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IRELAND AND WALES ; GREECE; THE ROMANCE TONGUE.
IRISH SCHOLARSHIP - IRISH PROSE — DEIRDRE - TOCHMARC FERBE'
IRISH VERSE-WALES-WELSH VERSE-WELSH PROSE: THE MAB-
THE Latin education of Ireland began earlier and was better maintained than in other countries. The EngIrish Scholar. lish and other Teutonic nations received ship. instruction from the Irish, and that not only at the beginning of their studies : Irish learning did not exhaust itself in missionary work and was not merged in the progress of its German pupils; it kept its vivifying power through many generations, and repeated in the ninth century the good works of the fifth, again contributing fresh material and a still rarer spirit of inquiry to the common erudition of the Continent.1
1 See above, p. 160. The nature of ordinary Irish scholarship, and at the same time of many educational commonplaces not peculiarly Irish, may be well seen in the fragmentary exposition of the Psalter, edited by Dr Kuno Meyer, Hibernica Minora, Oxford, 1894.
With all this, Celtic literature is more primitive than anything in Anglo-Saxon or Icelandic; unrestrained in fancy, and as careless about modern courtesies as about the probabilities and proprieties of the understanding. The two extremes are often found together in Irish, without any attempt at harmony. The wildest story will begin with a calm recital of the four requisites of story-telling. “The four things that are required of every story are required of this one-viz., time, and place, and person, and the cause of invention.” These are formulas from school notebooks. The correct opening does not seem to promise much more excitement than the ordinary medieval chapter-heading: “Inasmuch as we are told by the philosopher that all men naturally desire knowledge,” &c. But the lecture-room and its influences are soon forgotten when the story gets under way, though at any moment a learned reference may appear casually, to show that those who wrote out and enjoyed the adventures of Cuchulain, “the Distorted of Ireland,” had also in their minds the ordinary garnishings of Latin culture.
In some important respects Irish literature is more deeply affected by Latin than German is, though German literature showed itself generally so meek and conformable, and made so feeble a stand for its native traditions in comparison with Irish. Irish verse is founded upon Latin almost entirely." There was an old Celtic kind of verse with some analogies to the
i Thurneysen, Zur irischen Accent und Verslehre, Revue Celtique, vi. 309-347.
old Teutonic, and still more to the old Latin—an inexact alliterative line." But this is not used largely, and the most popular Irish verse is a modification of Latin trochaics.” The literature which had least inclination towards conformity, and which has kept its ideas longer than any other, unspoilt by any modern platitude, was invaded and conquered, earlier than one can tell, by the foreign prosody. The technical part of Irish verse is not purely Celtic.
* The following specimen of old verse is quoted by Thurneysen from the tale of the Sick-bed of Cuchulinn (Irische Texte, i. p. 211):—
This has analogies with the old Latin accentual rhythm :—
“uti tu morbos | visos invisosque
—Cato, De Re Rustica, 141: arranged by
* Seadma is the name for the verse that comes nearest to the regular tetrameter— “Rombith oróit let a Maire, rop trócar ri nime dun
The commonest form is Debide, four lines of seven syllables with rhymes like string : dāncing (Keats, Endymion, i. ll. 313, 314)—
The prose, on the other hand, is as free as the Icelandic, and much more antique in its idiom. Icelandic prose of the thirteenth century is not what is commonly called mediaeval. Its narrative and dialogue may be compared with the most accomplished in the modern tongues. It has nothing to learn in the way of self-command, clearness, irony. Irish prose uses an antique syntax, sometimes like that of mediaeval French, the language that never lost its childhood, running on happily from phrase to phrase without stopping to think of elaborate constructions. Old French will tell a story by simply tacking on one sentence to another with the particle si. Old Irish uses the same loose construction: “Lotar assiarom, con ráncatar téeb na indse, con’ accatar in lungine crédume forsind loch ar a cind.” “Then they went on, so they came over against the island, so they saw the boat of bronze on the lake before them "Sick-bed of Cuchulinn, c. 15.
But besides this easy-going manner there are many complications, some of them part of the ordinary spoken language, some of them artificial ornaments. Varied and difficult grammar is as natural to old Irish as the simple stringing of sentences. The language is well provided with a passive voice, a subjunctive mood, and a large assortment of tenses. The colloquial arrangement of words is naturally rhetorical, often putting, for instance, the personal name in an emphatic place by itself: “As for Conchobar, there was the valour of a hero in him "-" Cid Conchobar dano bá gal churad leis.” One favourite construction
agrees with an old French practice which the grammarians have troubled themselves to explain : “a jewel of a man ” gives the type of it, or, more elaborately, "two candles of valour of five-edged spears in the hand of each man of them "_"Dá chaindill gaiscid di shlegaib cóicrinnechaib illáim cech fhir dib.”
In ornamental prose the Irish taste occasionally went beyond all limits: there is a certain kind of profuse meaningless epithet work which came to be a convention in Irish, and with this very often the sounder and older prose was overlaid in new versions. But besides this there is a good type of Euphuism where the ornament does not obscure the meaning, and the epithet, though conventional, is not otiose. Alliteration is seldom long wanting. A more sparing use is made of grammatical figures, but antithesis is common, as it is in the popular language of the fairy tales: “A green knoll, at the face of the sun and the back of the wind, where they were near to their friends and far from their foes !” A specimen piece of old Irish rhetoric is the formula: “Though he was a youth in years he was a warrior in might of battle” —“Bá ségda súairc sobésach in rígmacc bói rempu, ocus ciar bo maccóem iar n-áis ropo milid iar mórgasciud.” 1
1 Irische Texte, iii. p. 484 (Tochmarc Ferbe). A specimen of Irish rhetoric, conventional but not dull, may be quoted here from the Battle of Ventry : “And like the wild, noisy, rough-streamed, terrible waterfall that pours through a narrow thin rock, or like a fierce red blaze of fire with high-peaked flames through the wide roof of a king's palace, or like the roar of a white-crested, green-chinned, wailing, white-foaming, full-watered wave of the great sea around it, so was the overthrowing and the scattering and the beating and the tearing into pieces and wild hacking which Oscar inflicted on