its
twelve months; Percival and the Miller signifying solely steel and the
grindstone; Stonehenge and the _Gododin_ put to purely calendarial
purposes; the _Nibelungen_, the _Mahabharata_, and the _Iliad_, finally
following the fate of the _Gododin_; all this appears to me, I will
confess, a little prematurely grasped, a little unsubstantial.  But that
any one who knows the set of modern mythological science towards
astronomical and solar myths, a set which has already justified itself in
many respects so victoriously, and which is so irresistible that one can
hardly now look up at the sun without having the sensations of a
moth;—that any one who knows this, should find in the Welsh remains no
traces of mythology, is quite astounding.  Why, the heroes and heroines
of the old Cymric world are all in the sky as well as in Welsh story;
Arthur is the Great Bear, his harp is the constellation Lyra;
Cassiopeia’s chair is Llys Don, Don’s Court; the daughter of Don was
Arianrod, and the Northern Crown is Caer Arianrod; Gwydion was Don’s son,
and the Milky Way is Caer Gwydion.  With Gwydion is Math, the son of
Mathonwy, the ‘man of illusion and phantasy;’ and the moment one goes
below the surface,—almost before one goes below the surface,—all is
illusion and phantasy, double-meaning, and far-reaching mythological
import, in the world which all these personages inhabit.  What are the
three hundred ravens of Owen, and the nine sorceresses of Peredur, and
the dogs of Annwn the Welsh Hades, and the birds of Rhiannon, whose song
was so sweet that warriors remained spell-bound for eighty years together
listening to them?  What is the Avanc, the water-monster, of whom every
lake-side in Wales, and her proverbial speech, and her music, to this day
preserve the tradition?  What is Gwyn the son of Nudd, king of fairie,
the ruler of the Tylwyth Teg, or family of beauty, who till the day of
doom fights on every first day of May,—the great feast of the sun among
the Celtic peoples,—with Gwythyr, for the fair Cordelia, the daughter of
Lear?  What is the wonderful mare of Teirnyon, which on the night of
every first of May foaled, and no one ever knew what became of the colt?
Who is the mystic Arawn, the king of Annwn, who changed semblance for a
year with Pwyll, prince of Dyved, and reigned in his place?  These are no
mediæval personages; they belong to an older, pagan, mythological world.
The very first thing that strikes one, in reading the _Mabinogion_, is
how evidently the mediæval story-teller is pillaging an antiquity of
which he does not fully possess the secret; he is like a peasant building
his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Ephesus; he builds, but what he
builds is full of materials of which he knows not the history, or knows
by a glimmering tradition merely;—stones ‘not of this building,’ but of
an older architecture, greater, cunninger, more majestical.  In the
mediæval stories of no Latin or Teutonic people does this strike one as
in those of the Welsh.  Kilhwch, in the story, already quoted, of
_Kilhwch and Olwen_, asks help at the hand of Arthur’s warriors; a list
of these warriors is given, which fills I know not how many pages of Lady
Charlotte Guest’s book; this list is a perfect treasure-house of
mysterious ruins:—

‘Teithi Hen, the son of Gwynham—(his domains were swallowed up by the
sea, and he himself hardly escaped, and he came to Arthur, and his knife
had this peculiarity, that from the time that he came there no haft would
ever remain upon it, and owing to this a sickness came over him, and he
pined away during the remainder of his life, and of this he died).

‘Drem, the son of Dremidyd—(when the gnat arose in the morning with the
sun, Drem could see it from Gelli Wic in Cornwall, as far off as Pen
Blathaon in North Britain).

‘Kynyr Keinvarvawc—(when he was told he had a son born, he said to his
wife: Damsel, if thy son be mine, his heart will be always cold, and
there will be no warmth in his hands).’

How evident, again, is the slightness of the narrator’s hold upon the
Twrch-Trwyth and his strange story!  How manifest the mixture of known
and unknown, shadowy and clear, of different layers and orders of
tradition jumbled together, in the story of Bran the Blessed, a story
whose personages touch a comparatively late and historic time.  Bran
invades Ireland, to avenge one of ‘the three unhappy blows of this
island,’ the daily striking of Branwen by her husband Matholwch, King of
Ireland.  Bran is mortally wounded by a poisoned dart, and only seven men
of Britain, ‘the Island of the Mighty,’ escape, among them Taliesin:—

‘And Bran commanded them that they should cut off his head.  And take you
my head, said he, and bear it even unto the White Mount in London, and
bury it there with the face towards France.  And a long time will you be
upon the road.  In Harlech you will be feasting seven years, the birds of
Rhiannon singing unto you the while.  And all that time the head will be
to you as pleasant company as it ever was when on my body.  And at Gwales
in Penvro you will be fourscore years, and you may remain there, and the
head with you uncorrupted, until you open the door that looks towards
Aber Henvelen and towards Cornwall.  And after you have opened that door,
there you may no longer tarry; set forth then to London to bury the head,
and go straight forward.

‘So they cut off his head, and those seven went forward therewith.  And
Branwen was the eighth with them, and they came to land at Aber Alaw in
Anglesey, and they sate down to rest.  And Branwen looked towards Ireland
and towards the Island of the Mighty, to see if she could descry them.
“Alas,” said she, “woe is me that I was ever born; two islands have been
destroyed because of me.”  Then she uttered a loud groan, and there broke
her heart.  And they made her a four-sided grave, and buried her upon the
banks of the Alaw.

‘Then they went to Harlech, and sate down to feast and to drink there;
and there came three birds and began singing, and all the songs they had
ever heard were harsh compared thereto; and at this feast they continued
seven years.  Then they went to Gwales in Penvro, and there they found a
fair and regal spot overlooking the ocean, and a spacious hall was
therein.  And they went into the hall, and two of its doors were open,
but the third door was closed, that which looked towards Cornwall.  “See
yonder,” said Manawyddan, “is the door that we may not open.”  And that
night they regaled themselves and were joyful.  And there they remained
fourscore years, nor did they think they had ever spent a time more
joyous and mirthful.  And they were not more weary than when first they
came, neither did they, any of them, know the time they had been there.
And it was as pleasant to them having the head with them as if Bran had
been with them himself.

‘But one day said Heilyn, the son of Gwyn: “Evil betide me if I do not
open the door to know if that is true which is said concerning it.”  So
he opened the door and looked towards Cornwall and Aber Henvelen.  And
when they had looked, they were as conscious of all the evils they had
ever sustained, and of all the friends and companions they had lost, and
of all the misery that had befallen them, as if all had happened in that
very spot; and especially of the fate of their lord.  And because of
their perturbation they could not rest, but journeyed forth with the head
towards London.  And they buried the head in the White Mount.’

Arthur afterwards, in his pride and self-confidence, disinterred the
head, and this was one of ‘the three unhappy disclosures of the island of
Britain.’

There is evidently mixed here, with the newer legend, a _detritus_, as
the geologists would say, of something far older; and the secret of Wales
and its genius is not truly reached until this _detritus_, instead of
being called recent because it is found in contact with what is recent,
is disengaged, and is made to tell its own story.

But when we show him things of this kind in the Welsh remains, Mr. Nash
has an answer for us.  ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘all this is merely a machinery of
necromancers and magic, such as has probably been possessed by all people
in all ages, more or less abundantly.  How similar are the creations of
the human mind in times and places the most remote!  We see in this
similarity only an evidence of the existence of a common stock of ideas,
variously developed according to the formative pressure of external
circumstances.  The materials of these tales are not peculiar to the
Welsh.’  And then Mr. Nash points out, with much learning and ingenuity,
how certain incidents of these tales have their counterparts in Irish, in
Scandinavian, in Oriental romance.  He says, fairly enough, that the
assertions of Taliesin, in the famous _Hanes Taliesin_, or _History of
Taliesin_, that he was present with Noah in the Ark, at the Tower of
Babel, and with Alexander of Macedon, ‘we may ascribe to the poetic fancy
of the Christian priest of the thirteenth century, who brought this
romance into its present form.  We may compare these statements of the
universal presence of the wonder-working magician with those of the
gleeman who recites the Anglo-Saxon metrical tale called the _Traveller’s
Song_.’  No doubt, lands the most distant can be shown to have a common
property in many marvellous stories.  This is one of the most interesting
discoveries of modern science; but modern science is equally interested
in knowing how the genius of each people has differentiated, so to speak,
this common property of theirs; in tracking out, in each case, that
special ‘variety of development,’ which, to use Mr. Nash’s own words,
‘the formative pressure of external circumstances’ has occasioned; and
not the formative pressure from without only, but also the formative
pressure from within.  It is this which he who deals with the Welsh
remains in a philosophic spirit wants to know.  Where is the force, for
scientific purposes, of telling us that certain incidents by which Welsh
poetry has been supposed to indicate a surviving tradition of the
doctrine of transmigration, are found in Irish poetry also, when Irish
poetry has, like Welsh, its roots in that Celtism which is said to have
held this doctrine of transmigration so strongly?  Where is even the
great force, for scientific purposes, of proving, if it were possible to
prove, that the extant remains of Welsh poetry contain not one plain
declaration of Druidical, Pagan, pre-Christian doctrine, if one has in
the extant remains of Breton poetry such texts as this from the prophecy
of Gwenchlan: ‘Three times must we all die, before we come to our final
repose’? or as the cry of the eagles, in the same poem, of fierce thirst
for Christian blood, a cry in which the poet evidently gives vent to his
own hatred? since the solidarity, to use that convenient French word, of
Breton and Welsh poetry is so complete, that the ideas of the one may be
almost certainly assumed not to have been wanting to those of the other.
The question is, when Taliesin says, in the _Battle of the Trees_: ‘I
have been in many shapes before I attained a congenial form.  I have been
a narrow blade of a sword, I have been a drop in the air, I have been a
shining star, I have been a word in a book, I have been a book in the
beginning, I have been a light in a lantern a year and a half, I have
been a bridge for passing over three-score rivers; I have journeyed as an
eagle, I have been a boat on the sea, I have been a director in battle, I
have been a sword in the hand, I have been a shield in fight, I have been
the string of a harp, I have been enchanted for a year in the foam of
water.  There is nothing in which I have not been,’—the question is, have
these ‘statements of the universal presence of the wonder-working
magician’ nothing which distinguishes them from ‘similar creations of the
human mind in times and places the most remote;’ have they not an
inwardness, a severity of form, a solemnity of tone, which indicates the
still reverberating echo of a profound doctrine and discipline, such as
was Druidism?  Suppose we compare Taliesin, as Mr. Nash invites us, with
the gleeman of the Anglo-Saxon _Traveller’s Song_.  Take the specimen of
this song which Mr. Nash himself quotes: ‘I have been with the Israelites
and with the Essyringi, with the Hebrews and with the Indians and with
the Egyptians; I have been with the Medes and with the Persians and with
the Myrgings.’  It is very well to parallel with this extract Taliesin’s:
‘I carried the banner before Alexander; I was in Canaan when Absalom was
slain; I was on the horse’s crupper of Elias and Enoch; I was on the high
cross of the merciful son of God; I was the chief overseer at the
building of the tower of Nimrod; I was with my King in the manger of the
ass; I supported Moses through the waters of Jordan; I have been in the
buttery in the land of the Trinity; it is not known what is the nature of
its meat and its fish.’  It is very well to say that these assertions ‘we
may fairly ascribe to the poetic fancy of a Christian priest of the
thirteenth century.’  Certainly we may; the last of Taliesin’s assertions
more especially; though one must remark at the same time that the
Welshman shows much more fire and imagination than the Anglo-Saxon.  But
Taliesin adds, after his: ‘I was in Canaan when Absalom was slain,’ ‘_I
was in the hall of Don before Gwydion was born_;’ he adds, after: ‘I was
chief overseer at the building of the tower of Nimrod,’ ‘_I have been
three times resident in the castle of Arianrod_;’ he adds, after: ‘I was
at the cross with Mary Magdalene,’ ‘_I obtained my inspiration from the
cauldron of Ceridwen_.’  And finally, after the mediæval touch of the
visit to the buttery in the land of the Trinity, he goes off at score: ‘I
have been instructed in the whole system of the universe; I shall be till
the day of judgment on the face of the earth.  I have been in an uneasy
chair above Caer Sidin, and the whirling round without motion between
three elements.  Is it not the wonder of the world that cannot be
discovered?’  And so he ends the poem.  But here is the Celtic, the
essential part of the poem: it is here that the ‘formative pressure’ has
been really in operation; and here surely is paganism and mythology
enough, which the Christian priest of the thirteenth century can have had
nothing to do with.  It is unscientific, no doubt, to interpret this part
as Edward Davies and Mr. Herbert do; but it is unscientific also to get
rid of it as Mr. Nash does.  Wales and the Welsh genius are not to be
known without this part; and the true critic is he who can best disengage
its real significance.

I say, then, what we want is to _know_ the Celt and his genius; not to
exalt him or to abase him, but to know him.  And for this a
disinterested, positive, and constructive criticism is needed.  Neither
his friends nor his enemies have yet given us much of this.  His friends
have given us materials for criticism, and for these we ought to be
grateful; his enemies have given us negative criticism, and for this,
too, up to a certain point, we may be grateful; but the criticism we
really want neither of them has yet given us.

Philology, however, that science which in our time has had so many
successes, has not been abandoned by her good fortune in touching the
Celt; philology has brought, almost for the first time in their lives,
the Celt and sound criticism together.  The Celtic grammar of Zeuss,
whose death is so grievous a loss to science, offers a splendid specimen
of that patient, disinterested way of treating objects of knowledge,
which is the best and most attractive characteristic of Germany.  Zeuss
proceeds neither as a Celt-lover nor as a Celt-hater; not the slightest
trace of a wish to glorify Teutonism or to abase Celtism, appears in his
book.  The only desire apparent there, is the desire to know his object,
the language of the Celtic peoples, as it really is.  In this he stands
as a model to Celtic students; and it has been given to him, as a reward
for his sound method, to establish certain points which are henceforth
cardinal points, landmarks, in all the discussion of Celtic matters, and
which no one had so established before.  People talked at random of
Celtic writings of this or that age; Zeuss has definitely fixed the age
of what we actually have of these writings.  To take the Cymric group of
languages: our earliest Cornish document is a vocabulary of the
thirteenth century; our earliest Breton document is a short description
of an estate in a deed of the ninth century; our earliest Welsh documents
are Welsh glosses of the eighth century to Eutychus, the grammarian, and
Ovid’s _Art of Love_, and the verses found by Edward Lhuyd in the
_Juvencus_ manuscript at Cambridge.  The mention of this _Juvencus_
fragment, by-the-by, suggests the difference there is between an
interested and a disinterested critical habit.  Mr. Nash deals with this
fragment; but, in spite of all his great acuteness and learning, because
he has a bias, because he does not bring to these matters the
disinterested spirit they need, he is capable of getting rid, quite
unwarrantably, of a particular word in the fragment which does not suit
him; his dealing with the verses is an advocate’s dealing, not a
critic’s.  Of this sort of thing Zeuss is incapable.

The test which Zeuss used for establishing the age of these documents is
a scientific test, the test of orthography and of declensional and
syntactical forms.  These matters are far out of my province, but what is
clear, sound, and simple, has a natural attraction for us all, and one
feels a pleasure in repeating it.  It is the grand sign of age, Zeuss
says, in Welsh and Irish words, when what the grammarians call the
‘_destitutio tenuium_’ has not yet taken place; when the sharp consonants
have not yet been changed into flat, _p_ or t into _b_ or _d_; when, for
instance, _map_, a son, has not yet become _mab_; _coet_ a wood, _coed_;
_ocet_, a harrow, _oged_.  This is a clear, scientific test to apply, and
a test of which the accuracy can be verified; I do not say that Zeuss was
the first person who knew this test or applied it, but I say that he is
the first person who in dealing with Celtic matters has invariably
proceeded by means of this and similar scientific tests; the first
person, therefore, the body of whose work has a scientific, stable
character; and so he stands as a model to all Celtic inquirers.

