Celtic Literature

Matthew Arnold
Celtic Literature

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Title: Celtic Literature
Author: Matthew Arnold
Release Date: February, 2004 [EBook #5159] [Yes, we are more than
one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on May 20, 2002]
[Most recently updated: May 20, 2002]
Edition: 10

Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Transcribed from the 1891 Smith, Elder and Co. edition by David Price,
email [email protected]



The following remarks on the study of Celtic Literature formed the
substance of four lectures given by me in the chair of poetry at Oxford.
They were first published in the Cornhill Magazine, and are now
reprinted from thence. Again and again, in the course of them, I have
marked the very humble scope intended; which is, not to treat any
special branch of scientific Celtic studies (a task for which I am quite
incompetent), but to point out the many directions in which the results
of those studies offer matter of general interest, and to insist on the
benefit we may all derive from knowing the Celt and things Celtic
more thoroughly. It was impossible, however, to avoid touching on
certain points of ethnology and philology, which can be securely
handled only by those who have made these sciences the object of
special study. Here the mere literary critic must owe his whole safety to
his tact in choosing authorities to follow, and whatever he advances
must be understood as advanced with a sense of the insecurity which,
after all, attaches to such a mode of proceeding, and as put forward
provisionally, by way of hypothesis rather than of confident assertion.
To mark clearly to the reader both this provisional character of much
which I advance, and my own sense of it, I have inserted, as a check
upon some of the positions adopted in the text, notes and comments
with which Lord Strangford has kindly furnished me. Lord Strangford
is hardly less distinguished for knowing ethnology and languages so

scientifically than for knowing so much of them; and his interest, even
from the vantage-ground of his scientific knowledge, and after making
all due reserves on points of scientific detail, in my treatment,--with
merely the resources and point of view of a literary critic at my
command,--of such a subject as the study of Celtic Literature, is the
most encouraging assurance I could have received that my attempt is
not altogether a vain one.
Both Lord Strangford and others whose opinion I respect have said that
I am unjust in calling Mr. Nash, the acute and learned author of
Taliesin, or the Bards and Druids of Britain, a 'Celt-hater.' 'He is a
denouncer,' says Lord Strangford in a note on this expression, 'of Celtic
extravagance, that is all; he is an anti-Philocelt, a very different thing
from an anti-Celt, and quite indispensable in scientific inquiry. As
Philoceltism has hitherto,--hitherto, remember,--meant nothing but
uncritical acceptance and irrational admiration of the beloved object's
sayings and doings, without reference to truth one way or the other, it is
surely in the interest of science to support him in the main. In tracing
the workings of old Celtic leaven in poems which embody the Celtic
soul of all time in a mediaeval form, I do not see that you come into
any necessary opposition with him, for your concern is with the spirit,
his with the substance only.' I entirely agree with almost all which Lord
Strangford here urges, and indeed, so sincere is my respect for Mr.
Nash's critical discernment and learning, and so unhesitating my
recognition of the usefulness, in many respects, of the work of
demolition performed by him, that in originally designating him as a
Celt-hater, I hastened to add, as the reader will see by referring to the
passage, {0a} words
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