The Celtic Element in Literature
Ernest Renan described what he held to be Celtic characteristics in The Poetry of the Celtic Races. I must repeat the wellknown sentences: ‘No race communed so intimately as the Celtic race with the lower creation, or believed it to have so big a share of moral life.’ The Celtic race had ‘a realistic naturalism,’ ‘a love of Nature for herself, a vivid feeling for her magic, commingled with the melancholy a man knows when he is face to face with her, and thinks he hears her communing with him about his origin and his destiny.’ ‘It has worn itself out in mistaking dreams for realities,’ and ‘compared with the classical imagination the Celtic imagination is indeed the infinite contrasted with the finite.’ ‘Its history is one long lament, it still recalls its exiles, its flights across the seas.’ ‘If at times it seems to be cheerful, its tear is not slow to glisten behind the smile. Its songs of joy end as elegies; there is nothing to equal the delightful sadness of its national melodies.’ Matthew Arnold, in The Study of Celtic Literature, has accepted this passion for Nature, this imaginativeness, this melancholy, as Celtic characteristics, but has described them more elaborately.
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