His influence has already been most happy; and as I have enlarged on a
certain failure in criticism of Eugene O’Curry’s,—whose business, after
all, was the description and classification of materials rather than
criticism,—let me show, by another example from Eugene O’Curry, this good
influence of Zeuss upon Celtic studies.  Eugene O’Curry wants to
establish that compositions of an older date than the twelfth century
existed in Ireland in the twelfth century, and thus he proceeds.  He
takes one of the great extant Irish manuscripts, the _Leabhar na
h’Uidhre_; or, _Book of the Dun Cow_.  The compiler of this book was, he
says, a certain Maelmuiri, a member of the religious house of
Cluainmacnois.  This he establishes from a passage in the manuscript
itself: ‘This is a trial of his pen here, by Maelmuiri, son of the son of
Conn na m’Bocht.’  The date of Maelmuiri he establishes from a passage in
the _Annals of the Four Masters_, under the year 1106: ‘Maelmuiri, son of
the son of Conn na m’Bocht, was killed in the middle of the great stone
church of Cluainmacnois, by a party of robbers.’  Thus he gets the date
of the _Book of the Dun Cow_.  This book contains an elegy on the death
of St. Columb.  Now, even before 1106, the language of this elegy was so
old as to require a gloss to make it intelligible, for it is accompanied
by a gloss written between the lines.  This gloss quotes, for the
explanation of obsolete words, a number of more ancient compositions; and
these compositions, therefore, must, at the beginning of the twelfth
century, have been still in existence.  Nothing can be sounder; every
step is proved, and fairly proved, as one goes along.  O’Curry thus
affords a good specimen of the sane mode of proceeding so much wanted in
Celtic researches, and so little practised by Edward Davies and his
brethren; and to found this sane method, Zeuss, by the example he sets in
his own department of philology, has mainly contributed.

Science’s reconciling power, too, on which I have already touched,
philology, in her Celtic researches, again and again illustrates.  Races
and languages have been absurdly joined, and unity has been often rashly
assumed at stages where one was far, very far, from having yet really
reached unity.  Science has and will long have to be a divider and a
separatist, breaking arbitrary and fanciful connections, and dissipating
dreams of a premature and impossible unity.  Still, science,—true
science,—recognises in the bottom of her soul a law of ultimate fusion,
of conciliation.  To reach this, but to reach it legitimately, she tends.
She draws, for instance, towards the same idea which fills her elder and
diviner sister, poetry,—the idea of the substantial unity of man; though
she draws towards it by roads of her own.  But continually she is showing
us affinity where we imagined there was isolation.  What school-boy of us
has not rummaged his Greek dictionary in vain for a satisfactory account
of that old name for the Peloponnese, the _Apian Land_? and within the
limits of Greek itself there is none.  But the Scythian name for earth
‘apia,’ _watery_, _water-issued_, meaning first _isle_ and then
_land_—this name, which we find in ‘avia,’ Scandin_avia_, and in ‘ey’ for
Aldern_ey_, not only explains the _Apian Land_ of Sophocles for us, but
points the way to a whole world of relationships of which we knew
nothing.  The Scythians themselves again,—obscure, far-separated
Mongolian people as they used to appear to us,—when we find that they are
essentially Teutonic and Indo-European, their very name the same word as
the common Latin word ‘scutum,’ the _shielded_ people, what a surprise
they give us!  And then, before we have recovered from this surprise we
learn that the name of their father and god, Targitavus, carries us I
know not how much further into familiar company.  This divinity, _Shining
with the targe_, the Greek Hercules, the Sun, contains in the second half
of his name, _tavus_, ‘shining,’ a wonderful cement to hold times and
nations together.  _Tavus_, ‘shining,’ from ‘tava’—in Sanscrit, as well
as Scythian, ‘to burn’ or ‘shine,’—is _Divus_, _dies_, _Zeus_, _Θεός_,
_Dêva_, and I know not how much more; and _Taviti_, the bright and burnt,
fire, the place of fire, the hearth, the centre of the family, becomes
the family itself, just as our word family, the Latin _familia_, is from
_thymelé_, the sacred centre of fire.  The hearth comes to mean home.
Then from home it comes to mean the group of homes, the tribe; from the
tribe the entire nation; and in this sense of nation or people, the word
appears in Gothic, Norse, Celtic, and Persian, as well as in Scythian;
the _Theuthisks_, Deutschen, Tudesques, are the men of one _theuth_,
nation, or people; and of this our name _Germans_ itself is, perhaps,
only the Roman translation, meaning the men of one germ or stock.  The
Celtic divinity, Teutates, has his name from the Celtic _teuta_, people;
_taviti_, fire, appearing here in its secondary and derived sense of
_people_, just as it does in its own Scythian language in Targitavus’s
second name, _Tavit-varus_, _Teutaros_, the protector of the people.
Another Celtic divinity, the Hesus of Lucan, finds his brother in the
Gaisos, the sword, symbolising the god of battles of the Teutonic
Scythians. {66}  And after philology has thus related to each other the
Celt and the Teuton, she takes another branch of the Indo-European
family, the Sclaves, and shows us them as having the same name with the
German Suevi, the _solar_ people; the common ground here, too, being that
grand point of union, the sun, fire.  So, also, we find Mr. Meyer, whose
Celtic studies I just now mentioned, harping again and again on the
connection even in Europe, if you go back far enough, between Celt and
German.  So, after all we have heard, and truly heard, of the diversity
between all things Semitic and all things Indo-European, there is now an
Italian philologist at work upon the relationship between Sanscrit and
Hebrew.

Both in small and great things, philology, dealing with Celtic matters,
has exemplified this tending of science towards unity.  Who has not been
puzzled by the relation of the Scots with Ireland—that _vetus et major
Scotia_, as Colgan calls it?  Who does not feel what pleasure Zeuss
brings us when he suggests that _Gael_, the name for the Irish Celt, and
_Scot_, are at bottom the same word, both having their origin in a word
meaning _wind_, and both signifying _the violent stormy people_? {68}
Who does not feel his mind agreeably cleared about our friends the
Fenians, when he learns that the root of their name, _fen_, ‘white,’
appears in the hero Fingal; in Gwynned, the Welsh name for North Wales in
the Roman Venedotia; in Vannes in Brittany; in Venice?  The very name of
Ireland, some say, comes from the famous Sanscrit word _Arya_, the land
of the Aryans, or noble men; although the weight of opinion seems to be
in favour of connecting it rather with another Sanscrit word, _avara_,
occidental, the western land or isle of the west. {69}  But, at any rate,
who that has been brought up to think the Celts utter aliens from us and
our culture, can come without a start of sympathy upon such words as
_heol_ (sol), or _buaist_ (fuisti)? or upon such a sentence as this,
‘_Peris Duw dui funnaun_’ (‘God prepared two fountains’)?  Or when Mr.
Whitley Stokes, one of the very ablest scholars formed in Zeuss’s school,
a born philologist,—he now occupies, alas! a post under the Government of
India, instead of a chair of philology at home, and makes one think
mournfully of Montesquieu’s saying, that had he been an Englishman he
should never have produced his great work, but have caught the contagion
of practical life, and devoted himself to what is called ‘rising in the
world,’ when Mr. Whitley Stokes, in his edition of _Cormac’s Glossary_,
holds up the Irish word _traith_, the sea, and makes us remark that,
though the names _Triton_, _Amphitrite_, and those of corresponding
Indian and Zend divinities, point to the meaning _sea_, yet it is only
Irish which actually supplies the vocable, how delightfully that brings
Ireland into the Indo-European concert!  What a wholesome buffet it gives
to Lord Lyndhurst’s alienation doctrines!

To go a little further.  Of the two great Celtic divisions of language,
the Gaelic and the Cymric, the Gaelic, say the philologists, is more
related to the younger, more synthetic, group of languages, Sanscrit,
Greek, Zend, Latin and Teutonic; the Cymric to the older, more analytic
Turanian group.  Of the more synthetic Aryan group, again, Zend and
Teutonic are, in their turn, looser and more analytic than Sanscrit and
Greek, more in sympathy with the Turanian group and with Celtic.  What
possibilities of affinity and influence are here hinted at; what lines of
inquiry, worth exploring, at any rate, suggest themselves to one’s mind.
By the forms of its language a nation expresses its very self.  Our
language is the loosest, the most analytic, of all European languages.
And we, then, what are we? what is England?  I will not answer, A vast
obscure Cymric basis with a vast visible Teutonic superstructure; but I
will say that that answer sometimes suggests itself, at any
rate,—sometimes knocks at our mind’s door for admission; and we begin to
cast about and see whether it is to be let in.

But the forms of its language are not our only key to a people; what it
says in its language, its literature, is the great key, and we must get
back to literature.  The literature of the Celtic peoples has not yet had
its Zeuss, and greatly it wants him.  We need a Zeuss to apply to Celtic
literature, to all its vexed questions of dates, authenticity, and
significance, the criticism, the sane method, the disinterested endeavour
to get at the real facts, which Zeuss has shown in dealing with Celtic
language.  Science is good in itself, and therefore Celtic
literature,—the Celt-haters having failed to prove it a bubble,—Celtic
literature is interesting, merely as an object of knowledge.  But it
reinforces and redoubles our interest in Celtic literature if we find
that here, too, science exercises the reconciling, the uniting influence
of which I have said so much; if we find here, more than anywhere else,
traces of kinship, and the most essential sort of kinship, spiritual
kinship, between us and the Celt, of which we had never dreamed.  I
settle nothing, and can settle nothing; I have not the special knowledge
needed for that.  I have no pretension to do more than to try and awaken
interest; to seize on hints, to point out indications, which, to any one
with a feeling for literature, suggest themselves; to stimulate other
inquirers.  I must surely be without the bias which has so often rendered
Welsh and Irish students extravagant; why, my very name expresses that
peculiar Semitico-Saxon mixture which makes the typical Englishman; I can
have no ends to serve in finding in Celtic literature more than is there.
What _is_ there, is for me the only question.



III.


We have seen how philology carries us towards ideas of affinity of race
which are new to us.  But it is evident that this affinity, even if
proved, can be no very potent affair, unless it goes beyond the stage at
which we have hitherto observed it.  Affinity between races still, so to
speak, in their mother’s womb, counts for something, indeed, but cannot
count for very much.  So long as Celt and Teuton are in their embryo
rudimentary state, or, at least, no such great while out of their cradle,
still engaged in their wanderings, changes of place and struggle for
development, so long as they have not yet crystallised into solid
nations, they may touch and mix in passing, and yet very little come of
it.  It is when the embryo has grown and solidified into a distinct
nation, into the Gaul or German of history, when it has finally acquired
the characters which make the Gaul of history what he is, the German of
history what he is, that contact and mixture are important, and may leave
a long train of effects; for Celt and Teuton by this time have their
formed, marked, national, ineffaceable qualities to oppose or to
communicate.  The contact of the German of the Continent with the Celt
was in the pre-historic times, and the definite German type, as we know
it, was fixed later, and from the time when it became fixed was not
influenced by the Celtic type.  But here in our country, in historic
times, long after the Celtic embryo had crystallised into the Celt
proper, long after the Germanic embryo had crystallised into the German
proper, there was an important contact between the two peoples; the
Saxons invaded the Britons and settled themselves in the Britons’
country.  Well, then, here was a contact which one might expect would
leave its traces; if the Saxons got the upper hand, as we all know they
did, and made our country be England and us be English, there must yet,
one would think, be some trace of the Saxon having met the Briton; there
must be some Celtic vein or other running through us.  Many people say
there is nothing at all of the kind, absolutely nothing; the _Saturday
Review_ treats these matters of ethnology with great power and learning,
and the _Saturday Review_ says we are ‘a nation into which a Norman
element, like a much smaller Celtic element, was so completely absorbed
that it is vain to seek after Norman or Celtic elements in any modern
Englishman.’  And the other day at Zurich I read a long essay on English
literature by one of the professors there, in which the writer observed,
as a remarkable thing, that while other countries conquered by the
Germans,—France, for instance, and Italy,—had ousted all German influence
from their genius and literature, there were two countries, not
originally Germanic, but conquered by the Germans, England and German
Switzerland, of which the genius and the literature were purely and
unmixedly German; and this he laid down as a position which nobody would
dream of challenging.

I say it is strange that this should be so, and we in particular have
reason for inquiring whether it really is so; because though, as I have
said, even as a matter of science the Celt has a claim to be known, and
we have an interest in knowing him, yet this interest is wonderfully
enhanced if we find him to have actually a part in us.  The question is
to be tried by external and by internal evidence; the language and the
physical type of our race afford certain data for trying it, and other
data are afforded by our literature, genius, and spiritual production
generally.  Data of this second kind belong to the province of the
literary critic; data of the first kind to the province of the
philologist and of the physiologist.

The province of the philologist and of the physiologist is not mine; but
this whole question as to the mixture of Celt with Saxon in us has been
so little explored, people have been so prone to settle it off-hand
according to their prepossessions, that even on the philological and
physiological side of it I must say a few words in passing.  Surely it
must strike with surprise any one who thinks of it, to find that without
any immense inpouring of a whole people, that by mere expeditions of
invaders having to come over the sea, and in no greater numbers than the
Saxons, so far as we can make out, actually came, the old occupants of
this island, the Celtic Britons, should have been completely annihilated,
or even so completely absorbed that it is vain to seek after Celtic
elements in the existing English race.  Of deliberate wholesale
extermination of the Celtic race, all of them who could not fly to Wales
or Scotland, we hear nothing; and without some such extermination one
would suppose that a great mass of them must have remained in the
country, their lot the obscure and, so to speak, underground lot of a
subject race, but yet insensibly getting mixed with their conquerors, and
their blood entering into the composition of a new people, in which the
stock of the conquerors counts for most, but the stock of the conquered,
too, counts for something.  How little the triumph of the conqueror’s
laws, manners, and language, proves the extinction of the old race, we
may see by looking at France; Gaul was Latinised in language, manners,
and laws, and yet her people remained essentially Celtic.  The
Germanisation of Britain went far deeper than the Latinisation of France,
and not only laws, manners, and language, but the main current of the
blood became Germanic; but how, without some process of radica
extirpation, of which, as I say, there is no evidence, can there have
failed to subsist in Britain, as in Gaul, a Celtic current too?  The
indications of this in our language have never yet been thoroughly
searched out; the Celtic names of places prove nothing, of course, as to
the point here in question; they come from the pre-historic times, the
times before the nations, Germanic or Celtic, had crystallised, and they
are everywhere, as the impetuous Celt was formerly everywhere,—in the
Alps, the Apennines, the Cevennes, the Rhine, the Po, as well as in the
Thames, the Humber, Cumberland, London.  But it is said that the words of
Celtic origin for things having to do with every-day peaceful life,—the
life of a settled nation,—words like _basket_ (to take an instance which
all the world knows) form a much larger body in our language than is
commonly supposed; it is said that a number of our raciest, most
idiomatic, popular words—for example, _bam_, _kick_, _whop_, _twaddle_,
_fudge_, _hitch_, _muggy_,—are Celtic.  These assertions require to be
carefully examined, and it by no means follows that because an English
word is found in Celtic, therefore we get it from thence; but they have
not yet had the attention which, as illustrating through language this
matter of the subsistence and intermingling in our nation of a Celtic
part, they merit.

