Comment on Article
Celtic Literature and Poetry
Written by: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition
I. Irish Literature.—In the absence of a native coinage it is extremely difficult to say when the use of letters was introduced into Ireland. It is probable that the Latin alphabet first came in with Christianity. With the exception Ogam inscriptions.of the one bilingual Ogam inscription as yet discovered in Ireland (that at Killeen Cormac) all the inscriptions in Roman letters are certainly later than 500. Indeed, apart from the stone reading “LIE LUGUAEDON MACCI MENUEH,” they are all contemporary with or later than the Old Irish glosses. With regard to the Ogam inscriptions we cannot make any confident assertions. Owing to the lack of criteria for dating certain Irish sound-changes accurately it is impossible to assign chronological limits for the earlier stones. The latter cannot be later than the 5th century, but there is nothing to show whether they are Christian or not, and if pagan they may be a century or two earlier. It is true that the heroes and druids of the older epics are represented in the stories as making constant use of Ogam letters on wood and stone, and as the state of civilization described in the oldest versions of the Ulster sagas seems largely to go back to the beginning of the Christian era, it is not impossible that this peculiar system of writing had been 623framed by them. The Ogam system is certainly based on the Latin and not the Greek alphabet, and was probably invented by some person from the south of Ireland who received his knowledge of the Roman letters from traders from the mouth of the Loire. It may, however, be regarded as certain that the Ogam script was never employed in early times for literary purposes. We are told that the Gaulish druids disdained to commit their lore to writing, although they were familiar with the use of Greek letters, and their Irish confrères probably resembled them in this respect. Tradition connects the codification of the Brehon Laws with the name of Patrick, and there is reason for believing, as we shall see later, that the greatest Irish epic was first committed to writing in the 7th century.
The great bulk of Irish literature is contained in MSS. belonging to the Middle Irish period (1100-1550), and in order to be able to treat this literature as a whole it will be convenient for us to deal first with those documents which are Old Irish MSS.termed Old Irish, especially as the contemporary remains of the literature of the earlier period are almost exclusively of a religious nature. Most of the Old Irish documents have been printed by Stokes and Strachan in the Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, and where no reference is given the reader is referred to that monumental work. The extraordinary outburst of intellectual activity in Ireland from the 6th to the 9th centuries and the compositions of Irishmen in the Latin language, belong to the history of medieval European literature and fall outside the scope of this article. For theConfession of St Patrick and his “Letter to the Subjects of Coroticus” see Patrick. The only Irish document ascribed to the saint is the strange so-called “Hymn,” the fáeth fiada, more properly fóid fiada, “the cry of the deer.” This is a rhythmical incantation which is said Hymns.to have rendered the saint and his companions invisible to King Loigaire and his druids. The Trinity and powers of nature are invoked to help him to resist spells of women and smiths and wizards. The hymn, which contains a number of strange grammatical forms, is undoubtedly referred to in the Book of Armagh, and may very well go back to the 5th century. The Latin hymns contained in two MSS. dating from the end of the 11th or beginning of the 12th century, a Trinity College, Dublin, MS., and a MS. belonging to the Franciscan monastery in Dublin, are of interest to us as exhibiting the influence of the native metrical system. Quantity and elision are ignored, and rhymes, assonances, alliterations and harmonies abound in true Irish fashion. The line consists of two units which commonly contain either seven or eight syllables apiece. The earliest and best-known of these religious poems are the Hymn of Secundinus (Sechnall d. 447) on St Patrick, and the two hymns attributed to St Columba (d. 597) beginning “Noli pater” and “Altus prosator,” the latter of which exhibits some of the peculiarities of the so-called Hibernian Latin of the Hisperica Famina and the Lorica of Gildas. The date of the Irish hymns in the Liber Hymnorum ranges, according to Stokes and Strachan, from the 7th to the 11th centuries. Ultán’s hymn on St Brigit beginning “Brigit bé bithmaith,” which is by far the most artistic of the collection, was perhaps composed in the 7th century. Definite metrical laws had evidently been elaborated when this poem was written. The beat is iambic, but the natural accent of the words is rigidly observed. The long line consists of two units of five syllables each. The rhymes are dissyllabic and perfect. Alliteration is always observed in the latter half of each line and assonances are found knitting up the half-lines. The short prayer ascribed to Ninine or to Fiacc is a highly alliterative piece without rhyme, the date of which cannot be fixed. The well-known hymn on St Patrick traditionally ascribed to Fiacc, bishop of Sletty, and the piece beginning “Sén Dé,” traditionally ascribed to Colmán, are assigned on linguistic grounds to the beginning of the 9th century. The lines going by the name of “Sanctán’s Hymn” probably belong to the same century, whilst the metrical catalogue of marvels performed by St Brigit contains such a medley of older and later forms, probably due to interpolation, that it is impossible to determine its age. The few lines entitled “Mael-Ísu’s Hymn” are the most recent of all and probably belong to the 11th century (Mael-Ísu d. 1086). The Patrician documents by Muirchu Maccu Machthéni, who professed to write at the command of Bishop Aed of Sletty (d. 698), and by Tirechán, who is said to have received his information from Bishop Ultán (d. 656), are contained in the Book of Armagh, a MS. compiled by Ferdomnach in 807. These documents, like the Life of St Columba by Adamnan, the MS. of which was written by Dorbbéne, abbot of Hi (d. 713), contain a number of names and forms of great importance for the study of the language.
The earliest pieces of connected prose in Irish are three:—(1) the Cambray Homily, contained in an 8th-century codex at Cambray copied by a continental hand from a MS. in the Irish character; the language is very archaic and Earliest prose.dates from the second half of the 7th or the beginning of the 8th century; (2) the additions to the notes of Tirechán on the life of St Patrick in the Book of Armagh; these seem to go back to the early 8th century; (3) the tract on the Mass in the Stowe Missal, which is in all probability nearly as old as the Cambray Homily, though contained in a 10th or 11th century MS. Of especial interest are the spells and poems found in the Stowe Missal and two continental MSS. The Stowe MS. (now deposited in the Royal Irish Academy) contains three rather badly preserved spells for a sore eye, a thorn and disease of the urine. A St Gall codex has preserved four Irish incantations of the 8th and 9th centuries. These are respectively against a thorn, urinary disease, headache and various ailments. Another charm, which is partly obscure, occurs in the 9th-century codex preserved at the monastery of St Paul in Carinthia. The same MS. also contains (1) a humorous poem treating of the doings of a bookish writer and his favourite cat Pangur Bán; (2) a riddling poem ascribed to Suibne Geilt, a king who is said to have lost his reason at the battle of Moira (a.d. 637); (3) verses extracted from a poem ascribed to St Moling (d. 697), who may very well have been the actual author; (4) a poem in praise of some Leinster princeling called Aed.
For our knowledge of the older language, however, we have to rely mainly on the numerous glosses scattered about in a large number of MSS., which it is impossible to enumerate here. Indeed, such an enumeration is now rendered Old glosses.superfluous owing to the publication of the Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, in which all the various glosses have been collected. For our purpose it will be sufficient to mention the three most important codices containing Old Irish glosses. These are as follows:—(1) The Codex Paulinus at Würzburg, which contains the thirteen epistles of St Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, with a great mass of explanatory glosses, partly in Latin, partly in Irish, partly mixed. The chief source of the commentary is the commentary of Pelagius, who is often cited by name. The date of this highly important MS. is much disputed; part of the Irish glosses seem to date from about 700, whilst the rest may be placed a little before 800. (2) The Codex Ambrosianus, formerly at Bobbio, now at Milan, which contains a commentary on the psalter with a large number of Irish glosses. In their present state these glosses were copied in the first half of the 9th century. (3) Glosses on Priscian contained in four MSS., of which the most important is the Codex Sangallensis, dating from the middle of the 9th century. Apart from the biblical glosses and scholia the other chief texts or authors provided with Irish glosses are Augustine, Bede, the Canons, the Computus, Eutychius, Juvencus, Philargyrius, Prudentius and Servius.
The Milan and the St Gall codices just mentioned both contain several short poems in Irish. In two stanzas in the Swiss MS. we find expressed for the first time that keen sympathy with nature in all her moods which is so marked a feature of Irish and Welsh verse.
Two ponderous religious poems have now to be noticed. To Oengus the Culdee is attributed the lengthy Félire or Calendar of Church Festivals, consisting of 365 quatrains in rinnard metre, one for each day in the year. The language of this dry compilation, which is heavily glossed and annotated, points to 800 as the date of composition, and Oengus, who is stated to have 624lived about that time, may well have been the author. This calendar has been twice edited by W. Stokes with an English translation, the first time for the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1880), and again for the Bradshaw Society (London, 1905).
It may perhaps be as well to enumerate here the later Irish martyrologies. (1) The Martyrology of Tallaght (Tamlacht), founded on an 8th-century calendar, but containing additions down to 900 (ed. D.H. Kelly, Dublin, 1857). (2) The metrical Martyrology of O’Gorman, c. 1166-1174, edited by Stokes for the Bradshaw Society (London, 1895). (3) The Martyrology of Donegal, an important compilation in prose made by Michael O’Clery in 1630, edited by J.H. Todd (Dublin, 1864). A composition which is wrongly assigned to Oengus the Culdee is the Saltair na Rann or Psalter in Quatrains, contained in an Oxford MS. (Rawlinson B 502) and published without a translation by Stokes (Oxford, 1883). The work proper consists of 150 poems corresponding to the number of Psalms in the psalter, but 12 poems have been added, and in all it contains 2098 quatrains, chiefly indeibide metre of seven syllables. The poems are mainly based on biblical (Old Testament) history, but they preserve a large measure of medieval sacred lore and cosmogony. The psalter received additions as late as 998, and the Oxford MS. belongs to the 12th century. We should perhaps also mention here the famous Amra or Eulogy of St Columba, commonly attributed to Dallán Forgaill, a contemporary of the saint, but Stokes takes the view that it was written in the 9th century, and is intentionally obscure. The oldest but not the best copy of the Amra is preserved in the Trinity College, Dublin, MS. of the Liber Hymnorum, but it also occurs in LU. and elsewhere. It invariably appears heavily gloss-laden, and the glosses and commentary added thereto are out of all proportion to the text. This piece, which is not extant in its integrity, was probably intended as artificial alliterative prose, but, as we have it, it is a medley of isolated phrases and irrelevant comment.
During the 9th and 10th centuries Ireland was harassed by the Vikings, and a host of scholars seem to have fled to the continent, carrying with them their precious books, many of which are preserved in Italy, Switzerland, Germany Old collectors.and elsewhere. Hence very few early Irish MSS. are preserved in Ireland itself. When the fury of the storm was past, Irish scholars showed increased interest in the old literary documents, and copied all that they could lay hands on into miscellaneous codices. The earliest of these collections, such as the Cin of Druim Snechta, the Yellow Book of Slane, the Book of Dubdaleithe, the Psalter of Cashel, exist no longer, though their names have come down and certain of them were known in the 17th century. However, copies of a goodly portion of the contents of these old books are preserved to us in one form or another, but mainly in a series of huge miscellaneous codices Book of the Dun Cow.ranging in date from the 12th to the 16th century. The oldest is Lebor na h-uidre, or Book of the Dun Cow, preserved in the Royal Irish Academy and published in facsimile (Dublin, 1870). This MS. was compiled in part in the monastery of Clonmacnoise by Moelmuire MacCelechair, who was slain in 1106. The Book of the Dun Cow (where necessary we shall abbreviate as LU.) derives its name from a legend that Ciaran of Clonmacnoise (d. 544) took down the story of the Táin Bó Cualnge on a parchment made from the hide of his favourite cow. The name seems to have been wrongly applied to the 12th-century MS. in the 15th century. LU. is almost entirely devoted to romance, the stories which Book of Leinster.it contains belonging mainly to the Ulster cycle. The next MS. in point of age is the Book of Leinster (abbreviated LL.) now in Trinity College, Dublin. It was transcribed by Finn, son of Gorman, bishop of Kildare (d. 1160). LL. also contains a large number of romances in addition to other important matter, mainly historical and Yellow Book of Lecan.genealogical, bearing more particularly on the affairs of Leinster. The Yellow Book of Lecan (YBL.), also in Trinity College, Dublin, was written at different times by the MacFirbis family, but chiefly by Gilla Isa, son of Donnchad Mór MacFirbis about 1391. The MacFirbises were hereditary scribes and genealogists to the O’Dowds, chiefs of the Hy Fiachrach (Co. Sligo). YBL. contains a vast amount of romance, and is indispensable as supplementing and checking Book of Ballymote.the contents of LU. and LL. The most extensive collection of all is the Book of Ballymote (BB.), now belonging to the Royal Irish Academy, which was compiled about the beginning of the 15th century by various scribes. The book was in the possession of the chiefs of Ballymote for more than a century. In 1522 it was purchased by the O’Donnells for 140 milch cows. BB. only contains little romantic matter, but it has preserved much valuable historical andSpeckled Book.genealogical material. The contents of the Leabhar Breac (LB.), or Speckled Book, now in the Royal Irish Academy, are chiefly ecclesiastical and religious. LB. seems to have been compiled in large measure before 1544. All these five codices have been published in facsimile by the Royal Irish Academy with a description of their contents. Two important Mid. Ir. MSS. in the Bodleian (Rawlinson B 512 and Laud 610), containing a good deal of romantic material, are also published in facsimile by Henry Frowde.
Other MSS. which require special mention are (1) The Great Book of Lecan, compiled in the year 1417 by Gilla Isa Mór MacFirbis, in the Royal Irish Academy; (2) The Book of Lismore, the property of the duke of Devonshire at Lismore Other MSS. material.Castle. This codex was compiled in the latter half of the 15th century from the lost book of Monasterboice and other MSS. Its contents are described in the introduction to Stokes’s Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore (Oxford, 1890). (3) The Book of Fermoy in the Royal Irish Academy. The contents are described in the introduction to O’Beirne Crowe’s edition of the Táin Bó Fraich (Dublin, 1870). (4) The Book of Hy Maine recently acquired by the Royal Irish Academy. The scribe who wrote it died in 1372. O’Curry, O’Longan and O’Beirne Crowe drew up a MS. catalogue of the Irish MSS. in the Royal Irish Academy, and O’Donovan performed the same service for the Trinity College, Dublin, collection. A briefer account of the Irish MSS. in TCD. will be found in Abbott’s Catalogue of the MSS. in that library. O’Curry also drew up a list of the Irish MSS. in the British Museum, and S.H. O’Grady has printed part i. of a descriptive catalogue of this collection (London, 1901), part ii. by T. O’Maille. The twenty-six MSS. in the Franciscan monastery in Dublin are described by J.T. Gilbert in the Fourth Report of the Royal Commission on Historical MSS. W.F. Skene catalogued the collection of MSS. in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, a printed catalogue of which has been issued by D. Mackinnon (Edinburgh, 1909; see also Trans. Gaelic Soc. of Inverness, xvi. 285-309).
In order to give some idea of the enormous extent of Irish MS. material we may quote some calculations made by O’Curry, who states that if the five oldest vellum MSS. were printed the result would be 9400 quarto pages. Other vellum MSS. ranging in date from 1300 to 1600 would fill 9000 pages of the same size, whilst the innumerable paper MSS. belonging chiefly to the early 18th century would cover no less than 30,000 pages. The well-known French scholar, D’Arbois de Jubainville, published in 1883 a tentative catalogue of Irish epic literature. His work is by no means complete, but his figures are instructive. He mentions 953 Irish MSS. containing epic matter preserved in Irish and English libraries. To these have to be added another 56 in continental libraries. Of this mass of material 133 Irish and British MSS. and 35 continental MSS. were written before 1600. It should, however, be stated that the same subject is treated over and over again, and much of the later material is absolutely valueless.
Before we pass on to the consideration of the literature itself, it will be well to make a few preliminary observations on the nature of the language in which the pieces are written and on the status of the poet in medieval Ireland. Character of Middle Irish.The language in which the huge miscellaneous codices enumerated above are contained is called by the general name of Middle Irish, which is a very wide term. Irish scribes often copied their original somewhat mechanically, without 625being tempted to change the language to that of their own time. Thus in many parts of LU. we find a thin Middle Irish veneer on what is largely Old Irish of the 8th or 9th century. Hence such a MS. often preserves forms which had been current several centuries before, and it may even happen that a 14th or 15th century MS. such as YBL. contains much older forms than a corresponding passage in LL. Of recent years several scholars—notably Strachan—have devoted much attention to the Old Irish verb-forms, so that we have now safe criteria for establishing with some degree of certainty the age of recensions of stories and poems preserved in late MSS. In this way a number of compositions have been assigned to the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, though actual written documents belonging to this period are comparatively rare.
It remains for us to say a few words about the fili, the professional literary man in Ireland. The fili (from the stem vel-, “to see,” Welsh, Breton,gwelet, “to see”) appears to have been originally a diviner and magician, and corresponds The “fili.”to the vates, ο??τεις, of the ancient Gauls mentioned by classical writers. In Ireland he is represented as sole possessor of three methods of divination: the imbas forosnai, teinm lóida and díchetal di chennaib cnáime. The first two of these were forbidden by Patrick, but they seem to have survived as late as the 10th century. Part of the tremendous influence exercised by the fili was due to the belief in his powers of satire. By reciting a satirical poem or incantation he was able to raise blotches on the face of and so disfigure any person who aroused his displeasure. Numerous cases of this occur in Irish literature. The origin of the science of the fili is sometimes traced back to the Dagda, one of the figures of the Irish pantheon, and they were held in such esteem that the annalists give the obituaries of the head-ollams as if they were so many princes. With the introduction of Christianity they seem to have gradually superseded the druid, and their functions are therefore very wide. We are told that they acted in three capacities: (i) as story-tellers (fer comgne or scélaige); (2) as judges (brithem), including the professions of arbiters, legislators and lawyers; (3) as poets proper (fercerte). We are here only concerned with the fili in his capacity of story-teller and poet. In accordance with the minute classification of the various ranks of society in early Ireland, the social status of the literary man was very carefully defined. The degrees vary slightly in different documents, but the following list of ten from the Senchus Mór is very instructive: (1) The highest degree is the ollam (ollave), who knows 350 stories; (2) the ánruth, 175 stories; (3) the clíí, 80 stories; (4) the cana, 60 stories; (5) the doss, 50 stories; (6) the macfuirmid, 40 stories; (7) thefochlocon, 30 stories; (8) the drisac, 20 stories; (9) the taman, 10 stories; (10) the oblaire, 7 stories. In LL. we are told that the stories (scél) are divided into primary and secondary, and that the latter are only obligatory on the first four of the grades enumerated. Again, certain styles of composition seem to have been the monopoly of certain grades. Thus the poem which was most highly rewarded and demanded the highest technical skill was called the anomain, and was the exclusive right of the ollam. A notable instance of this kind of composition is the Amra of Columba, attributed to Dallán Forgaill. The higher grades were allowed a number of attendants, whom the kings had to support along with the poet himself. Thus the fochlocon had two and the doss four attendants. In the 6th century Dallán Forgaill, the chief fili of Ireland, claimed the right to be attended by thirty filid, which was the number of the train allowed to the supreme king. The reigning monarch, Aed MacAinmirech, weary of the pretensions of the poets, attempted to banish them, which led to the famous assembly of Druim Ceta, where Columba intervened and reduced the number to twenty-four (the train of a provincial king). In the plan of the hall of Tara, preserved in LL. and YBL., the sui littre or doctor in theology has the seat of honour opposite the king. The ollam brithem or supreme judge or lawyer ranks with the highest rank of nobility, whilst the ollam fili is on a footing with the nobleman of the second degree.
