Celtic Literature
Matthew Arnold

Part 2 out of 3

'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.


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 chretienne, his race fiere et timide, a l'exterieur
gauche et embarrassee. 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 delicatesse de sentiment qui caracterise 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'hote 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.

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 architectonice 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

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 Baiae, 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.


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 GurzenichSaale zu Ebren
der Abgeordneten Statt finden sollenden Bankette bereits vollstandig
getroffen worden waren, fand heute vormittag auf polizeiliche
Anordnung die Schliessung sammtlicher Zugange zum Gurzenich 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 Durer 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
Durer and Rubens. And observe in what points our English pair
succeed, and in what they fall short. They fall short in
architectonice, 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

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

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

'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
'betise allemande,' they talk of the 'gaucherie anglaise;' while they
talk of the 'Allemand balourd,' they talk of the 'Anglais empetre;'
while they call the German 'niais,' they call the Englishman
'melancolique.' The difference between the epithets balourd and
empetre exactly gives the difference in character I wish to seize;
balourd means heavy and dull, empetre 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 betes en pasture -

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.


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 Maeonides -

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

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
Felire, 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

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 Irae, 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

'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

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

. . . 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

'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 Ruckert, 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

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:-

[Greek verse] -

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
aerialness 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 mediaeval 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 Nomenoe, 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 -

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.


{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 Caesar, broadly
speaking, what the modern Romanic tongues are to Caesar'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 Provencal, 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

{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

{26} O'Curry.

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

{66} See Les Scythes, les Ancetres des Peuples Germaniques et
Slaves, par F. G. Bergmann, professeur a la faculte 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 aujos, 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, sceotan, 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 [Greek] for the goddess
Vesta is not connected with the root div whence Devas, Deus, &c., but
the root tap, in Latin tep (of tepere, tepefacere), Slavonic tepl,
topl (for tep or top), in modern Persian tab. Thymele refers to the
hearth as the place of smoke ([Greek], 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 gaesum, A. S. gar, 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
theod stood for nation generally and getheode 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
Muller's lectures (4th ed.) p. 255, where its earliest TANGIBLE form
is shown to have been Iverio. Pictet's connection with Arya is quite

{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 gahi, modern jahe, 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

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,


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