Nor have the physiological data which illustrate this matter had much
more attention from us in England.  But in France, a physician, half
English by blood though a Frenchman by home and language, Monsieur W. F.
Edwards, brother to Monsieur Milne-Edwards, the well-known zoologist,
published in 1839 a letter to Monsieur Amédée Thierry with this title:
_Des Caractères Physiologiques des Races Humaines considérés dans leurs
Rapports avec l’Histoire_.  The letter attracted great attention on the
Continent; it fills not much more than a hundred pages, and they are a
hundred pages which well deserve reading and re-reading.  Monsieur
Thierry in his _Histoire des Gaulois_ had divided the population of Gaul
into certain groups, and the object of Monsieur Edwards was to try this
division by physiology.  Groups of men have, he says, their physical type
which distinguishes them, as well as their language; the traces of this
physical type endure as the traces of language endure, and physiology is
enabled to verify history by them.  Accordingly, he determines the
physical type of each of the two great Celtic families, the Gaels and the
Cymris, who are said to have been distributed in a certain order through
Gaul, and then he tracks these types in the population of France at the
present day, and so verifies the alleged original order of distribution.
In doing this, he makes excursions into neighbouring countries where the
Gaels and the Cymris have been, and he declares that in England he finds
abundant traces of the physical type which he has established as the
Cymric, still subsisting in our population, and having descended from the
old British possessors of our soil before the Saxon conquest.  But if we
are to believe the current English opinion, says Monsieur Edwards, the
stock of these old British possessors is clean gone.  On this opinion he
makes the following comment:—

‘In the territory occupied by the Saxons, the Britons were no longer an
independent nation, nor even a people with any civil existence at all.
For history, therefore, they were dead, above all for history as it was
then written; but they had not perished; they still lived on, and
undoubtedly in such numbers as the remains of a great nation, in spite of
its disasters, might still be expected to keep.  That the Britons were
destroyed or expelled from England, properly so called, is, as I have
said, a popular opinion in that country.  It is founded on the
exaggeration of the writers of history; but in these very writers, when
we come to look closely at what they say, we find the confession that the
remains of this people were reduced to a state of strict servitude.
Attached to the soil, they will have shared in that emancipation which
during the course of the middle ages gradually restored to political life
the mass of the population in the countries of Western Europe; recovering
by slow degrees their rights without resuming their name, and rising
gradually with the rise of industry, they will have got spread through
all ranks of society.  The gradualness of this movement, and the
obscurity which enwrapped its beginnings, allowed the contempt of the
conqueror and the shame of the conquered to become fixed feelings; and so
it turns out, that an Englishman who now thinks himself sprung from the
Saxons or the Normans, is often in reality the descendant of the
Britons.’

So physiology, as well as language, incomplete though the application of
their tests to this matter has hitherto been, may lead us to hesitate
before accepting the round assertion that it is vain to search for Celtic
elements in any modern Englishman.  But it is not only by the tests of
physiology and language that we can try this matter.  As there are for
physiology physical marks, such as the square heads of the German, the
round head of the Gael, the oval head of the Cymri, which determine the
type of a people, so for criticism there are spiritual marks which
determine the type, and make us speak of the Greek genius, the Teutonic
genius, the Celtic genius, and so on.  Here is another test at our
service; and this test, too, has never yet been thoroughly employed.
Foreign critics have indeed occasionally hazarded the idea that in
English poetry there is a Celtic element traceable; and Mr. Morley, in
his very readable as well as very useful book on the English writers
before Chaucer, has a sentence which struck my attention when I read it,
because it expresses an opinion which I, too, have long held.  Mr. Morley
says:—‘The main current of English literature cannot be disconnected from
the lively Celtic wit in which it has one of its sources.  The Celts do
not form an utterly distinct part of our mixed population.  But for
early, frequent, and various contact with the race that in its
half-barbarous days invented Ossian’s dialogues with St. Patrick, and
that quickened afterwards the Northmen’s blood in France, Germanic
England would not have produced a Shakspeare.’  But there Mr. Morley
leaves the matter.  He indicates this Celtic element and influence, but
he does not show us,—it did not come within the scope of his work to show
us,—how this influence has declared itself.  Unlike the physiological
test, or the linguistic test, this literary, spiritual test is one which
I may perhaps be allowed to try my hand at applying.  I say that there is
a Celtic element in the English nature, as well as a Germanic element,
and that this element manifests itself in our spirit and literature.  But
before I try to point out how it manifests itself, it may be as well to
get a clear notion of what we mean by a Celtic element, a Germanic
element; what characters, that is, determine for us the Celtic genius,
the Germanic genius, as we commonly conceive the two.



IV.


Let me repeat what I have often said of the characteristics which mark
the English spirit, the English genius.  This spirit, this genius,
judged, to be sure, rather from a friend’s than an enemy’s point of view,
yet judged on the whole fairly, is characterised, I have repeatedly said,
by _energy with honesty_.  Take away some of the energy which comes to
us, as I believe, in part from Celtic and Roman sources; instead of
energy, say rather _steadiness_; and you have the Germanic genius
_steadiness with honesty_.  It is evident how nearly the two
characterisations approach one another; and yet they leave, as we shall
see, a great deal of room for difference.  Steadiness with honesty; the
danger for a national spirit thus composed is the humdrum, the plain and
ugly, the ignoble: in a word, _das Gemeine_, _die Gemeinheit_, that curse
of Germany, against which Goethe was all his life fighting.  The
excellence of a national spirit thus composed is freedom from whim,
flightiness, perverseness; patient fidelity to Nature, in a word,
_science_,—leading it at last, though slowly, and not by the most
brilliant road, out of the bondage of the humdrum and common, into the
better life.  The universal dead-level of plainness and homeliness, the
lack of all beauty and distinction in form and feature, the slowness and
clumsiness of the language, the eternal beer, sausages, and bad tobacco,
the blank commonness everywhere, pressing at last like a weight on the
spirits of the traveller in Northern Germany, and making him impatient to
be gone, this is the weak side; the industry, the well-doing, the patient
steady elaboration of things, the idea of science governing all
departments of human activity—this is the strong side; and through this
side of her genius, Germany has already obtained excellent results, and
is destined, we may depend upon it, however her pedantry, her slowness,
her fumbling, her ineffectiveness, her bad government, may at times make
us cry out, to an immense development. {82}

_For dulness_, _the creeping Saxons_,—says an old Irish poem, assigning
the characteristics for which different nations are celebrated:—

    For acuteness and valour, the Greeks,
    For excessive pride, the Romans,
    For dulness, the creeping Saxons;
    For beauty and amorousness, the Gaedhils.

We have seen in what sense, and with what explanation, this
characterisation of the German may be allowed to stand; now let us come
to the beautiful and amorous Gaedhil.  Or rather, let us find a
definition which may suit both branches of the Celtic family, the Cymri
as well as the Gael.  It is clear that special circumstances may have
developed some one side in the national character of Cymri or Gael,
Welshman or Irishman, so that the observer’s notice shall be readily
caught by this side, and yet it may be impossible to adopt it as
characteristic of the Celtic nature generally.  For instance, in his
beautiful essay on the poetry of the Celtic races, M. Renan, with his
eyes fixed on the Bretons and the Welsh, is struck with the timidity, the
shyness, the delicacy of the Celtic nature, its preference for a retired
life, its embarrassment at having to deal with the great world.  He talks
of the _douce petite race naturellement chrétienne_, his _race fière et
timide_, _à l’extérieur gauche et embarrassée_.  But it is evident that
this description, however well it may do for the Cymri, will never do for
the Gael, never do for the typical Irishman of Donnybrook fair.  Again,
M. Renan’s _infinie délicatesse de sentiment qui caractérise la race
Celtique_, how little that accords with the popular conception of an
Irishman who wants to borrow money!  _Sentiment_ is, however, the word
which marks where the Celtic races really touch and are one; sentimental,
if the Celtic nature is to be characterised by a single term, is the best
term to take.  An organisation quick to feel impressions, and feeling
them very strongly; a lively personality therefore, keenly sensitive to
joy and to sorrow; this is the main point.  If the downs of life too much
outnumber the ups, this temperament, just because it is so quickly and
nearly conscious of all impressions, may no doubt be seen shy and
wounded; it may be seen in wistful regret, it may be seen in passionate,
penetrating melancholy; but its essence is to aspire ardently after life,
light, and emotion, to be expansive, adventurous, and gay.  Our word
_gay_, it is said, is itself Celtic.  It is not from _gaudium_, but from
the Celtic _gair_, to laugh; {84} and the impressionable Celt, soon up
and soon down, is the more down because it is so his nature to be up to
be sociable, hospitable, eloquent, admired, figuring away brilliantly.
He loves bright colours, he easily becomes audacious, overcrowing, full
of fanfaronade.  The German, say the physiologists, has the larger volume
of intestines (and who that has ever seen a German at a table-d’hôte will
not readily believe this?), the Frenchman has the more developed organs
of respiration.  That is just the expansive, eager Celtic nature; the
head in the air, snuffing and snorting; _a proud look and a high
stomach_, as the Psalmist says, but without any such settled savage
temper as the Psalmist seems to impute by those words.  For good and for
bad, the Celtic genius is more airy and unsubstantial, goes less near the
ground, than the German.  The Celt is often called sensual; but it is not
so much the vulgar satisfactions of sense that attract him as emotion and
excitement; he is truly, as I began by saying, sentimental.

Sentimental,—_always ready to react against the despotism of fact_; that
is the description a great friend {85} of the Celt gives of him; and it
is not a bad description of the sentimental temperament; it lets us into
the secret of its dangers and of its habitual want of success.  Balance,
measure, and patience, these are the eternal conditions, even supposing
the happiest temperament to start with, of high success; and balance,
measure, and patience are just what the Celt has never had.  Even in the
world of spiritual creation, he has never, in spite of his admirable
gifts of quick perception and warm emotion, succeeded perfectly, because
he never has had steadiness, patience, sanity enough to comply with the
conditions under which alone can expression be perfectly given to the
finest perceptions and emotions.  The Greek has the same perceptive,
emotional temperament as the Celt; but he adds to this temperament the
sense of _measure_; hence his admirable success in the plastic arts, in
which the Celtic genius, with its chafing against the despotism of fact,
its perpetual straining after mere emotion, has accomplished nothing.  In
the comparatively petty art of ornamentation, in rings, brooches,
crosiers, relic-cases, and so on, he has done just enough to show his
delicacy of taste, his happy temperament; but the grand difficulties of
painting and sculpture, the prolonged dealings of spirit with matter, he
has never had patience for.  Take the more spiritual arts of music and
poetry.  All that emotion alone can do in music the Celt has done; the
very soul of emotion breathes in the Scotch and Irish airs; but with all
this power of musical feeling, what has the Celt, so eager for emotion
that he has not patience for science, effected in music, to be compared
with what the less emotional German, steadily developing his musical
feeling with the science of a Sebastian Bach or a Beethoven, has
effected?  In poetry, again, poetry which the Celt has so passionately,
so nobly loved; poetry where emotion counts for so much, but where
reason, too, reason, measure, sanity, also count for so much,—the Celt
has shown genius, indeed, splendid genius; but even here his faults have
clung to him, and hindered him from producing great works, such as other
nations with a genius for poetry,—the Greeks, say, or the Italians,—have
produced.  The Celt has not produced great poetical works, he has only
produced poetry with an air of greatness investing it all, and sometimes
giving, moreover, to short pieces, or to passages, lines, and snatches of
long pieces, singular beauty and power.  And yet he loved poetry so much
that he grudged no pains to it; but the true art, the _architectonicé_
which shapes great works, such as the _Agamemnon_ or the _Divine Comedy_,
comes only after a steady, deep-searching survey, a firm conception of
the facts of human life, which the Celt has not patience for.  So he runs
off into technic, where he employs the utmost elaboration, and attains
astonishing skill; but in the contents of his poetry you have only so
much interpretation of the world as the first dash of a quick, strong
perception, and then sentiment, infinite sentiment, can bring you.  Here,
too, his want of sanity and steadfastness has kept the Celt back from the
highest success.

If his rebellion against fact has thus lamed the Celt even in spiritual
work, how much more must it have lamed him in the world of business and
politics!  The skilful and resolute appliance of means to ends which is
needed both to make progress in material civilisation, and also to form
powerful states, is just what the Celt has least turn for.  He is
sensual, as I have said, or at least sensuous; loves bright colours,
company, and pleasure; and here he is like the Greek and Latin races; but
compare the talent the Greek and Latin (or Latinised) races have shown
for gratifying their senses, for procuring an outward life, rich,
luxurious, splendid, with the Celt’s failure to reach any material
civilisation sound and satisfying, and not out at elbows, poor, slovenly,
and half-barbarous.  The sensuousness of the Greek made Sybaris and
Corinth, the sensuousness of the Latin made Rome and Baiæ, the
sensuousness of the Latinised Frenchman makes Paris; the sensuousness of
the Celt proper has made Ireland.  Even in his ideal heroic times, his
gay and sensuous nature cannot carry him, in the appliances of his
favourite life of sociability and pleasure, beyond the gross and creeping
Saxon whom he despises; the regent Breas, we are told in the _Battle of
Moytura of the Fomorians_, became unpopular because ‘the knives of his
people were not greased at his table, nor did their breath smell of ale
at the banquet.’  In its grossness and barbarousness is not that Saxon,
as Saxon as it can be? just what the Latinised Norman, sensuous and
sociable like the Celt, but with the talent to make this bent of his
serve to a practical embellishment of his mode of living, found so
disgusting in the Saxon.

And as in material civilisation he has been ineffectual, so has the Celt
been ineffectual in politics.  This colossal, impetuous, adventurous
wanderer, the Titan of the early world, who in primitive times fills so
large a place on earth’s scene, dwindles and dwindles as history goes on,
and at last is shrunk to what we now see him.  For ages and ages the
world has been constantly slipping, ever more and more out of the Celt’s
grasp.  ‘They went forth to the war,’ Ossian says most truly, ‘_but they
always fell_.’

And yet, if one sets about constituting an ideal genius, what a great
deal of the Celt does one find oneself drawn to put into it!  Of an ideal
genius one does not want the elements, any of them, to be in a state of
weakness; on the contrary, one wants all of them to be in the highest
state of power; but with a law of measure, of harmony, presiding over the
whole.  So the sensibility of the Celt, if everything else were not
sacrificed to it, is a beautiful and admirable force.  For sensibility,
the power of quick and strong perception and emotion, is one of the very
prime constituents of genius, perhaps its most positive constituent; it
is to the soul what good senses are to the body, the grand natural
condition of successful activity.  Sensibility gives genius its
materials; one cannot have too much of it, if one can but keep its master
and not be its slave.  Do not let us wish that the Celt had had less
sensibility, but that he had been more master of it.  Even as it is, if
his sensibility has been a source of weakness to him, it has been a
source of power too, and a source of happiness.  Some people have found
in the Celtic nature and its sensibility the main root out of which
chivalry and romance and the glorification of a feminine ideal spring;
this is a great question, with which I cannot deal here.  Let me notice
in passing, however, that there is, in truth, a Celtic air about the
extravagance of chivalry, its reaction against the despotism of fact, its
straining human nature further than it will stand.  But putting all this
question of chivalry and its origin on one side, no doubt the sensibility
of the Celtic nature, its nervous exaltation, have something feminine in
them, and the Celt is thus peculiarly disposed to feel the spell of the
feminine idiosyncrasy; he has an affinity to it; he is not far from its
secret.  Again, his sensibility gives him a peculiarly near and intimate
feeling of nature and the life of nature; here, too, he seems in a
special way attracted by the secret before him, the secret of natural
beauty and natural magic, and to be close to it, to half-divine it.  In
the productions of the Celtic genius, nothing, perhaps, is so interesting
as the evidences of this power: I shall have occasion to give specimens
of them by-and-by.  The same sensibility made the Celts full of reverence
and enthusiasm for genius, learning, and the things of the mind; _to be a
bard_, _freed a man_,—that is a characteristic stroke of this generous
and ennobling ardour of theirs, which no race has ever shown more
strongly.  Even the extravagance and exaggeration of the sentimental
Celtic nature has often something romantic and attractive about it,
something which has a sort of smack of misdirected good.  The Celt,
undisciplinable, anarchical, and turbulent by nature, but out of
affection and admiration giving himself body and soul to some leader,
that is not a promising political temperament, it is just the opposite of
the Anglo-Saxon temperament, disciplinable and steadily obedient within
certain limits, but retaining an inalienable part of freedom and
self-dependence; but it is a temperament for which one has a kind of
sympathy notwithstanding.  And very often, for the gay defiant reaction
against fact of the lively Celtic nature one has more than sympathy; one
feels, in spite of the extravagance, in spite of good sense disapproving,
magnetised and exhilarated by it.  The Gauls had a rule inflicting a fine
on every warrior who, when he appeared on parade, was found to stick out
too much in front,—to be corpulent, in short.  Such a rule is surely the
maddest article of war ever framed, and to people to whom nature has
assigned a large volume of intestines, must appear, no doubt, horrible;
but yet has it not an audacious, sparkling, immaterial manner with it,
which lifts one out of routine, and sets one’s spirits in a glow?