We have already stated that the stories which formed the stock-in-trade of the poets were divided into primary and secondary stories. Of the latter there were 100, but little is known of them. However, several more or less complete lists of the primary stories have come down to us. The oldest catalogue (contained in LL.) gives the titles of 187 of these tales arranged under the following heads—destructions, cow-spoils, courtships, battles, caves, navigations, violent deaths, expeditions, elopements and conflagrations; together with the following, which also reckon as prime-stories—irruptions, visions, loves, hostings and migrations. Of these stories sixty-eight have been preserved in a more or less complete form. The tales enumerated in these catalogues, which in their substance doubtless go back to the 8th or even to the 7th century, fall into four main categories: (1) the mythological cycle, (2) the Cúchulinn cycle, (3) the Finn cycle, (4) pieces relating to events of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries. Meyer has estimated that of the 550 titles of epic tales in D’Arbois’s Catalogue about 400 are known to us, though many of them only occur in a very fragmentary state; and about 100 others have since been discovered which were not known in 1883.
The course of training undergone by the fili was a very lengthy one. It is commonly stated to have extended over twelve years, at the end of which time the student was thoroughly versed in all the legendary, legal, historical and topographical lore of his native country, in the use of the innumerable and excessively complicated Irish metres, in Ogam writing and Irish grammar. The instruction in the schools of poetry seems to have been entirely oral, and the course consisted largely in learning by heart the verses in which the native lore was enshrined. These schools of learning existed in one form or another down to the 17th century. In the early days the fili is represented as employing a mysterious archaic form of speech—doubtless full of obscure kennings—which was only intelligible to the initiated. An instance of this bérla féine, as it was termed, is the piece entitledAcallam an Dá Shuad (Colloquy of the Two Sages, Rev. celt. xxvi. 4 ff.). In this piece two filid of the 1st century a.d. are represented as contending in this dialect for the office of chief ollam of Ireland, much to the chagrin of King Conchobar, to whom their speeches were unintelligible. It was in consequence of this that Conchobar ruled that the office of fili should no longer carry with it of necessity the office of judge (brithem). It ought to be observed that the church never showed itself hostile to the filid, as it did to the druids. Dubthach, chief fili of Ireland in the time of St Patrick, is represented as the saint’s constant companion, and the famous Flann Mainistrech (d. 1056), though a layman and fili, was head of the monastery school at Monasterboice.
Before leaving the subject of the literary classes, we must notice an inferior grade of poet—the bard. Like the official filid, the bards were divided into grades. There were both patrician and plebeian bards, each subdivided into The bard.eight degrees, having their own peculiar metres. Like the fili the bard had to go through a long course of study, and he was generally attached to the house of some chieftain whose praises he had to sing. In course of time the office of fili became extinct, owing to a variety of causes, and from the 13th to the 16th century we find the hitherto despised family bard stepping into the place of the most influential literary man in Ireland. His importance was fully realized by the English government, which did its best to suppress the order.
The medieval romances form by far the most attractive part of Irish literature, and it is to them that we shall first turn our attention. Two main groups of stories have to be distinguished. The one is the Ulster cycle, with Medieval romances.Conchobar and Cúchulinn as central figures. The other is the Southern or Leinster-Munster cycle, revolving round Finn and Ossian. Further stories dealing with mythological and historical personages will be mentioned in their turn.
The Ulster cycle may be regarded as Ireland’s most important contribution to the world’s literature. The chief and at the same time the lengthiest romance in which the heroes of this group figure is the great epic, the Táin Bó Cualnge or the Ulster cycle.626Cattle-raid of Cooley (Co. Louth). Here we find ourselves in a world of barbaric splendour, and we are constantly reminded of the Iliad, though the Irish epic from a purely literary point of view cannot bear comparison with the work of Homer. The main actors in the drama are Conchobar, king of Ulster, the great warrior Cúchulinn (see Cúchulinn), Ailill and Medb, king and queen of Connaught, The “Táin.”and Fergus, Conchobar’s predecessor as king of Ulster, now in exile in Connaught. These persons may or may not have actually lived, but the Irish annalists and synchronists agree in placing them about the beginning of the Christian era. And there cannot be any doubt as to the antiquity of the state of civilization disclosed in this great saga. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the Irish heroes are equipped and conduct themselves in the same manner as the Gauls described by the Greek traveller Posidonius, and Prof. W. Ridgeway has shown recently that several articles of dress and armour correspond exactly to the La Tène types of the continent. To mention a few primitive traits among many—the Irish champions of the Táin still fight in chariots, war-dogs are employed, whilst the heads of the slain are carried off in triumph and slung round the necks of the horses. It may also be mentioned that Emain Macha, Conchobar’s residence, is reported by the annalists to have been destroyed in a.d. 323, and that portions of Meath, which is stated to have been made into a separate province in the 2nd century a.d., are in the Táin regarded as forming part of Ulster. Noteworthy is the exalted position occupied by the druid in the Ulster sagas, showing how little the romances were influenced by Christianity. No Roman soldier ever set foot in Ireland, and this early epic literature is of supreme value as a monument of primitive Celtic civilization. Ireland has always been a pastoral country. In early times no native coins were in circulation: the land belonged to the tribe. Consequently a man’s property consisted mainly of cattle. Cattle-raids were an event of daily occurrence, and Sir Walter Scott has made us familiar with similar expeditions on the part of the Scottish Highlanders in the 18th century. Hence it is not a matter for surprise that the theme of the greatest Irish epic is a cattle-raid. At the time there were two wonderful bulls in Ireland, the Bond or Brown Bull of Cualnge, and the Findbennach or White-horn, belonging to Medb. These two animals are of no ordinary nature. Other stories represent them as having existed under many different forms before they were reborn as bulls. First they appear as swineherds belonging to the supernatural people of the síd of fairy mounds; then they are metamorphosed successively as ravens, warriors, sea-monsters and insects. It was Queen Medb’s ambition to gain possession of the Brown Bull of Cualnge, and for this purpose she collected the united hosts of Ireland to raid the province of Ulster and carry him off. Medb chooses the season when she knows the Ulstermen are all incapacitated as the result of a curse laid upon them by a fairy woman. Cúchulinn alone is exempt from this debility.
The story is divided into a number of sections, and has been summarized by Miss Hull as follows:—(1) the prologue, relating, in the form of a night dialogue between Ailill and Medb, the dispute between them which brought about the raid; (2) the collecting of Medb’s hosts and the preliminary movements of the army, during which period she first became aware of the presence and powers of Cúchulinn. Her inquiry of Fergus as to who this formidable foe is leads to a long section called (3) Cúchulinn’s boy-deeds, in which Fergus relates the remarkable prodigies of Cúchulinn’s youth, and warns Medb that, though the hero is but a beardless youth of seventeen, he will be more than a match for all her forces. (4) A long series of single combats, of which the first part of the tale is made up; they are at first gay and bombastic in character, but become more grave as they proceed, and culminate in the combat of Cúchulinn with his old companion, Fer Diad. This section contains the account of Cúchulinn’s “distortion” or frenzy, which always occurred before any great output of the hero’s energy, and of the rout of the hosts of Medb which followed it. (5) The general awakening of the warriors of Ulster from their lethargy, and their gathering by septs upon the Hill of Slane, clan by clan being described as it comes up in order. (6) The final Battle of Gairech and Ilgairech, followed (7) by the rout of Medb’s army and (8) the tragic death of the bulls.
The text of the Táin has come down to us as a whole or in part in nearly a score of MSS., most of which, however, are modern. The most important MSS. containing the story are LU., LL. and YBL. Of these LU. and YBL. are substantially the same, whilst LL. contains a longer and fuller text later in both style and language. LL. attempts to give a complete and consistent narrative in more polished form. In ancient times there were doubtless other versions now lost, but from the middle of the 12th century the scribes seem to have taken few liberties with the text, whilst previously the filidwere constantly transforming the material and adding fresh matter. The YBL. version preserves a number of forms as old as the O. Ir. glosses (i.e. 8th century or earlier), and a curious story contained in LL. seems to point to the fact that the Táin was first committed to writing in the 7th century. Senchán Torpeist, who lived in the first half of the 7th century and succeeded Dallán Forgaill as chief ollam of Ireland, summoned the filid to inquire which of them knew the Táin in its entirety. As they were only familiar with fragments he despatched them to discover it. One of them seated himself at the grave of Fergus MacRoig, who appeared to him in a mist and dictated the whole story to him in three days and three nights.
At this point it will be well to say a few words about the form of the Táin. The old Irish epic is invariably in prose with poems of varying length interspersed. The narrative and descriptive portions are in prose and are frequently followed by a brief epitome in verse. Dialogues, eulogies and laments also appear in metrical form. The oldest poems, termed rhetoric, which are best represented in LU., seem to be declamatory passages in rhythmical prose, not unlike the poetical passages in the Old Testament, and the original Táin may have consisted of such rhetorics bound together with short connecting pieces of prose. At a later date poems were inserted in the metres of the filid (particularly the quatrain of four heptasyllabic lines) which Thurneysen and Windisch consider to have been developed out of medieval Latin verse. When in course of time the old rhetorics became unintelligible they were often omitted altogether or new poems substituted. Thus the LL. version contains a larger number of poems than the LU.-YBL. copy, whilst LU. preserves a number of rhetorics which do not appear in the later MS. The prose portions in LU. are very poor from a literary point of view. These passages are abrupt, condensed and frequently obscure, with no striving after literary effect such as we find in LL. The form in which many episodes are cast is not unlike a mnemonic, leaving the story-teller to fill in the details himself. In the 11th century certain portions of the theme possessing great human interest were vastly extended, new poems were added, and in this manner such episodes come to form sagas complete in themselves. The most notable instance of this is the “Fight with Fer Diad,” which is not contained in LU. The genesis of the Táinmay thus be briefly summarized as follows. The story was first committed to writing in the 7th or 8th century, after which it was worked up by thefilid. Extended versions existing in the 10th or 11th century form the basis of the copies we now possess.
Though the sagas of the Ulster cycle are eminently Irish and pagan in character and origin, it cannot be denied that traces of foreign influence are to be observed. A number of Latin and Norse loan-words occur in them, and there can be little doubt that the monkish scribes consciously thrust the supernatural element into the background. However, although figures of Vikings are unmistakable in a few cases, and in one story Cúchulinn is made to fight with Hercules, such foreign elements can easily be detected in the older tales. They only affect minor details, and do not influence the body of the romances.
From what we have already said it will be plain that the Irish epic is in a fluid state. The Táin is of interest in the history of literature as representing the preliminary stage through which the great verse epics of other nations have had to pass, but its 627value as a work of art is limited by its form. We must now say a few words about the character and style of these romances. As already stated, the atmosphere is frankly pagan and barbaric, with none of that courtly element which we find in the Arthurian epics. The two features which strike one most forcibly in the medieval Irish romances are dramatic force and humour. The unexpected and weird is always happening, the effect of which is considerably heightened by the grim nature of the actors. In particular the dialogues are remarkably brilliant and clever, and it is a matter for surprise that this gifted race never developed a drama of its own. This is doubtless partly due to the political conditions of the island. And, moreover, we are constantly struck by the lack of sustained effort which prevented the filid from producing great epics in verse. Dramatic material is abundantly present in the old epics, but it has never been utilized. As one might expect from the vernacular literature of Ireland, these romances are pervaded by a keen sense of humour. We feel that the story-teller is continually expecting a laugh and he exaggerates in true Irish fashion, so that the stories are full of extravagantly grotesque passages. In the later LL. version we notice a tendency to linger over pathetic situations, but this is unknown in the earlier stage. Perhaps the most serious defect of all Irish literary products is the lack of any sense of proportion, which naturally goes hand in hand with the love of the grotesque. Far too much attention is paid to trivial incidents and minute descriptions, however valuable the latter may be to the antiquarian, to the detriment of the artistic effect. Further, the story-teller does not know when to stop. He goes meandering on long after the main portion of the story is finished, with the result that Irish romances are apt to end in a most uninteresting anticlimax. Finally we are wearied with a constant repetition of the same epithets and similes, and with turgid descriptions; even the grotesque exaggerations pall when we find them to be stereotyped. But the early epics do not offend our sense of propriety in expression to the same extent as the later Finn cycle.
The Táin Bó Cualnge formed a kind of nucleus round which a number of other tales clustered. A number of these are called remscéla or introductory stories to the Táin. Such are the “Revealing of the Táin” (already mentioned), the “Debility of the Ultonians” (giving the story of the curse), “The Cattle-Driving of Regamon, Dartaid and Flidais,” “Táin bó Regamna,” “The Cattle-Driving of Fraech,” “The Dispute of the Swineherds,” telling the previous history of the Bulls, “The Capture of the Fairy Mound,” “The Dream of Mac ?c,” the “Adventures of Nera,” the “Wooing of Ferb.” Other stories form a kind of continuation of the Táin. Thus the “Battle of Rosnaree” (“Cath Ruis na Ríg”) relates how Conchobar, as a result of the loss of the Bull, sends an army against the kings of Leinster and Tara, and would have been routed but for the prowess of Cúchulinn. The “Great Rout of the Plain of Murthemne” and “Cúchulinn’s Death” tell how the hero’s downfall is compassed by a monstrous brood of ill-shapen beings whose father and brothers had been slain by him during the Táin. He finally meets with his end at the hands of Lugaid, son of Curói mac Daire (the central hero of a Munster cycle which has not come down to us), and Erc, king of Tara. We are also told of the terrible vengeance taken on the murderers by Conall Cernach. Other stories deal with the “Conception of Conchobar,” the “Conception of Cúchulinn,” “The Glories of Conchobar’s Reign,” with an account of how he acquired the Throne from Fergus, “The Wooing of Emer and the Hero’s Education in Scotland under Scathach,” “The Siege of Howth,” “Bricriu’s Feast and the Exile of the Sons of Doel Dermait,” “The Battle of the Boyne” (Ériu, vol. ii.), “The Deaths of Ailill, Medb and Conall Cernach,” “Destruction of Bruden Dá Choca,” “The Tragical Death of Conlaech at the hands of Cúchulinn his father,” “The Deaths of Goll and Garbh,” “The Sickbed of Cúchulinn,” in which the hero is lured away for a time into the invisible land by a fairy, Fand, wife of Manandán, “The Intoxication of the Ultonians,” telling of a wild raid by night across the entire extent of the island from Dún-da-Benn near Coleraine to the fort of Curói MacDaire at Temair-Luachra in Kerry, “The Death of Conchobar,” “The Phantom Chariot of Cúchulinn,” in which the hero is brought up from the grave to witness before St Patrick and King Loigaire to the truth of the Christian doctrine.
Four other stories in connexion with the Ulster cycle remain to be mentioned. The first is “Scél mucci Maic Datho” (“The Story of MacDatho’s Pig”). Various writers of antiquity inform us that at the feasts of the Gauls the champion received the best portion of meat, which frequently led to brawls. In this savage but picturesque Irish story we find the Ulstermen vaunting their achievements against the Connaughtmen, until at last the contest lies between Conall Cernach and Cet MacMagach. Nowhere, perhaps, is the dramatic element better brought out.
Apart from the Táin the greatest and at the same time the longest saga in which Cúchulinn figures is Fled Bricrend (Bricriu’s Feast). Bricriu is the mischief-maker among the Ulstermen, and he conceives the idea of building a banqueting hall in order to invite Conchobar and his nobles to a feast. After much hesitation they consent. Bricriu in turn incites the three chief heroes, Cúchulinn, Conall Cernach and Loigaire Buadach, to claim the champion’s portion. He does the same thing with the spouses of the three warriors, who declaim in obscure verse the achievements and excellences of their several husbands in a passage entitled the “Women’s War of Words.” Loosely attached to this story follows a wild series of adventures in which the powers of the three champions are tested, Cúchulinn always proving his superiority. In order to decide the dispute, visits are paid to Medb at Rath Cruachan and to Curói in Kerry, and the story ends with the “beheading incident,” which occurs in the romance of “Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight.” Fled Bricrend presents a number of textual difficulties. The text of the oldest MS. (LU.) shows signs of contamination, and several versions of the story seem to have been current.
But the story of the Ulster cycle which is better known than any other, is the story of the “Tragical Death of the Sons of Usnech, or the Life and Death of Deirdre,” one of the “Three Sorrows of Story-telling.” This is the only tale of the group which has survived in the minds of the common people down to the present day. It is foretold of Deirdre, a girl-child of great beauty, that she will be the cause of great misfortunes, but Conchobar, having lost his wife, determines to have her brought up in solitude and marry her himself. However, the maiden chances to see a noble youth named Naisi, one of the three sons of Usnech, and persuades him to carry her off to Scotland, where they live for many years. At length they are induced to return after several of the most prominent Ulster warriors have gone bail for their safety. But Conchobar resorts to treachery, and the three sons of Usnech are slain, whilst the account of Deirdre’s end varies. The oldest version of the story is found in LL., and the characters are as rugged and unsophisticated as those of the Táin. But in the later versions the savage features are toned down.
Before passing on, we must mention several old stories which are independent of the Ulster cycle, but which deal with events which are represented as having taken place before the Christian era. Few of the old romances deal directly with what we may call Irish mythology. The “Battle of Moytura” tells of the tremendous struggle between the Tuatha Dé Danann and their enemies, the Fomorian pirates. Connected with the events of this saga is the story of the “Tragic Deaths of the Sons of Tuirenn,” which, though mentioned in Cormac’s glossary, is not found in any MS. older than the 18th century. The three sons of Tuirenn have slain Cian, father of Lug Lamfhada, who lays upon them a huge eric-fine. They go through terrific ordeals and accomplish their task, but return home to die. This is the second of the “Three Sorrows of Story-telling.” An old story dealing with Tuatha Dé Danann personages, but having a certain bearing on the Cúchulinn cycle, is the “Courtship of Étáin,” who, though of supernatural (síd) birth, is wedded to Eochaid Airem, a mortal king. In her previous existence she was the wife of the supernatural personage Midir of Brí-leith, who wins back Étáin from her mortal husband in a game of chess and carries her off to his fairy mound.
For sake of completeness we may add the titles of two other 628well-known stories here. The one is the “Story of Baile the Sweet-spoken,” which tells of the deaths of two lovers for grief at the false tidings of each other’s death. The other is the “Fate of the Children of Lir,” the third of the “Three Sorrows of Story-telling,” which is only known in a modern dress. It relates how the four daughters of Lir (father of the sea-god Manandán and the original of Shakespeare’s Lear) were changed into swans by a cruel stepmother, and how, after 900 years of wandering on the ocean, they at length regain their human form through the instrumentality of St Mochaomhog.
A large number of sagas, which claim to be founded on historical events, present a great similarity to the tales of the Ulster cycle. Most of them are mentioned in the old catalogues. We can only name the more important here. The “Destruction of Dind-Rig and Exile of Labraid Loingsech” relates how the kingdom of Leinster was snatched by one brother from another in the 6th century b.c., and how the son of the murdered prince with the aid of a British force sacked Dind-Rig, the fortress of the usurper. The story of the visit of the pigmies to the court of Fergus MacLeite, king of Ulster in the 2nd century b.c., is only contained in a 15th-century MS. This tale is commonly stated to have given Swift the idea of his Gulliver’s Travels to Lilliput. “Caithréim Chonghail Claringnigh,” which only occurs in a modernized 17th-century version, deals with a revolution in the province of Ulster, supposed to have taken place before the Christian era.
The most important Old Irish saga after the Táin is beyond doubt the Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel, contained in LU. It deals with events in the reign of the High-King Conaire Mór, who is said by the annalists to have been slain in 43 b.c. after a reign of seventy years. Conaire, who was a descendant of the Étáin mentioned above, was a just ruler, and had banished among other lawless persons his own five foster brothers. These latter devoted themselves to piracy and made common cause with one Ingcel, a son of the king of Britain, who had been outlawed by his father. The high-king was returning from Co. Clare when he found the whole of Meath in flames. He turned aside into Leinster and made for Dá Derga’s hostel. The pirates perceive this, and Ingcel is sent to spy out the hostel and discover the size of Conaire’s force. This gives the story-teller a chance for one of those lengthy minute descriptions of persons in which his soul delighted. This catalogue occupies one-half of the whole story. The pirates make their attack, and the king and most of his followers are butchered.
