Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

eral. - At this Christmas season persons and were still in the habit of telling who are still unacquainted with Dr. here an old fisherman, there a blind Dasent's work cannot do better than fiddler; here a drover, there a travelling procure it. If they should desire a fit tinker; with occasionally an old woman, companion to it-a book closely similar who had never left her native spot, or in its kind of interest, and contributing an old female servant in some Highland a rich fund of new materials in the same household. From the lips of such perdirection of inquiry-it is at hand in sons, sometimes in rude native huts, Mr. J. F. Campbell's Popular Tales of sometimes in village inns, sometimes by the West Highlands, recently published the wayside, and sometimes in boats on by the same firm. 1

Highland lochs, Mr. Campbell and his Whether considered by itself or in fellow-collectors heard the tales they relation to Dr. Dasent's, Mr. Campbell's had in store—frequently obtaining difwork is one deserving more than ordinary ferent versions of the same tale from recognition. The manner in which it narrators far separated from each other. has been prepared would alone distin- Effective means were taken to secure guish it from most contemporary books. the repetition of the tales so often, and Reading Dr. Dasent's volume at the in such a way, as to permit them to be time of its first publication, Mr. Camp- set down in writing faithfully and exbell, who is a Highland gentleman of actly in the Gaelic in which they were the family of the Campbells of Islay, told. It is of a selection of these talesbethought him of old Gaelic tales, not all thus orally collected since the beunlike those Norse importations of Dr. ginning of 1859—that the present work Dasent, which he had heard in his boy- consists. There are about sixty tales hood from pipers and others about his in all, longer or shorter. Each tale is father's house; and he resolved, if it scrupulously authenticated by the name were possible, to make a search through of the teller, or some corresponding inthe West Highlands to see whether such dication, the date when it was told, the tales still lingered anywhere in the me- name of the place where it was told, and the mory of his Gaelic countrymen and name of the collector who heard it and countrywomen so as to be recoverable. To wrote it out. Of each tale Mr. Campbell any one else than a Highland gentleman, gives us an English translation, which himself speaking Gaelic, the task would he vouches for as being not one of those have been fruitless. The Highlanders are abominable things known as unusually shy in their communications on sions,” “ versions giving the spirit of such matters, and evade them with a kind the original," &c., but a rendering as of shame—as if the Druidic reluctance close and literal as he was able to make to yield up their mysteries to writing it; and to each he then appends the still remained among them, and were all original Gaelic, together with a few notes the stronger from an accompanying feel- explanatory and illustrative. To the ing that such things were now heathen, whole is prefixed an Introduction of unedifying, and not approved of by the considerable length, in which Dr. Daminister. Before Mr. Campbell's op- sent's views and other doctrines of recent portunities and perseverance, however, ethnology are applied to the Celtic races this difficulty vanished. By himself, or of these islands and their legends; and by his agents

, he was able to discover, in the course of which there are many chiefly in the remote islands and pro- shrewd and suggestive remarks, and evimontories of the Scottish west, many dences of a rather singular genius and persons who rcollected Gaelic tales, humour-whether of the native Highwhich they had heard in their youth, land chieftain, ill-repressed under his

guise as an English author, or only of i Popular Tales of the West Highlands,

an educated mind tuned somewhat to orally collected ; with a Translation. By J. F. Campbell . 2 vols, Edinburgh: Edmonston and

strangeness by long dwelling in a strange Douglas. 1860.

Gaelic element. Altogether the book

“ free ver

[ocr errors]

is a genuine and even remarkable one, very absolute and emphatic propositions, possessing both a learned and a popular which become blocks of established beinterest. Some consciousness of this lief, the speculations in ethnology which breaks through the modest half-apolo- have been going on for so many years getic terms in which the author speaks have led, in this country at least, to a of it.

standing affirmation in certain quarters

of the intellectual and historical worth“Practical men may despise the tales, earnest men condemn them as lies, some even consider

lessness of the Celt. The wild hys. them wicked; one refused to write any more

terics of the Celt, his restlessness, his for a whole estate; my best friend says they want of veracity, his want of the power are all blethers.' But one man's rubbish

of solid and persevering labour, his may be another's treasure, and what is the standard of value in such a pursuit as this?