All tendencies of human nature are in themselves vital and profitable;
when they are blamed, they are only to be blamed relatively, not
absolutely.  This holds true of the Saxon’s phlegm as well as of the
Celt’s sentiment.  Out of the steady humdrum habit of the creeping Saxon,
as the Celt calls him,—out of his way of going near the ground,—has come,
no doubt, Philistinism, that plant of essentially Germanic growth,
flourishing with its genuine marks only in the German fatherland, Great
Britain and her colonies, and the United States of America; but what a
soul of goodness there is in Philistinism itself! and this soul of
goodness I, who am often supposed to be Philistinism’s mortal enemy
merely because I do not wish it to have things all its own way, cherish
as much as anybody.  This steady-going habit leads at last, as I have
said, up to science, up to the comprehension and interpretation of the
world.  With us in Great Britain, it is true, it does not seem to lead so
far as that; it is in Germany, where the habit is more unmixed, that it
can lead to science.  Here with us it seems at a certain point to meet
with a conflicting force, which checks it and prevents its pushing on to
science; but before reaching this point what conquests has it not won!
and all the more, perhaps, for stopping short at this point, for spending
its exertions within a bounded field, the field of plain sense, of direct
practical utility.  How it has augmented the comforts and conveniences of
life for us!  Doors that open, windows that shut, locks that turn, razors
that shave, coats that wear, watches that go, and a thousand more such
good things, are the invention of the Philistines.

Here, then, if commingling there is in our race, are two very unlike
elements to commingle; the steady-going Saxon temperament and the
sentimental Celtic temperament.  But before we go on to try and verify,
in our life and literature, the alleged fact of this commingling, we have
yet another element to take into account, the Norman element.  The critic
in the _Saturday Review_, whom I have already quoted, says that in
looking for traces of Normanism in our national genius, as in looking for
traces of Celtism in it, we do but lose our labour; he says, indeed, that
there went to the original making of our nation a very great deal more of
a Norman element than of a Celtic element, but he asserts that both
elements have now so completely disappeared, that it is vain to look for
any trace of either of them in the modern Englishman.  But this sort of
assertion I do not like to admit without trying it a little.  I want,
therefore, to get some plain notion of the Norman habit and genius, as I
have sought to get some plain notion of the Saxon and Celtic.  Some
people will say that the Normans are Teutonic, and that therefore the
distinguishing characters of the German genius must be those of their
genius also; but the matter cannot be settled in this speedy fashion.  No
doubt the basis of the Norman race is Teutonic; but the governing point
in the history of the Norman race,—so far, at least, as we English have
to do with it,—is not its Teutonic origin, but its Latin civilisation.
The French people have, as I have already remarked, an undoubtedly Celtic
basis, yet so decisive in its effect upon a nation’s habit and character
can be the contact with a stronger civilisation, that Gaul, without
changing the basis of her blood, became, for all practical intents and
purposes, a Latin country, France and not Ireland, through the Roman
conquest.  Latinism conquered Celtism in her, as it also conquered the
Germanism imported by the Frankish and other invasions; Celtism is,
however, I need not say, everywhere manifest still in the French nation;
even Germanism is distinctly traceable in it, as any one who attentively
compares the French with other Latin races will see.  No one can look
carefully at the French troops in Rome, amongst the Italian population,
and not perceive this trace of Germanism; I do not mean in the Alsatian
soldiers only, but in the soldiers of genuine France.  But the governing
character of France, as a power in the world, is Latin; such was the
force of Greek and Roman civilisation upon a race whose whole mass
remained Celtic, and where the Celtic language still lingered on, they
say, among the common people, for some five or six centuries after the
Roman conquest.  But the Normans in Neustria lost their old Teutonic
language in a wonderfully short time; when they conquered England they
were already Latinised; with them were a number of Frenchmen by race, men
from Anjou and Poitou, so they brought into England more non-Teutonic
blood, besides what they had themselves got by intermarriage, than is
commonly supposed; the great point, however, is, that by civilisation
this vigorous race, when it took possession of England, was Latin.

These Normans, who in Neustria had lost their old Teutonic tongue so
rapidly, kept in England their new Latin tongue for some three centuries.
It was Edward the Third’s reign before English came to be used in
law-pleadings and spoken at court.  Why this difference?  Both in
Neustria and in England the Normans were a handful; but in Neustria, as
Teutons, they were in contact with a more advanced civilisation than
their own; in England, as Latins, with a less advanced.  The Latinised
Normans in England had the sense for fact, which the Celts had not; and
the love of strenuousness, clearness, and rapidity, the high Latin
spirit, which the Saxons had not.  They hated the slowness and dulness of
the creeping Saxon; it offended their clear, strenuous talent for
affairs, as it offended the Celt’s quick and delicate perception.  The
Normans had the Roman talent for affairs, the Roman decisiveness in
emergencies.  They have been called prosaic, but this is not a right word
for them; they were neither sentimental, nor, strictly speaking,
poetical.  They had more sense for rhetoric than for poetry, like the
Romans; but, like the Romans, they had too high a spirit not to like a
noble intellectual stimulus of some kind, and thus they were carried out
of the region of the merely prosaic.  Their foible,—the bad excess of
their characterising quality of strenuousness,—was not a prosaic
flatness, it was hardness and insolence.

I have been obliged to fetch a very wide circuit, but at last I have got
what I went to seek.  I have got a rough, but, I hope, clear notion of
these three forces, the Germanic genius, the Celtic genius, the Norman
genius.  The Germanic genius has steadiness as its main basis, with
commonness and humdrum for its defect, fidelity to nature for its
excellence.  The Celtic genius, sentiment as its main basis, with love of
beauty, charm, and spirituality for its excellence, ineffectualness and
self-will for its defect.  The Norman genius, talent for affairs as its
main basis, with strenuousness and clear rapidity for its excellence,
hardness and insolence for its defect.  And now to try and trace these in
the composite English genius.



V.


To begin with what is more external.  If we are so wholly Anglo-Saxon and
Germanic as people say, how comes it that the habits and gait of the
German language are so exceedingly unlike ours?  Why while the _Times_
talks in this fashion: ‘At noon a long line of carriages extended from
Pall Mall to the Peers’ entrance of the Palace of Westminster,’ does the
_Cologne Gazette_ talk in this other fashion: ‘Nachdem die Vorbereitungen
zu dem auf dem GürzenichSaale zu Ebren der Abgeordneten Statt finden
sollenden Bankette bereits vollständig getroffen worden waren, fand heute
vormittag auf polizeiliche Anordnung die Schliessung sämmtlicher Zugänge
zum Gürzenich Statt’? {97}  Surely the mental habit of people who express
their thoughts in so very different a manner, the one rapid, the other
slow, the one plain, the other embarrassed, the one trailing, the other
striding, cannot be essentially the same.  The English language, strange
compound as it is, with its want of inflections, and with all the
difficulties which this want of inflections brings upon it, has yet made
itself capable of being, in good hands, a business-instrument as ready,
direct, and clear, as French or Latin.  Again: perhaps no nation, after
the Greeks and Romans, has so clearly felt in what true rhetoric,
rhetoric of the best kind, consists, and reached so high a pitch of
excellence in this, as the English.  Our sense for rhetoric has in some
ways done harm to us in our cultivation of literature, harm to us, still
more, in our cultivation of science; but in the true sphere of rhetoric,
in public speaking, this sense has given us orators whom I do think we
may, without fear of being contradicted and accused of blind national
vanity, assert to have inherited the great Greek and Roman oratorical
tradition more than the orators of any other country.  Strafford,
Bolingbroke, the two Pitts, Fox,—to cite no other names,—I imagine few
will dispute that these call up the notion of an oratory, in kind, in
extent, in power, coming nearer than any other body of modern oratory to
the oratory of Greece and Rome.  And the affinity of spirit in our best
public life and greatest public men to those of Rome, has often struck
observers, foreign as well as English.  Now, not only have the Germans
shown no eminent aptitude for rhetoric such as the English have
shown,—that was not to be expected, since our public life has done so
much to develop an aptitude of this kind, and the public life of the
Germans has done so little,—but they seem in a singular degree devoid of
any aptitude at all for rhetoric.  Take a speech from the throne in
Prussia, and compare it with a speech from the throne in England.
Assuredly it is not in speeches from the throne that English rhetoric or
any rhetoric shows its best side;—they are often cavilled at, often
justly cavilled at;—no wonder, for this form of composition is beset with
very trying difficulties.  But what is to be remarked is this;—a speech
from the throne falls essentially within the sphere of rhetoric, it is
one’s sense of rhetoric which has to fix its tone and style, so as to
keep a certain note always sounding in it; in an English speech from the
throne, whatever its faults, this rhetorical note is always struck and
kept to; in a Prussian speech from the throne, never.  An English speech
from the throne is rhetoric; a Prussian speech is half talk,—heavy
talk,—and half effusion.  This is one instance, it may be said; true, but
in one instance of this kind the presence or the absence of an aptitude
for rhetoric is decisively shown.  Well, then, why am I not to say that
we English get our rhetorical sense from the Norman element in us,—our
turn for this strenuous, direct, high-spirited talent of oratory, from
the influence of the strenuous, direct, high-spirited Normans?  Modes of
life, institutions, government, and other such causes, are sufficient, I
shall be told, to account for English oratory.  Modes of life,
institutions, government, climate, and so forth,—let me say it once for
all,—will further or hinder the development of an aptitude, but they will
not by themselves create the aptitude or explain it.  On the other hand,
a people’s habit and complexion of nature go far to determine its modes
of life, institutions, and government, and even to prescribe the limits
within which the influences of climate shall tell upon it.

However, it is not my intention, in these remarks, to lay it down for
certain that this or that part of our powers, shortcomings, and
behaviour, is due to a Celtic, German, or Norman element in us.  To
establish this I should need much wider limits, and a knowledge, too, far
beyond what I possess; all I purpose is to point out certain
correspondences, not yet, perhaps, sufficiently observed and attended to,
which seem to lead towards certain conclusions.  The following up the
inquiry till full proof is reached,—or perhaps, full disproof,—is what I
want to suggest to more competent persons.  Premising this, I now go on
to a second matter, somewhat more delicate and inward than that with
which I began.  Every one knows how well the Greek and Latin races, with
their direct sense for the visible, palpable world, have succeeded in the
plastic arts.  The sheer German races, too, with their honest love of
fact, and their steady pursuit of it,—their fidelity to nature, in
short,—have attained a high degree of success in these arts; few people
will deny that Albert Dürer and Rubens, for example, are to be called
masters in painting, and in the high kind of painting.  The Celtic races,
on the other hand, have shown a singular inaptitude for the plastic arts;
the abstract, severe character of the Druidical religion, its dealing
with the eye of the mind rather than the eye of the body, its having no
elaborate temples and beautiful idols, all point this way from the first;
its sentiment cannot satisfy itself, cannot even find a resting-place for
itself, in colour and form; it presses on to the impalpable, the ideal.
The forest of trees and the forest of rocks, not hewn timber and carved
stones, suit its aspirations for something not to be bounded or
expressed.  With this tendency, the Celtic races have, as I remarked
before, been necessarily almost impotent in the higher branches of the
plastic arts.  Ireland, that has produced so many powerful spirits, has
produced no great sculptors or painters.  Cross into England.  The
inaptitude for the plastic art strikingly diminishes, as soon as the
German, not the Celtic element, preponderates in the race.  And yet in
England, too, in the English race, there is something which seems to
prevent our reaching real mastership in the plastic arts, as the more
unmixed German races have reached it.  Reynolds and Turner are painters
of genius, who can doubt it? but take a European jury, the only competent
jury in these cases, and see if you can get a verdict giving them the
rank of masters, as this rank is given to Raphael and Correggio, or to
Albert Dürer and Rubens.  And observe in what points our English pair
succeed, and in what they fall short.  They fall short in
_architectonicé_, in the highest power of composition, by which painting
accomplishes the very uttermost which it is given to painting to
accomplish; the highest sort of composition, the highest application of
the art of painting, they either do not attempt, or they fail in it.
Their defect, therefore, is on the side of art, of plastic art.  And they
succeed in magic, in beauty, in grace, in expressing almost the
inexpressible: here is the charm of Reynolds’s children and Turner’s
seas; the impulse to express the inexpressible carries Turner so far,
that at last it carries him away, and even long before he is quite
carried away, even in works that are justly extolled, one can see the
stamp-mark, as the French say, of insanity.  The excellence, therefore,
the success, is on the side of spirit.  Does not this look as if a Celtic
stream met the main German current in us, and gave it a somewhat
different course from that which it takes naturally?  We have Germanism
enough in us, enough patient love for fact and matter, to be led to
attempt the plastic arts, and we make much more way in them than the pure
Celtic races make; but at a certain point our Celtism comes in, with its
love of emotion, sentiment, the inexpressible, and gives our best
painters a bias.  And the point at which it comes in is just that
critical point where the flowering of art into its perfection commences;
we have plenty of painters who never reach this point at all, but remain
always mere journeymen, in bondage to matter; but those who do reach it,
instead of going on to the true consummation of the masters in painting,
are a little overbalanced by soul and feeling, work too directly for
these, and so do not get out of their art all that may be got out of it.

The same modification of our Germanism by another force which seems
Celtic, is visible in our religion.  Here, too, we may trace a gradation
between Celt, Englishman, and German, the difference which distinguishes
Englishman from German appearing attributable to a Celtic element in us.
Germany is the land of exegesis, England is the land of Puritanism.  The
religion of Wales is more emotional and sentimental than English
Puritanism; Romanism has indeed given way to Calvinism among the
Welsh,—the one superstition has supplanted the other,—but the Celtic
sentiment which made the Welsh such devout Catholics, remains, and gives
unction to their Methodism; theirs is not the controversial,
rationalistic, intellectual side of Protestantism, but the devout,
emotional, religious side.  Among the Germans, Protestantism has been
carried on into rationalism and science.  The English hold a middle place
between the Germans and the Welsh; their religion has the exterior forms
and apparatus of a rationalism, so far their Germanic nature carries
them; but long before they get to science, their feeling, their Celtic
element catches them, and turns their religion all towards piety and
unction.  So English Protestantism has the outside appearance of an
intellectual system, and the inside reality of an emotional system: this
gives it its tenacity and force, for what is held with the ardent
attachment of feeling is believed to have at the same time the scientific
proof of reason.  The English Puritan, therefore (and Puritanism is the
characteristic form of English Protestantism), stands between the German
Protestant and the Celtic Methodist; his real affinity indeed, at
present, being rather with his Welsh kinsman, if kinsman he may be
called, than with his German.

Sometimes one is left in doubt from whence the check and limit to
Germanism in us proceeds, whether from a Celtic source or from a Norman
source.  Of the true steady-going German nature the bane is, as I
remarked, flat commonness; there seems no end to its capacity for
platitude; it has neither the quick perception of the Celt to save it
from platitude, nor the strenuousness of the Norman; it is only raised
gradually out of it by science, but it jogs through almost interminable
platitudes first.  The English nature is not raised to science, but
something in us, whether Celtic or Norman, seems to set a bound to our
advance in platitude, to make us either shy of platitude, or impatient of
it.  I open an English reading-book for children, and I find these two
characteristic stories in it, one of them of English growth, the other of
German.  Take the English story first:—

‘A little boy accompanied his elder sister while she busied herself with
the labours of the farm, asking questions at every step, and learning the
lessons of life without being aware of it.

‘“Why, dear Jane,” he said, “do you scatter good grain on the ground;
would it not be better to make good bread of it than to throw it to the
greedy chickens?”

‘“In time,” replied Jane, “the chickens will grow big, and each of them
will fetch money at the market.  One must think on the end to be attained
without counting trouble, and learn to wait.”