We can do no more than enumerate the titles of other historical tales: The “Destruction of the Hostel of MacDareo,” describing the insurrection of the Aithech-Tuatha (1st century a.d.), “The Expulsion of the Déisi” and the “Battle of Mag Lemna” (2nd century a.d.), “Battle of Mag Mucrime” (a.d. 195 or a.d. 218), “Siege of Drom Damgaire” (3rd century), “Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Muigmedóin, father of Niall Nóigiallach” (4th century), “Death of Crimthann” (reigned 366-378), “Death of Dathi” (d. 428), “Death of Murchertach, son of Erc,” and “Death of Diarmait, son of Cerball” (6th century) “Wooing of Becfola, who became the wife of Diarmait, son of Aed Slane” (reigned 657-664), “Battle of Mag Rath” (637), “Battle of Carn Conaill” (c. 648), “Death of Maelfothartaig MacRonain” (7th century), who was a kind of Irish Hippolytus, “Battle of Allen” (722).
It will be well to deal here with another class of story in its various stages of development. We have seen that in the older romances there is a close connexion between mortals and supernatural beings. The latter are represented as either inhabiting the síd mounds or as dwelling in islands out in the ocean, which are pictured as abodes of bliss and variously called Mag Mell (Plain of Delight), Tír na n-Óc (Land of Youth) and Tír Tairngiri (Land of Promise). The visits of mortals to the Irish Elysium form the subject of three romances which we must now examine. The whole question has been exhaustively dealt with by Kuno Meyer and Alfred Nutt in the Voyage of Bran (London, 1895-1897). Condla Caem, son of Conn Cétchathach, was one day seated by his father on the hill of Usnech, when he saw a lady in strange attire approaching invisible to all but himself. She describes herself, as coming from the “land of the living,” a place of eternal delight, and invites the prince to return with her. Conn invokes the assistance of his druid to drive away the strange visitor, who in parting throws an apple to Condla. The young man partakes of no food save his apple, which does not diminish, and he is consumed with longing. At the end of a month the fairy-maiden again makes her appearance. Condla can hold out no longer. He jumps into the damsel’s skiff of glass. They sail away and were seen no more. This is the Imram or Adventure of Condla Caem, the oldest text of which is found in LU. A similar story is entitled Imram Brain maic Febail, contained in YBL. and Rawlinson B 512 (the end also occurs in LU.), only with this difference that Bran, with twenty-seven companions, puts to sea to discover tir na mban (the land of maidens). After spending some time there, one of his comrades is seized with home-sickness. They return, and the home-sick man, on being set ashore, immediately turns to dust. A later story preserved in BB., YBL. and the Book of Fermoy, tells of the visit of Cormac, grandson of Conn Cétchathach, to Tír Tairngiri. These themes are also worked into tales belonging to the Ossianic cycle, and Finn and Ossian in later times become the typical warriors who achieve the quest of the Land of Youth. The romances we have just mentioned are almost entirely pagan in character, but a kindred class of story shows us how the old ideas were transformed under the influence of Christianity. A typical instance is Imram curaig Maelduin, contained in YBL. and in part in LU. Maelduin constructs a boat and sets out on a voyage with a large company to discover the murderer of his father. This forms the framework of the story. Numerous islands in the ocean are visited, each containing some great marvel. Imram ua Corra (Book of Fermoy) and Imram Snedgusa ocus Mac Riagla (YBL.) contain the same plan, but in this case the voyage is undertaken as an expiation for crime. In the 11th century an unknown monkish writer compiled the Navigatio S. Brendani, drawing the material for his episodes from Imram curaig Maelduin. This famous work only appears in an Irish dress in a confused and disconnected “Life of St Brendan” in the Book of Lismore. The same MS. contains yet another voyage, the “Adventure of Tadg MacCéin.”
We must now turn our attention to the later heroic cycle, commonly called the Fenian or Ossianic. Unfortunately the origin of the stories and poems connected with Finn and his warriors is obscure, and scholars are by no Fenian or Ossianic cycle.means agreed over the question (see Finn Mac Cool). In the earlier cycle the figures and the age in which they live are sharply drawn, and we can have no hesitation in assuming that the Táin represents in the main the state of Ireland at the beginning of the Christian era. Finn and his companions are nebulous personages, and, although it is difficult to discover the actual starting-point of the legend, from the 12th century onwards we are able to trace the development of the saga with some degree of certainty. A remarkably small amount of space is devoted to this cycle in the oldest MSS. Of the 134 pages contained in LU. only half-a-dozen deal with Finn as against 58 with Cúchulinn. In LL. the figures are, Ulster cycle 100 pp., Ossianic 25 pp., the latter being mainly made up of short ballads, whilst in 15th-century MSS., such as the Book of Lismore and Laud 610, the proportion is overwhelmingly in favour of the later group. Again in Urard MacCoisi’s list of tales, which seems to go back to the 10th century, only two appear to deal with subjects taken from the Ossianic cycle. In the first instance Finn seems to have been a poet, and as such he appears in the 12th-century MSS., LU. and LL. Thus the subjects of the Ossianic cycle in the earliest MSS. appear in a new dress. The vehicle of the older epic is prose, but the later cycle is clothed in ballad form. Of these ballads about a dozen, apart from poems in the Dindsenchus are preserved in LU., LL. and YBL., and none of these poems are probably much older than the 11th century. In the commentary to the Amra of Columbkille a beautiful poem on winter is attributed to Finn. At the same time we do find a few prose tales, e.g. “Fotha catha 629Cnucha” in LU., describing the death of Cumall, Finn’s father, and in LL. and Rawlinson B 502, part of which Zimmer assigns to the 7th century, we have the first story in which Finn actually occurs. But it is remarkable that in no case do tales belonging to the Finn cycle contain any of the old rhetorics which occur in the oldest of the Ulster romances. Already in LL., by the side of Finn, Ossian, Cáilte and Fergus Finnbel are represented as poets, and the strain of lament over the glories of the past, so characteristic a feature of the later developments of the legend, is already sounded. Hence by the 12th century the stories of the Fiann and their destruction at the battle of Gabra must have been fully developed, and from this time onward they appear gradually to have supplanted the Cúchulinn cycle in popular favour. Several reasons have been assigned for this. In the first place until the time of Brian Boroime the high-kings of Ireland had almost without exception been drawn from Ulster, and consequently the northern traditions were pre-eminent. This exclusiveness on the part of the north was largely broken down by the Viking invasions, and during the 11th century the leading poets were attached to the court of Brian and his descendants. In this manner an opportunity was afforded to the Leinster-Munster Fenian cycle to develop into a national saga. John MacNeill has pointed out Finn’s connexion with a Firbolg tribe, and maintains that the Fenian cycle was the property of the subject race. Zimmer has attempted to prove with great plausibility that Finn and his warriors were transformed on the model of the Ulster heroes. Thus one text deals with the boyish exploits of Finn in the manner of Cúchulinn’s youthful feats recorded in the Táin. And it is possible that the Siaburcharpat Conchulainn gave rise to the idea of connecting Ossian and Cáilte with Patrick. As Cúchulinn was opposed to the whole of Ireland in the Táin, so Finn, representing Ireland, is pitted against the whole world in the Battle of Ventry.
We have already stated that the form assumed by the stories connected with Finn in the earliest MSS. is that of the ballad, and this continued down to the 18th century. But here again the Irish poets showed themselves incapable of rising from the ballad to the true epic in verse, and in the 14th century we find the prose narrative of the older cycle interspersed with verse again appearing. The oldest composition of any length which deals with the Ossianic legends is the Acallam na Senórach or Colloquy of the Old Men, which is mainly preserved in three 15th-century MSS., the Book of Lismore, Laud 610 and Rawlinson 487. In this text we have the framework common to so much of the later Ossianic literature. Ossian and Cáilte are represented as surviving the battle of Gabra and as living on until the time of Patrick. The two warriors get on the best of terms with the saint, and Cáilte is his constant companion on his journey through Ireland. Patrick inquires the significance of the names of the places they visit, and Cáilte recounts his reminiscences. In this manner we are given nearly a hundred stories, the subjects of some of which occur in the short ballads in older MSS., whilst others appear later as independent tales. A careful comparison of the Acallam with the Cúchulinn stories, whether from the point of view of civilization or language or art, discloses that the first lengthy composition of the Ossianic cycle is but a feeble imitation of the older group. All that had become unintelligible in the Ulster stories, owing to their primitive character, is omitted, and in return for that the reminiscences of the Viking age play a very prominent part.
With the 16th century we reach the later treatment of the legend in the Battle of Ventry. In this tedious story Daire, the king of the whole world, comes to invade Ireland with all his forces, but is repulsed by Finn and his heroes. The Battle of Ventry, like all later stories, is a regular medley of incidents taken from the writers of antiquity and European medieval romance. The inflated style to which the Irishman is so prone is here seen at its worst, and we are treated to a nauseous heaping up of epithet upon epithet, e.g. we sometimes find as many as twenty-seven adjectives accompanying a substantive running in alliterating sets of three.
Of greater literary interest are the later ballads connected with Finn and Ossian. The latter has become the typical mouthpiece of the departed glory of the Fenian warriors, and Nutt has pointed out that there is a striking difference in spirit between the Acallam na Senórach and the 15th-16th century poems. In the latter Ossian is represented as a “pagan, defiant and reckless, full of contempt and scorn for the howling clerics and their churlish low-bred deity,” whilst Patrick is a sour and stupid fanatic, harping with wearisome monotony on the damnation of Finn and all his comrades. The earliest collection of these later Ossianic poems is that made in Scotland by James Macgregor, dean of Lismore, early in the 16th century. Another miscellany is the Duanaire Finn, a MS. in the Franciscan monastery in Dublin, compiled from earlier MSS. in 1627. This “song-book,” which has been edited for the Irish Texts Society by John MacNeill (part i. 1908), contains no less than sixty-nine Ossianic ballads, amounting in all to some ten thousand lines. Other Ossianic poems of dates varying from the 15th to the 18th century have been published in the Transactions of the Ossianic Society (Dublin, 1854-1861), including amongst others “The Battle of Gabhra,” “Lamentation of Oisin (Ossian) after the Fenians,” “Dialogue between Oisin and Patrick,” “The Battle of Cnoc an Air,” and “The Chase of Sliabh Guilleann.” These ballads still survive amongst the peasants at the present day. We further possess a number of prose romances, which in their present form date from the 16th to the 18th century; e.g.The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Gráinne, Finn and Gráinne, Death of Finn, The Clown in the Drab Coat, Pursuit of the Gilla Decair, The Enchanted Fort of the Quicken-tree, The Enchanted Cave of Ceis Corann, The Feast in the House of Conan.
At the present moment it is impossible to give a complete survey of the other branches of medieval Irish literature. The attention of scholars has been largely devoted to the publication of the sagas to the neglect of other portions of the wide field. An excellent survey of the subject is given by K. Meyer, Die Kultur der Gegenwart, i. xi. 1. pp. 78-95 (Berlin-Leipzig, 1909).
We have already pointed out that as early as the Old Irish period nameless Irish poets were singing the praises of nature in a strain which sounds to our ears peculiarly modern. At the present time it is difficult to say how much of Nature poetry.what is really poetic in Irish literature has come down to us. Our MSS. preserve whole reams of the learned productions of the filid which were so much prized in medieval Ireland, but it is, generally speaking, quite an accident if any of the delightful little lyrics entered in the margins or on blank spaces in the MSS. have remained. The prose romances sometimes contain beautiful snatches of verse, such as the descriptions of Mag Mell inSerglige Conculaind, Tochmarc Étáine, and the Voyage of Bran or the Lament of Cúchulinn over Fer Díad. Mention has also been made of the exquisite nature poems ascribed to Finn, which have been collected into a pamphlet with English renderings by Kuno Meyer (under the title of “Four Old Irish Songs of Summer and Winter,” London, 1903). The same writer points out that the ancient treatise on Irish prosody published by Thurneysen contains no less than 340 quotations from poems, very few of which have been preserved in their entirety. To Meyer we also owe editions of two charming little texts which sufficiently illustrate the lyrical powers of the early poets. The one is a poem referred to the 10th century in the form of a colloquy between Guaire of Aidne and his brother Marban. Guaire inquires of his brother why he prefers to live in a hut in the forest, keeping the herds and swine of the king, to dwelling in the king’s palace. The question calls forth so wonderful a description of the delights of nature as viewed from a shieling that Guaire exclaims, “I would give my glorious kingship to be in thy company, Marban” (King and Hermit, ed. with trans. by K. Meyer, London, 1901). Another text full of passionate emotion and tender regret ascribed to the 9th century tells of the parting of a young poet and poetess, who after plighting their troth are separated for ever (Liadain and Curithir, ed. with trans. by K. Meyer, London, 1902). In the Old Woman of Beare (publ. K. Meyer in Otia Merseiana) an old hetaira laments her departed youth, comparing her life to the ebbing of the tide (10th century).
We must now step aside from pure literature and turn our attention to the various productions of the professional learned classes of Ireland during the middle ages. The range of subjects coming under this heading is a very wide one, comprising history, genealogies, hagiology, topography, grammar, lexicography and metre, law and medicine. It will perhaps be as well first of Professional literature.all to deal with the learned filid whose works have been preserved. Irish tradition preserves the names of a number of antiquarian poets of prehistoric or early medieval times, such as Amergin, one of the Milesian band of invaders; Moran Roigne, son of Ugaine Mór, Adna and his successor Ferceirtne, Torna (c. 400), tutor to Niall Nóigiallach, Dallán Forgaill, Senchán Torpéist, and Cennfaelad (d. 678), but the poems attributed to these writers are of much later date. We can only enumerate the chief of those whose works have been preserved. To Maelmura (d. 887) is attributed a poem on the Milesian migrations. About the same time lived Flanagan, son of Cellach, who wrote a long composition on the deaths of the kings of Ireland, preserved in YBL., and Flann MacLonáin (d. 918), called by the Four Masters the Virgil of Ireland, eight of whose poems have survived, containing in all about 1000 lines. Cormacan, son of Maelbrigde (d. 946), composed a vigorous poem on the circuit of Ireland performed by Muirchertach, son of Niall Glúndub. A poet whose poems are most valuable from an antiquarian point of view is Cinaed Ua h-Artacáin (d. 975). Some 800 lines of his have been preserved in LL. and elsewhere. Contemporary with him is Eochaid O’Flainn (d. c. 1003), whose chief work is a long chronological poem giving a list of the kings of Ulster from Cimbaeth down to the destruction of Emain in 331. A little later comes MacLiac (d. 1016), who celebrated in verse the glories of the reign of Brian Boroime. His best-known work is a lament over Kincora, the palace of Brian. Contemporary with MacLiac is MacGilla Coim Urard MacCoisi (d. 1023). To Cúán ua Lothcháin (d. 1024), chief poet in the reign of Maelsheachlainn II., are ascribed poems on the antiquities of Tara. Sixteen hundred lines of his have come down to us. A writer who enjoyed a tremendous reputation in medieval Ireland was Flann Mainstrech (d. 1056), who in spite of his being a layman was head of the monastery school at Monasterboice. He is the author of no fewer than 2000 lines in LL., and many other poems of his are contained in other MSS. His best-known work is a Book of Synchronisms of the kings of Ireland and those of the ancient world. We have also poems from his pen on the monarchs descended from Niall Nóigiallach and on the chronology of the high-kings and provincial kings from the time of Loigaire. Flann’s successor, Gilla Coemgin (d. 1072), gives us a chronological poem dealing with the annals of the world down to a.d. 1014. He also is the author of the Irish version of Nennius which contains substantial additions dealing with early Ireland. Minor writers of the same nature whose works have come down to us are Colmán O’Sesnáin (d. 1050), Néide ua Maelchonaire (d. 1136), Gilla na noem ua Duinn (d. 1160), Gilla Moduda O’Cassidy (1143). In the 13th century these historical poems become very rare. In the next century we again find antiquarian poets of whom the best-known is John O’Dugan (d. 1372). His most valuable composition treats of the tribes of the northern half of Ireland at the time of the northern conquest. This work, containing 1660 lines in all in debide metre, was completed by his younger contemporary Gilla na naem O’Huidhrin. From the beginning of the 13th century the official poets began to give way to the hereditary bards and families of scribes. Among the chief bardic families we may mention the O’Dalys, the MacWards, the O’Higinns, the MacBrodys and the MacDaires. We must here content ourselves with glancing at a few of the more prominent names. Muiredach Albanach (c. 1214-1240), whose real name was O’Daly, has left behind in addition to the religious verses a considerable number of poems in praise of various patrons in Ireland and Scotland. He is said by Skene to be the first of the Macvurrichs, bards to Macdonald of Clanranald. A number of his compositions are preserved in the Book of the Dean of Lismore. Gilla Brigde MacConmidhe was a contemporary of the last-mentioned bard. He wrote a number of poems in praise of the O’Neills and O’Donnells. We may next mention the name of an abbot of Boyle, Donnchad Mór O’Dálaig (d. 1244), a writer whose extant poems are usually of a religious character. Many of them are addressed to the Virgin. Most of them appear in late MSS., but some few are preserved in the Book of the Hy Maine. Donnchad Mór is said to be the greatest religious poet that Ireland has produced. Many other members of the O’Daly family belonging to the 14th and 15th centuries have left poems behind them, but we cannot mention them here. Angus O’Daly, who lived in the second half of the 16th century, was employed by the English to satirize the chief Gaelic families in Ireland. Two members of the O’Higinn family deserve mention, Tadg mór O’Higinn (d. 1315). and Tadg Óg O’Higinn (d. 1448), a voluminous writer who eulogized the O’Neills, O’Connors and O’Kellys. Tadg Óg also composed a number of religious poems, which enjoyed enormous popularity in both Ireland and Scotland. A duanaire was inserted into YBL., which contains some forty poems by him.
Closely connected with the compositions of the official poets are the works of native topography. Most of the sagas contain a number of explanations of the origins of place-names. The Dindsenchus is a compilation of such etymologies. But its chief value consists in the amount of legendary matter it contains, adduced in support of the etymologies given. The Dindsenchus has come down to us in various forms both in prose and in verse. Irish tradition ascribes it to Amergin MacAmalgaid, who lived in the 6th century, but if the kernel of the work goes back as early as this it must have been altered considerably in the course of the centuries. Both prose and verse forms of it are contained in LL. A kindred compilation is theCóir Anmann (Fitness of Names), which does for personal names what the Dindsenchus does for geographical names. We further possess a versified compendium of geography for educational purposes dealing with the three continents, from the pen of Airbertach MacCosse-dobráin (10th century).
No people on the face of the globe have ever been more keenly interested in the past of their native country than the Irish. This will already have been patent from the compositions of the filid, and now we may describe briefly History.the historical works in prose which have come down to us. The latter may be divided into two classes, (1) works containing a connected narrative, (2) annals. Closely allied to these are the sagas dealing with the high-kings. Even in the serious historical compositions we often find the manner of the sagas imitated, e.g. the supernatural plays a prominent part, and we are treated to the same exaggerated descriptions. The earliest of these histories is the wars of the Gael and Gall (Cogad Gaedel re Gallaib), which gives an account of the Viking invasions of Ireland, the career of Brian Boroime and the overthrow of the Norsemen at the battle of Clontarf. This composition, a portion of which is contained in LL., is often supposed to be in part the work of MacLiac, and it is plain from internal evidence that it must have been written by an eye-witness of the battle, or from materials supplied by a person actually present. Numerous shorter tracts dealing with the same period exist, but as yet few of them have been published. Caithreim Cellacháin Caisil treats of the conflicts between the Vikings and the Irish, and the Leabhar Oiris gives an account of Irish history from 979 to 1027. Compilations relating to local history are the Book of Fenagh and the Book of Munster. Another ancient work also partly preserved in LL. is the Book of Invasions (Leabhar Gabhála). This deals with the five prehistoric invasions of Ireland (see IRELAND: Early History) and the legendary history of the Milesians. The most complete copy of the Leabhar Gabhála which has been preserved was compiled by Michael O’Clery about 1630. The Boroma or History of the Leinster Tribute contained in LL. belongs rather to romance. Another history is the Triumphs of Turlough O’Brian, written about the year 1459 by John MacCraith, a Munster historian (edited by S.H. O’Grady, Camb. Press). This inflated composition is an important source of information on Munster history from the landing of the Normans to the middle of the 14th century. We also possess 631several documents in Irish concerning the doings of the O’Neills and O’Donnells at the close of the 16th century. A life of Hugh Roe O’Donnell, by Lughaidh O’Clery, has been published, and a contemporary history of the Flight of the Earls, by Tadhg O’Cianan, was being prepared in 1908. But the most celebrated Irish historian is certainly Geoffrey Keating (c. 1570-1646), who is at the same time the greatest master of Irish prose. Keating was a Munster priest educated in France, who drew down upon himself the displeasure of the English authorities and had to go into hiding. He travelled up and down Ireland examining all the ancient records, and compiled a history of Ireland down to the Norman Conquest. His work, entitledForus Feasa ar Eirinn, was never published, but it circulated from end to end of Ireland in MS. Keating’s history is anything but critical. Its value for the scholar lies in the fact that the author had access to many important sources of information now lost, and has preserved accounts of events independent of and differing from those contained in the Four Masters. In addition to the history and a number of poems, Keating is also the author of two theological works in Irish, the Defence of the Mass (Eochairsgiath an Aifrinn) and a collection of sermons entitled the Three Shafts of Death (Trí biorghaoithe an Bháis), which are models of Irish prose.
