Romantic Celticism in Context

  • Christine Gallant


Of course, the real question to be answered is why Keats would share the antiquarians’ enthusiasm for Celticism. Why would he be attracted to the history of the Celts in antiquity as well as their history on the British Isles, and from such an early age? Why would a primary source for his poetry from its very beginnings be, as termed by an early twentieth-century anthropologist of the British Isles, “the fairy-faith”?1 His fascination was not solely aesthetic. Celticism in general implied defiance of the present political British status quo. Moreover, Celtic-derived folklore provided him with the quietly held means of resistance to the period’s aristocratic literary establishment that privileged classical learning as an index of breeding and culture. The “fairy-faith” may also have been congenial to his own quicksilver sense of ambiguity and possibility.2 Certainly, allusions to classical mythology run through Keats’s poetry. But so do the closer native myths that, as Celtic scholars believed, were prior in their origins to classicism.


Eighteenth Century British Isle Early Nineteenth Century Classical Antiquity World Picture 
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    See Edward Snyder, The Celtic Revival in English Literature, 1760–1800, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Christine Gallant 2005

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  • Christine Gallant

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