‘Perceiving a colt, which looked eagerly at him, the little boy cried
out: “Jane, why is the colt not in the fields with the labourers helping
to draw the carts?”

‘“The colt is young,” replied Jane, “and he must lie idle till he gets
the necessary strength; one must not sacrifice the future to the
present.”’

The reader will say that is most mean and trivial stuff, the vulgar
English nature in full force; just such food as the Philistine would
naturally provide for his young.  He will say he can see the boy fed upon
it growing up to be like his father, to be all for business, to despise
culture, to go through his dull days, and to die without having ever
lived.  That may be so; but now take the German story (one of
Krummacher’s), and see the difference:—

‘There lived at the court of King Herod a rich man who was the king’s
chamberlain.  He clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and fared like
the king himself.

‘Once a friend of his youth, whom he had not seen for many years, came
from a distant land to pay him a visit.  Then the chamberlain invited all
his friends and made a feast in honour of the stranger.

‘The tables were covered with choice food placed on dishes of gold and
silver, and the finest wines of all kinds.  The rich man sat at the head
of the table, glad to do the honours to his friend who was seated at his
right hand.  So they ate and drank, and were merry.

‘Then the stranger said to the chamberlain of King Herod: “Riches and
splendour like thine are nowhere to be found in my country.”  And he
praised his greatness, and called him happy above all men on earth.

‘Well, the rich man took an apple from a golden vessel.  The apple was
large, and red, and pleasant to the eye.  Then said be: “Behold, this
apple hath rested on gold, and its form is very beautiful.”  And he
presented it to the stranger, the friend of his youth.  The stranger cut
the apple in two; and behold, in the middle of it there was a worm!

‘Then the stranger looked at the chamberlain; and the chamberlain bent
his eyes on the ground and sighed.’

There it ends.  Now I say, one sees there an abyss of platitude open, and
the German nature swimming calmly about in it, which seems in some way or
other to have its entry screened off for the English nature.  The English
story leads with a direct issue into practical life: a narrow and dry
practical life, certainly, but yet enough to supply a plain motive for
the story; the German story leads simply nowhere except into bathos.
Shall we say that the Norman talent for affairs saves us here, or the
Celtic perceptive instinct? one of them it must be, surely.  The Norman
turn seems most germane to the matter here immediately in hand; on the
other hand, the Celtic turn, or some degree of it, some degree of its
quick perceptive instinct, seems necessary to account for the full
difference between the German nature and ours.  Even in Germans of genius
or talent the want of quick light tact, of instinctive perception of the
impropriety or impossibility of certain things, is singularly remarkable.
Herr Gervinus’s prodigious discovery about Handel being an Englishman and
Shakspeare a German, the incredible mare’s-nest Goethe finds in looking
for the origin of Byron’s Manfred,—these are things from which no
deliberate care or reflection can save a man; only an instinct can save
him from them, an instinct that they are absurd; who can imagine Charles
Lamb making Herr Gervinus’s blunder, or Shakspeare making Goethe’s? but
from the sheer German nature this intuitive tact seems something so
alien, that even genius fails to give it.  And yet just what constitutes
special power and genius in a man seems often to be his blending with the
basis of his national temperament, some additional gift or grace not
proper to that temperament; Shakspeare’s greatness is thus in his
blending an openness and flexibility of spirit, not English, with the
English basis; Addison’s, in his blending a moderation and delicacy, not
English, with the English basis; Burke’s in his blending a largeness of
view and richness of thought, not English, with the English basis.  In
Germany itself, in the same way, the greatness of their great Frederic
lies in his blending a rapidity and clearness, not German, with the
German basis; the greatness of Goethe in his blending a love of form,
nobility, and dignity,—the grand style,—with the German basis.  But the
quick, sure, instinctive perception of the incongruous and absurd not
even genius seems to give in Germany; at least, I can think of only one
German of genius, Lessing (for Heine was a Jew, and the Jewish
temperament is quite another thing from the German), who shows it in an
eminent degree.

If we attend closely to the terms by which foreigners seek to hit off the
impression which we and the Germans make upon them, we shall detect in
these terms a difference which makes, I think, in favour of the notion I
am propounding.  Nations in hitting off one another’s characters are apt,
we all know, to seize the unflattering side rather than the flattering;
the mass of mankind always do this, and indeed they really see what is
novel, and not their own, in a disfiguring light.  Thus we ourselves, for
instance, popularly say ‘the phlegmatic Dutchman’ rather than ‘the
sensible Dutchman,’ or ‘the grimacing Frenchman’ rather than ‘the polite
Frenchman.’  Therefore neither we nor the Germans should exactly accept
the description strangers give of us, but it is enough for my purpose
that strangers, in characterising us with a certain shade of difference,
do at any rate make it clear that there appears this shade of difference,
though the character itself, which they give us both, may be a caricature
rather than a faithful picture of us.  Now it is to be noticed that those
sharp observers, the French,—who have a double turn for sharp
observation, for they have both the quick perception of the Celt and the
Latin’s gift for coming plump upon the fact,—it is to be noticed, I say,
that the French put a curious distinction in their popular, depreciating,
we will hope inadequate, way of hitting off us and the Germans.  While
they talk of the ‘_bêtise_ allemande,’ they talk of the ‘_gaucherie_
anglaise;’ while they talk of the ‘Allemand _balourd_,’ they talk of the
‘Anglais _empêtré_;’ while they call the German ‘_niais_,’ they call the
Englishman ‘_mélancolique_.’  The difference between the epithets
_balourd_ and _empêtré_ exactly gives the difference in character I wish
to seize; _balourd_ means heavy and dull, _empêtré_ means hampered and
embarrassed.  This points to a certain mixture and strife of elements in
the Englishman; to the clashing of a Celtic quickness of perception with
a Germanic instinct for going steadily along close to the ground.  The
Celt, as we have seen, has not at all, in spite of his quick perception,
the Latin talent for dealing with the fact, dexterously managing it and
making himself master of it; Latin or Latinised people have felt contempt
for him on this account, have treated him as a poor creature, just as the
German, who arrives at fact in a different way from the Latins, but who
arrives at it, has treated him.  The couplet of Chrestien of Troyes about
the Welsh:—

    . . . Gallois sont tous, par nature,
    Plus fous que bêtes en pâsture—

is well known, and expresses the genuine verdict of the Latin mind on the
Celts.  But the perceptive instinct of the Celt feels and anticipates,
though he has that in him which cuts him off from command of the world of
fact; he sees what is wanting to him well enough; his mere eye is not
less sharp, nay, it is sharper, than the Latin’s.  He is a quick genius,
checkmated for want of strenuousness or else patience.  The German has
not the Latin’s sharp precise glance on the world of fact, and dexterous
behaviour in it; he fumbles with it much and long, but his honesty and
patience give him the rule of it in the long run,—a surer rule, some of
us think, than the Latin gets; still, his behaviour in it is not quick
and dexterous.  The Englishman, in so far as he is German,—and he is
mainly German,—proceeds in the steady-going German fashion; if he were
all German he would proceed thus for ever without self-consciousness or
embarrassment; but, in so far as he is Celtic, he has snatches of quick
instinct which often make him feel he is fumbling, show him visions of an
easier, more dexterous behaviour, disconcert him and fill him with
misgiving.  No people, therefore, are so shy, so self-conscious, so
embarrassed as the English, because two natures are mixed in them, and
natures which pull them such different ways.  The Germanic part, indeed,
triumphs in us, we are a Germanic people; but not so wholly as to exclude
hauntings of Celtism, which clash with our Germanism, producing, as I
believe, our _humour_, neither German nor Celtic, and so affect us that
we strike people as odd and singular, not to be referred to any known
type, and like nothing but ourselves.  ‘Nearly every Englishman,’ says an
excellent and by no means unfriendly observer, George Sand, ‘nearly every
Englishman, however good-looking he may be, has always something singular
about him which easily comes to seem comic;—a sort of typical awkwardness
(_gaucherie typique_) in his looks or appearance, which hardly ever wears
out.’  I say this strangeness is accounted for by the English nature
being mixed as we have seen, while the Latin nature is all of a piece,
and so is the German nature, and the Celtic nature.

It is impossible to go very fast when the matter with which one has to
deal, besides being new and little explored, is also by its nature so
subtle, eluding one’s grasp unless one handles it with all possible
delicacy and care.  It is in our poetry that the Celtic part in us has
left its trace clearest, and in our poetry I must follow it before I have
done.



VI.


If I were asked where English poetry got these three things, its turn for
style, its turn for melancholy, and its turn for natural magic, for
catching and rendering the charm of nature in a wonderfully near and
vivid way,—I should answer, with some doubt, that it got much of its turn
for style from a Celtic source; with less doubt, that it got much of its
melancholy from a Celtic source; with no doubt at all, that from a Celtic
source it got nearly all its natural magic.

Any German with penetration and tact in matters of literary criticism
will own that the principal deficiency of German poetry is in style; that
for style, in the highest sense, it shows but little feeling.  Take the
eminent masters of style, the poets who best give the idea of what the
peculiar power which lies in style is, Pindar, Virgil, Dante, Milton.  An
example of the peculiar effect which these poets produce, you can hardly
give from German poetry.  Examples enough you can give from German poetry
of the effect produced by genius, thought, and feeling expressing
themselves in clear language, simple language, passionate language,
eloquent language, with harmony and melody; but not of the peculiar
effect exercised by eminent power of style.  Every reader of Dante can at
once call to mind what the peculiar effect I mean is; I spoke of it in my
lectures on translating Homer, and there I took an example of it from
Dante, who perhaps manifests it more eminently than any other poet.  But
from Milton, too, one may take examples of it abundantly; compare this
from Milton:—

    . . . nor sometimes forget
    Those other two equal with me in fate,
    So were I equall’d with them in renown,
    Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides—

with this from Goethe:—

    Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille,
    Sich ein Character in dem Strom der Welt.

Nothing can be better in its way than the style in which Goethe there
presents his thought, but it is the style of prose as much as of poetry;
it is lucid, harmonious, earnest, eloquent, but it has not received that
peculiar kneading, heightening, and re-casting which is observable in the
style of the passage from Milton,—a style which seems to have for its
cause a certain pressure of emotion, and an ever-surging, yet bridled,
excitement in the poet, giving a special intensity to his way of
delivering himself.  In poetical races and epochs this turn for style is
peculiarly observable; and perhaps it is only on condition of having this
somewhat heightened and difficult manner, so different from the plain
manner of prose, that poetry gets the privilege of being loosed, at its
best moments, into that perfectly simple, limpid style, which is the
supreme style of all, but the simplicity of which is still not the
simplicity of prose.  The simplicity of Menander’s style is the
simplicity of prose, and is the same kind of simplicity as that which
Goethe’s style, in the passage I have quoted, exhibits; but Menander does
not belong to a great poetical moment, he comes too late for it; it is
the simple passages in poets like Pindar or Dante which are perfect,
being masterpieces of _poetical_ simplicity.  One may say the same of the
simple passages in Shakspeare; they are perfect, their simplicity being a
_poetical_ simplicity.  They are the golden, easeful, crowning moments of
a manner which is always pitched in another key from that of prose; a
manner changed and heightened; the Elizabethan style, regnant in most of
our dramatic poetry to this day, is mainly the continuation of this
manner of Shakspeare’s.  It was a manner much more turbid and strewn with
blemishes than the manner of Pindar, Dante, or Milton; often it was
detestable; but it owed its existence to Shakspeare’s instinctive impulse
towards _style_ in poetry, to his native sense of the necessity for it;
and without the basis of style everywhere, faulty though it may in some
places be, we should not have had the beauty of expression, unsurpassable
for effectiveness and charm, which is reached in Shakspeare’s best
passages.  The turn for style is perceptible all through English poetry,
proving, to my mind, the genuine poetical gift of the race; this turn
imparts to our poetry a stamp of high distinction, and sometimes it
doubles the force of a poet not by nature of the very highest order, such
as Gray, and raises him to a rank beyond what his natural richness and
power seem to promise.  Goethe, with his fine critical perception, saw
clearly enough both the power of style in itself, and the lack of style
in the literature of his own country; and perhaps if we regard him solely
as a German, not as a European, his great work was that he laboured all
his life to impart style into German literature, and firmly to establish
it there.  Hence the immense importance to him of the world of classical
art, and of the productions of Greek or Latin genius, where style so
eminently manifests its power.  Had he found in the German genius and
literature an element of style existing by nature and ready to his hand,
half his work, one may say, would have been saved him, and he might have
done much more in poetry.  But as it was, he had to try and create out of
his own powers, a style for German poetry, as well as to provide contents
for this style to carry; and thus his labour as a poet was doubled.

It is to be observed that power of style, in the sense in which I am here
speaking of style, is something quite different from the power of
idiomatic, simple, nervous, racy expression, such as the expression of
healthy, robust natures so often is, such as Luther’s was in a striking
degree.  Style, in my sense of the word, is a peculiar re-casting and
heightening, under a certain condition of spiritual excitement, of what a
man has to say, in such a manner as to add dignity and distinction to it;
and dignity and distinction are not terms which suit many acts or words
of Luther.  Deeply touched with the _Gemeinheit_ which is the bane of his
nation, as he is at the same time a grand example of the honesty which is
his nation’s excellence, he can seldom even show himself brave, resolute
and truthful, without showing a strong dash of coarseness and commonness
all the while; the right definition of Luther, as of our own Bunyan, is
that he is a Philistine of genius.  So Luther’s sincere idiomatic
German,—such language is this: ‘Hilf lieber Gott, wie manchen Jammer habe
ich gesehen, dass der gemeine Mann doch so gar nichts weiss von der
christlichen Lehre!’—no more proves a power of style in German
literature, than Cobbett’s sinewy idiomatic English proves it in English
literature.  Power of style, properly so-called, as manifested in masters
of style like Dante or Milton in poetry, Cicero, Bossuet or Bolingbroke
in prose, is something quite different, and has, as I have said, for its
characteristic effect, this: to add dignity and distinction.

Style, then, the Germans are singularly without, and it is strange that
the power of style should show itself so strongly as it does in the
Icelandic poetry, if the Scandinavians are such genuine Teutons as is
commonly supposed.  Fauriel used to talk of the Scandinavian Teutons and
the German Teutons, as if they were two divisions of the same people, and
the common notion about them, no doubt, is very much this.  Since the war
in Schleswig-Holstein, however, all one’s German friends are exceedingly
anxious to insist on the difference of nature between themselves and the
Scandinavians; when one expresses surprise that the German sense of
nationality should be so deeply affronted by the rule over Germans, not
of Latins or Celts, but of brother Teutons or next door to it, a German
will give you I know not how long a catalogue of the radical points of
unlikeness, in genius and disposition, between himself and a Dane.  This
emboldens me to remark that there is a fire, a sense of style, a
distinction, in Icelandic poetry, which German poetry has not.  Icelandic
poetry, too, shows a powerful and developed technic; and I wish to throw
out, for examination by those who are competent to sift the matter, the
suggestion that this power of style and development of technic in the
Norse poetry seems to point towards an early Celtic influence or
intermixture.  It is curious that Zeuss, in his grammar, quotes a text
which gives countenance to this notion; as late as the ninth century, he
says, there were Irish Celts in Iceland; and the text he quotes to show
this, is as follows:—‘In 870 A.D., when the Norwegians came to Iceland,
there were Christians there, who departed, and left behind them Irish
books, bells, and other things; from whence it may be inferred that these
Christians were Irish.’  I speak, and ought to speak, with the utmost
diffidence on all these questions of ethnology; but I must say that when
I read this text in Zeuss, I caught eagerly at the clue it seemed to
offer; for I had been hearing the _Nibelungen_ read and commented on in
German schools (German schools have the good habit of reading and
commenting on German poetry, as we read and comment on Homer and Virgil,
but do _not_ read and comment on Chaucer and Shakspeare), and it struck
me how the fatal humdrum and want of style of the Germans had marred
their way of telling this magnificent tradition of the _Nibelungen_, and
taken half its grandeur and power out of it; while in the Icelandic poems
which deal with this tradition, its grandeur and power are much more
fully visible, and everywhere in the poetry of the Edda there is a force
of style and a distinction as unlike as possible to the want of both in
the German _Nibelungen_. {120}  At the same time the Scandinavians have a
realism, as it is called, in their genius, which abundantly proves their
relationship with the Germans; any one whom Mr. Dasent’s delightful books
have made acquainted with the prose tales of the Norsemen, will be struck
with the stamp of a Teutonic nature in them; but the Norse poetry seems
to have something which from Teutonic sources alone it could not have
derived; which the Germans have not, and which the Celts have.

