Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

-those Jacobite Rebellions and the like, phisticated from their native regions, which yet fascinate our memory, and to or removed from them by so short an which our novelists and dramatists go interval as still to be traceable as Celtic back, as by instinct, when they seek for particles in surrounding society, who subjects? And then, the splendid, and have attained eminence in that society, more satisfactory, story of Celtic activity and, in competition with others, emerged in co-operation with the Saxon, in the well. We would hardly advise a Welshservice of that imperial unity which in- man, at this time of day, to claim Oliver cludes them both! Since the day when Cromwell as his countryman. Yet he Chatham, among his other feats of states- certainly was a kinsman of the Welsh manship, showed how the Celt might be Williamses, to whom Bacon's predecessor reconciled and utilized, there has not on the woolsack, the famous Bishop been a single military enterprise of Bri- Williams, belonged; and, in youth, more tain in which Celtic courage has not per- than once he signed his name “ Oliver formed a part, not a single extension of Williams.” But what of the numberless the Empire to which Celtic blood and Lloyds, Llewellyns, Prices, &c., whose Celtic talent have not contributed. names diversify the directories of all From the wars of last century down our towns, and many of whom appear to that of the Crimea and to those in prominent enough positions? I do eastern wars which now engage us, the not know how it is to be explained, but deeds of Irish, Welsh, and Highland I have myself observed that an unusual regiments in the field of battle have been proportion of eminent actuaries and chronicled with generous admiration by others connected with the businesses their English comrades, till these regi- of life-insurance and banking in this ments have become, in a manner, pets country, have been Welshmen. So, the with the British public. But, indeed, Scottish-Highland names at present those who are least partial to the Celtic eminent in the world of British comrace have never denied to it the pos- merce, from Glasgow southwards, would session, in a signal degree, of the mili- make a pretty long list; to which, purtary, virtues. Perhaps it is because it suing the traces of the Scottish Celt in has been easier to observe the Celt so another and more special direction, one acting, side by side with the Saxon, in might add some literary names, ending distinct masses on the battle field, than with Mackintosh and Macaulay. If, to trace him individually in his dis- to some extent, the preference of the persed state through civil society

society Irish Celt for a career of opposition to beyond his native precincts, that the Saxon has made his career in coproportionate justice has not been operative rivalry with him less satisdone to his abilities and success in other factory, we can at least point to such walks than the military. In addition, facts as the remarkable success of native however, to what might be claimed for Irish students in the recent Civil Service the Celt in virtue of the influence competitions, and the large amount of (scarcely calculable) of what we called native Irish talent in connexion with the submerged Celtic element in the the London press and the English bar, national constitution—represented in the as proving the co-operative capacity of Joneses and others who have been the Irish Celt also, when the right way mixed with us from time immemorial, is open to him, and he chooses to take and whose Celtic descent is concealed it. Finally, as if to prove that there is and nullified by length of time-some- some truth in the theory that the British thing might be claimed (and I hand over Celt at home has been kept back by the the fuller prosecution of the claim to too great stringency of his conditions, some one who, as a Celt himself, may there is the phenomenon of Celtic sucbe more interested in it) in virtue of cess abroad—of the prosperity of the the numerous instances that could be Celt, and the rapid development of new

American and Australian fields over which he has begun to expatiate. That the Irish Celt in the colonies and in the United States should retain so much of the anti-Saxon sentiment is to be accounted for by the circumstances in which he has parted with us here at home ; but this, though we may anticipate its reaction upon ourselves, should not prevent us from hearing of his success with sympathy and pleasure.

Although it so chances that, of all the three remaining fragments of the Celtic race in these islands (four, if we include the Manx), the Scottish Gael has the lion's share of popular interest, this is owing rather to what has been done for his literary representation and recommendation by the genius of Scott and others than to any recognition of him through the medium of native literary relics. Welsh bards are more than mere shadows to the student of our literary history; Irish annalists have been heard of with respect; but of printed or manuscript remains of the Scottish Gael the rumour has been of the faintest. Since the days of the Ossian controversy, indeed, it has been as much as a man's character for sanity was worth to talk of such things. The rough horse-criticism which trampled out Macpherson's pretensions in respect of the special Ossian poems had trampled out also all belief in the possible existence of any old Gaelic legends or poems whatever.