From the writers of historical narrative we turn to the annalists, the most important sources of information with regard to Irish history. We have already mentioned the Synchronisms of Flann Mainistrech. Apart from this work the earliest collection of annals which has come down to us is the compilation by Tigernach O’Braein (d. 1088), abbot of Clonmacnoise. Tigernach, whose work is partly in Latin, partly in Irish, states that all Irish history previous to 305 b.c. is uncertain. No perfect copy is known of this work, but several fragments are in existence. The Annals of Innisfallen (a monastery on an island in the Lower Lake of Killarney), which are also in Latin and Irish, were perhaps compiled about 1215, though they may have begun two centuries earlier. The invaluable Annals of Ulster were compiled on Belle Isle on Upper Lough Erne by Cathal Maguire (d. 1498), and afterwards continued by two different writers down to 1604. This work, which deals with Irish affairs from a.d. 431, exists in several copies. TheAnnals of Loch Cé (near Boyle in Roscommon) were copied in 1588 and deal with Irish events from 1014 to 1636. The Annals of Connaught run from 1224 to 1562. The Chronicon Scotorum, one copy of which was transcribed about 1650 by the famous antiquary Duald MacFirbis, deals with Irish affairs down to 1135. The Annals of Boyle extend down to 1253. The Annals of Clonmacnoise, which come down to 1408, only exist in an English translation made by Connell MacGeoghegan in 1627. The most important of all these collections is the Annals of the Four Masters (so christened by Colgan), compiled in the Franciscan monastery of Donegal by Michael, Conary and Cucogry O’Clery and Ferfesa O’Mulconry. The O’Clerys were for a long period the hereditary ollams to the O’Donnells. Michael O’Clery (1575-1643), the greatest of the four, was a lay brother in the order of St Francis, and devoted his whole life to the history of Ireland. He collected all the historical MSS. he could find, and was encouraged in his undertaking by Fergal O’Gara, prince of Coolavin, who paid all expenses. The great work, which was begun in 1632 and finished in 1636, begins with the arrival in Ireland of Ceasair, granddaughter of Noah, and comes down to 1616. Nearly all the materials from which O’Clery drew his statements are now lost. O’Clery is also the author of a catalogue of the kings of Ireland, the genealogies of the Irish saints, and the Martyrology of Donegal and the Book of Invasions.
Of less interest, but every whit as important, are the lists of genealogies which occupy a great deal of space in LL., YBL. and BB., and two Trinity College, Dublin, MSS. (H. 3.18 and H. 2.4). But by far the most important collection of all is that made by the last great shanachie Duald MacFirbis, compiled between 1650 and 1666 in the college of St Nicholas at Galway. The only portions of any considerable length which have as yet been published deal with two Connaught tribes; viz. the Hy Fiachrach from Duald mac Firbis and the Hy Maine (O’Kellys), and a Munster tribe, the Corcalaidhe, both from YBL. Valuable information with regard to early Irish history is often contained in the prophecies or, as they are sometimes termed, Baile (raptures, visions), a notable example of which is Baile in Scáil (Vision of the Phantom).
When we turn from secular to religious themes we find that Ireland is also possessed of a very extensive Christian literature, which is extremely valuable for the comparative study of medieval literature. Apart from the martyrologies Religious literature.already mentioned in connexion with Oengus the Culdee, a number of lives of saints and other ecclesiastical literature have come down to us. One of the most important documents is the Tripartite Life of St Patrick, which cannot very well have been composed before the 10th or 11th century, as it is full of the extravagant miracles which occur in the later lives of saints. The work consists of three separate homilies, each complete in itself. A later version of the Tripartite Life was printed by Colgan in 1647. The Leabhar Breac contains a quantity of religious tracts, most of which have been published. R. Atkinson issued a number of them under the title of Passions and Homilies from Leabhar Breac (Dublin, 1887). These are not original Irish compilations, but translations from Latin lives of saints. Nor do they deal with the lives of any Irish saints. Stokes has published nine lives of Irish saints from the Book of Lismore, including Patrick, Brigit, Columba, Brendan, Findian (Clonard), Ciaran, Senan, Findchua and Mochua. They are written in the form of homilies preceded by short explanations of a text of scripture. These lives also occur in the Leabhar Breac. Other lives of saints have been published by O’Grady in Silva Gadelica. The longest life of St Columba was compiled in 1536 at the command of Manus O’Donnell. This tedious work is a specimen of hagiology at its worst. The Leabhar Breac further contains a number of legends, such as those on the childhood of Christ, and scattered through many MSS. are short anecdotes of saints which are very instructive.
But the most interesting Irish religious text is the Vision of Adamnan (preserved in LU.), which Stokes assigns to the 11th century. The soul of Adamnan is represented as leaving his body for a space to visit heaven and hell under the conduct of an angel. The whole treatment of the theme challenges comparison with Dante’s great poem, but the Irish composition contains many ideas peculiar to the land of its origin. Later specimens of this kind of literature tend to develop into grotesque buffoonery. We may mention the Vision of Fursae, the Vision of Tundale (Tnugdal), published by V. Friedel and K. Meyer (Paris, 1907), Laisrén’s Vision of Hell and the Vision of Merlino. A further vision attributed to Adamnan contains a stern denunciation of the Irish of the 11th century. Another form of religious composition, which was very popular in medieval Ireland, was the prophecy in verse, but scarcely any specimens have as yet been published. Kuno Meyer edited a tract on the Psalter in his Hibernica Minora from a 15th century Oxford MS., but he holds that the text goes back to 750. A number of collections of monastic rules both in prose and verse have been edited in Ériu, and the MSS. contain numerous prayers, litanies and religious poems.
In LU. are preserved two sermons, Scéla na esergi (Tidings of Resurrection) and Scéla lái brátha (Tidings of Doomsday); and a number of other homilies have been published, such as the “Two Sorrows of the Kingdom of Heaven,” “The Penance of Adam,” the “Ever-new Tongue,” and one on “Mortals’ Sins.” All the homilies contained in LB. have been published by R. Atkinson in his Legends and Homilies from Leabhar Breac (Dublin, 1887), and E. Hogan, The Irish Nennius (Dublin, 1895). The popular “Debate of the Body and the Soul” appears in Ireland in the form of a homily. A collection of maxims and a short moral treatise have been published by K. Meyer.
For the religious literature in general the reader may refer to O’Curry, Lectures on the MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History (pp. 339-434), and G. Dottin, “Notes bibliographiques sur l’ancienne littérature chrétienne de l’Irlande,” in Revue d’histoire et de litterature religieuses, v. 162-167. See also Revue celtique, xi. 391-404. ib. xv. 79-91.
Here we may perhaps mention an extraordinary production entitled Aisling Meic Conglinne, the Vision of Mac Conglinne, found in LB. and ascribed to the twelfth century (ed. K. Meyer, London, 1892). Cathal MacFinguine, king of Munster (d. 737), was possessed by a demon of gluttony and is cured by the recital of a strange vision by a vagrant scholar named MacConglinne. The composition seems to be intended as a satire on the monks, and in particular as a travesty of medieval hagiology. Another famous satire, entitled the Proceedings of the Great Bardic Institution, holds up the professional bards and their extortionate methods to ridicule. This curious work contains the story of how the great epic, the Táin bó Cualnge, was recovered (see Transactions of the Ossianic Society, vol. v.).
Collections of pithy sayings in the form of proverbs and maxims must have been made at a very early period. Not the least remarkable are the so-called Triads (publ. K. Meyer, Dublin, 1906), which illustrate every statement with Gnomic literature.3 examples. Over 200 such triads were brought together in the 9th century. There are also two documents attributed to 1st-century personages, “The Testament of Morann MacMóin to his son Feradach,” which is quoted as early as the 8th century, and “The Instructions of Cúchulinn to his foster-son Lugaid.” K. Meyer has published Tecosca Cormaic or the Precepts of Cormac MacAirt to his son Cairpre (Dublin, 1909). Other collections such as the Senbriathra Fithail still await publication.
With that enthusiasm for the classics which is characteristic of the Irish, it is not strange that we should find medieval versions of some of the better-known authors of antiquity. It is interesting to note that only those works are Classical stories.translated that could be utilized by the professional story-teller. So much so, that in the ancient (10th century) catalogue of sagas enumerated by Urard MacCoisi we find mention of Togail Troi and Scéla Alexandir maic Pilip. We get descriptions of battle weapons and clothing similar to those occurring in the native sagas. Togail Troi is taken from the medieval prose version, Historia de Excidio Troiae of Dares Phrygius. The oldest Irish copy is found in LL. This version is exceedingly valuable, as it enables us to determine the meaning of words and formulas in the sagas which are otherwise obscure. An Irish abstract of the Odyssey, following an unknown source, and part of the story of Theseus have been published by K. Meyer. Scéla Alexandir is preserved in LB. and BB. Imthechta Aeniusa, taken from the Aeneid, is contained in BB. A number of MSS. contain theCath Catharda, a version of books vi. and vii. (?) of Lucan’s Pharsalia, which has been published by Wh. Stokes. There is further at least one MS. containing a version of Statius’s Thebaid and of Heliodorus’s Aethiopica. Somewhat later, the medieval literature of western Europe comes to be represented in translations. Thus we have Irish versions, amongst others of the Gesta Romanorum, the Historia Brittonum, the Wars of Charlemagne, the History of the Lombards, Sir John Maundeville’s Travels (trans. by Fingin O’Mahony in 1475), the Book of Ser Marco Polo (abridged), Guy Earl of Warwick, Bevis of Southampton, the Quest of the Holy Grail, Octavian, the chronicle of Turpin, Barlaam and Josaphat, and the story of Fierabras. The Arthurian cycle is developed in independent fashion in the Adventures of the Eagle Boy and the Adventures of the Crop-eared Dog. For translation literature see M. Nettlau, Revue celtique, x. pp. 184, 460-461.
Hand in hand with the interest of the medieval Irish scholars in the history of their island goes the cultivation of the native tongue. Owing to the profound changes produced by the working of the Irish laws of accent and initial Philology.mutation, it is doubtful if any other language lends itself so well to wild etymological speculation. By the beginning of the Middle Irish period a good part of the cumbrous Old Irish verb-system had become obsolete, and texts which were at all faithfully copied had to be plentifully supplied with glosses. Moreover, if, as is probable, all the historical and legal lore was in verse, a large part of it must have been unintelligible except to those who knew the bérla féne. But even before this Cormac mac Cuillenáin, the bishop-king of Cashel (d. 903), had compiled a glossary of archaic words which are accompanied by explanations, etymologies, and illustrative passages containing an amount of invaluable information concerning folk-lore and legendary history. This glossary has come down to us in various recensions all considerably later in date than the original work (the oldest copy is in LB.). Later collections of archaic words are O’Mulconry’s Glossary (13th century), the Lecan Glossary (15th century), which draws principally from the glosses in the Liber Hymnorum, O’Davoren’s Glossary (16th century), drawn principally from the Brehon Laws, a 16th century list of Latin and Irish names of plants employed in medicine, and O’Clery’s Glossary (published at Louvain, 1643). BB. contains a curious tract on Ogamic writing. An Irish treatise on grammar, called Uraicept na n-éces, the Poet’s Primer, traditionally ascribed to Cennfaelad and others, is contained in BB. and YBL. It appears to be a kind of medley of Donatus and the notions of the medieval Irish concerning the origin of their language. The St Gall glosses on Priscian contain Irish terms for all the nomenclature of the Latin grammarians, and show how extensive was the use made of Irish even in this department of learning.
Thurneysen had edited from BB., Laud 610 and a TCD. MS. three treatises on metric which give an account of the countless metres practised by the filid. It is impossible for us here to enter into the question of Irish prosody in any Prosody.great detail. We have seen that there is some reason for believing that the primitive form of Irish verse was a kind of rhythmical alliterative prose as contained in the oldest versions of the sagas. The filid early became acquainted with the metres of the Latin church hymns, whence rhyme was introduced into Ireland. (This is the view of Thurneysen and Windisch. Others like Zeuss have maintained that rhyme was an invention of the Irish.) In any case the filid evolved an intricate system of rhymes for which it is difficult to find a parallel. The medieval metres are called by the general name of Dán Dírech, “Direct Metre.” Some of the more general principles were as follows. The verses are grouped in stanzas of four lines, each stanza being complete in itself. Each line must contain a fixed number of syllables, whilst the different metres vary as to the employment of internal and end rhyme, assonance and alliteration. The Irish elaborated a peculiar system of consonantal correspondence which counted as rhyme. The consonants were divided with a considerable degree of phonetic accuracy into six groups, so that a voiceless stop (c) rhymes with another voiceless stop (t, p), a voiced stop (b) with another voiced stop (d, g), and so forth. The commonest form of verse is the four-line stanza of seven syllables. Such a verse with rhymes abab and monosyllabic or dissyllabic finals belongs to the class rannaigecht. A similar stanza with aabb rhymes is the basis of the so-called debide (cut in two) metres. A peculiarity of the latter is that the rhyming word ending the second line must contain at least one syllable more than the rhyming word which ends the first. Another frequently employed metre is the rindard, consisting of lines of six syllables with dissyllabic endings. In the metrical treatises examples are given of some 200 odd metres. The result of the complicated technique evolved in Ireland was an inclination to sacrifice sense to musical harmony. See K. Meyer, A Primer of Irish Metrics (Dublin,1909).
We can conclude this survey of medieval Irish literature by mentioning briefly two departments of learning to which much attention was paid in Ireland. These are law and medicine. The so-called Brehon Laws (q.v.) are Law.represented as having been codified and committed to writing in the time of St Patrick. There is doubtless some grain of truth in this statement, as a fillip may have been given to this codification by the publication of the Theodosian Code, which was speedily followed by the codes of the various Teutonic tribes. The Brehon Laws were no doubt originally transmitted from teacher to pupil in the form of verse, and traces of this are to be found in the texts which have been preserved. But the Laws as we have them do not go back to the 5th century. In our texts isolated phrases or portions of phrases are given with a commentary, and this commentary is further explained by some 633later commentators. Kuno Meyer has pointed out that in the commentary to one text, Críth Gablach, there are linguistic forms which must go back to the 8th century, and Arbois de Jubainville, who apart from Sir Henry Maine is the only scholar who has dealt with the subject, has attempted to prove from internal evidence that part of the oldest tract, the one on Athgabáil or Seizure, cannot, in its present form, be later than the close of the 6th century. Cormac’s Glossary contains a number of quotations from the commentary to Senchus Mór, which would therefore seem to have been in existence about 900. The Irish Laws were transcribed by O’Donovan and O’Curry, and have been published with a faulty text and translation in five volumes by the government commissioners originally appointed in 1852. A number of other law tracts must have existed in early times, and several which have been preserved are still unedited. Kuno Meyer has published the Cáin Adamnáin or Adamnan’s Law from an Oxford MS. Adamnan succeeded in getting a law passed which forbade women to go into battle. An interesting but little-investigated text in prose and verse called Leabhar na gCeart or Book of Rights was edited with an English translation by O’Donovan (1847). It deals with the rights to tribute of the high-king and the various provincial kings. The text of the Book of Rights is preserved in YBL. and BB. In its present form it shows distinct traces of the influence of the Viking invasions, and cannot go back much beyond the year 1000. At one time it was incorporated in a larger work now lost, the Psalter of Cashel. We also possess a 9th-century treatise on Sunday observance (Cáin Domnaig).
The medical profession in Ireland was hereditary in a number of families, such as the O’Lees (from Irish liaig, “a leech”), the O’Hickeys (Irishicide, “the healer”), the O’Shiels, the O’Cassidys, and many others. These families each Medicine.had their own special leech-books, some of which are still preserved. In addition to these there are many others. The medical literature which has come down to us is contained in MSS. ranging from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The Irish MSS. are translations from the Latin with the invariable commentary, and they further contain additions derived from experience. YBL. contains four of these tracts, and amongst others we may mention the Book of the O’Hickeys, a translation of the Lilium Medicinae of Bernard Gordon (written 1303), the Book of the O’Lees (written in 1443), the Book of the O’Shiels, transcribed in 1657, and the Book of MacAnlega, transcribed in 1512. Of these texts only two have been published as yet from MSS. in Edinburgh. O’Curry drew up a MS. catalogue of the medical MSS. in the Royal Irish Academy, and many more are described in O’Grady’s catalogue of Irish MSS. in the British Museum. Some few MSS. deal with the subject of astronomy, but up to the present no description of the texts has been published.
With the steady advance of the English power after 1600 it was only natural that the school of bardic poets should decline. But at the beginning of the 17th century for the last time they gave a great display of their resources. Later Irish literature.Tadhg MacDaire, the ollam of the earl of Thomond, composed a poem in elaborate verse exalting the line of Eber (represented by the reigning families of Munster) at the expense of the line of Eremon (represented by the reigning families of the other provinces). In a body of verse attributed to Torna Éces (c. 400), but obviously of more recent origin, the Eremonian, Niall Noigiallach, is lavishly praised, and Tadhg’s attack takes the form of a refutation of Torna’s pretensions. The challenge was immediately taken up by Lughaidh O’Clery. The recriminations of the two bards extend to nearly 3000 lines of verse, and naturally drew down the attention of the whole Irish world of letters. Soon all the hereditary poets were engaged in the conflict, which raged for many years, and the verses of both parties were collected into a volume of about 7000 lines in debidemetre, known as the Contention of the Poets. Amongst the prominent poets of the period may be mentioned Tadhg Dall O’Higinn (d. shortly before 1617) and Eochaidh O’Hussey, who between them have left behind nearly 7000 lines in the classical metres, Bonaventura O’Hussey and Ferfesa O’Cainti. The intricate classical measures gradually broke down. Dr Douglas Hyde gives it as his opinion that the exceedingly numerous metres known in Middle Irish had become restricted to a couple of dozen, and these nearly all heptasyllabic. Nevertheless they continued to be employed till into the 18th century. However, during the 17th century we find a new school arising with new principles and new methods. These consisted in (1) the adoption of vowel rhyme in place of consonantal rhyme, (2) the adoption of a certain number of accents in each line in place of a certain number of syllables. Thus, according to what we have just said, the accented syllables in a line with four accents in one line will fall on, say, the following vowels e, u, u, e, and the line rhyming with it will have the same sounds in the same or a different sequence. (For English imitations see Hyde, A Literary History of Ireland, pp. 548 ff.)