This something is _style_, and the Celts certainly have it in a wonderful
measure.  Style is the most striking quality of their poetry.  Celtic
poetry seems to make up to itself for being unable to master the world
and give an adequate interpretation of it, by throwing all its force into
style, by bending language at any rate to its will, and expressing the
ideas it has with unsurpassable intensity, elevation, and effect.  It has
all through it a sort of intoxication of style,—a _Pindarism_, to use a
word formed from the name of the poet, on whom, above all other poets,
the power of style seems to have exercised an inspiring and intoxicating
effect; and not in its great poets only, in Taliesin, or Llywarch Hen, or
Ossian, does the Celtic genius show this Pindarism, but in all its
productions:—

    The grave of March is this, and this the grave of Gwythyr;
    Here is the grave of Gwgawn Gleddyfreidd;
    But unknown is the grave of Arthur.

That comes from the Welsh _Memorials of the Graves of the Warriors_, and
if we compare it with the familiar memorial inscriptions of an English
churchyard (for we English have so much Germanism in us that our
productions offer abundant examples of German want of style as well as of
its opposite):—

    Afflictions sore long time I bore,
    Physicians were in vain,
    Till God did please Death should me seize
    And ease me of my pain—

if, I say, we compare the Welsh memorial lines with the English, which in
their _Gemeinheit_ of style are truly Germanic, we shall get a clear
sense of what that Celtic talent for style I have been speaking of is.

Or take this epitaph of an Irish Celt, Angus the Culdee, whose _Féliré_,
or festology, I have already mentioned; a festology in which, at the end
of the eighth or beginning of the ninth century, he collected from ‘the
countless hosts of the illuminated books of Erin’ (to use his own words)
the festivals of the Irish saints, his poem having a stanza for every day
in the year.  The epitaph on Angus, who died at Cluain Eidhnech, in
Queen’s County, runs thus:—

    Angus in the assembly of Heaven,
    Here are his tomb and his bed;
    It is from hence he went to death,
    In the Friday, to holy Heaven.

    It was in Cluain Eidhnech he was rear’d;
    It was in Cluain Eidhnech he was buried;
    In Cluain Eidhnech, of many crosses,
    He first read his psalms.

That is by no eminent hand; and yet a Greek epitaph could not show a
finer perception of what constitutes propriety and felicity of style in
compositions of this nature.  Take the well-known Welsh prophecy about
the fate of the Britons:—

    Their Lord they will praise,
    Their speech they will keep,
    Their land they will lose,
    Except wild Wales.

To however late an epoch that prophecy belongs, what a feeling for style,
at any rate, it manifests!  And the same thing may be said of the famous
Welsh triads.  We may put aside all the vexed questions as to their
greater or less antiquity, and still what important witness they bear to
the genius for literary style of the people who produced them!

Now we English undoubtedly exhibit very often the want of sense for style
of our German kinsmen.  The churchyard lines I just now quoted afford an
instance of it: but the whole branch of our literature,—and a very
popular branch it is, our hymnology,—to which those lines are to be
referred, is one continued instance of it.  Our German kinsmen and we are
the great people for hymns.  The Germans are very proud of their hymns,
and we are very proud of ours; but it is hard to say which of the two,
the German hymn-book or ours, has least poetical worth in itself, or does
least to prove genuine poetical power in the people producing it.  I have
not a word to say against Sir Roundell Palmer’s choice and arrangement of
materials for his _Book of Praise_; I am content to put them on a level
(and that is giving them the highest possible rank) with Mr. Palgrave’s
choice and arrangement of materials for his _Golden Treasury_; but yet no
sound critic can doubt that, so far as poetry is concerned, while the
_Golden Treasury_ is a monument of a nation’s strength, the _Book of
Praise_ is a monument of a nation’s weakness.  Only the German race, with
its want of quick instinctive tact, of delicate, sure perception, could
have invented the hymn as the Germans and we have it; and our non-German
turn for style,—style, of which the very essence is a certain happy
fineness and truth of poetical perception,—could not but desert us when
our German nature carried us into a kind of composition which can please
only when the perception is somewhat blunt.  Scarcely any one of us ever
judges our hymns fairly, because works of this kind have two sides,—their
side for religion and their side for poetry.  Everything which has helped
a man in his religious life, everything which associates itself in his
mind with the growth of that life, is beautiful and venerable to him; in
this way, productions of little or no poetical value, like the German
hymns and ours, may come to be regarded as very precious.  Their worth in
this sense, as means by which we have been edified, I do not for a moment
hold cheap; but there is an edification proper to all our stages of
development, the highest as well as the lowest, and it is for man to
press on towards the highest stages of his development, with the
certainty that for those stages, too, means of edification will not be
found wanting.  Now certainly it is a higher state of development when
our fineness of perception is keen than when it is blunt.  And
if,—whereas the Semitic genius placed its highest spiritual life in the
religious sentiment, and made that the basis of its poetry,—the
Indo-European genius places its highest spiritual life in the imaginative
reason, and makes that the basis of its poetry, we are none the better
for wanting the perception to discern a natural law, which is, after all,
like every natural law, irresistible; we are none the better for trying
to make ourselves Semitic, when Nature has made us Indo-European, and to
shift the basis of our poetry.  We may mean well; all manner of good may
happen to us on the road we go; but we are not on our real right road,
the road we must in the end follow.

That is why, when our hymns betray a false tendency by losing a power
which accompanies the poetical work of our race on our other more
suitable lines, the indication thus given is of great value and
instructiveness for us.  One of our main gifts for poetry deserts us in
our hymns, and so gives us a hint as to the one true basis for the
spiritual work of an Indo-European people, which the Germans, who have
not this particular gift of ours, do not and cannot get in this way,
though they may get it in others.  It is worth noticing that the
masterpieces of the spiritual work of Indo-Europeans, taking the pure
religious sentiment, and not the imaginative reason, for their basis, are
works like the _Imitation_, the _Dies Iræ_, the _Stabat Mater_—works
clothing themselves in the middle-age Latin, the genuine native voice of
no Indo-European nation.  The perfection of their kind, but that kind not
perfectly legitimate, they take a language not perfectly legitimate; as
if to show, that when mankind’s Semitic age is once passed, the age which
produced the great incomparable monuments of the pure religious
sentiment, the books of Job and Isaiah, the Psalms,—works truly to be
called inspired, because the same divine power which worked in those who
produced them works no longer,—as if to show us, that, after this
primitive age, we Indo-Europeans must feel these works without attempting
to re-make them; and that our poetry, if it tries to make itself simply
the organ of the religious sentiment, leaves the true course, and must
conceal this by not speaking a living language.  The moment it speaks a
living language, and still makes itself the organ of the religious
sentiment only, as in the German and English hymns, it betrays
weakness;—the weakness of all false tendency.

But if by attending to the Germanism in us English and to its works, one
has come to doubt whether we, too, are not thorough Germans by genius and
with the German deadness to style, one has only to repeat to oneself a
line of Milton,—a poet intoxicated with the passion for style as much as
Taliesin or Pindar,—to see that we have another side to our genius beside
the German one.  Whence do we get it?  The Normans may have brought in
among us the Latin sense for rhetoric and style,—for, indeed, this sense
goes naturally with a high spirit and a strenuousness like theirs,—but
the sense for style which English poetry shows is something finer than we
could well have got from a people so positive and so little poetical as
the Normans; and it seems to me we may much more plausibly derive it from
a root of the poetical Celtic nature in us.

Its chord of penetrating passion and melancholy, again, its _Titanism_ as
we see it in Byron,—what other European poetry possesses that like the
English, and where do we get it from?  The Celts, with their vehement
reaction against the despotism of fact, with their sensuous nature, their
manifold striving, their adverse destiny, their immense calamities, the
Celts are the prime authors of this vein of piercing regret and
passion,—of this Titanism in poetry.  A famous book, Macpherson’s
_Ossian_, carried in the last century this vein like a flood of lava
through Europe.  I am not going to criticise Macpherson’s _Ossian_ here.
Make the part of what is forged, modern, tawdry, spurious, in the book,
as large as you please; strip Scotland, if you like, of every feather of
borrowed plumes which on the strength of Macpherson’s _Ossian_ she may
have stolen from that _vetus et major Scotia_, the true home of the
Ossianic poetry, Ireland; I make no objection.  But there will still be
left in the book a residue with the very soul of the Celtic genius in it,
and which has the proud distinction of having brought this soul of the
Celtic genius into contact with the genius of the nations of modern
Europe, and enriched all our poetry by it.  Woody Morven, and echoing
Sora, and Selma with its silent halls!—we all owe them a debt of
gratitude, and when we are unjust enough to forget it, may the Muse
forget us!  Choose any one of the better passages in Macpherson’s
_Ossian_ and you can see even at this time of day what an apparition of
newness and power such a strain must have been to the eighteenth
century:—

‘I have seen the walls of Balclutha, but they were desolate.  The fox
looked out from the windows, the rank grass of the wall waved round her
head.  Raise the song of mourning, O bards, over the land of strangers.
They have but fallen before us, for one day we must fall.  Why dost thou
build the hall, son of the winged days?  Thou lookest from thy towers
to-day; yet a few years, and the blast of the desert comes; it howls in
thy empty court, and whistles round thy half-worn shield.  Let the blast
of the desert come! we shall be renowned in our day.’

All Europe felt the power of that melancholy; but what I wish to point
out is, that no nation of Europe so caught in its poetry the passionate
penetrating accent of the Celtic genius, its strain of Titanism, as the
English.  Goethe, like Napoleon, felt the spell of Ossian very
powerfully, and he quotes a long passage from him in his _Werther_.  But
what is there Celtic, turbulent, and Titanic about the German Werther,
that amiable, cultivated, and melancholy young man, having for his sorrow
and suicide the perfectly definite motive that Lotte cannot be his?
Faust, again, has nothing unaccountable, defiant and Titanic in him; his
knowledge does not bring him the satisfaction he expected from it, and
meanwhile he finds himself poor and growing old, and baulked of the
palpable enjoyment of life; and here is the motive for Faust’s
discontent.  In the most energetic and impetuous of Goethe’s
creations,—his _Prometheus_,—it is not Celtic self-will and passion, it
is rather the Germanic sense of justice and reason, which revolts against
the despotism of Zeus.  The German _Sehnsucht_ itself is a wistful, soft,
tearful longing, rather than a struggling, fierce, passionate one.  But
the Celtic melancholy is struggling, fierce, passionate; to catch its
note, listen to Llywarch Hen in old age, addressing his crutch:—

    O my crutch! is it not autumn, when the fern is red, the water-flag
    yellow?  Have I not hated that which I love?

    O my crutch! is it not winter-time now, when men talk together after
    that they have drunken?  Is not the side of my bed left desolate?

    O my crutch! is it not spring, when the cuckoo passes through the
    air, when the foam sparkles on the sea?  The young maidens no longer
    love me.

    O my crutch! is it not the first day of May?  The furrows, are they
    not shining; the young corn, is it not springing?  Ah! the sight of
    thy handle makes me wroth.

    O my crutch! stand straight, thou wilt support me the better; it is
    very long since I was Llywarch.

    Behold old age, which makes sport of me, from the hair of my head to
    my teeth, to my eyes, which women loved.

    The four things I have all my life most hated fall upon me
    together,—coughing and old age, sickness and sorrow.

    I am old, I am alone, shapeliness and warmth are gone from me; the
    couch of honour shall be no more mine: I am miserable, I am bent on
    my crutch.

    How evil was the lot allotted to Llywarch, the night when he was
    brought forth! sorrows without end, and no deliverance from his
    burden.

There is the Titanism of the Celt, his passionate, turbulent, indomitable
reaction against the despotism of fact; and of whom does it remind us so
much as of Byron?

    The fire which on my bosom preys
    Is lone as some volcanic isle;
    No torch is kindled at its blaze;
       A funeral pile!

Or, again:—

    Count o’er the joys thine hours have seen,
    Count o’er thy days from anguish free,
    And know, whatever thou hast been,
    ’Tis something better not to be.

One has only to let one’s memory begin to fetch passages from Byron
striking the same note as that passage from Llywarch Hen, and she will
not soon stop.  And all Byron’s heroes, not so much in collision with
outward things, as breaking on some rock of revolt and misery in the
depths of their own nature; Manfred, self-consumed, fighting blindly and
passionately with I know not what, having nothing of the consistent
development and intelligible motive of Faust,—Manfred, Lara, Cain, what
are they but Titanic?  Where in European poetry are we to find this
Celtic passion of revolt so warm-breathing, puissant, and sincere; except
perhaps in the creation of a yet greater poet than Byron, but an English
poet, too, like Byron,—in the Satan of Milton?

    . . . What though the field be lost?
    All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
    And study of revenge, immortal hate,
    And courage never to submit or yield,
    And what is else not to be overcome.

There, surely, speaks a genius to whose composition the Celtic fibre was
not wholly a stranger!

And as, after noting the Celtic Pindarism or power of style present in
our poetry, we noted the German flatness coming in in our hymns, and
found here a proof of our compositeness of nature; so, after noting the
Celtic Titanism or power of rebellious passion in our poetry, we may also
note the Germanic patience and reasonableness in it, and get in this way
a second proof how mixed a spirit we have.  After Llywarch Hen’s:—

    How evil was the lot allotted to Llywarch, the night when he was
    brought forth—

after Byron’s:—

    Count o’er the joys thine hours have seen—

take this of Southey’s, in answer to the question whether he would like
to have his youth over again:—

    Do I regret the past?
    Would I live o’er again
    The morning hours of life?
    Nay, William, nay, not so!
    Praise be to God who made me what I am,
    Other I would not be.

There we have the other side of our being; the Germanic goodness,
docility, and fidelity to nature, in place of the Celtic Titanism.

The Celt’s quick feeling for what is noble and distinguished gave his
poetry style; his indomitable personality gave it pride and passion; his
sensibility and nervous exaltation gave it a better gift still, the gift
of rendering with wonderful felicity the magical charm of nature.  The
forest solitude, the bubbling spring, the wild flowers, are everywhere in
romance.  They have a mysterious life and grace there; they are nature’s
own children, and utter her secret in a way which makes them something
quite different from the woods, waters, and plants of Greek and Latin
poetry.  Now of this delicate magic, Celtic romance is so pre-eminent a
mistress, that it seems impossible to believe the power did not come into
romance from the Celts. {133}  Magic is just the word for it,—the magic
of nature; not merely the beauty of nature,—that the Greeks and Latins
had; not merely an honest smack of the soil, a faithful realism,—that the
Germans had; but the intimate life of nature, her weird power and her
fairy charm.  As the Saxon names of places, with the pleasant wholesome
smack of the soil in them,—Weathersfield, Thaxted, Shalford,—are to the
Celtic names of places, with their penetrating, lofty beauty,—Velindra,
Tyntagel, Caernarvon,—so is the homely realism of German and Norse nature
to the fairy-like loveliness of Celtic nature.  Gwydion wants a wife for
his pupil: ‘Well,’ says Math, ‘we will seek, I and thou, by charms and
illusions, to form a wife for him out of flowers.  So they took the
blossoms of the oak, and the blossoms of the broom, and the blossoms of
the meadow-sweet, and produced from them a maiden, the fairest and most
graceful that man ever saw.  And they baptized her, and gave her the name
of Flower-Aspect.’  Celtic romance is full of exquisite touches like
that, showing the delicacy of the Celt’s feeling in these matters, and
how deeply nature lets him come into her secrets.  The quick dropping of
blood is called ‘faster than the fall of the dewdrop from the blade of
reed-grass upon the earth, when the dew of June is at the heaviest.’  And
thus is Olwen described: ‘More yellow was her hair than the flower of the
broom, and her skin was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer were
her hands and her fingers than the blossoms of the wood-anemony amidst
the spray of the meadow fountains.’  For loveliness it would be hard to
beat that; and for magical clearness and nearness take the following:—

‘And in the evening Peredur entered a valley, and at the head of the
valley he came to a hermit’s cell, and the hermit welcomed him gladly,
and there he spent the night.  And in the morning he arose, and when he
went forth, behold, a shower of snow had fallen the night before, and a
hawk had killed a wild-fowl in front of the cell.  And the noise of the
horse scared the hawk away, and a raven alighted upon the bird.  And
Peredur stood and compared the blackness of the raven, and the whiteness
of the snow, and the redness of the blood, to the hair of the lady whom
best he loved, which was blacker than the raven, and to her skin, which
was whiter than the snow, and to her two cheeks, which were redder than
the blood upon the snow appeared to be.’