howling enthusiasm about nothings and " And what are you going to do with them his neglect of all that is substantial, the stories, Mr. Camal ?' said a friend of mine, as perpetual necessity of some stern alien he stood amongst the brown sea-weed, at the

discipline to keep him in order-these end of a pier, on a fine summer's eveuing, and watched my departure in a tiny boat. “Print

are everyday themes in our talk and our them, man, to be sure.' My friend is famous literature. On the other hand, the for his good stories, though they are of another Saxon figures as the tip-top of present kind, and he uses tobacco; he eyed me steadily

creation ; and, by a farther generalizafor a moment, and then he disposed of the whole matter monosyllabically, but forcibly,

tion so as to include the whole of his 'Huch !!' It seemed to come from his heart. kin, all that has been good in the world

“Said a Highlaud coachman to me one day, since the fall of the Roman empire is The luggage is very heavy ; I will not believe represented as Gothic. Positively the but there is stones in the portmanteaus! They will be pickin' them off the road and takin'

thing has gone so far that it is not rethem away with them; I have seen them my.

spectable any longer in certain quarters self.' And then, having disposed of geology, he to be a Celt, and any one who is in that took a sapient pinch of snuff. So, a benighted

unfortunate predicament has to go back Englishman, years ago in Australia, took up his quarters in a settler's hut, as he told me. Other

in his pedigree for some Teutonic grandtravellers came in, and one had found a stone mother, or other female progenitor, in a dry river-course, which he maintained to through whom he may plead his blood be partly gold. The rest jeered at bim till he

as at least decent half-and-half. So, also, threw away his prize in a pet; and then they all devoured mutton chops and damper, and

when the Scottish Highlanders are talked slept like sensible men. So these tales may be

of, it is the habit to assert that, while the gold or dross, according to taste. Many will people are Celtic, all the chiefs are of despise them, but some may take an interest Teutonic or Norman descent. Now the in the pastime of their humble countrymen;

superiority of certain breeds of men to some may be amused; those who would learn Gaelic will find the language of the people who

others is a fact which no one who has told the stories; and those who could compare

his
eyes

about him, or who knows any popular tales of different races may rest as- thing of history, can deny ; nor, whether sured that I have altered nothing, that these really are what they purport to be-stories

for speculative or for practical purposes, orally collected in the West Highlands since

is there a more useful fact to carry about the beginning of 1859. I have but carried

with one.

Further, the historical supedrift rubbish from the place where I found it riority of the Gothic race, on the whole, to a place where it may be seen and studied

to the Celtic-its more vast, more oriby those who care to take the trouble.”

ginal, more profound, and more enduring Mr. Campbell's work is calculated to influence on the history of the worldgive a fillip to scholarly curiosity in this is a fact which even Celtic patriotism country respecting the Celtic race in would find it difficult to contest. Further general, and the Gaelic branch of it in still, many of the current descriptions of particular. There can be no doubt that the Celtic character and temperament, of late the Celt has been at too great in contrast with the Saxon, or, more a discount in our literature. In virtue generally, with the Germanic, are suffiof the constant tendency of opinion on ciently accurate, and are verified by conCelt has a right to complain of the way and are struggling, with fainter and in which, by too crude an application of fainter efforts, in the meshes of the certain ethnological views, the claims of Roman system.

The Latin tongue, the his race have been lately dealt with. Latin laws, and Latin habits overspread That doctrine of the intellectual and them; and Celtic druidism dies out, historical worthlessness of the Celt (for leaving no such native record of itself, by many it is pushed even to this ex- as has remained of the Scandinavian treme) which he resents with the in- mythology of the sons of Odin. For stinctive anger of his whole insulted three or four centuries, whatever of being, which writhes his features to Celtic activity, whatever manifestation their darkest scowl, and to which, of Celtic genius, was possible, whether mouthed out too rudely in his presence,

in Gaul or in Britain, was necessarily it might chance that the answer would such as might consist with the state of be his dirk,—this very doctrine the these countries as part and parcel of the candid Saxon himself ought to declare Roman empire. In such circumstances false, and disprove by his research. how did the Celtic mind acquit itself? Most affirmations of this emphatic kind, By no means ill. Not to speak of those after they have served a year or so in men and women, named and nameless, literature, lose whatever virtue they who died in doing what all account it had, and require to be re-edited ; and, creditable in a race to have had men while the doctrine of the worthlessness and women capable of doing—those of the Celt will still be clung to by those Gaulish and British chiefs and chiefwho must have something to say and tainesses who resisted Cæsar and Agrican't change their phrases, it is perhaps cola—is it not a fact, known to scholars, time that those who think for themselves that, when the Gauls were once fairly should be trying to substitute for it a subjects of Rome, they learnt so fast, more exact appreciation of the Celtic and took so cleverly to the new tongue influence in history. Materials for such and the new civilization, that many of an appreciation are not wanting, and the eminent soldiers, rhetoricians, actors, Mr. Campbell's work may help as a and even writers who figure in the lists stimulus to it.