Of late, however, a suspicion has crept in that the horsecritics were too summary in their treatment of the question. Arguing from a kind of a priori principle that every ráce must have its poems and legends, people have been disposed to believe in the existence of Gaelic poems and legends, still perhaps recoverable, some of which might throw new light on the Ossian controversy. Actual search, it seems, has confirmed the belief. Mr. Campbell's opinion on this point will be received with attention.

heroes before the Celts came from Ireland, and answer to Arthur and his knights elsewhere. That the same personages have figured in poems composed, or altered, or improved by bards who lived in Scotland, and by Irish bards of all periods; and that these personages have been mythical heroes amongst the Celts from the earliest of times. That 'the poems' were orally collected by Macpherson and by men before him, by Dr. Smith, by the Committee of the Highland Society, and by others; and that the printed Gaelic is old poetry, mended, and patched, and pieced together, but on the whole a genuine work. Manuscript evidence of the antiquity of similar Gaelic poems exists. ... Macpherson's 'translation’appeared between 1760 and 1762, and the controversy raged from the beginning and is growling still ; but the dispute now is whether the poems were originally Scotch or Irish, and how much Macpherson altered them. It is like the quarrel about the chameleon; for the languages spoken in Islay and Rathlin are identical, and the language of the poems is difficult for me, though I have spoken Gaelic from my child hood. There is no doubt at all that Gaelic poems on such subjects existed long before Macpherson was born; and it is equally certain that there is no composition in the Gaelic language which bears the smallest resemblance in style to the peculiar kind of prose in which it pleased Macpherson to translate. . . . The illiterate [Gaels) seem to have no opinion on the subject. So far as I could ascertain, few had heard of the controversy ; but they had all heard scraps of stories about the Finne, all their lives; and they are content to believe that. Ossian, the last of the Finne,' composed the poems, wrote them, and burned his book in a pet, because St. Patrick, or St. Paul, or some other saint would not believe his wonder ful stories.” 1

It is not, however, of such Ossianic legends or traditions of the Finne that Mr. Campbell's present collection mainly consists, but of more miscellaneous popular tales, still current in the West Highlands, where, when there is a good teller present, they are listened to by young and old through whole winter nights. Their character is indicated by the titles prefixed to them"The Young King of Easaidh Ruadh," “The Battle of the Birds,” “The SeaMaiden,” “Conal Cra Bhuidhe,” “Conal Crovi,” “The Brown Bear of the Green

“I believe that there were poems of very old date, of which a few fragments still exist in Scotland as pure traditions. That these related to Celtic worthies who were popular

1 See a Skye version of the legend of Ossian and his poems, as told by Mr. Alexander Smith, in his paper “In a Skye Bothie,” in Macmillan's Magazine, for December, 1859. It may be compared with a version given in one of the stories in Mr. Campbell's collection.

66

[ocr errors]

Glen," "The Daughter of the Skies," the element in all is poetical ; and not “ The Girl and the Dead Man,” “The unfrequently there are situations and King of Lochlann's Three Daughters,” fancies full of suggestion, which the “The Slim Swarthy Champion," "The cultured ideality of a poet like Tennyson Shifty Lad," “ The Smith and the might effectively appropriate and deFairies,” “The Queen who sought a velope. What Mr. Campbell says of the drink from a certain Well,” “ The Origin ethical spirit of the tales is also worthy of Loch Ness," “ The Three Widows," of notice. “Amidst curious rubbish," “ The Sharp Grey Sheep," &c. &c. As

he
says,

in his dedication of the tales to these titles will suggest, the tales are, as the young Marquis of Lorne, "you will nearly as possible, the Gaelic counter- “find sound sense, if you look for it. parts of Dr. Dasent's Norse translations “ You will find the creed of the people, -exactly the same kinds of stories as shown in their stories, to be, that about kings sons

and daughters, “ wisdom and courage, though weak, younger and elder brothers, giants, fairies, may overcome strength, and ignorance enchantments, magic horses, talking “and pride; that the most despised is beasts and birds, miraculous swords, “often the most worthy; that small golden apples, &c., as compose Dr. Da- beginnings lead to great results.

You sent's volume; with this difference, that “will find perseverance, frugality and there the manner of thinking, the tone, “ filial piety rewarded ; pride, greed, and the colour, the whole air and scenery, “ lazines3 punished. You will find are Norse, whereas here they are Gaelic. “much that tells of barbarous times ; On the whole, as tales—whether be- “I hope you will find nothing that can cause here we have what came first to “hurt or should offend.” On the whole, the net in a water not previously fished, the book, as a book of stories, is of a whereas in Dr. Dasent's volume we have kind to be welcome in all households at the picked specimens of the Norse stories this Christmas season ; at which season, -the contents of the book are not by immemorial custom, fairies, giants, equal to those of Dr. Dasent's. The and all the supernatural beings of the Gaelic tales want the breadth, the extinct mythologies—whether those that hearty humour, the open freshness of flutter beneficent in the air above us, or their Norse counterparts; in reading that moan imprisoned in the midnight which we seem to be among the fair- blast, or that haunt our knolls and woodhaired Scandinavians, free and ruddy lands, or that dwell hideous in pools and under their cold blue skies. These are caves, or that tenant the depths of Tarmore narrow, concentrated, sly, and tarus and clank, far underground, their sombre, as of a people living in glens, white-hot chains-revisit our pitying and by the lips of dark deep lochs, gaze, and whirl once more through the though with woods and mountains of thoughts of men. For, according to the heather and fair green spots all round poet, is not this season the anniversary and at hand. For mere pleasure a of their banishment and doom? In that grown-up reader will go through fewer hour of wonder when the star which led of Mr. Campbell's than of Dr. Dasent's the Magi stood still over the Judæan hut, stories continuously-finding them, after what consternation, he says, among the one or two specimens, of a more puerile old mythologies ! The oracles were order of interest, with fewer of those dumb; Apollo fled from his shrine; strokes of really new invention, and those the nymphs were heard weeping on gleams of shrewd significance for the the mountains; conscious of a greator intellect, which are necessary to lure power near, Peor, Baalim, and all the most grown-up readers through stories false gods of the East, forsook their of the kind. But some of the stories temples. are really good as stories ; most of them