And this, which is perhaps less striking, is not less beautiful:—

‘And early in the day Geraint and Enid left the wood, and they came to an
open country, with meadows on one hand and mowers mowing the meadows.
And there was a river before them, and the horses bent down and drank the
water.  And they went up out of the river by a steep bank, and there they
met a slender stripling with a satchel about his neck; and he had a small
blue pitcher in his hand, and a bowl on the mouth of the pitcher.’

And here the landscape, up to this point so Greek in its clear beauty, is
suddenly magicalised by the romance touch:—

‘And they saw a tall tree by the side of the river, one-half of which was
in flames from the root to the top, and the other half was green and in
full leaf.’

Magic is the word to insist upon,—a magically vivid and near
interpretation of nature; since it is this which constitutes the special
charm and power of the effect I am calling attention to, and it is for
this that the Celt’s sensibility gives him a peculiar aptitude.  But the
matter needs rather fine handling, and it is easy to make mistakes here
in our criticism.  In the first place, Europe tends constantly to become
more and more one community, and we tend to become Europeans instead of
merely Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Italians; so whatever aptitude or
felicity one people imparts into spiritual work, gets imitated by the
others, and thus tends to become the common property of all.  Therefore
anything so beautiful and attractive as the natural magic I am speaking
of, is sure, now-a-days, if it appears in the productions of the Celts,
or of the English, or of the French, to appear in the productions of the
Germans also, or in the productions of the Italians; but there will be a
stamp of perfectness and inimitableness about it in the literatures where
it is native, which it will not have in the literatures where it is not
native.  Novalis or Rückert, for instance, have their eye fixed on
nature, and have undoubtedly a feeling for natural magic; a
rough-and-ready critic easily credits them and the Germans with the
Celtic fineness of tact, the Celtic nearness to nature and her secret;
but the question is whether the strokes in the German’s picture of nature
{136} have ever the indefinable delicacy, charm, and perfection of the
Celt’s touch in the pieces I just now quoted, or of Shakspeare’s touch in
his daffodil, Wordsworth’s in his cuckoo, Keats’s in his Autumn,
Obermann’s in his mountain birch-tree, or his Easter-daisy among the
Swiss farms.  To decide where the gift for natural magic originally lies,
whether it is properly Celtic or Germanic, we must decide this question.

In the second place, there are many ways of handling nature, and we are
here only concerned with one of them; but a rough-and-ready critic
imagines that it is all the same so long as nature is handled at all, and
fails to draw the needful distinction between modes of handling her.  But
these modes are many; I will mention four of them now: there is the
conventional way of handling nature, there is the faithful way of
handling nature, there is the Greek way of handling nature, there is the
magical way of handling nature.  In all these three last the eye is on
the object, but with a difference; in the faithful way of handling
nature, the eye is on the object, and that is all you can say; in the
Greek, the eye is on the object, but lightness and brightness are added;
in the magical, the eye is on the object, but charm and magic are added.
In the conventional way of handling nature, the eye is not on the object;
what that means we all know, we have only to think of our
eighteenth-century poetry:—

    As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night—

to call up any number of instances.  Latin poetry supplies plenty of
instances too; if we put this from Propertius’s _Hylas_:—

    . . . manus heroum . . .
    Mollia composita litora fronde togit—

side by side with the line of Theocritus by which it was suggested:—

    _λειμὼν yάρ σφιν ἔκειτο μέyας_, _στιβάδεσσιν ὄνειαρ_—

we get at the same moment a good specimen both of the conventional and of
the Greek way of handling nature.  But from our own poetry we may get
specimens of the Greek way of handling nature, as well as of the
conventional: for instance, Keats’s:—

    What little town by river or seashore,
    Or mountain-built with quiet citadel,
    Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?

is Greek, as Greek as a thing from Homer or Theocritus; it is composed
with the eye on the object, a radiancy and light clearness being added.
German poetry abounds in specimens of the faithful way of handling
nature; an excellent example is to be found in the stanzas called
_Zueignung_, prefixed to Goethe’s poems; the morning walk, the mist, the
dew, the sun, are as faithful as they can be, they are given with the eye
on the object, but there the merit of the work, as a handling of nature,
stops; neither Greek radiance nor Celtic magic is added; the power of
these is not what gives the poem in question its merit, but a power of
quite another kind, a power of moral and spiritual emotion.  But the
power of Greek radiance Goethe could give to his handling of nature, and
nobly too, as any one who will read his _Wanderer_,—the poem in which a
wanderer falls in with a peasant woman and her child by their hut, built
out of the ruins of a temple near Cuma,—may see.  Only the power of
natural magic Goethe does not, I think, give; whereas Keats passes at
will from the Greek power to that power which is, as I say, Celtic; from
his:—

    What little town, by river or seashore—

to his:—

    White hawthorn and the pastoral eglantine,
    Fast-fading violets cover’d up in leaves—

or his:—

    . . . magic casements, opening on the foam
    Of perilous seas, in fairy lands forlorn—

in which the very same note is struck as in those extracts which I quoted
from Celtic romance, and struck with authentic and unmistakeable power.

Shakspeare, in handling nature, touches this Celtic note so exquisitely,
that perhaps one is inclined to be always looking for the Celtic note in
him, and not to recognise his Greek note when it comes.  But if one
attends well to the difference between the two notes, and bears in mind,
to guide one, such things as Virgil’s ‘moss-grown springs and grass
softer than sleep:’—

    Muscosi fontes et somno mollior herba—

as his charming flower-gatherer, who—

    Pallentes violas et summa papavera carpens
    Narcissum et florem jungit bene olentis anethi—

as his quinces and chestnuts:—

    . . . cana legam tenera lanugine mala
    Castaneasque nuces . . .

then, I think, we shall be disposed to say that in Shakspeare’s—

    I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
    Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
    Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
    With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine—

it is mainly a Greek note which is struck.  Then, again in his:—

    . . . look how the floor of heaven
    Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold!

we are at the very point of transition from the Greek note to the Celtic;
there is the Greek clearness and brightness, with the Celtic aërialness
and magic coming in.  Then we have the sheer, inimitable Celtic note in
passages like this:—

    Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
    By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
    Or in the beached margent of the sea—

or this, the last I will quote:—

    The moon shines bright.  In such a night as this,
    When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,
    And they did make no noise, in such a night
    Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls—

    . . . in such a night
    Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew—

    . . . in such a night
    _Stood Dido_, _with a willow in her hand_,
    _Upon the wild sea-banks_, _and waved her love_
    _To come again to Carthage_.

And those last lines of all are so drenched and intoxicated with the
fairy-dew of that natural magic which is our theme, that I cannot do
better then end with them.

And now, with the pieces of evidence in our hand, let us go to those who
say it is vain to look for Celtic elements in any Englishman, and let us
ask them, first, if they seize what we mean by the power of natural magic
in Celtic poetry; secondly, if English poetry does not eminently exhibit
this power; and, thirdly, where they suppose English poetry got it from?

                                * * * * *

I perceive that I shall be accused of having rather the air, in what I
have said, of denying this and that gift to the Germans, and of
establishing our difference from them a little ungraciously and at their
expense.  The truth is, few people have any real care to analyse closely
in their criticism; they merely employ criticism as a means for heaping
all praise on what they like, and all blame on what they dislike.  Those
of us (and they are many) who owe a great debt of gratitude to the German
spirit and to German literature, do not like to be told of any powers
being lacking there; we are like the young ladies who think the hero of
their novel is only half a hero unless he has all perfections united in
him.  But nature does not work, either in heroes or races, according to
the young ladies’ notion.  We all are what we are, the hero and the great
nation are what they are, by our limitations as well as by our powers, by
lacking something as well as by possessing something.  It is not always
gain to possess this or that gift, or loss to lack this or that gift.
Our great, our only first-rate body of contemporary poetry is the German;
the grand business of modern poetry,—a moral interpretation, from an
independent point of view, of man and the world,—it is only German
poetry, Goethe’s poetry, that has, since the Greeks, made much way with.
Campbell’s power of style, and the natural magic of Keats and Wordsworth,
and Byron’s Titanic personality, may be wanting to this poetry; but see
what it has accomplished without them!  How much more than Campbell with
his power of style, and Keats and Wordsworth with their natural magic,
and Byron with his Titanic personality!  Why, for the immense serious
task it had to perform, the steadiness of German poetry, its going near
the ground, its patient fidelity to nature, its using great plainness of
speech, poetical drawbacks in one point of view, were safeguards and
helps in another.  The plainness and earnestness of the two lines I have
already quoted from Goethe:—

    Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille,
    Sich ein Character in dem Strom der Welt—

compared with the play and power of Shakspeare’s style or Dante’s,
suggest at once the difference between Goethe’s task and theirs, and the
fitness of the faithful laborious German spirit for its own task.
Dante’s task was to set forth the lesson of the world from the point of
view of mediæval Catholicism; the basis of spiritual life was given,
Dante had not to make this anew.  Shakspeare’s task was to set forth the
spectacle of the world when man’s spirit re-awoke to the possession of
the world at the Renaissance.  The spectacle of human life, left to bear
its own significance and tell its own story, but shown in all its
fulness, variety, and power, is at that moment the great matter; but, if
we are to press deeper, the basis of spiritual life is still at that time
the traditional religion, reformed or unreformed, of Christendom, and
Shakspeare has not to supply a new basis.  But when Goethe came, Europe
had lost her basis of spiritual life; she had to find it again; Goethe’s
task was,—the inevitable task for the modern poet henceforth is,—as it
was for the Greek poet in the days of Pericles, not to preach a sublime
sermon on a given text like Dante, not to exhibit all the kingdoms of
human life and the glory of them like Shakspeare, but to interpret human
life afresh, and to supply a new spiritual basis to it.  This is not only
a work for style, eloquence, charm, poetry; it is a work for science; and
the scientific, serious German spirit, not carried away by this and that
intoxication of ear, and eye, and self-will, has peculiar aptitudes for
it.

We, on the other hand, do not necessarily gain by the commixture of
elements in us; we have seen how the clashing of natures in us hampers
and embarrasses our behaviour; we might very likely be more attractive,
we might very likely be more successful, if we were all of a piece.  Our
want of sureness of taste, our eccentricity, come in great measure, no
doubt, from our not being all of a piece, from our having no fixed,
fatal, spiritual centre of gravity.  The Rue de Rivoli is one thing, and
Nuremberg is another, and Stonehenge is another; but we have a turn for
all three, and lump them all up together.  Mr. Tom Taylor’s translations
from Breton poetry offer a good example of this mixing; he has a genuine
feeling for these Celtic matters, and often, as in the _Evil Tribute of
Nomenoë_, or in _Lord Nann and the Fairy_, he is, both in movement and
expression, true and appropriate; but he has a sort of Teutonism and
Latinism in him too, and so he cannot forbear mixing with his Celtic
strain such disparates as:—

    ’Twas mirk, mirk night, and the water bright
    Troubled and drumlie flowed—

which is evidently Lowland-Scotchy; or as:—

    Foregad, but thou’rt an artful hand!

which is English-stagey; or as:—

    To Gradlon’s daughter, bright of blee,
    Her lover he whispered tenderly—
    _Bethink thee_, _sweet Dahut_! _the key_!

which is Anacreontic in the manner of Tom Moore.  Yes, it is not a sheer
advantage to have several strings to one’s bow! if we had been all
German, we might have had the science of Germany; if we had been all
Celtic, we might have been popular and agreeable; if we had been all
Latinised, we might have governed Ireland as the French govern Alsace,
without getting ourselves detested.  But now we have Germanism enough to
make us Philistines, and Normanism enough to make us imperious, and
Celtism enough to make us self-conscious and awkward; but German fidelity
to Nature, and Latin precision and clear reason, and Celtic
quick-wittedness and spirituality, we fall short of.  Nay, perhaps, if we
are doomed to perish (Heaven avert the omen!), we shall perish by our
Celtism, by our self-will and want of patience with ideas, our inability
to see the way the world is going; and yet those very Celts, by our
affinity with whom we are perishing, will be hating and upbraiding us all
the time.

This is a somewhat unpleasant view to take of the matter; but if it is
true, its being unpleasant does not make it any less true, and we are
always the better for seeing the truth.  What we here see is not the
whole truth, however.  So long as this mixed constitution of our nature
possesses us, we pay it tribute and serve it; so soon as we possess it,
it pays us tribute and serves us.  So long as we are blindly and
ignorantly rolled about by the forces of our nature, their contradiction
baffles us and lames us; so soon as we have clearly discerned what they
are, and begun to apply to them a law of measure, control, and guidance,
they may be made to work for our good and to carry us forward.  Then we
may have the good of our German part, the good of our Latin part, the
good of our Celtic part; and instead of one part clashing with the other,
we may bring it in to continue and perfect the other, when the other has
given us all the good it can yield, and by being pressed further, could
only give us its faulty excess.  Then we may use the German faithfulness
to Nature to give us science, and to free us from insolence and
self-will; we may use the Celtic quickness of perception to give us
delicacy, and to free us from hardness and Philistinism; we may use the
Latin decisiveness to give us strenuous clear method, and to free us from
fumbling and idling.  Already, in their untrained state, these elements
give signs, in our life and literature, of their being present in us, and
a kind of prophecy of what they could do for us if they were properly
observed, trained, and applied.  But this they have not yet been; we ride
one force of our nature to death; we will be nothing but Anglo-Saxons in
the Old World or in the New; and when our race has built Bold Street,
Liverpool, and pronounced it very good, it hurries across the Atlantic,
and builds Nashville, and Jacksonville, and Milledgeville, and thinks it
is fulfilling the designs of Providence in an incomparable manner.  But
true Anglo-Saxons, simply and sincerely rooted in the German nature, we
are not and cannot be; all we have accomplished by our onesidedness is to
blur and confuse the natural basis in ourselves altogether, and to become
something eccentric, unattractive, and inharmonious.