of the later Empire under the general Passing over the vague traditions of name of Romans, were in reality Cisalthe primeval or very ancient migrations pine or Transalpine Celts ? Even from of the Celts, of their dashings hither Britain itself was there not some similar and thither against the more consolidated small contribution of native talent to populations of Southern Europe, and the general stock of the Empire of which finally of their descent into Italy in that it was a province ? At all events, terrible hour when infant Rome was at when Christianity possessed the Empire, their mercy, one may point out, as per- and there was added everywhere to the tinent to the present inquiry, that the exercises of mind and of heart which chance of the Celt in history preceded had been formerly possible for the that of the Goth, and fell upon a time provincials, the new exercise afforded when the conditions were different from by theology and ecclesiastical business, those which the Goth experienced. It Britain, as well as Gaul, performed a was not the fate of the Celt to enter on competent part. Names here abound; the stage of history as a dominant or but pre-eminent among them, as that of conquering race, carrying forward its at least one British-born Celt whose own institutions and its own traditions, influence ran round the margin of the intact out of the past. When the Celtic Mediterranean and agitated the Roman populations and their religion of Druid- empire, while as yet the Empire survived, ism first fairly present themselves to is the name of the heresiarch Pelagius. the historic student, they are already In that “ British heresy,” concerning absorbed, all but a few outlying bits, freewill and necessity, which roused in within the body of the Roman empire, opposition to it even the distant orthodoxy of Africa, and the continuation Angles, Saxons, and Norsemen, as by of which may be traced throughout the the right of might and fitness its proper subsequent theology of Europe, till even lords ; let it be to them, and not to the in our own day the charges of Pelagian- Celts, that we look back with pride as ism and semi-Pelagianism are bandied our ancestors, as the founders of our about, the Celtic genius signalled first, national system-still, all this supposed, as it has exhibited so often since, its is our quest of farther Celtic influence a capacity for systematic speculation. mere beggarly search of empty boxes, a

But anon the scene changes. The fool's errand through dirt and turbuRoman empire is no more. The in- lence and mist? Unless we shut our breaking Goth, split into a thousand eyes, by no means so! What, for exstreams, disintegrates by his advances ample, of the Celtic missionaries from the fabric of Roman society ; and over Wales, from Scotland, from Ireland, Western Europe new rudimentary states who co-operated in the conversion of are rising on its ruins. Is the Celtic the Anglo-Saxons ? What of the struginfluence then extinct? Can no strokes gles of these missionaries to maintain and results of important action then be for the whole island a purer faith, and a discerned which are indubitably Celtic? more free ecclesiastical system, than AuNot so. Allowing to the full for the gustine and the agents of Rome brought Frankish and other Teutonic effects on with them across the Channel ? There Gaul, do we not discern in modern is a period in our national history—that France, and in all that France has been between the withdrawal of the Roman among the nations, the re-assertion—nay, legions and the full establishment of the to some extent, the dominance—of the Anglo-Saxon power—during which the Latino-Celtic genius ? Shall we, when

educated Celtic mind, in the persons we want to satirize the French-to ex- of Irish and Scoto-Irish saints and press our dislike of their restlessness, ecclesiastics, exerted itself to an extent, their mobility, their alternate phrenzies and in a manner, not yet sufficiently of revolution and subjections to military recognised. Nay, more, when we pass despotism-account for it all by naming beyond this period, and draw out a list them Celts off-hand ; and yet, when we of the more eminent intellectual natives are in another mood with them, and of this land during the Anglo-Saxon think more of all that France has period properly so called—those, at all done that is spirit-stirring and splendid, events, who distinguished themselves as shall we recant the name, or forget that writers in the then universal Latin-it we used it į It does not seem fair. An will be found that at least as many were, analysis backward of French activity certainly or presumably, of the subject into the ingredients severally derived Celtic race as of the dominant Anglofrom the races that compose

the Saxon. It is worthy of remark, too, that, French population, might indeed be a if these Celtic writers are compared with difficult problem ; but, on any analysis, their Anglo-Saxon contemporaries in rethe career of France—and that certainly spect of the nature of their works, the is no little thing in the history of the aptitude for systematic thought, rather world—would have to be admitted as, than for mere historic compilation or in great part, a Celtic phenomenon. mere ethical and practical discourse, will

