« PreviousContinue »
in a field of slaughter on the Solway Firth, lost reason at sight of the miseries and horrors that surrounded him, broke his sword, and fled the society of man. Thenceforth he poured lament through all his music, and at last he was found dead by the banks of a river. Of other bards the memories survive, but these were the chief; and if the records of their lives be blended with much fable, they do, nevertheless, retain truths out of the life of that great time of effervescence which preceded in this country a blending of the elements of English strength.
7. Influence of the Celt on English literature proceeds not from example set by one people and followed by another, but in the way of nature, by establishment of blood relationship, and the transmission of modified and blended character to a succeeding generation.
The pure Gael-now represented by the Irish and Scotch Celts-was, at his best, an artist. He had a sense of literature, he had active and bold imagination, joy in bright colour, skill in music, touches of a keen sense of honour in most savage times, and in religion fervent and self-sacrificing zeal. In the Cymry -now represented by the Celts of Wales---there was the same artist nature. By natural difference, and partly, no doubt, because their first known poets learnt in suffering what they taught in song, the oldest Cymric music comes to us, not like the music of the Irish harp, in throbbings of a pleasant tuneful. ness, but as a wail that beats again, again, and again some iterated burden on the ear.
The blending of the Celt and Teuton had begun in the north even before the days of the great battle at Cattraeth. Some passages in Aneurin's Gododin show that Celts of part of the Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire coast, the men of Deivyr and Bryneich (Deira and Bernicia), had remained there and become incorporated with the new possessors of the soil. There never was repulse of the whole boily of the Cymry into Wales. Bede, writing a hundred and fifty years after the battle of Cattraeth, speaks of the Britons of Northumberland as being in his day partly free and partly subject to the Angles. In the hill-country of the north and west, to which the Teuton did not care to follow with his plough, and in the sens, were independent Celts. The drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe is one of Falstaff's similes for melancholy. The familiar presence of the bagpipe indicates a former Celtic occupation of the fens. In the West of England the Celts were so far from having been entirely driven
INFLUENCE OF THE CELT
9 into Wales that in King Alfred's time, three centuries after the struggle ended at Cattraeth, a line from north to south, dividing England into equal parts, had on the west side of it a country in which Celts abounded. They were the chief occupants of the five south-western counties. In Athelstane's time, Celts and Teutons, Britons and Englishmen, divided equal rule in Exeter. Neither in the West nor in the North of England were the Celts enslaved. Wales they had to themselves; and there they cherished British nationality. But where they lived among the English they accepted, when outnumbered, the established power; or, if in equal force, divided rule, and lived in either case as fellow-citizens with their Teutonic neighbours.
In the fusion of the two races, which then slowly began among the hills and valleys of the North and West of England, where the populations came most freely into contact, the gift of genius was the contribution of the Celt. The writer of our latest and best history of Architecture, when preparing the ground for his work by a survey of the characteristics of different races in relation to his art, says that “the true glory of the Celt in Europe is his artistic eminence. It is not, perhaps," adds Mr. Fergusson, “ too much to assert that without his intervention we should not have possessed in modern times a church worthy of admiration, or a picture or a statue we could look at without shame.”
8. The sense of literature was shown in the earliest times by the support of a distinct literary class among the Celts who then possessed this country. In Erin, the first headquarters of song and story, even in the third century, there was the poet with his staff of office, a square tablet staff, on the four sides of which he cut his verse ; and there were degrees in literature. There was the Ollamh, or perfect doctor, who could recite seven fifties of historic tales ; and there were others, down to the Driseg, who could tell but twenty. As we travel down from the remotest time of which there can be doubtful record, we find the profession of historian to be a recognised calling, transmitted in one family from generation to generation, and these later professors of history still bore the name of Ollamhs. Of the active and bold fancy that accompanied this Celtic sense of literature as an art, and of the Celt's delight in bright colour, almost any one of the old Gaelic poems will bear witness. The delight in colour is less manifest in the first poems of the Cymry. For them the one colour was that of blood ; they are
of the sixth century, and sing of men who died in the vain fighi against the spreading power of the Teuton. Of those Gaels who were known as Gauls to Rome, Diodorus, the Sicilian, told, three centuries before the time of Fionn and Oisin, how they wore bracelets and costly finger-rings, gold corselets, and dyed tunics flowered with colours of every kind, trews, striped cloaks fastened with a brooch and divided into many parti-coloured squares, a taste still represented by the Highland plaid. In the old Gaelic tale of the “ Tain Bo,” men are described marching : “Soine are with red cloaks; others with light blue cloaks ; others with deep blue cloaks ; others with green, or grey, or white, or yellow cloaks, bright and fluttering about them. There is a young, red-freckled lad, with a crimson cloak, in their midst; a golden brooch in that cloak at his breast.” Even the ghost of a Celt, if it dropped the substance, retained all the colouring of life. The vivacity of Celtic fancy is shown also by an outpou ng of bold metaphor and effective simile :
“ Both shoulders covered with his painted shield
Son of Bleedvan the Bold." Here, in a mere average stanza, containing one of the ninety celebrations of the Cymric chiefs who fell at Cattraeth, we have more similes than in the six thousand and odd lines (English measure) of “Beowulf,” the first heroic poem of the Teutonic section of our people. The delight in music-among the old Irish Celts in the music of the harp and tabor, among the old Welsh Celts in music of the harp, the pipe, and the crowd-is another characteristic. It is noted also that the music of the Gaels was sweet, lively, and rapid ; and that the music of the Cymry was slower and more monotonous.