A man of exquisite intelligence and charming character, the late Mr.
Cobden, used to fancy that a better acquaintance with the United States
was the grand panacea for us; and once in a speech he bewailed the
inattention of our seats of learning to them, and seemed to think that if
our ingenuous youth at Oxford were taught a little less about Ilissus,
and a little more about Chicago, we should all be the better for it.
Chicago has its claims upon us, no doubt; but it is evident that from the
point of view to which I have been leading, a stimulation of our
Anglo-Saxonism, such as is intended by Mr. Cobden’s proposal, does not
appear the thing most needful for us; seeing our American brothers
themselves have rather, like us, to try and moderate the flame of
Anglo-Saxonism in their own breasts, than to ask us to clap the bellows
to it in ours.  So I am inclined to beseech Oxford, instead of expiating
her over-addiction to the Ilissus by lectures on Chicago, to give us an
expounder for a still more remote-looking object than the Ilissus,—the
Celtic languages and literature.  And yet why should I call it remote?
if, as I have been labouring to show, in the spiritual frame of us
English ourselves, a Celtic fibre, little as we may have ever thought of
tracing it, lives and works.  _Aliens in speech_, _in religion_, _in
blood_! said Lord Lyndhurst; the philologists have set him right about
the speech, the physiologists about the blood; and perhaps, taking
religion in the wide but true sense of our whole spiritual activity,
those who have followed what I have been saying here will think that the
Celt is not so wholly alien to us in religion.  But, at any rate, let us
consider that of the shrunken and diminished remains of this great
primitive race, all, with one insignificant exception, belongs to the
English empire; only Brittany is not ours; we have Ireland, the Scotch
Highlands, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall.  They are a part of
ourselves, we are deeply interested in knowing them, they are deeply
interested in being known by us; and yet in the great and rich
universities of this great and rich country there is no chair of Celtic,
there is no study or teaching of Celtic matters; those who want them must
go abroad for them.  It is neither right nor reasonable that this should
be so.  Ireland has had in the last half century a band of Celtic
students,—a band with which death, alas! has of late been busy,—from
whence Oxford or Cambridge might have taken an admirable professor of
Celtic; and with the authority of a university chair, a great Celtic
scholar, on a subject little known, and where all would have readily
deferred to him, might have by this time doubled our facilities for
knowing the Celt, by procuring for this country Celtic documents which
were inaccessible here, and preventing the dispersion of others which
were accessible.  It is not much that the English Government does for
science or literature; but if Eugene O’Curry, from a chair of Celtic at
Oxford, had appealed to the Government to get him copies or the originals
of the Celtic treasures in the Burgundian Library at Brussels, or in the
library of St. Isidore’s College at Rome, even the English Government
could not well have refused him.  The invaluable Irish manuscripts in the
Stowe Library the late Sir Robert Peel proposed, in 1849, to buy for the
British Museum; Lord Macaulay, one of the trustees of the Museum,
declared, with the confident shallowness which makes him so admired by
public speakers and leading-article writers, and so intolerable to all
searchers for truth, that he saw nothing in the whole collection worth
purchasing for the Museum, except the correspondence of Lord Melville on
the American war.  That is to say, this correspondence of Lord Melville’s
was the only thing in the collection about which Lord Macaulay himself
knew or cared.  Perhaps an Oxford or Cambridge professor of Celtic might
have been allowed to make his voice heard, on a matter of Celtic
manuscripts, even against Lord Macaulay.  The manuscripts were bought by
Lord Ashburnham, who keeps them shut up, and will let no one consult them
(at least up to the date when O’Curry published his _Lectures_ he did
so), ‘for fear an actual acquaintance with their contents should decrease
their value as matter of curiosity at some future transfer or sale.’  Who
knows?  Perhaps an Oxford professor of Celtic might have touched the
flinty heart of Lord Ashburnham.

At this moment, when the narrow Philistinism which has long had things
its own way in England, is showing its natural fruits, and we are
beginning to feel ashamed, and uneasy, and alarmed at it; now, when we
are becoming aware that we have sacrificed to Philistinism culture, and
insight, and dignity, and acceptance, and weight among the nations, and
hold on events that deeply concern us, and control of the future, and yet
that it cannot even give us the fool’s paradise it promised us, but is
apt to break down, and to leave us with Mr. Roebuck’s and Mr. Lowe’s
laudations of our matchless happiness, and the largest circulation in the
world assured to the _Daily Telegraph_, for our only comfort; at such a
moment it needs some moderation not to be attacking Philistinism by
storm, but to mine it through such gradual means as the slow approaches
of culture, and the introduction of chairs of Celtic.  But the hard
unintelligence, which is just now our bane, cannot be conquered by storm;
it must be suppled and reduced by culture, by a growth in the variety,
fulness, and sweetness of our spiritual life; and this end can only be
reached by studying things that are outside of ourselves, and by studying
them disinterestedly.  Let us reunite ourselves with our better mind and
with the world through science; and let it be one of our angelic revenges
on the Philistines, who among their other sins are the guilty authors of
Fenianism, to found at Oxford a chair of Celtic, and to send, through the
gentle ministration of science, a message of peace to Ireland.



FOOTNOTES


{0a}  See p. 28 of the following essay.  [Starts with “It is not
difficult for the other side . . . ”—DP.]

{0b}  See particularly pp. 9, 10, 11, of the following essay.

{4}  Lord Strangford remarks on this passage:—‘Your Gomer and your
Cimmerians are of course only lay figures, to be accepted in the
rhetorical and subjective sense.  As such I accept them, but I enter a
protest against the “genuine tongue of his ancestors.”  Modern Celtic
tongues are to the old Celtic heard by Julius Cæsar, broadly speaking,
what the modern Romanic tongues are to Cæsar’s own Latin.  Welsh, in
fact, is a _detritus_; a language in the category of modern French, or,
to speak less roughly and with a closer approximation, of old Provençal,
not in the category of Lithuanian, much less in the category of Basque.
By true inductive research, based on an accurate comparison of such forms
of Celtic speech, oral and recorded, as we now possess, modern philology
has, in so far as was possible, succeeded in restoring certain forms of
the parent speech, and in so doing has achieved not the least striking of
its many triumphs; for those very forms thus restored have since been
verified past all cavil by their actual discovery in the old Gaulish
inscriptions recently come to light.  The _phonesis_ of Welsh as it
stands is modern, not primitive its grammar,—the verbs excepted,—is
constructed out of the fragments of its earlier forms, and its vocabulary
is strongly Romanised, two out of the six words here given being Latin of
the Empire.  Rightly understood, this enhances the value of modern Celtic
instead of depreciating it, because it serves to rectify it.  To me it is
a wonder that Welsh should have retained so much of its integrity under
the iron pressure of four hundred years of Roman dominion.  Modern Welsh
tenacity and cohesive power under English pressure is nothing compared
with what that must have been.’

{14}  Here again let me have the pleasure of quoting Lord
Strangford:—‘When the Celtic tongues were first taken in hand at the dawn
of comparative philological inquiry, the tendency was, for all practical
results, to separate them from the Indo-European aggregate, rather than
to unite them with it.  The great gulf once fixed between them was
narrowed on the surface, but it was greatly and indefinitely deepened.
Their vocabulary and some of their grammar were seen at once to be
perfectly Indo-European, but they had no case-endings to their nouns,
none at all in Welsh, none that could be understood in Gaelic; their
_phonesis_ seemed primeval and inexplicable, and nothing could be made
out of their pronouns which could not be equally made out of many wholly
un-Aryan languages.  They were therefore co-ordinated, not with each
single Aryan tongue, but with the general complex of Aryan tongues, and
were conceived to be anterior to them and apart from them, as it were the
strayed vanguard of European colonisation or conquest from the East.  The
reason of this misconception was, that their records lay wholly
uninvestigated as far as all historical study of the language was
concerned, and that nobody troubled himself about the relative age and
the development of forms, so that the philologists were fain to take them
as they were put into their hands by uncritical or perverse native
commentators and writers, whose grammars and dictionaries teemed with
blunders and downright forgeries.  One thing, and one thing alone, led to
the truth: the sheer drudgery of thirteen long years spent by Zeuss in
the patient investigation of the most ancient Celtic records, in their
actual condition, line by line and letter by letter.  Then for the first
time the foundation of Celtic research was laid; but the great
philologist did not live to see the superstructure which never could have
been raised but for him.  Prichard was first to indicate the right path,
and Bopp, in his monograph of 1839, displayed his incomparable and
masterly sagacity as usual, but for want of any trustworthy record of
Celtic words and forms to work upon, the truth remained concealed or
obscured until the publication of the _Gramatica Celtica_.  Dr. Arnold, a
man of the past generation, who made more use of the then uncertain and
unfixed doctrines of comparative philology in his historical writings
than is done by the present generation in the fullest noonday light of
the _Vergleichende Grammatik_, was thus justified in his view by the
philology of the period, to which he merely gave an enlarged historical
expression.  The prime fallacy then as now, however, was that of
antedating the distinction between Gaelic and Cymric Celts.’

{25}  Dr. O’Conor in his _Catalogue of the Stowe MSS._ (quoted by
O’Curry).

{26}  O’Curry.

{29}  Here, where Saturday should come, something is wanting in the
manuscript.

{66}  See _Les Scythes_, _les Ancêtres des Peuples Germaniques et
Slaves_, par F. G. Bergmann, professeur à la faculté des Lettres de
Strasbourg: Colmar, 1858.  But Professor Bergmann’s etymologies are
often, says Lord Strangford, ‘false lights, held by an uncertain hand.’
And Lord Strangford continues:—‘The Apian land certainly meant the watery
land, _Meer-Umschlungon_, among the pre-Hellenic Greeks, just as the same
land is called Morea by the modern post-Hellenic or Romaic Greeks from
_more_, the name for the sea in the Slavonic vernacular of its
inhabitants during the heart of the middle ages.  But it is only
connected by a remote and secondary affinity, if connected at all, with
the _avia_ of Scandinavia, assuming that to be the true German word for
_water_, which, if it had come down to us in Gothic, would have been
_avi_, genitive _aujôs_, and not a mere Latinised termination.  Scythian
is surely a negative rather than a positive term, much like our _Indian_,
or the _Turanian_ of modern ethnologists, used to comprehend nomads and
barbarians of all sorts and races north and east of the Black and Caspian
seas.  It is unsafe to connect their name with anything as yet; it is
quite as likely that it refers to the bow and arrow as to the shield, and
is connected with our word to _shoot_, _sceótan_, _skiutan_, Lithuanian
_szau-ti_.  Some of the Scythian peoples may have been Anarian,
Allophylic, Mongolian; some were demonstrably Aryan, and not only that,
but Iranian as well, as is best shown in a memoir read before the Berlin
Academy this last year; the evidence having been first indicated in the
rough by Schaffarik the Slavonic antiquary.  Coins, glosses, proper
names, and inscriptions prove it.  Targitaos (not -tavus) and the rest is
guess-work or wrong.  Herodotus’s Ταβιτι for the goddess Vesta is not
connected with the root _div_ whence Dêvas, Deus, &c., but the root
_tap_, in Latin _tep_ (of tepere, tepefacere), Slavonic _tepl_, _topl_
(for _tep_ or _top_), in modern Persian _tâb_.  _Thymele_ refers to the
hearth as the place of smoke (θύω, _thus_, _fumus_), but _familia_
denotes household from _famulus_ for _fagmulus_, the root _fag_ being
equated with the Sansk. _bhaj_, _servira_.  Lucan’s Hesus or Esus may
fairly be compared with the Welsh _Hu_ Gadarn by legitimate process, but
no letter-change can justify his connection with _Gaisos_, the spear, not
the sword, Virgil’s _gæsum_, A. S. _gár_, our verb to _gore_, retained in
its outer form in _gar_-fish.  For _Theuthisks lege Thiudisks_, from
_thiuda_, _populus_; in old high German Diutisk, Diotisk, _popularis_,
_vulgaris_, the country vernacular as distinguished from the cultivated
Latin; hence the word _Dutch_, _Deutsch_.  With our ancestors _theód_
stood for nation generally and _getheóde_ for any speech.  Our diet in
the political sense is the same word, but borrowed from our German
cousins, not inherited from our fathers.  The modern Celtic form is the
Irish _tuath_, in ancient Celtic it must have been _teuta_, _touta_, of
which we actually have the adjective _toutius_ in the Gaulish inscription
of Nismes.  In Oscan we have it as _turta_, _tuta_, its adjective being
handed down in Livy’s _meddix tuticus_, the mayor or chief magistrate of
the _tuta_.  In the Umbrian inscriptions it is _tota_.  In Lithuanian
_tauta_, the country opposed to the town, and in old Prussian _tauta_,
the country generally, _en Prusiskan tautan_, _im Land zu Preussen_.’

{68}  Lord Strangford observes here:—‘The original forms of Gael should
be mentioned—Gaedil, Goidil: in modern Gaelic orthography Gaoidheal where
the _dh_ is not realised in pronunciation.  There is nothing impossible
in the connection of the root of this with that of Scot, _if_ the _s_ of
the latter be merely prosthetic.  But the whole thing is _in nubibus_,
and given as a guess only.’

{69}  ‘The name of Erin,’ says Lord Strangford, ‘is treated at length in
a masterly note by Whitley Stokes in the 1st series of Max Müller’s
lectures (4th ed.) p. 255, where its earliest _tangible_ form is shown to
have been Iverio.  Pictet’s connection with Arya is quite baseless.’

{82}  It is to be remembered that the above was written before the recent
war between Prussia and Austria.

{84}  The etymology is Monsieur Henri Martin’s, but Lord Strangford
says—‘Whatever _gai_ may be, it is assuredly not Celtic.  Is there any
authority for this word _gair_, to laugh, or rather “laughter,” beyond
O’Reilly?  O’Reilly is no authority at all except in so far as tested and
passed by the new school.  It is hard to give up _gavisus_.  But Diez,
chief authority in Romanic matters, is content to accept Muratori’s
reference to an old High-German _gâhi_, modern _jähe_, sharp, quick,
sudden, brisk, and so to the sense of lively, animated, high in spirits.’

{85}  Monsieur Henri Martin, whose chapters on the Celts, in his
_Histoire de France_, are full of information and interest.

{97}  The above is really a sentence taken from the _Cologne Gazette_.
Lord Strangford’s comment here is as follows:—‘Modern Germanism, in a
general estimate of Germanism, should not be taken, absolutely and
necessarily, as the constant, whereof we are the variant.  The Low-Dutch
of Holland, anyhow, are indisputably as genuine Dutch as the High-Dutch
of Germany Proper.  But do they write sentences like this one—_informe_,
_ingens_, _cui lumen ademptum_?  If not, the question must be asked, not
how we have come to deviate, but how the Germans have come to deviate.
Our modern English prose in plain matters is often all just the same as
the prose of _King Alfred_ and the _Chronicle_.  Ohthere’s _North Sea
Voyage_ and Wulfstan’s _Baltic Voyage_ is the sort of thing which is sent
in every day, one may say, to the Geographical or Ethnological Society,
in the whole style and turn of phrase and thought.’

The mass of a stock must supply our data for judging the stock.  But see,
moreover, what I have said at p. 100.

{120}  Lord Strangford’s note on this is:—‘The Irish monks whose bells
and books were found in Iceland could not have contributed anything to
the old Norse spirit, for they had perished before the first Norseman had
set foot on the island.  The form of the old Norse poetry known to us as
Icelandic, from the accident of its preservation in that island alone, is
surely Pan-Teutonic from old times; the ar and method of its strictly
literary cultivation must have been much influenced by the contemporary
Old-English national poetry, with which the Norsemen were in constant
contact; and its larger, freer, and wilder spirit must have been owing to
their freer and wilder life, to say nothing of their roused and warring
paganism.  They could never have known any Celts save when living in
embryo with other Teutons.’

Very likely Lord Strangford is right, but the proposition with which he
begins is at variance with what the text quoted by Zeuss alleges.

{133}  Rhyme,—the most striking characteristic of our modern poetry as
distinguished from that of the ancients, and a main source, to our
poetry, of its magic and charm, of what we call its _romantic
element_,—rhyme itself, all the weight of evidence tends to show, comes
into our poetry from the Celts.

{136}  Take the following attempt to render the natural magic supposed to
pervade Tieck’s poetry:—‘In diesen Dichtungen herrscht eine
geheimnissvolle Innigkeit, ein sonderbares Einverständniss mit der Natur,
besonders mit der Pflanzen—und Steinreich.  Der Leser fühlt sich da wie
in einem verzauberten Walde; er hört die unterirdischen Quellen melodisch
rauschen; wildfremde Wunderblumen schauen ihn an mit ihren bunten
schnsüchtigen Augen; unsichtbare Lippen küssen seine Wangen mit neckender
Zärtlichkeit; _hohe Pilze_, _wie goldne Glocken_, _wachsen klingend empor
am Fusse der Bäume_;’ and so on.  Now that stroke of the _hohe Pilze_,
the great funguses, would have been impossible to the tact and delicacy
of a born lover of nature like the Celt, and could only have come from a
German who has _hineinstudirt_ himself into natural magic.  It is a
crying false note, which carries us at once out of the world of
nature-magic and the breath of the woods, into the world of theatre-magic
and the smell of gas and orange-peel.





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