The consequences of the changed political conditions were of the greatest importance. The bards, having lost their patrons in the general upheaval, threw behind them the old classical metres and turned to the general public. At the same time they had to abandon the countless chevilles and other characteristics of the old bardic language, which were only understood by the privileged few. But to compensate for this much more freedom of expression and naturalness were possible for the first time in Irish verse. The new metres made their appearance in Ireland about 1600, and the learned Keating himself was one of the first to discard the ancient prosody. During the latter half of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century the body of verse produced in Ireland voices the sorrows and aspirations of the whole nation, and the literary activity in almost every county was correspondingly great. It is only during the last few years that the works of any of the poets of this period have been published. Pierce Ferriter was the last chieftain who held out against Cromwell’s army, and he was hanged in 1653. His poems have been edited by P.S. Dinneen (Dublin, 1903). The bard of the Williamite wars was David O’Bruadar (d. 1697-1698). From this period date three powerful satires on the state of affairs in Munster, and in particular on the Cromwellian settlers. They are of a coarse and savage nature, for which reason they have never been printed. Their titles are the Parliament of Clan Thomas, the Adventures of Clan Thomas, and the Adventures of Tadhg Dubh (by Egan O’Rahilly). A description of the parliament of Clan Thomas is given by Stern in the Zeitschr. f. celt. Phil. v. pp. 541 ff.
A little later we come across a band of Jacobite poets. The gallant figure of Charles Edward was so popular with Irish bards that a conventional stereotyped form arose in which the poet represents himself as wandering in a wood and meeting a beautiful lady. We are treated to a full description of all her charms, and the poet compares her to all the fair heroines of antiquity. But she replies that she is none of these. She is Erin seeking refuge from the insults of foreign suitors and looking for her mate. The idea of such poems is a beautiful one, but they become tedious when one has read a dozen of them only to find that there are scores of others in exactly the same strain. Besides the Visions (Aisling), as they are termed, there are several noteworthy war-songs, whilst other poems are valuable as giving a picture of the state of the country at the time. We can do no more than mention the names of John O’Neaghtan (d. c. 1720; edition of his poems by A. O’Farrelly, Dublin, 1908), Egan O’Rahilly, who flourished between 1700 and 1726; Tadhg O’Naghten, Andrew MacCurtin (d. 1479), Hugh MacCurtin, author of a grammar and part editor of O’Begley’s Dictionary; John Clárach MacDonnell (1691-1754), John O’Tuomy (d. 1775); Andrew Magrath, Tadhg Gaolach O’Sullivan (d. c. 1795), author of a well-known volume of religious poems, a valuable source of information for the Munster dialect; and Owen Roe O’Sullivan (d. 1784), the cleverest of the Jacobite poets (his verses and bons mots are still well known in Munster). These poets hailed mostly from the south, and it is chiefly the works of the Munster poets that have been preserved. Ulster and Connaught also produced a number of writers, but very little beyond the mere names has been preserved except in the case of the Connaught poet Raftery 634(1784-1835), whose compositions have been rescued by Hyde (Abhráin an Reachtúire, Dublin, 1903). Torlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), “the last of the bards,” was really a musician. Having become blind he was educated as a harper and won great fame. His poems, which were composed to suit his music, are mostly addressed to patrons or fair ladies. His celebrated “Ode to Whisky” is one of the finest bacchanalian songs in any language. Michael Comyn (b. c. 1688) is well known as the author of a version based upon older matter of “Ossian in the Land of Youth.” This appears to be the only bit of deliberate creation in the later Ossianic literature. Comyn also wrote a prose story called “The Adventures of Torlogh, son of Starn, and the Adventures of his Three Sons.” Brian MacGiolla Meidhre or Merriman (d. 1808) is the author of perhaps the cleverest sustained poem in the Irish language. His work, which is entitled the Midnight Court, contains about 1000 lines with four rhymes in each line. It describes a vision in which Aoibhill, queen of the Munster fairies, is holding a court. A handsome girl defends herself against an old man, and complains to the queen that in spite of all her charms she is in danger of dying unwed. Merriman’s poem, which was written in 1781, has recently been edited with a German translation by L.C. Stern (Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, v. 193-415). Donough MacConmara (Macnamara) (d. c. 1814) is best known as the author of a famous lyric “The Fair Hills of Holy Ireland,” but he also wrote a mock epic describing his voyage to America and how the ship was chased by a French cruiser. He is carried off in a dream by the queen of the Munster fairies to Elysium, where, instead of Charon, he finds Conan, the Thersites among the Fenians, acting as ferryman (Eachtra Ghiolla an Amaráin, or The Adventures of a Luckless Fellow, edited by T. Flannery, Dublin, 1901).
During the first half of the 19th century nothing new was produced of a high order, though the peasants retained their love for poetry and continued to copy the MSS. in their possession. Then came the famine and the consequent drain of population which gave Irish the death-blow as a living literary force. The modern movement has been dealt with above in the section on Irish language.
It remains for us to glance briefly at the later religious literature and the collections of folk-tales. The translation of the New Testament made by William O’Donnell and published in 1603 was first undertaken in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who sent over to Dublin the first fount of Irish type. Bishop Bedell, one of the very few Protestant clergymen who undertook to learn Irish, translated the remainder of the Scriptures with the help of a couple of natives, but the whole Bible was not translated and published until 1686. This version naturally never became popular, but it is a valuable source of information with regard to Modern Irish. It is perhaps of interest to note that the earliest specimen of printing in Irish is a ballad on Doomsday (Dublin, 1571). A version of the English Prayer Book was published in 1716.
The scholars of the various Irish colleges on the continent were particularly active in the production of manuals of devotion mainly translated from Latin. We can mention only a few of the more important. Sgathán an chrábhaidh (The Mirror of the Pious), published in 1626 by Florence Conry;Sgathán sacramente na h-Aithrighe (Mirror of the Sacrament of Penance), by Hugh MacCathmhaoil, published at Louvain, 1618; The Book of Christian Doctrine, by Theobald Stapleton (Brussels, 1639); Párrthas an Anma, or The Paradise of the Soul, by Anthony Gernon (Louvain, 1645); a book on Miracles, by Richard MacGilla Cody (1667); Lochrán na gcreidmheach, or Lucerna Fidelium, by Francis O’Mulloy (Louvain, 1676); O’Donlevy’s Catechism (1742). O’Gallagher, bishop of Raphoe, published a collection of sermons which went through twenty editions and are still known at the present day. He is one of the earliest writers in whom the characteristics of the speech of the north are noticeable. The only Catholic version of any considerable portion of the Scriptures up till quite recently was the translation of the Pentateuch by Archbishop MacHale, who also turned six books of the Iliad into Irish. It is only within recent years that attention has been paid to the collection of folk-songs and tales in Irish, although as long ago as 1825 Crofton Croker published three volumes of folk-lore in the south of Ireland which attracted the attention of Sir Walter Scott. Nor do the classic stories of Carleton fall within our province. We may mention among others Patrick O’Leary’s Sgeuluidheacht Chuige Mumhan (Dublin, 1895); Hyde’s Beside the Fire (London, 1890) and An Sgeuluidhe Gaedhealach, reprinted from vol. x. of the Annales de Bretagne(London, 1901); Daniel O’Fogharta’s Siamsa an Gheimhridh (Dublin, 1892); J. Lloyd’s Sgéalaidhe Óirghiall (Dublin, 1905); and Larminie’s West Irish Folk-Tales (London, 1893). The most important collections of folk-songs are Love-Songs of Connaught (Dublin, 1893) and Religious Songs of Connaught (Dublin, 1906), both published by Hyde. The most extensive collection of proverbs is the one entitled Seanfhocla Uladh by Henry Morris (Dublin, 1907). See also T. O’Donoghue, Sean-fhocail na Mumhan (Dublin, 1902).
Authorities.—In the absence of a comprehensive history, the best manual is Eleanor Hull’s Text Book of Irish Literature (2 parts, London, 1904-1908; vol. 2 contains a bibliographical appendix). D. Hyde’s larger History of Irish Literature (London, 1899) is only trustworthy as regards the more modern period. A full bibliography of all published material is contained in G. Dottin’s article “La littérature gaélique de l’Irlande” (Revue de synthèse historique, vol. iii. pp. 1 ff.). Dottin’s article has been translated into English and supplemented by Joseph Dunn under the title of The Gaelic Literature of Ireland (Washington, 1906, privately printed). The following are important works:—W. Stokes and J. Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus (2 vols., Cambridge, 1901-1903); J.H. Bernard and R. Atkinson, Liber Hymnorum (London, 1895); E. O’Curry, Lectures on the MS. Materials of Ancient Irish History (Dublin, 1873) and Lectures on the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (3 vols., Dublin, 1873); P.W. Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland (2 vols., London, 1903); E. O’Reilly, Irish Writers (Dublin, 1820); S.H. O’Grady, Catalogue of Irish MSS. in the British Museum (London, 1901); H. d’Arbois de Jubainville, Introduction à l’étude de la littérature celtique (Paris, 1883), Essai d’un catalogue de la littérature épique de l’Irlande (Paris, 1883), L’Épopée celtique en Irlande (Paris, 1892), La Civilisation des Celtes et celle de l’épopée homérique (Paris, 1899); E. Windisch, Táin Bó Cualnge, ed. with an introd. and German trans. (Leipzig, 1905); L. Winifred Faraday, The Cattle-Raid of Cualnge (London, 1904); the Irish text according to LU. and YBL. has been published as a supplement to Ériu; Eleanor Hull, The Cuchulinn-saga (London, 1899); W. Ridgeway, “The Date of the First Shaping of the Cuchulinn Cycle,” Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. ii. (London, 1907); A. Nutt, Cuchulin, the Irish Achilles (London, 1899); H. Zimmer, “Keltische Beiträge” in Zeitschrift f. deutsches Altertum, vols. 32, 33 and 35, and “Über den compilatorischen Charakter der irischen Sagentexte in sogenannten Lebor na hUidre,” Kuhn’s Zeitschr. xxviii. pp. 417-689. We cannot here enumerate the numerous heroic texts which have been edited. For texts published before 1883 see d’Arbois’s Catalogue, and the same writer gives a complete list in Revue Celtique, vol. xxiv. pp. 237 ff. The series of Irische Texte, vols. i.-iv. (Leipzig, 1880-1901), by E. Windisch (vols. ii.-iv. in conjunction with W. Stokes), contains a number of important texts. Others, more particularly those belonging to the Ossianic cycle, are to be found in S.H. O’Grady’s Silva Gadelica (2 vols. London, 1892). See also R. Thurneysen, Sagen aus dem alten Irland(Berlin, 1901); P.W. Joyce, Old Celtic Romances (London², 1901).
For the Ossianic cycle see H. Zimmer, “Keltische Beiträge III.” in vol. 35 of the Zeitschr. f. deutsches Altertum, also Gottinger Gelehrte Anzeigen, 1887, pp. 153-199; A. Nutt, Ossian and the Ossianic Literature (London, 1899); L.C. Stern, “Die ossianischen Heldenlieder,” in Zeitschr. f. vergleichende Litteraturgeschichte for 1895, trans. by J.L. Robertson in Transactions of the Inverness Gaelic Society, vol. xxii.; J. MacNeill,Duanaire Finn (London, 1908); Book of the Dean of Lismore, ed. by T. Maclauchlan (Edinburgh, 1862), and in vol. i. of A. Cameron’s Reliquiae Celticae (Edinburgh, 1892); Transactions of the Ossianic Society (6 vols., Dublin, 1854-1861); Miss Brooke, Reliques of Ancient Irish Poetry(Dublin, 1789).
Keating’s History was translated by John O’Mahony (New York, 1866). The first part was edited with Eng. trans. by W. Halliday (Dublin,1811) and the whole work in 3 vols. for the Irish Texts Society by D. Comyn and P. Dinneen (London, 1901-1908). Comparatively few specimens have been published of the older bards. Several from a Copenhagen MS. were printed by Stern in the Zeitschr. f. celt. Phil. vol. ii.; J. Hardiman, Irish Minstrelsy (2 vols., Dublin, 1831); J.C. Mangan, The Poets and Poetry of Munster (Dublin4, no date); G. Sigerson, The Bards of the Gael and Gall(Dublin, 1906). Editions of the poems of Ferriter, Geoffrey O’Donoghue, O’Rahilly, John O’Tuomy, Andrew Magrath, John Claragh MacDonnell, Tadhg Gaolach and Owen Roe O’Sullivan by Dinneen, Gaelic League, Dublin, and Irish Texts Society, London, 1900-1903.
(E. C. Q.)
II. Scottish Gaelic Literature.—It is not until after the Forty-five that we find any great manifestation of originality in the literature of the Scottish Highlands. The reasons for this are not far to seek. Just as the dialects of Low German in the middle ages were overshadowed by the more brilliant literary dialect of the south, so Scotch Gaelic was from the outset seriously handicapped by the great activity of the professional literary class in Ireland. We may say that down to the beginning of the 18th century the literary language of the Highlands was the Gaelic of Ireland. During the dark days of the penal laws and with the extinction of the men of letters and their patrons in Ireland, an opportunity was given to the native Scottish muse to develop her powers. Another potent factor also made itself felt. After Culloden the causes of the clan feuds and animosities of the past were removed. The Highlands, perhaps for the first time in history, formed a compact whole and settled down to peace and quietude. A remarkable outburst of literary activity ensued, and the latter half of the 18th century is the period which Scottish writers love to call the golden age of Gaelic poetry. But before we attempt to deal with this period in detail, we must examine the scanty literary products of Gaelic Scotland prior to the 18th century.
The earliest document containing Gaelic matter which Scotland can claim is the Book of Deer, now preserved in the Cambridge University Library. This MS. contains portions of the Gospels in Latin written in an Irish hand with “Book of Deer.”illuminations of the well-known Irish type. At the end there occurs a colophon in Irish which is certainly as old as the 9th century. Inserted in the margins and blank spaces are later notes and memoranda partly in Latin, partly in Gaelic. The Gaelic entries were probably made between 1000 and 1150. They relate to grants of land and other privileges made from time to time to the monastery of Deer (Aberdeenshire). The most interesting portion deals with the legend of Deer and its traditional foundation by St Columba. The language of these entries shows a striking departure from the traditional orthography employed in contemporary Irish documents. The Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh contains a number of MSS. probably written in Scotland between 1400 and 1600, but with one exception the language is Irish.
The solitary exception just mentioned is the famous codex known as the Book of the Dean of Lismore. The pieces contained in this volume are written in the crabbed current Roman hand of the period, and the orthography is “Book of the Dean of Lismore.”phonetic, both of which facts render the deciphering of this valuable MS. a task of supreme difficulty. The contents of this quarto volume of 311 pages are almost entirely verse compositions collected and written down by Sir James Macgregor, dean of Lismore in Argyllshire, and his brother Duncan, between the years 1512 and 1526. A disproportionate amount of space is allotted to the compositions of well-known Irish bards such as Donnchadh Mór O’Daly (d. 1244), Muiredhach Albanach (c. 1224), Tadhg Óg O’Higgin (d. 1448), Diarmaid O’Hiffernan, Torna O’Mulconry (d. 1468). But native bards are also represented. We can mention Allan Mac Rorie, Gillie Calum Mac an Ollav, John of Knoydart, who celebrates the murder of the young lord of the isles by his Irish harper in 1490, Finlay MacNab, and Duncan Macgregor, the transcriber of the greater part of the volume. The poems of the last-mentioned writer are in praise of the Macgregors. A few other poems are by Scottish authors such as Campbell, Knight of Glenorchy (d. 1513), the earl of Argyll and Countess Isabella. A number consist of satires on women. These Scottish writers are still under the influence of Irish metric, and regularly employ the four-lined stanza. They do not appear to adhere to the stricter Irish measures, but delight rather in the freer forms going by the name of óglachas. The Irish rules for alliteration and rhyme are not rigidly observed.
The linguistic peculiarities of the Dean’s Book await investigation, but among the pieces which represent the Scottish vernacular of the day are theOssianic Ballads. These, twenty-eight in number, extend to upwards of 2500 lines, and form by far the most important part of the collection. Thus the Dean’s Book was compiled a full hundred years before the earliest similar collection of heroic ballads was made in Ireland. In Scotland the term Ossianic is used loosely of both the Ulster and the Fenian cycles, and it may be as well to state that three of the pieces in the volume deal with Fraoch, Conlaoch and the Bloody Rout of Conall Cearnach. It is interesting to note that nine of the poems are directly attributed to Ossian, two to Ferghus File, one to Caoilte Mac Ronan, and one to Conall Cearnach, whilst others are ascribed to Allan MacRorie, Gillie Calum Mac an Ollav and Caoch O’Cluain, who are otherwise unknown. The Dean’s Book was first transcribed by Ewen MacLachlan in 1813. Thomas MacLauchlan published the text of the Ossianic ballads with modern Gaelic and English renderings in 1862. In the same volume W.F. Skene gave a useful description of the MS. and its contents. Alexander Cameron revised the text of the portion printed by MacLauchlan, and his amended text is printed in his Reliquiae Celticae, vol. i. (See also L.C. Stern, Zeitschr. f. celt. Phil. i. 294-326.)
Between the Book of the Dean and the Forty-five we find another great gap, which is only bridged over by a collection which presents many points of resemblance to Macgregor’s compilation. The Book of Fernaig, which is also written in a “Book of Fernaig.”kind of phonetic script, was compiled by Duncan Macrae of Inverinate between 1688 and 1693. The MS. contains about 4200 lines of verse of different dates and by different authors. The contents of the collection are mainly political and religious, with a few poems which are termed didactic. As in the Dean’s Book love-songs and drinking-songs are conspicuously absent, whilst the religious poetry forms about one-half of the contents. In state politics the authors are Jacobite, and in church politics Episcopalian. The Ossianic literature is represented by 36 lines. There are a number of poems by 16th-century writers, among whom is Bishop Carsewell. Mackinnon has pointed out that the language of the Book of Fernaig corresponds exactly to the dialect spoken in Kintail at the present day. The text of the Book of Fernaig is printed in its entirety in vol. ii. of Cameron’s Reliquiae Celticae, and many of the poems are to be found in standard orthography in G. Henderson’s Leabhar nan Gleann. The metres employed in the poems show the influence of the English system of versification. (See Stern, Zeitschr. f. celt. Phil. ii. pp. 566 ff.)
Two other Highland MSS. remain to be noticed. These are the Red and Black Books of Clanranald, which are largely taken up with the histories of the families of Macdonald and with the achievements of Montrose, written in the “Red and Black Books of Clanranald.”ordinary Irish of the period by the Macvurichs, hereditary bards to the Clanranald chiefs. The Red Book was obtained by Macpherson in 1760 from Neil Macvurich, nephew of the last great bard, and it figured largely in the Ossianic controversy. In addition to poems in Irish by Neil Macvurich, who died at a great age some time after 1715, and other bardic matter, the MSS. now contain only three Ossianic poems, and these are in Irish. During the Ossianic controversy the Red Book of Clanranald was supposed to contain the originals of much of Macpherson’s famous work; but, on the book coming into the hands of the enthusiastic Gaels of the closing years of the 18th century, and on its contents being examined and found wanting, the MS. was tampered with.
Mackenzie’s Beauties of Gaelic Poetry contains poems written by a number of writers who flourished towards the end of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th. These are Mary Macleod, John Macdonald (Iain Lom), Archibald Mary Macleod.Macdonald, Dorothy Brown, Cicely Macdonald, Iain Dubh Iain ’Ic. Ailein (b. c. 1665), the Aosdan Matheson (one of his poems was rendered in English by Sir Walter Scott under the title of “Farewell to Mackenzie, High Chief of Kintail”), Hector Maclean (also known through a translation by Scott called “War-song of Lachlan, High Chief of Maclean”), Lachlan Mackinnon, Roderick Morrison (an Clarsair Dall), and John Mackay of Gairloch, but we can here only notice the first two. The famous Mary Macleod, better known as Mairi Nighean Alastair Ruaidh 636(c. 1588-1693), was family bard to Sir Norman Macleod of Bernera, and later to John “Breac” Macleod of Macleod, in honour of whom most of her poems were composed. Like very many of the Highland poets Mary had little or no education, and it would seem that none of the poems which have come down to us were composed before 1660. Her pieces are composed in the modern Irish metres with the characteristic vowel rhymes of the accented syllables. As might perhaps be expected it was only the Macvurichs (the professional bards of the Clanranald) who went on practising the classicaldebide metre. This they still continued to do during the first quarter of the 18th century. Mary Macleod’s best-known pieces comprise a dirge on the drowning of Iain Garbh (Mac’Ille Chalum) in the Minch, a song “An Talla ’m bu ghnath le MacLeoid,” and an ode to Sir Norman Macleod of Bernera, produced during her exile in Mull, which begins “’S mi’m shuidhe air an tulaich.” For the details of her career, which are the subject of some dispute, the reader may be referred to a paper by Alexander Mackenzie in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. xxii. pp. 43-66. Mary Macleod is accounted one of the most musical and original of the Highland bards.