But turn we to our own Celts of be found to have been still characteristic Britain and Ireland. Let the strug- of the Celtic intellect. If the Anglogles of the Romanized Britons in the Saxons can adduce as perhaps all in all south, of the Picts and Scots in the their foremost literary name in this penorth, against the invading Angles, riod that of the Venerable Bede, and if Saxons, and Norsemen, pass as things it is disputed whether Alcuin, the famous inconsequential in history, mere footing- intellectual vizier of Charlemagne, was ground for poetic myths ; let the bulk a British Celt or a British Saxon, the own the most illustrious European one might point to that extraordinary thinker of his period, the forerunner and body of Welsh and Armorican legendfather of the schoolmen-Joannes Scotus embracing in its totality the mythical Erigena.

foreworld of these islands from Brut the We talk fondly of the Anglo-Saxons Trojan to Arthur and his knights incluas the fathers of all that is good and sive-which, conveyed into general cirstalwart in us; but it is very question- culation through Geoffrey of Monmouth's able whether this country would ever Latin, and elaborated and shaped by have been one tithe of what it has been early Norman and English minstrels, has in the world, politically or intellectually, been a permanent inheritance in our but for the Norman Conquest. No one own and in all European Literature, an can study English History before and inspiration and exhaustless magazine of after that event without perceiving the subjects for our Spensers, our Shakeimmense change which it wrought, the speares, our Miltons, and our Tennysons. extraordinary stimulus which it commu- Through much of our greatest poetry, nicated. It is like the infusion of a when the melody is listened for through new supply of the most electric nerve the harmony, there is heard the strain into what had formerly been a somewhat of the old British harp. sluggish body of large thew and bone. In pursuing the inquiry down to our Now, there is fair room for an investiga- own times, it divides itself more obvition whether and to what extent, in that ously into two branches—the investigaprocess which transmuted the Scandina- tion of Celtic influence as operating vian colony of Norsemen into the French more latently in the mixed populations speaking Normans as they came among of these islands, known as English and us—light and yet strong, flashing and Scotch ; and the investigation of the yet persevering—the combination of Cel- same influence as exerted in or from the tic blood with Norse may have contri- portions of the country where the purest buted. But, let the Normans be voted, remains of the Celtic race are shut upas is usually done, pure Norsemen who Wales, the Scottish Highlands, and had but changed their language, is the Erse-speaking Ireland. recognisable Celtic element of the mixed The difficulties of the former investipopulation of which they became masters gation are so great that it is never made. of no farther account in the land during As no one can tell who among us of the the period of their mastery—theso-called mixed populations is more Celt and Anglo-Norman period? In answer to who more Saxon-as we meet every this, if the realm of literature is still day the most sturdy Saxon-looking chiefly attended to, it would be possible and Saxon-thinking fellows, who have not only to pick out, in the list of those Celtic names, and, vice versá, dark little writers of the Anglo-Norman period who Celtic-looking men, who have Norse or used the common Latin, Celts inter- Saxon names—so, in the general sea of mingled with Normans and Anglo- English and Scottish thought and Saxons, and exhibiting the Celtic ten- doings during the last three or four dency to speculation qualifying the hundred years, it is impossible to dismainly ethical tendency of the Saxon criminate what may have been Celtic. mind and the mainly narrative tendency The Celt surely exists among us, though of the Norman, but also, extending our submerged. For the credit of our Angloview beyond the common Latin to the Saxon forefathers it is to be assumed three vernacular tongues which then di- that they did not murder out all the vided with it the total literature of these Celts in England and the Scottish Lowislands, to produce Celtic authors--- Irish lands, when they took possessionat annalists, Welsh poets, and the like- least, not the women, though they may not unworthy of note by the side of the have sent their spouses packing to the Anglo-Norman trouvères and the first hills. Now, is nothing to go to the credit rude practitioners of English. Above all, of the submerged Celt? An industrious

« ZurückWeiter »