The Critical Study of Gaelic Literature Indispensable for the History of the Gaelic Race

Alfred Nutt
1904 The Celtic Review  
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more » ... concerned with questions of primary interest in Gaelic literature, and these are the same for all sections of Gaeldom. But I have appended some remarks upon certain aspects of these questions which more specially affect the Scottish Gael, and I have added a few explanatory or qualifying footnotes.] A HISTORY of the Gaelic race, at once accurate and detailed, possessing that vivid and lifelike aspect which nearly always results from full and accurate detail, cannot but be desired by all who care for that race, whether they belong to it or no. Where are the elements of that history to be sought, and what is the value of each element ? If I mistake not, few would answer these questions by placing the rich and varied romantic and poetic literature of the Gael on the same level as his chronicles, genealogies, legal and institutional remains, architectural and archaeological monuments; nor would they regard it as contributing aught of primary importance to the wished-for picture of the evolution of the Gaelic race and its culture. The paradox I wish to submit to you is that saga and saint's legend, ballad and romance, vision and satire, elegy and lyric eulogium of nature (the chief categories of Gaelic literature) are, on the contrary, elements of first-rate This content downloaded from on Sat, 26 Dec 2015 04:56:12 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions THE CELTIC REVIEW importance for the realisation of such a story of the Gaelic race as shall be of general and world-wide, and not merely racial and provincial, significance. And if I succeed in convincing you that this seeming paradox is in reality the sober statement of a neglected truth, I would further ask your assent to the proposition that these elements of your racial history only assume their true value, only yield up their full secret, when they are studied with all the resources that modern critical scholarship has created and elaborated during the past century. What is the essential import of Gaelic history for humanity at large ? It is that, like the Scandinavian German, like (but in a far richer and fuller measure) the Brythonic Celt of Wales, the Gael has preserved the older barbaric world of our Aryan and pre-Aryan forefathers almost uncontaminated by Christian-classic civilisation. Do not misundertand me; I would not for one moment place on the same level the elements which modern European culture has derived from what may be called Aryan barbarism with those it has derived from Grmeco-Roman civilisation, whether in its Pagan form or profoundly modified by Christianity. What I do assert is that Humanity would be immensely the poorer if Rome had been as successful in the north-west and north as she was in the south and centre of Europe; if she had imposed her tongue and culture upon Ireland and Northern Britain and Scandinavia as she imposed it upon Spain, Gaul, and Southern Germany. But, and this is my point, Humanity would be the poorer in the domain of what is imagined rather than in that of what is realised, in vision and artistry rather than in political and social organisation. Not that we need wholly condemn this latter aspect of barbaric, as compared with Roman culture. We have learned that at every stage of his upward progress, even the earliest, man has devised and elaborated forms of social organisation which do not deserve to perish wholly; further, that progress is not infrequently unjust towards the stage out of which it has immediately emerged, and that, in a yet later and more This content downloaded from on Sat, 26 Dec 2015 04:56:12 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
doi:10.2307/30069769 fatcat:ruouvwwfyvgxhfxck7mwvhgula