John Macdonald, better known as Iain Lom (d. c. 1710), was a vigorous political poet whose verses exercised an extraordinary influence during his lifetime. He is said to have received a yearly pension from Charles II. for his “Iain Lom.”services to the Stuart cause. His best-known poems are Mort na Ceapach, on the murder of the heir of Keppoch, who was eventually avenged through the poet’s efforts, and a piece on the battle of Inverlochay (1645). However great the inspiration of Mary Macleod and Iain Lorn, they were after all but political or family bards. In succession to them there arose a small band of men with loftier thoughts, a wider outlook and greater art. The literature of the Scottish Highlands culminates in the names of Alexander Macdonald, Duncan Ban MacIntyre and Dugald Buchanan.
Alexander Macdonald, commonly called Alasdair MacMaighstir Alasdair (b. c. 1700), was the son of an Episcopalian clergyman in Moidart. He was sent to Glasgow University to fit himself for a professional career. But an imprudent Alexander Macdonald.marriage caused him to abandon his studies, and about 1729 he received an appointment as a Presbyterian teacher in his native district. He was moved from place to place, and from 1739 to 1745 he taught at Corryvullin on the Sound of Mull, the scene of some of his most beautiful lyrics. About 1740 he was invited to compile a Gaelic vocabulary, which was published in 1741. Macdonald has thus the double distinction of being the author of the first book printed in Scotch Gaelic and of being the father of Highland lexicography. The news of the landing of the Pretender brought visions of release to the poverty-stricken poet, who was by this time heartily sick of teaching and farming. He turned Roman Catholic, and was present at the unfurling of the Stuart standard. He was given the rank of captain, but rendered greater services to the Jacobite cause with his stirring poems than with the sword. After Culloden he suffered great privations. But in 1751 he visited Edinburgh and brought out a collection of his poetry, which has the honour of being the first original work printed in Scotch Gaelic. His volume was therefore entitled Ais-eiridh na Seann Chanain Albannaich (Resurrection of the Ancient Scottish Tongue). Till the day of his death he led a more or less wandering life, as he was dependent on the generosity of Clanranald. Only a small part of Macdonald’s compositions have been preserved (thirty-one in all). These naturally fall into three groups—love-songs, descriptive poems and patriotic and Jacobite poems. In his love-songs and descriptive poems Macdonald struck an entirely new note in Gaelic literature. His Moladh Mòraig and Cuachag an Fhasaich (also called A’Bhanarach Dhonn) are his best-known compositions in the amatory style. But he is distinctly at his best in the descriptive poems. We have already seen that even as early as the 8th century the poets of Ireland gave expression to that intimate love of nature which is perhaps the most striking feature in Celtic verse. Macdonald had a wonderful command of his native Gaelic. His verse is always musical, and his skilful use of epithet, often very lavishly strewn, enables him to express with marvellous effect the various aspects of nature in her gentler and sterner moods alike. His masterpiece, the Birlinn of Clanranald, which is at the same time, apart from Ossianic ballads, the longest poem in the language, describes a voyage from South Uist to Carrickfergus. Here Macdonald excels in describing the movement of the ship and the fury of the storm. In Allt an t-Siucair (The Sugar Brook) we are given an exquisite picture of a beautiful scene in the country on a summer morning. Other similar poems full of melody and colour are Failte na Mòr-thir (Hail to the Mainland), Oran an t-Samhraidh (Ode to Summer), and Oran an Gheamhraidh (Ode to Winter). When this gifted son of the muses identified himself with the Stuart cause he poured forth a stream of inspiring songs which have earned for him the title of the Tyrtaeus of the Rebellion. Among these we may mention Oran nam Fineachan Gaelach (The Song of the Clans), Brosnachadh nam Fineachan gaidhealach (A Call to the Highland Clans), and various songs to the prince. But incomparably the finest of all is Oran Luaighe no Fucaidh (Waulking Song). Here the prince is addressed as a young girl with flowing locks of yellow hair on her shoulders, and called Morag. She had gone away over the seas, and the poet invokes her to return with a party of maidens (i.e. soldiers) to dress the red cloth, in other words, to beat the English red-coats. The song contains forty-seven stanzas in all, with the characteristic refrain of the waulking-songs. Am Breacan Uallach is a spirited poem in praise of the kilt and plaid, which had been forbidden by the English government. Macdonald is also the author of a number of poems in MS. which have been called the quintessence of indecency. His works have gone through eight editions, the last of which is dated 1892.
In connexion with Macdonald’s Jacobite songs it will be well to mention here the name of a kindred spirit, John Roy Stuart (Iain Ruadh Stiubhart). Stuart was a gallant soldier who was serving in Flanders with the French against the English when the rebellion broke out. He hurried home and distinguished himself on the field of battle. After Culloden he gave vent to his dejection in two pathetic songs, one on the battle itself, while the other deals with the sad lot of the Gael.
The only poet of nature who can claim to rival Macdonald is a man of a totally different stamp. Duncan Bàn Maclntyre (Donnachadh Bàn, 1724-1812) was born of poor parents in Glenorchy, and never learned to read and Duncan Bàn.write or to speak English. He was present on the English side at the battle of Falkirk, on which he wrote a famous ode, and shortly afterwards he was appointed gamekeeper to the earl of Breadalbane in Coire Cheathaich and Ben Dorain, where he lived for many years until he accepted a similar appointment from the duke of Argyll in Buachaill-Eite. Stewart of Luss is credited with having taken down the 6000 lines of verse of his own composition which MacIntyre had carried about with him for many years, and his works were published in 1768. In his later years he was first a volunteer and afterwards a member of the city guard in Edinburgh. In addition to his poems descriptive of nature MacIntyre composed a number of Jacobite martial songs, songs of love and sentiment, and comic and satiric pieces. The poem Mairi bhàn òg addressed to his wife is, on account of its grace and delicate sentiment, generally held to be the finest love-song in the language. But it is above all as the poet of ben and corrie that MacIntyre is remembered. He has been called the Burns of the Highlands, but the bitterness and intellectual power of the Ayrshire poet are absent in MacIntyre. Duncan Bàn describes fondly and tenderly the glories of his native mountains as only one can who spends his life in daily communion with them. His two great compositions are styled Ben Dorain and Coire Cheathaich. The former is a long poem of 550 lines divided into eight parts, alternating with a sort of strophe and antistrophe, one slow called urlar in stately trochees, the other swift called siubhal in a kind of galloping anapaests; the whole ending with the crunluath or final quick motion. It is said to follow very accurately the lilt of a pipe-tune. The poem, which might be called the “Song of the Deer,” has been well 637done into English by J. S. Blackie. Coire Cheathaich (The Misty Corrie), a much shorter poem than Ben Dorain, gives a loving description of all the prominent features in the landscape—the flowers, the bushes, the stones, the hillocks with the birds and game, and the whirling eddies with the glistening salmon. MacIntyre’s works went through three editions in his lifetime, and a twelfth was issued in 1901.
From Duncan Bàn we pass on to consider the compositions of two men who hailed from the outlying parts of Gaeldom. Robert Mackay, or, as he is generally called, Rob Donn (1714-1778), was a native of Strathmore, Sutherlandshire, Rob Donn.who, like Duncan Bàn, never learned to read or write. His life, which was uneventful, was spent almost entirely within the confines of the county of his birth. He left behind a large number of poems which may be roughly classified as elegiac, love and satiric poems. His elegies are of the typical Highland kind. The singer is overwhelmed with sadness and despairing in his loss. His best-known composition in this style is “The Death-Song of Hugh.” Having just heard of the death of Pelham, the prime minister, Mackay finds a poor friend of his dying alone amid squalor in the heart of the mountains. In a poem composed on the spot the poet contrasts the positions of the two men and reflects on the vanity of human existence. Among his love-poems the “Shieling Song” is deservedly famous. But it was above all as a satirist that Mackay excelled during his lifetime. Indeed he seems to have had the sharpest tongue of all the Highland bards. We have already seen what powers were attributed to satirical poets in Ireland in medieval times, and though bodily disfigurements were no longer feared in the 18th century, nothing was more dreaded, both in Ireland and Scotland, than the lash of the bard. Hence many of Rob Donn’s compositions have lost their point, and opinions have been greatly divided as to his merits as a poet. His collected poems were first published in 1829, a second edition appeared in 1871, and in 1899 two new editions were issued simultaneously, the one by Hew Morrison, the other by Adam Gunn and Malcolm Macfarlane. Another satirical poet who enjoyed a tremendousJohn MacCodrum.reputation in his own day was John MacCodrum, a native of North Uist and a contemporary of the men just mentioned. It is related of MacCodrum that the tailors of the Long Island refused to make any clothes for him in consequence of a satire he had directed against them. He was encountered in a ragged state by the Macdonald, who on learning the cause of his sorry condition promoted him to the dignity of bard to his family. Consequently a number of his compositions are addressed to his patrons, but one delightful poem entitled Smeòrach Chlann-Domhnuill (The Mavis of Clan Donald) describes in verses full of melody the beauties of his beloved island home.
In the lyrical outburst which followed the Forty-five it was only to be expected that religious poetry should be represented. We have seen that much of the space in the Dean’s Book and in the Book of Fernaig is allotted to verse of a pious order, though apart from the works of such Irish singers as Donnchadh O’Daly the poems do not reach a very high pitch of excellence. The first religious poem to be printed in Scotch Gaelic was a long hymn by David Mackellar, published in 1752. But incomparably the greatest writer of hymns and sacred poems is Dugald Buchanan (1716-1768). Buchanan was born in Strathyre in Perthshire and was the son of a miller. He Dugald Buchanan.received a desultory kind of education and tried his hand at various trades. In 1753 he was appointed schoolmaster at Drumcastle near Kinloch Rannoch. He was selected to assist Stewart of Killin in preparing the first Highland version of the New Testament for the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge (published 1767), and at the same time he issued an edition of his own poems. Of all Gaelic books this has been far and away the most popular, having gone through no less than forty editions. Buchanan seems to have been very susceptible to religious influences, and the stern Puritan doctrines of retribution and eternal damnation preached around him so worked on his mind that from his ninth to his twenty-sixth year he was a prey to that mental anguish so eloquently described by Bunyan. The awful visions which presented themselves to his vivid imagination find expression in his poems, the most notable of which are “The Majesty of God,” “The Dream,” “The Sufferings of Christ,” “The Day of Judgment,” “The Hero,” “The Skull,” “Winter” and “Prayer.” In the “Day of Judgment,” a poem of about 120 stanzas, we are given in sublime verses a vivid delineation of the crack of doom as the archangel sounds the last trumpet. The poet then goes on to depict the awful scenes consequent upon the wreck of the elements, and pictures the gathering together of the whole human race before the Throne. But Buchanan’s masterpiece is admittedly “The Skull.” Traces of the influence of English writers have been observed in all the poet’s writings, and it seems certain that the subject of his greatest poem was suggested by Shakespeare. The poet seated by a grave espies a skull. He takes it up and muses on its history. This poem in 44 stanzas concludes with a picture of the torments of hell and the glories of heaven.
The writers whom we have been discussing are practically unknown save to those who are able to read them in the original. Now we have to turn our attention to a man whose works have never been popular in the Highlands, but Macpherson’s “Ossian.”who nevertheless plays a prominent part in the history of European literature. Though the precise origin of the Fenian cycle may remain a moot-point to all time, the development of the literature centring in the names of Finn and Ossian is at any rate clear from the 11th century onwards. The interest taken in Celtic studies since the middle of the 19th century in Ireland and Scotland and elsewhere has accumulated a body of evidence which has settled for all time the celebrated dispute as to the authenticity of Macpherson’s Ossian. James Macpherson (1736-1796), a native of Kingussie, showed a turn for versification whilst yet a student at college. Whilst acting as tutor at Moffat he was asked by John Home as to the existence of ancient Gaelic literature in the Highlands. After some pressing Macpherson undertook to translate some of the more striking poems, and submitted to Home a rendering of “The Death of Oscar.” Blair, Ferguson and Robertson, the foremost men in the Edinburgh literary circles of the day, were enthusiastic about the unearthing of such unsuspected treasures, and at their instance Macpherson published anonymously in 1760 his Fragments of Ancient Poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland and translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language. This publication contained in all fifteen translations, preceded by a preface from the pen of Blair. Published under such auspices, Macpherson’s venture was bound to succeed. In the preface it was stated that among other ancient poems an epic of considerable length existed in Gaelic, and that if sufficient encouragement were forthcoming the author of the versions would undertake to recover and translate the same. A subscription was raised at once, and Macpherson set out on a journey of exploration in the Highlands and islands. As the result of this tour, on which he was accompanied by two or three competent Gaelic scholars, Macpherson published in London in 1762 a large quarto containing his epic styled Fingal with fifteen other smaller poems. In the following year a still larger epic appeared with the title of Temora. It was in eight books, and contained a number of notes in addition toCath-Loda and other pieces, along with the seventh book of Temora in Gaelic as a specimen of the original. Ten years later a new edition of the whole was issued. The authenticity of Macpherson’s translations was soon impugned by Dr Johnson, Hume and Malcolm Laing, and the author was urged by his friends to publish the originals. Macpherson prevaricated, even though the Highlanders of India sent him a cheque for £1000 to enable him to vindicate the antiquity of their native literature. Macpherson at different times, and particularly towards the end of his life, seems to have had some intention of publishing the Gaelic of his Ossian, but he was naturally deterred by the feeling that his knowledge of Gaelic was becoming shakier with his continued absence from the Highlands. At any rate he left behind a quantity of Gaelic matter in MS. which was ultimately 638published by the Highland Society of London in 1807. This MS., however, was revised and transcribed by Ross and afterwards destroyed, so that we are ignorant of its nature. The Highland Society also instituted an inquiry into the whole question, but their conclusions were somewhat negative. They succeeded in establishing that the characters introduced by Macpherson were familiar in the Highlands and that Ossianic ballads really existed, which Macpherson had utilized. Macpherson’s claims still found ardent advocates, such as Clark, in the ’seventies, but the question was finally disposed of in papers by Alexander Macbain (1885) and L.C. Stern (1895). We can here only summarize briefly the main lines of argument. (1) Macpherson’s Ossian is full of reminiscences of Homer, Milton and the Hebrew prophets. (2) He confuses the Ulster and the Fenian heroic cycles in unpardonable fashion. (3) The Gaelic text of 1807 only represents one-half of the English versions (11 poems out of 22 poems). Some Gaelic fragments from different pens appeared prior to 1807, but these differ considerably from the “official” version. (4) In the Gaelic text of 1807 the version of the passage from Temora is quite different from that published in 1763. (5) Macpherson’s Gaelic is full of offences against idiom and unnaturally strained language. (6) The names Morven and Selma are entirely of his own invention (see also Macpherson, James). As a result of the stir caused by Macpherson’s work a number of men set about collecting the genuine popular literature of the Highlands. A few years before the appearance ofFingal, Jeremy Stone, a schoolmaster at Dunkeld, had collected ten Ossianic ballads and published one of them in an English versified translation. For this collection see a paper by D. Mackinnon in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. xiv. pp. 314 ff. Unfortunately other persons were led to follow Macpherson’s example. The chief of these imitators were (1) John Clark, who in 1778 published, along with several others, an English poem Mordubh, later translated into Gaelic by Gillies; (2) R. Macdonald, son of Alexander Macdonald, who is the author of The Wish of the Aged Bard; (3) John Smith of Campbeltown (d. 1807), author of fourteen Ossianic poems styled Seandàna, published in English in 1780 and in Gaelic in 1787; (4) D. MacCallum of Arisaig, who in 1821 published Collath and a complete Mordubh “by an ancient bard Fonar.”
We have now reviewed in turn the greatest writers of the Scottish Highlands. The men we have dealt with created a kind of tradition which others have attempted to carry on. Ewen Maclachlan (1775-1822), the first transcriber of Later poets.the Dean’s Book, was assistant librarian of King’s College and rector of the grammar school of Aberdeen. Amongst other things he translated the greater part of seven books of Homer’s Iliad into Gaelic heroic verse, and he also had a large share in the compilation of the Gaelic-English part of the Highland Society’s Dictionary. A number of Gaelic poems were published by him in 1816. These consist of poems of nature, e.g. Dàin nan Aimsirean, Dàn mu chonaltradh, Smeòrach Chloinn-Lachuinn, and of a well-known love-song, the Ealaidh Ghaoil. William Ross (1762-1790), a schoolmaster at Gairloch, is the typical Highland poet of the tender passion, and he is commonly represented as having gone to an early grave in consequence of unrequited affection. His finest compositions are Feasgar Luain and Moladh na h-òighe Gaelich. Another exquisite song Cuachag nan Craobh, is usually attributed to this poet, but it seems to go back to the beginning of the 18th century. A fifth edition of Ross’s poems appeared in 1902. The most popular writer of sacred poems after Buchanan is undoubtedly Peter Grant, a Baptist minister in Strathspey, whose Dàin Spioradail (first published in 1809) reached a twentieth edition in 1904, Sweetness, grace and simplicity are the characteristics which have endeared him to the heart of the Gael. Two other well-known hymn-writers spent their lives in Nova Scotia—James Macgregor (1759-1830) and John Maclean, a native of Tiree. The compositions of the latter have been published under the title Clarsach na Coille (Glasgow, 1881). But John Morrison (1790-1852), the poet-blacksmith of Rodel, Harris, is the most worthy of the name of successor to Buchanan. His works have been carefully edited in two volumes by George Henderson (2nd edition, 1896). His poems are remarkably musical and imaginative. Two of the most characteristic are An Iondruinn and Tha duin’ òg agus seann duìn’ agam. William Livingston or MacDhunleibhe (1808-1870) was a native of Islay. He received scarcely any education, and was apprenticed as a tailor, but he early made his way to the mainland. He was ever a fierce Anglophobe, and did his best to make up for the deficiencies of his early training. He published in English a Vindication of the Celtic Character, and attempted to issue a History of Scotland in parts. His poems, which have been at least twice published (1858, 1882), are equally powerful in the expression of ruthless fierceness and tearful sorrow. In Fios thun a’ Bhaird he sings pathetically of the passing of the older order in Islay, and another powerful poem entitled Duan Geall deals with the campaign of the Highlanders under Sir Colin Campbell in the Crimea. Livingston’s contemporary, Evan Maccoll (1808-1898), the son of a small farmer on Lochfyneside, in his early years devoured eagerly all the English literature and Gaelic lore that came in his way. In 1836 he issued a volume of songs called the Mountain Minstrel, containing his productions in Gaelic and English. Two years later two volumes appeared, one entirely in Gaelic, styled Clarsach nam Beann, the other in English under the old title. A third edition of the Gaelic collection was published in 1886. Maccoll acted for many years as clerk in the custom-house at Liverpool, and afterwards he filled a similar post at Kingston, Canada. He has been called the Moore of Highland song. His spirit is altogether modern, and his poems are much nearer the Lowland type than those of the older bards. Among his best-known pieces are Bàs Mairi and Duanag Ghaoil. We can do no more than mention the names of John Maclachlan of Rahoy (1804-1874), James Munro (1794-1870), well known as a grammarian, Dugald Macphail (b. 1818), Mrs Mary Macpherson, Angus Macdonald (1804-1874), Mrs Mary Mackellar (1834-1890) and Neil Macleod (b. 1843), author of a popular collection Clarsach an Doire (1st ed., 1883; 3rd ed., 1904). Neil Macleod is also the writer of the popular song An Gleann’s an robh mi òg. Others whom we cannot mention here are known as the authors of one or more songs which have become popular. It is natural to compare the state of affairs at the beginning of the 20th century with that obtaining in 1800. In the dawn of the 19th century every district in the Highlands had its native poet, whilst a century later not a single Gaelic bard of known reputation existed anywhere within its borders. It is only too evident that the new writers prefer English to Gaelic as a medium of literature, partly because they know it better, but also because in it they appeal to a far wider public.