So, when the Sun in bed, would be favourites with children, if Curtain'd with cloudy red,

224 Gaelic and Norse Popular Tales ; An Apology for the Celt. The flocking shadows pale

illiterate peasantry in remote European Troop to the Infernal Jail;

districts. The number of such instances Each fetter'd ghost slips to his several grave; And the yellow-skirted Fays

of the ubiquity of legends, of their Fly after the Night-steeds, leaving their moon. universality in all times and in all lov'd maze.

tongues, is so great as to press for some

hypothesis to account for it. First The old theological theory, here so there presents itself the obvious hypopoetically expressed, that the super- thesis of intercommunication—the hynatural beings of the popular belief still pothesis that a striking or significant do actually roam the universe as real

tale, originating in one spot or counexistences, and are the cashiered and try, has radiated gradually from that degraded gods of the extinct mytholo- spot or country, taking on changes, till gies, is, as all are aware, no longer in some form of it is found everywhere. fashion. And here, had we space, we This hypothesis, however, the authorities might consider Mr. Campbell's work in dismiss, as not adequate to the facts a third aspect—not only as an interest which they profess to bring forward. ing illustration of the Gaelic character There are cases, they say, where the same and mode of thinking, and a collection fable crops out at points of time and of stories readable on their own account; space so far apart as to make intercombut also as a contribution to the science munication, direct or circuitous, inconof Mythology, or to that branch of it ceivable. Equally they set aside the which Mr. Campbell – in order, we hypothesis of coincident imagination. suppose, to distinguish between tales of There remains, therefore, the theory of the ordinary kind and religious legends historical ramification. This is the -calls, somewhat uncouthly, “the sci- theory actually adopted. The tales ence of Storyology." Referring, how- and legends which we find common ever, to Dr. Dasent's essay for a full

among the Celtic, the Gothic, the Slastatement of the doctrine now offered vonian, the Latin, and the Greek nations by authorities in this science, we can of the present Europe, and which we but indicate its nature.

find also among the Indians, are, as it The fact upon which the inquirers were, the water-rolled drift which has lay stress, and which is the starting come down traditionally among these point of their inquiries, is the ubiquity nations, through their several channels, of certain legends or types of legend. from that primeval and pre-historic A tale which is found among the Gaels time when as yet they had not disengaged of Scotland is found also

among

their themselves from the great Aryan or Celtic kinsmen of Britain or the Conti- Indo-European mass to which they are nent; and not only amongst them,"but traced back also by the evidence of amongst the Gothic peoples also ; and common vocables in their several lannot only amongst them, but amongst the guages ! Nay, just as a profound phiSlavonians also; and not only amongst lology detects latent identities between them, but also in India and the East gene- the Indo-European family of tongues rally. Nay, the same tale may be traced and the Semitic or the Mongolian, so back in time, till it is found amongst a profound mythology will not despair the ancient Greeks and Romans, or of finding traces of legend carrying us the primeval Orientals. Fables which back beyond the grand Aryan disenwe read in ancient Sanskrit books, in tanglement to a still earlier, and more

The Arabian Nights' Entertainments, inscrutable, period. For in the Greek Æsop, in Latin authors, ments on behalf of this startling conin Boccaccio,” in the Countess D'Aul- clusion — to which, we think, there noy's French collection, &c., turn up are objections deserving consideration at the present day, as still current, —we must again refer to the works under various disguises, among the

among the before us.

the argu

CATHAIR FHARGUS.

(FERGUS'S SEAT.) A Mountain in the Island of Arran, the Summit of which resembles a gigantic

Human Profile.

[blocks in formation]

What matter? The star-angels know it all.

They who came sweeping through the silent night
And stood before me, yet did not appal:

1 Till, fighting 'gainst me in their courses bright,
Celestial smote terrestrial.—Hence, my fall.
Hence, Heaven cursed me with a granted prayer;

Made my hill-seat eternal : bade me keep
My pageant of majestic lone despair,

While one by one into the infinite deep
Sank kindred, realm, throne, world: yet I lay there.

And there I lie. Where are my glories fled ?

My wisdom that I boasted as divine ?
My grand primæval women fair, who shed

Their whole life's joy to crown one hour of mine,
And lived to curse the love they coveted ?

1 “The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.

« ZurückWeiter »