In the old Gaelic story of the first appearance of their people in Erin, we read how the Milesians landed unobserved, marched upon Tara, and called on the three kings of the Tuatha de Danaan, who then held the country, to surrender. The kings
THE FIRST ENGLISH
answered that they had been taken by surprise, and that the invaders ought to re-embark, retire nine waves, and try whether they could make good their landing in fair fight. The Milesians agreed that this was just, and did try back. We are not bound to believe that such things were ever done ; enough for us that there is the temper of the people indicated by the character of its inventions. And they are suggestions of a chivalrous ideal in old days of savage artist life, when the Celt was a pagan gentleman very much in the rough; savage times when, says another of these old tales, the Ulster men mixed the brains of their slain enemies with lime, and played with the hard balls they made of them. Such a brainstone is said to have gone through the skull of Conchobar, who lived afterwards seven years with two brains in his head, always sitting very still, because it would be death to shake himself. The Ollamh of old told, doubtless, this story with a roguish twinkle of the eye that has descended to his children's children.
The self-sacrificing zeal that entered into the religion of the Celts bore fruit in the first Christianising of the English.
THE FORMING OF THE PEOPLE :
1. The First English, who are commonly known by the schoolname of Anglo-Saxons, but who called themselves, as we call ourselves now, the English people (Englisc folc), were formed by a gradual blending of Teutonic tribes. They came, at different times and in different generations, from different parts . of the opposite coast. On our eastern shores, from the Moray Firth to below Whitby, the land lay readiest of access to men from the opposite side of the North Sea, among whom Scandinavians were numerous; accordingly, the Scandinavian element is chiefly represented in the character, form, face, and provincial dialects of our north country. The part of our east coast belonging now to Lincolnshire was readiest of access to the Danes; and in Lincolnshire the Danish element is strongly represented. Farther south, our coast was opposite the Frisian settlements; therefore, among the immigrants over the North Sea to Southern England, the Frisians, forefathers of the
modern Dutchmen, would predominate. Adventurers of many tribes might join in any single expedition. When they had forined their settlements, the Teutonic spirit of co-operation, and the social progress that came of it, produced changes of home, intermarriages, community of interests, community of speech in a language proper to the cultivated men of the whole country. This manner of speech, First English (or Anglo Saxon), was not brought complete from any place upon the Cortinent, but it was formed here by a fusion of the closelyrelated languages or dialects of the Teutonic immigrants. The Teutons of the coast being chiefly the Low Germans, our first English were chiefly a Low German people. The language formed by them, and written with care as they advanced in culture, was mainly Frisian in structure. They called it English. It was English. Let us call it, then, First English, and avoid the confusion of ideas produced by giving it-as if it were the language of another people—the separate name of Anglo-Saxon. Their educated men wrote it with much regard to uniformity of practice and grammatical accuracy. The main body of the people spoke it, as they still do, with less regard to grammar, and with great diversities of vocabulary, idiom, and pronunciation. Those diversities are still sharply defined, though in the course of centuries they have been softened by continuance of free communication, and by intermarriage between men and women of all English provinces. The provincial dialects still bear very distinct witness to the original diversity of the Teutonic colonists ; but these differences are not expressed by the Latin words, Anglus and Saxo. Anglus was only a Latin form of Englisc (pronounced English), the name by which the people called itself; and Saxon was the name which others gave to them. This might readily come into some formal use in the south, where Church-bred statesmen had a Roman education ; but in the north it might be less familiar, because there the first educated priestly class was not formed on the Roman model. Thus Bede, a north countryman, tells of English or Angle settlements in his own part of the country ; but, being informed by a southern correspondent of the Saxon settlements of Southern England, supposes that the difference of word means difference of people. Difference there was—in the north were more Scan. dinavians, in the south more Frisians—but they all took English for their common name; and when they were first incidentally called Anglo-Saxons by Bishop Asser, the biographer of King