It will have been observed that we have said nothing about prose works written in Gaelic. Original Gaelic prose is conspicuous by its absence. The first printed work is the translation of Knox’s Liturgy by Bishop Carsewell, Prose writers.published in 1567 (reprinted in 1873). Calvin’s Catechism is said to have been issued in 1631. The Psalms and Shorter Catechism appeared in 1659, while two other psalters saw the light before the end of the century, one by Kirke (1684), the other issued by the Synod of Argyll (1694). The language of all these publications may, however, be termed Irish. Apart from reprints of the catechism and psalter, the only other Gaelic matter which appeared in print before 1750 were Kirke’s Irish version of the Bible in Roman type with a vocabulary (1690), and the Vocabulary by Alexander Macdonald (1741). But from the middle of the 18th century translations of the works of English religious writers streamed from the various presses. Alleine, Baxter, Boston, Bunyan, Doddridge and Jonathan Edwards were all prime favourites, and their works have gone through many editions. Apart from a well-meant but wholly inadequate version of Schiller’s Tell, the only non-religious work which can be termed literature existing in a Gaelic translation is a portion of the Arabian Nights, though fragments of other classics such as Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare have appeared in magazines. The one-sided character of Gaelic literature, in addition to exercising a baneful influence on Highland character, has in the 639long run of necessity proved adverse to the vitality of the language. The best standard of Gaelic is by common consent the language of the Scriptures. James Stewart of Killin’s version of the New Testament, published by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, was followed by a translation of the Old Testament in four parts (1783-1801), the work of John Stewart of Luss and John Smith of Campbeltown. The whole Gaelic Bible saw the light in 1807. But the revision of 1826 is regarded as standard. The translators and revisers had no norm to follow, and it is difficult to say how far they were influenced by Irish tradition. Much in the Gaelic version seems to savour of Irish idiom, and it is a pity that some competent scholar such as Henderson has not investigated the question. Of original prose works we can mention two. The one is a History of the Forty-five (Eachdraidh a’ Phrionnsa, no Bliadhna Thearlaich), published in 1845 by John Mackenzie, the compiler of the Beauties of Gaelic Poetry (1806-1848). A second edition of this book appeared in 1906. The other is the more famous Caraid nan Gaedheal, by Norman Macleod (new edition, 1899). This volume consists mainly of a number of dialogues dealing with various departments of Highland life, which were originally contributed to various magazines from 1829 to 1848. Macleod’s style is racy and elegant, and his work is deservedly popular.
In conclusion we must take notice of the more important collections of folklore. Gaelic, like Irish, is extraordinarily rich in proverbs. The first collection of Gaelic proverbs was published in 1785 by Donald Macintosh. This work was supplemented and enlarged in 1881 by Alexander Nicolson, whose book contains no fewer than 3900 short sayings. A large collection of Gaelic folk-tales was gleaned and published by J.F. Campbell under the title of Popular Tales of the West Highlands (4 vols., Edinburgh, 1862). Alexander Carmichael published a version of the Táin Bó Calnge, called Toirioc na Táine, which he collected in South Uist (Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, ii. 25-42), also the story of Deirdre and the sons of Uisneach in prose taken down in Barra (ib. xiii. 241-257). Five volumes of popular stories, collected by J.G. Campbell, D. MacInnes, J. Macdougall and Lord Archibald Campbell, have been published (1889-1895) by Nutt under the title Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition. These collections contain a good deal of matter pertaining to the old heroic cycles. Seven ballads dealing with the Ulster cycle were collected and printed by Hector Maclean under the title Ultonian Hero-ballads (Glasgow, 1892). Macpherson gave a fillip to collectors of Ossianic lore, and a number of MSS. going back to his time are deposited in the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh. J.F. Campbell spent twelve years searching for variants, and his results were published in his Leabhar na Feinne (1872). This volume contains 54,000 lines of heroic verse. The Edinburgh MSS. were transcribed by Alexander Cameron, and published after his death by Alexander Macbain and John Kennedy in his Reliquiae Celticae. This work is therefore a complete corpus of Gaelic heroic verse. Finally the charms and incantations of the Highlands have been collected and published by Alexander Carmichael in two sumptuous volumes under the title Carmina Gadelica (1900).
Authorities.—The standard work is Magnus Maclean, The Literature of the Highlands (London, 1904); see also various chapters in the same writer’s Literature of the Celts (London, 1902); L.C. Stern, Die Kultur der Gegenwart, i. xi. 1, pp. 98-109; Nigel MacNeill, The Literature of the Highlanders (Inverness, 1892); J.S. Blackie, The Language and Literature of the Scottish Highlands (Edinburgh, 1876); P.T. Pattison, Gaelic Bards(1890); L. Macbean, Songs and Hymns of the Scottish Highlands (Edinburgh, 1888); John Mackenzie, Sàrobair nam Bàrd Gaelach, or The Beauties of Gaelic Poetry (new ed., Edinburgh, 1904); A. Sinclair, An t-Oranaiche (Glasgow, 1879); The Book of Deer, edited for the Spalding Club by Dr Stuart (1869); Alexander Macbain, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vols. xi. and xii.; The Book of the Dean of Lismore, edited by T. Maclauchlan (1862); Alexander Cameron, Reliquiae Celticae (Inverness, 1892-1894); John Reid, Bibliotheca Scoto-Celtica (Glasgow, 1832);Catalogue of the books in the Celtic department, Aberdeen University Library (1897); George Henderson, Leabhar nan Gleann (Inverness, 1898); D. Mackinnon, “The Fernaig MS.” in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, xi. 311-339; J.S. Smart, James Macpherson, An Episode in Literature (London, 1905); L.C. Stern, “Die Ossianischen Heldenlieder” in Zeitschrift für vergleichende Litteraturgeschichte (1895), translated by J.L. Robertson in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, xxv. 257-325; G. Dottin, Revue de synthèse historique, viii. 79-91; M.C. Macleod, Modern Gaelic Bards (Stirling, 1908).
(E. C. Q.)
III. Manx Literature.—The literary remains written in the Manx language are much slighter than those of any other Celtic dialect. With one small exception nothing pertaining to the saga literature of Ireland has been preserved. The little we possess naturally falls under two heads—original compositions and translations. With regard to the first category we must give the place of honour to an Ossianic poem contained in a MS. in the British Museum (written in 1789), which relates how Orree, Finn’s enemy, was tormented by the women of Finn’s household when the latter was away hunting, how he in revenge set fire to the house, and how Finn had him torn in pieces by wild horses. Most of the existing literature of native origin, however, consists of ballads and carols, locally called carvels. These used to be sung on Christmas eve in the churches, the members of the congregation each bringing a candle. Any one who pleased could get up and sing one. These carvels deal largely with the end of the world, the judgment-day and the horrors of hell. About eighty of them were published under the title of Carvalyn Gailckagh (Douglas, 1891). An attempt is being made by Yn Cheshaght Gailckagh to revive the Oiel Voirrey (=Irish Oidhche Fhéile Mhuire), “the feast of Mary,” as the festival used to be called, and gatherings in the old style have been held in Peel for the last two or three years. Apart from the carvels there are other ballads in existence, the most important of which were printed in vol. xvi. of the Publications of the Manx Society. The earliest is an 18th-century song of Manannan Mac y Lheir, traditionally supposed to have been written in the 16th century, and which tells of the conversion of the island by St Patrick. Then comes Baase Ittiam Dhône (The Death of Brown William), dealing with the death of William Christian, who was shot as a traitor in 1662. The best-known Manx song is Mylecharaine (= Irish Maolchiarán). It is directed against a man of this name who was the first to give a dowry to his daughter, the custom having previously been for the bridegroom to pay money to the father of the bride. Others are Ny Kirree fo Sniaghtey (The Sheep under the Snow), a song about the loss of the Douglas herring fleet in 1787 (reprinted at Douglas, 1872), and O Vannin Veg Veen (Dear little Mona). A further ballad was taken down by J. Strachan and is published in the Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, i. 79. In 1760 Joseph Bridson wrote a “Short Account of the Isle of Man” in Manx (Coontey Ghiare jeh Ellan Vannin ayns Gailck), which was reprinted in vol. xx. of thePublications of the Manx Society. The translated literature is almost entirely of a religious character. Jenner prints a list of twenty-three volumes in his article referred to below, but we can only here mention the most important. The first is the translation of the English Prayer-Book by Bishop Phillips, 1610 (published by A.W. Moore, Oxford, 1895). The Sermons of Bishop Wilson in 3 vols. (1783) are a very rare work, highly important for our knowledge of Manx prose, and it is to be hoped that Yn Cheshaght Gailckagh will see their way to reprint it. A translation of parts of Milton’sParadise Lost (Pargys Caillit) by Thomas Christian, 1796, is reprinted in vol. xx. of the Publications of the Manx Society. The later translation of the Church of England Prayer-Book was printed in 1765 and again in 1777 and 1840. But by far the most important of all is the translation of the Bible. The energetic Bishop Wilson managed to get parts of the Scriptures translated and the Gospel of St Matthew was printed in 1748. Wilson’s successor, Bishop Hildesley, completed the work, and in 1775 the whole Bible appeared. The last reprint of the Bible appeared in 1819, that of the New Testament in 1810 (?). As a curiosity it may be mentioned that recently Aesop’s Fables have been translated into the vernacular (Douglas, 1901).
Authorities.—H. Jenner, “The Manx Language: its Grammar, Literature and Present State,” Transactions of the London Philological Society(1875), pp. 172 ff.; Publications of the Manx Society, vols. xvi., xx., xxi.; L.C. Stern, Die Kultur d. Gegenwart, i. xi. 1, pp. 110-11.
IV. Welsh Literature.—The oldest documents consist of glosses of the 9th and 10th centuries found in four MSS.—Oxoniensis prior and posterior, the Cambridge Juvencus and Martianus Capella. These glosses were published Early MSS.by J. Loth in his Vocabulaire vieux-breton (1884), but their value is entirely philological. In addition, we possess two short verses, written in Irish characters, preserved in the Juvencus Manuscript in the University Library at Cambridge (printed in Skene’s Four Ancient Books of Wales). This manuscript is a versification of the Gospels dating from the 9th century. The value of these two verses is threefold: they give us, in the first place, a specimen of the Welsh language at a time when the modern laws of euphony were in a comparatively elementary stage; secondly, they are of the utmost importance to the historian tracing the development of Welsh versification, and, in future research, they must be taken into account by the historian of modern metres in other languages; and, thirdly, the similarity of their form and diction to other verses, attributed to Llywarch Hen, and preserved in a much later orthography, will be a serious consideration to the higher critic in Welsh literature.
All the prose and verse of the succeeding centuries, that is to say from the 10th to the beginning of the 14th, is preserved in four important manuscripts, written during the latter half of the period. The first of these manuscripts is “Black Book of Carmarthen.”the Black Book of Carmarthen, a small quarto vellum manuscript of fifty leaves, written in Gothic letters by various hands during the reign of Henry II. (published in facsimile by Gwenogvryn Evans, Oxford, 1907). This book belonged originally to the priory of Black Canons at Carmarthen, from whom it passed to the church of St David; at the suppression of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. it was presented by the treasurer of that church to Sir John Price, one of the king’s commissioners, and from him it passed eventually into the hands of Sir Robert Vaughan, the owner of the famous “Book of Aneirin.”Hengwrt collection. It is now among the Peniarth Manuscripts, undoubtedly the most valuable collection of Welsh manuscripts in the United Kingdom. The second manuscript is the Book of Aneirin, a small quarto manuscript of nineteen leaves of vellum, written about 1250. It was at one time in the possession of Sir Thomas “Book of Taliessin.”Phillips of Middlehill, and now belongs to the free library of the city of Cardiff. The third is the Book of Taliessin, in the Hengwrt and subsequently in the Peniarth collection. It is a small quarto manuscript containing thirty-eight leaves, written in Gothic letters, about the early part of the 14th century. The fourth manuscript, and in some respects the most important, is the Red Book “Red Book of Hergest.”of Hergest, so called from Hergest Court, one of the seats of the Vaughans. It is a folio volume of 360 leaves written by different hands between the beginning of the 14th and the middle of the 15th century. This manuscript, which is the most extensive compilation of the medieval prose and verse of Wales, is now in the possession of Jesus College, Oxford, and is kept in the Bodleian Library of that university. The main body of the poems contained in these four MSS. was printed by W. F. Skene with a tentative English version in his Four Ancient Books of Wales.
The other Welsh manuscripts, ranging down from the 15th to the 18th century, are far too numerous to notice, and it is outside the scope of this article to deal minutely with the original sources of the text of Welsh writings.
We will now only endeavour to sketch the history of Welsh literature from these early centuries down to our own times, and to show how the Celtic people of Wales have developed a literature true to their own genius, and how that literature stands to this day both a minister to the culture of the Welsh people and a sure indication of it.
1. Early Latin Writers.—The works now known as those of Gildas (q.v.) and Nennius (q.v.) are written in Latin; they throw considerable light on the origin of Welsh romantic literature and on the history of the earlier poems. Gildas was born at Ailclyd, the modern Dumbarton, that part of Britain which is called by Welsh writers Y Gogledd, or the North. Several dates have been assigned for his birth and death, but he probably flourished between 500 and 580, and his book, De Excidio Britanniae seems to have been written about 560. This work is Gildasa sketch of British history under the Romans and in the period after their withdrawal from the country, and includes the period of the wars of the Britons with the Picts, Scots and Saxons. Mr Skene suggests very reasonably that the well-known letter of the Britons to Aetius, asking for Roman aid, is misplaced, and that if put in its own place some of the anachronisms of Gildas will disappear. This work, which contains some spirited attacks on the leaders of the Britons for their sins, is strangely full of contradictions. It seems to be the work of some person well versed in the facts of that part of British history, to which he had an easy access, but who supplemented them with traditional details and with dates which were mere guess-work. Mr Skene thinks that the work of Nennius was originally written in Welsh in the north and was afterwards translated into Latin. To this nucleus was added the genealogies of the Saxon kings down to 738. Afterwards some person, called Marc in the Vatican manuscript, appended probably about 823 the life of St Germanus and the legends of St Patrick, which were subsequently incorporated with the history. Some South Welshman added to the oldest manuscript of the history in these countries, about 977, a chronicle of events from 444 to 954, in which there are genealogies beginning with Owain, son of Hywel Dda, king of South Wales. This chronicle, which is not found in other manuscripts, has been made the basis of two later chronicles brought down to 1286 and 1288 respectively. It is consequently not the work of one author. A learned Irishman named Gilla Coemgin, who died in 1072, translated it into Irish and added many things concerning the Irish and the Picts. The Historia Britonum is more valuable for the legendary matter which it contains than for what may be accepted as history, for it gives us the British legends of the colonization of Great Britain and Ireland, the exploits of King Arthur and the prophecies of Merlin, which are not found elsewhere before the 12th century. The date of the book is of the greatest importance to the history of medieval romance, and there can be no doubt that it is earlier than the Norman Conquest and that the legends themselves are of British origin.
2. The Epic Period, 700-950.—The higher criticism of the early poetry of Wales contained in the four ancient manuscripts already mentioned has undergone a good many changes since their contents first excited the curiosity of English scholars. In turn Welshmen, with more zeal than discretion, have displayed an amazing charlatanism in the extraordinary theories which they put forth, and Englishmen have shown an utmost meanness in belittling what is undoubtedly a most valuable monument of the past. But now the labours of Zeuss and others who have made a study of Celtic philology furnish us with much safer canons of criticism than existed in 1849, when even a learned Welshman, the late Thomas Stephens, who did more than any one else to establish the claims of his country to a real literature, doubted the authenticity of a large number of the poems said to have been written by Taliessin, Aneirin, Myrddin and Llywarch Hen, who are supposed to have lived in the 5th century. A great service was done to Welsh literature by the publication of the texts of those poems from the four ancient manuscripts by W.F. Skene. In addition to the text, translations of the poems were furnished by Dr Silvan Evans and the Rev. Robert Williams, but the translation, though on the whole a very creditable work, is full of mistakes which few men, writing at that time, could have avoided. The publication of the text of the Black Book, with notes by Dr Gwenogvryn Evans, will be of great service towards clearing up the mist which envelops this older literature.
Most of the poems in these four manuscripts are attributed to four poets, Aneirin, Llywarch Hen, Taliessin and Myrddin, who are said to have lived and written in Cumbria or Y Gogledd, where the actors in the events referred to also lived. The greater part of this region enjoyed substantial independence down to the end of the 9th century, with the exception of the 641interval from 655, when they were subjected to the kingdom of Northumbria by Oswy after the defeat of Cadwallawn and Penda, to the battle of Dunnichen in 686, when Ecfrid, king of Northumbria, was defeated. From the 7th to the 9th century Cumbria, including under that name all the British territory from the Ribble to the Clyde, was the principal theatre of British and Saxon conflict. The rise of the dynasty of Maelgwn Gwynedd, who, according to Welsh tradition, was a descendant of Cunedda Wledig, one of the Picts of the north, brought Wales into close connexion with the Cumbrian kingdom, and prepared both North and South Wales for the reception of the northern traditions and the rise of a true Welsh literature.
Whether the poets of the north really wrote any of the poems which in a modified form have come down to us or not, there can be no doubt that a number of lays attributed to them lived in popular tradition, and that under the sudden burst of glory which the deeds of Cadwallawn called forth and which ended in the disastrous defeat of 655, a British literature began to spring up, and was nourished by the hopes of a future resurrection under his son Cadwaladr, whose death was disbelieved in for such a long time. These floating lays and traditions gradually gathered into North Wales, brought thither by the nobility and the bards who fled before advancing hosts of the victorious Saxon kings of the north. The heroes of the north became now the heroes of Wales, and the sites of the battles they fought were identified with places of similar name in Wales and England.
By far the longest and the most famous poem of this series is attributed to Aneurin. This spelling of his name is comparatively modern, and in the old manuscripts it is given as Aneirin. The later form seems to have been affected Aneurinby the form eurin, “golden,” and to owe the continuation of the misspelling to a belief that the poet and Gildas, whose name is supposed to be the Latin form of the Old English gylden, were one and the same person. This poem, called the Gododin (with notes by T. Stephens and published by Prof. Powel for the Cymmrodorion Society, London, 1888), is extremely obscure, both on account of its vocabulary and its topography and allusions. It deals mainly with “the men who went to Cattraeth,” which is supposed to have been fought between the Britons and the Scots under Aedan, king of Dalriada, and the pagan Saxons and their British subjects in Devyr (Deira) and Bryneich (Bernicia), and the half-pagan Picts of Guotodin, a district corresponding to the northern half of the Lothians along the Firth of Forth. Critics have attempted with partial success to cast some light on its obscurity by supposing that the poem as a whole is made up of two parts dealing with two distinct battles. This may or may not be, but there is no doubt that many of the stanzas of the poem as found in the manuscript are not in their proper places, and a critical readjustment of the different stanzas and lines would do much towards solving its problem. It seems probable, too, that the original nucleus of the poem was handed down orally, and recited or sung by the bards and minstrels at the courts of different noblemen. It thus became the common stock-in-trade of the Welsh rhapsodist, and in time the bards, using it as a kind of framework, added to it here and there pieces of their own composition formed on the original model, especially when the heroes named happened to be the traditional forefathers of their patrons, and occasionally introduced the names of new heroes and new places as it suited their purpose; and all this seems to have been done in early times. Older fragments dealing too with the legendary heroes of the Welsh were afterwards incorporated with the poem, and some of these fragments undoubtedly preserve the orthographical and grammatical forms of the 9th century. So that, on the whole, it seems as fruitless to look for a definite record of historical events in this poem as it would be to do so in the Homeric poems, but like them, though it cannot any longer be regarded as a correct and definite account of a particular battle or war, it still stands to this day the epic of the warriors of its own nation. It matters not whether these heroes fought at far Cattraeth or on some other forgotten field of disaster; this song still reflects, as a true national epic, the sad defeats and the brave but desperate rallies of the early Welsh. Like the music of the Welsh, its dominant note is that of sadness, expressing the exultation of battle and the very joy of life in minor notes. To a great extent Welsh poets are to this day true and faithful disciples of this early master.
