T. W. ROLLESTON
MYTHS & LEGENDS OF THE CELTIC RACE
CONSTABLE - LONDON
British edition published by Constable and Company Limited, London
First published 1911 by George G. Harrap & Co., London
The Past may be forgotten, but it never dies. The elements which in the most remote times have entered into a nation's composition endure through all its history, and help to mould that history, and to stamp the character and genius of the people.
The examination, therefore, of these elements, and the recognition, as far as possible, of the part they have actually contributed to the warp and weft of a nation's life, must be a matter of no small interest and importance to those who realise that the present is the child of the past, and the future of the present; who will not regard themselves, their kinsfolk, and their fellow-citizens as mere transitory phantoms, hurrying from darkness into darkness, but who know that, in them, a vast historic stream of national life is passing from its distant and mysterious origin towards a future which is largely conditioned by all the past wanderings of that human stream, but which is also, in no small degree, what they, by their courage, their patriotism, their knowledge, and their understanding, choose to make it.
The part played by the Celtic race as a formative influence in the history, the literature, and the art of the people inhabiting the British Islands—a people which from that centre has spread its dominions over so vast an area of the earth's surface—has been unduly obscured in popular thought. For this the current use of the term “Anglo-Saxon” applied to the British people as a designation of race is largely responsible. Historically the term is quite misleading. There is nothing to justify this singling out of two Low-German tribes when we wish to indicate the race-character of the British people. The use of it leads to such absurdities as that which the writer noticed not [pg 10] long ago, when the proposed elevation by the Pope of an Irish bishop to a cardinalate was described in an English newspaper as being prompted by the desire of the head of the Catholic Church to pay a compliment to “the Anglo-Saxon race.”
The true term for the population of these islands, and for the typical and dominant part of the population of North America, is not Anglo-Saxon, but Anglo-Celtic. It is precisely in this blend of Germanic and Celtic elements that the British people are unique—it is precisely this blend which gives to this people the fire, the élan, and in literature and art the sense of style, colour, drama, which are not common growths of German soil, while at the same time it gives the deliberateness and depth, the reverence for ancient law and custom, and the passion for personal freedom, which are more or less strange to the Romance nations of the South of Europe. May they never become strange to the British Islands! Nor is the Celtic element in these islands to be regarded as contributed wholly, or even very predominantly, by the populations of the so-called “Celtic Fringe.” It is now well known to ethnologists that the Saxons did not by any means exterminate the Celtic or Celticised populations whom they found in possession of Great Britain. Mr. E.W.B. Nicholson, librarian of the Bodleian, writes in his important work “Keltic Researches” (1904):
“Names which have not been purposely invented to describe race must never be taken as proof of race, but only as proof of community of language, or community of political organisation. We call a man who speaks English, lives in England, and bears an obviously English name (such as Freeman or Newton), an Englishman. Yet from the statistics of ‘relative [pg 11] nigrescence’ there is good reason to believe that Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, and part of Sussex are as Keltic as Perthshire and North Munster; that Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Devon, Dorset, Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, and Bedfordshire are more so—and equal to North Wales and Leinster; while Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire exceed even this degree, and are on a level with South Wales and Ulster.”1
It is, then, for an Anglo-Celtic, not an “Anglo-Saxon,” people that this account of the early history, the religion, and the mythical and romantic literature of the Celtic race is written. It is hoped that that people will find in it things worthy to be remembered as contributions to the general stock of European culture, but worthy above all to be borne in mind by those who have inherited more than have any other living people of the blood, the instincts and the genius of the Celt.