Many of the poems attributed to Taliessin are undoubtedly late. Indeed, both Taliessin and Myrddin,2 the one as the mythological chief of all Welsh bards and the other as a great magician, seem pre-eminently suited to attract a great Taliessin.deal of later Welsh poetry under their aegis; but the older poems attributed to them are worthy of any literature. Sometimes, as in the verses attributed to Llywarch Hen beginning Stafell Cynddylan, an early specimen of poetic grief over departed glory, we find that gentle elegiac note which is so common in early English poetry. In the Taliessinic poems, the Battle of Argoed Llwyvain and others, we have that boldness of portraiture which is found in the Gododin, whilst in many a noble line we seem to hear again the ravens screaming shrilly over their sword-feasts, and the strong strokes of the advancing warriors.
It was but natural that all the pseudo-prophetic poems, written of course after the events which they foretold, should be attributed to the chief among seers, Myrddin, or, as Merlin.his name is written in English, Merlin; so that all the poems accredited to him, with the exception perhaps of the Avallenau, were not written before the 12th century.
In most of the poems attributed to Llywarch Hen and in some of the Myrddin poems, the verses begin with the same line, which, though it has no direct reference to the subject of the poem itself, is used as a refrain or catch-word, exactly like the refrains employed by Mr Swinburne and others in their ballads. These lines generally refer to some natural object or objects, as, for instance, “the snow of the mountain” or “bright are the tops of the broom.”
The first period, then, of Welsh literature lies between 700 and 950. It is in most respects the epic period, the period in which poets wrote of great men and their deeds, the legendary and the historic heroes of the Cymry, men like Urien Rheged, and heroes like Hyveidd Hir. Even in the next period the epic note had not quite died out.
3. The Prose Romances and the Poet Princes, 1100-1290.—It will be seen that there is a considerable gap between the first and second period of Welsh literature. It must not be supposed, however, that nothing was composed or written during these years. Indeed, it may well be that some of the poetry attributed to the minor bards of the last period was composed between 900 and 1100, and that some other poetry too was written and lost. But there are abundant reasons for believing that Welsh poetry was at a very low ebb during those years. The progress of Wales as a political unit had suffered a check after the battle of Chester in 613. The effects of this defeat were not immediate, as the Welsh had still enough of their characteristic hopefulness to expect ultimate victory; we therefore have reasons for believing The Gododin series.that the Gododin series of poems were still used—or perhaps used then for the first time—to spur on “the hawks of war” to greater efforts. Gradually, however, the Angles, hemming them in on all sides from the Clyde to the Severn, began to press nearer and nearer; the Welsh at last seem to have lost heart, and no one any longer “had the desire of song.” Content with their old epics and their older myths, which owe perhaps to these years a darker and more sombre tinge, they allowed their song to be hushed. The great lords had hardly chosen their final abodes; the smaller lords had all been killed in war and their places taken now by one, now by another, so that the warrior prince himself had not the leisure, and hardly the inspiration necessary, for song, and the bards found but scanty patronage among such a diminished and poverty-stricken nobility. The only order that seemed to prosper was that of the monks, and we owe them our gratitude for 642preserving the ancient writings and the ancient traditions; but they were simply copyists, though they had undoubtedly some hand in giving the Gododin its final form and in setting in its convenient framework the names of the forefathers of their aristocratic abbots.
In the year 1044 Gruffydd ab Llewelyn conquered Hywel ab Edwin and became king of Wales. By means of his diplomacy and his arms he succeeded in stemming the tide of Saxon invasion that was threatening to overflow even the little remnant of land that was left to the Welsh, and his strong rule gave the Welsh muse another opportunity. Gruffydd, however, died in 1063, and was eventually succeeded in 1073 by Trahaern in North Wales, and Rhys ab Owen in South Wales. The rule of these two princes was destined to be the last period of literary inertness in the long interval following the confinement of Wales to her inaccessible highlands.
During these years a man was hiding in Ireland, called Gruffydd ab Cynan, a scion of the old branch of Welsh kings. In Brittany, too, Rhys ab Tewdwr, a claimant to the throne of South Wales, had sought the protection of his Breton kinsmen. In 1073 Rhys ab Tewdwr obtained the throne of Rhys ab Owen, and, after many years of hard fighting, Gruffydd ab Cynan, with the help of Rhys ab Tewdwr, defeated Trahaern at the battle of Myrydd Carn in 1081. On the accession of these two powerful princes the whole country broke forth into songs of praise and jubilation, and the long night was at an end.
It is important to remember that both Gruffydd and Rhys had a direct personal influence on the literary revival of their times. Gruffydd ab Cynan while in exile had seen how the Irish Oenach was held, and had seen prizes given for poetry and song. We have it on the authority of Welsh writers that he reorganized the bards and improved the music, and in many other ways gave a great and beneficial impulse to Welsh literature. He may have brought over some of the later Irish legends which have had such a powerful effect on the literature of Wales.
Rhys ab Tewdwr, too, brought with him from Brittany an enthusiasm for the old Celtic tales, and perhaps some of the tales themselves which had been by that time forgotten in Wales, tales of the Round Table, and Arthur “begirt with British and Armoric knights,” of knightly deeds and magical metamorphoses, which were destined to influence profoundly all the literatures of the West. We find, therefore, in this period that poetry flourished mostly in the North under Gruffydd ab Cynan, and prose in the south under Rhys ab Tewdwr, where the new enthusiasm for the old Welsh legends resulted in the Geoffrey of Montmouth.History of Britain of Geoffrey of Monmouth, which is an expansion of the books attributed to Gildas and Nennius. It was written in Latin sometime before 1147, and is dedicated to Robert, earl of Gloucester, the grandson of Rhys ab Tewdwr. In the introductory epistle, Geoffrey states that Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, had given him a very ancient book in the British tongue, giving an account of the kings of Britain from Brutus to Cadwaladr, and that he had translated it into Latin at the archdeacon’s request. The book, however, is a compilation and not a translation, but the materials were probably drawn from British sources. In this history Geoffrey asserts that the deeds of Arthur “were commonly related in a pleasing manner.” He was perhaps originally but the hero of some popular ballad, or of a forgotten stanza of the Gododin, and the importance of his name in the literature of the world seems to be due to an accident. We cannot, however, in this article consider the Arthurian Legend (q.v.) as a whole; we must be content with dealing with the most important of the romantic tales which are contained in the Red Book of Hergest. They may be divided into four classes:—
(i.) The Mabinogi proper, containing (1) Pwyll, prince of Dyvet; (2) Branwen, daughter of Llyr; (3) Manawyddan, son of Llyr; (4) Math, son of Mathonwy.
(ii.) Old British tales referring to Roman times, viz. (1) Lludd and Llevelys; (2) The Dream of Macsen Wledic.
(iii.) British Arthurian tales, viz. (1) Kilhwch and Olwen; (2) The Dream of Rhonabwy.
(iv.) Later tales of chivalry, viz. (1) The Lady of the Fountain; (2) Peredur, son of Evrawc; (3) Geraint, son of Erbin.
The group of four romances in the first class forms a cycle of legends and is called in the manuscript Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi—the Four Branches of the Mabinogi; so it is only these four tales that can, strictly speaking, be called The Mabinogion.Mabinogion. In these stories we have the relics of the ancient Irish mythology of the Tuatha Dé Danann, sometimes mixed with later myths. The Caer Sidi, where neither disease nor old age affects any one, is the Sid of Irish mythology, the residence of the gods of the Aes Side. It is called in one of the old poems the prison of Gweir, who no doubt represents Gaiar, son of Manandán MacLir, the Atropos who cut the thread of life of Irish mythology. Llyr is the Irish sea-god Lir, and was called Llyr Llediaith, or the half-tongued, implying that he spoke a language only partially intelligible to the people of the country. Bran, the son of Llyr, is the Irish Bran MacAllait, Allait being one of the names of Lir. Manawyddan is clearly the Manandán or Manannán MacLir of Irish mythology. These tales contain other characters which may not have been borrowed from Irish mythology but which are common to both mythologies; for example, Rhiannon, the wife of Pwyll who possessed marvellous birds which held warriors spell-bound for eighty years by their singing, comes from Annwn, or the unseen world, and her son Pryderi gives her, on the death of Pwyll, as a wife to Manawyddan.
Of the second class the first story relates to Lludd, son of Beli the Great, son of Manogan, who became king after his father’s death, while his brother Llevelys becomes king of France and shows his brother how to get rid of the three plagues which devastated Britain:—first, a strange race, the Coranians, whose knowledge was so great that they heard everything no matter how low soever it might be spoken; second, a shriek which came into every house on May eve, caused by the fighting of two dragons; and third, a great giant who carried off all the provisions of the king’s palace every day. The second tale relates how Maxen, emperor of Rome, has a dream while hunting, in which he imagines that he visits Britain, and in Caer Seint or Carnarvon sees a beautiful damsel, Helen, whom he ultimately finds and marries. Both tales are British in origin and are founded on traditions referring to Roman times.
The most important of these tales are undoubtedly those contained in the first class, and the story of Kilhwch and Olwen. The form in which they are found in the Red Book of Hergest is, as we have already said, comparatively speaking, modern. But it is apparent to any one reading these tales that the writers or compilers, as Matthew Arnold has suggested, are “pillaging an antiquity, the secret of which they do not fully possess.” The foundations of the tales are the old Celtic traditions of the gods and the older heroes, and they clearly show Goidelic influence both in the persons they introduce and in their incidents. The tales would at first exist only in oral tradition, and after the advent of Christianity the characters they contain lost their title of divinity and became simply heroes—warriors and magicians. In time the monks began to write these ancient traditions, embellishing them and suppressing no doubt what they considered to be most objectionable. These then are the tales which we now possess—the traditional doings of the old heroes as set in order by Christian writers.
The changes which these later copyists wrought in the substance of the tales fall into two main divisions. In the first place, they attempted to find some connexion between tales or cycles of tales which originally had no connexion whatever, and were therefore forced to invent new incidents or to introduce other incidents from the outside in order to establish this connexion; and secondly, as in the case of the Gododin, the tales were twisted and altered to support references to and explanations of names known to the writer. So we find in the tale of Math vab Mathonwy the incident of the pigs is expanded to explain some place-names which the writer knew. It is this also that gives a local interest to the tales; for instance, Dyvet, the land ofPwyll, has come to be regarded as the home of Hud a Lledrith, of magic and 643enchantment. Some places in North Wales, especially in the vicinity of Carnarvon, seem to be well known to the writers, and, therefore, to have associated with them to all time the glamour of the Mabinogion.
Besides the scholastic efforts of the monks, which in course of time so greatly changed these old legends, there was another class of men who had no little influence on the form and matter of Welsh, and consequently of European, romance. These were the Welsh jongleurs—the professional story-tellers, against whom the bards proper nursed a deadly hatred because, presumably, their tales drew larger audiences and won greater rewards than the awdlau of the poets. There is little doubt that this order existed in Wales at a very early period, being quite a natural evolution of the older poet who sang in comparatively free metres of the deeds of the great dead. It is these men who invented the term Mabinogi, which is supposed to mean a “tale for young people”; but whatever the word may mean, the fact that they were the stock-in-trade of the professional story-teller will explain a good many of their structural peculiarities.
Thus there existed two distinct classes of tales, though it is to be supposed that the subject matter of both was more or less common; there are, in the first place, the “four branches” and the tales of the second class, and, secondly, tales like those of the third class. With the exception of the Irish influence, which we have already referred to, and some later additions from early continental romance in the third class, we may take it that these three classes are of purely British origin. The pedair cainc are the old tales which were first committed to writing at an early period before the influence of the Armoric Arthur began to be felt, that is to say, about the beginning of the reign of Rhys ab Tewdwr in 1073. The other tales, that is those we have put in the third class, remained for a much longer time unwritten and were not set in writing before the early Arthur of Armoric and British romance had been evolved. This will account for the fact that Arthur is not mentioned in the first class of tales, and that in the third class he is simply a British Arthur. The third class is, therefore, in a sense later than the first and second, but its materials are as old as the oldest of the Mabinogion proper, and they show the influence of Irish mythology to the same extent. In the first class Irish names like Penardim, which have not been assimilated, show conclusively that the tale is a written one, while the eloquence of the descriptions in Kilhwch ac Olwen seem to point to the fact that it was up to a late period a spoken tale. Other such tales there were once, but they have now been lost.
The romances of the fourth class do not claim much notice. They are mostly imitations or translations of Norman French originals, and they belong to the history of European chivalry rather than to the history of Welsh literature.
As literature the Mabinogion may rank among the world’s classics. We cannot here point out their beauties, but it will be sufficient to notice that the unknown writer who gave them their final form was a true artist in every sense of the word. In Branwen verch Lyr, for instance, the whole setting of the story is that of a great tragedy, a tragedy neither Hellenic nor Shakespearean, but the strong and ruthless tragedy of the Celts,—the tragedy of nature among unnatural surroundings, the tragedy which in our times Mr Thomas Hardy has so successfully developed. In this tale, Branwen is introduced as the sister of Manawyddan, the king of all Britain, and as the “fairest maid in the world.” But as the tragedy deepens we read how this woman, dowered with beauty and goodness and nobility of lineage, is simply used as a pawn in a political game, and the full force of the tragedy falls on her own undeserving head. She is subjected to all kinds of indignities in her husband’s court in Ireland, but throughout all her severe trials she preserves the cold and detached haughtiness which characterizes the full-bosomed heroines of the northern sagas; and, in the end, when her brother has delivered her and punished the Irish, and when she has safely reached the shores of her own Môn, she raises her eyes and beholds the two islands, Britain and Ireland. “’Ah God!’ said she, ‘is it well that two islands have been made desolate for my sake?’ And she gave a deep groan and died.” So was her tragedy consummated, and the writer, with a superb tragic touch, mentions the very shape of the grave in which they left her on the bank of the Alaw in Môn.
One of the earliest poets of this period whose productions we can be certain of is Meilir, bard of Trahaern, whom Gruffydd ab Cynan defeated at the battle of Carn, and afterwards of the conqueror Gruffydd himself. His best piece is the Death-bed of the Bard, a semi-religious poem which is distinguished by the structure of the verse, poetic feeling and religious thought. Meilir was the head of a family of bards; his son was Gwalchmai, one of the best Welsh poets; the latter had two sons, Einion and Meilir, some of whose poetry has reached us. In Gorhoffedd Gwalchmai, Gwalchmai’s Delight, there is an appreciation of the charms of nature, medieval parallels to which are only to be found in Ireland. His Arwyrain i Owain is an ode of considerable beauty and full of vigour in praise of Owain Gwynedd, king of North Wales, on account of his victory of Tal y Moelvre, part of which has been translated by Gray under the name of “The Triumphs of Owen.” Kynddelw, who lived in the second half of the 12th century, was a contemporary of Gwalchmai, and wrote on a great number of subjects including religious ones; indeed some of his eulogies have a kind of religious prelude. He had a command of words and much skill in versification, but he is pleonastic and fond of complicated metres and of ending his lines with the same syllable.
Among the other poets of the second half of the 12th century may be mentioned Owain Kyveiliog and Howel ab Owain Gwynedd. The first named was prince of Powys, and was distinguished also as a soldier. The Hirlas, or drinking-horn, is a long poem where the prince represents himself as carousing in his hall after a fight; bidding his cup-bearer fill his great drinking-horn, he orders him to present it in turn to each of the assembled warriors. As the horn passes from hand to hand he eulogizes each in a verse beginning Diwallaw di venestr, “Fill, cup-bearer.” Having thus praised the deeds of two warriors, Tudyr and Moreiddig, he turns round to challenge them, but suddenly recollecting that they had fallen in the fray, and listening, as it were, to their dying groans, he bursts into a broken lamentation for their loss. The second was also a prince; he was the eldest of the many sons of Owain Gwynedd, and ruled for two years after his father until he fell in a battle between himself and his step-brother Dafydd. He was a young man of conspicuous merit, and one of the most charming poets of Wales, his poems being especially free from the conceits, trivial commonplaces, and complicated metres of the professional bards, while full of a gay humour, a love of nature and a delicate appreciation of women. The Welsh poets went on circuit like their Irish brethren, staying in each place according as hospitality was extended to them. When departing, a bard was expected to leave a sample of his versification behind him. In this way many manuscripts came to be written, as we find them in different hands. Llywarch ab Llywelyn has left us one of those departing eulogies addressed to Rhys Gryg, prince of South Wales, which affords a favourable specimen of his style.
The following are a few of the poets of the 13th century whose poems are still extant. Davydd Benvras was the author of a poem in praise of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth; his works, though not so verbose or trite as bardic poems 13th century poets.of this class usually are, do not rise much above the bardic level, and are full of alliteration. Elidir Sais was, as his name implies, able to speak the English language, and wrote chiefly religious poetry. Einiawn ab Gwgawn is the author of an extant address to Llywelyn ab Iorwerth of considerable merit. Phylip Brydydd, or Philip the poet, was household bard to Rhys Gryg (Rhys the hoarse), lord of South Wales. One of his pieces, an apology to Rhys Gryg, is a striking example of the fulsome epithets a household bard was expected to bestow upon his patron, and of the privileged domesticity in which the bards lived, which, as in Ireland, must have been fatal to genius. Prydydd Bychan, the Little Poet, was a South Wales bard whose extant work consists of short poems all addressed to his own princes. The chief feature of his Englynion is the use of a 644kind of assonance in which in some cases the final vowels agreed alternately in each quatrain, and in others each line ended in a different vowel, in both cases with alliteration and consonance of final consonants or full rhyme. Llygad Gwr is known by an ode in five parts to Llywelyn ab Gruffydd, written about the year 1270, which is a good type of the conventional flattery of a family bard. Howel Voel, who was of Irish extraction, possessed some poetical merit; his remonstrance to Llywelyn against the imprisonment of his brother Owain is a pleasing variety upon the conventional eulogy. It has many lines beginning with the same word, e.g. gwr, man. The poems of Bleddyn Vardd, or Bleddyn the Bard, which have come down to us are all short eulogies and elegies. One of the latter on Llywelyn ab Gruffydd is a good example of the elaborate and artificial nature of Welsh versification.
The most illustrious name among the poets of this century is Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch, “Gruffydd, son of the Red Justice,” who wrote many religious poems of great merit. His greatest work, however, is the elegy to Llywelyn ab Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales. It is easily first among all the elegies written in the Welsh language. We do not find in it that artficial grief which is too evident in the Marwnadau of the Welsh poets; it re-echoes an intense personal grief, and throughout the whole piece the poet feels that he stands at the end of all things,—the end of his own ideals, the extinction of all Cymric hopes. So poignant is his grief, and in so universal a manner does the catastrophe of Llywelyn’s death present itself to him, that he imagines that all the natural features of the Welsh fatherland know that the last great Welshman is dead; the winds howl over the mountains, the rain-clouds gather thick, the waves rage with grief against the Welsh coasts, and far away on the hills the giant oak-trees beat against each other in the fury of their passion. Sadly, in this manner, closes the second period of Welsh literature.
4. The Golden Age of the Cywydd, 1340-1440.—Just as, after the loss of the North, the Welsh muse was hushed, so after the final subjugation of Wales in 1282, hardly a note was heard for many a long year. The ancient patrons of literature were dead, and the country had not yet settled down to the steady rule of England. Indeed, the conquest of Wales effectively put an end to the older Welsh poetry of that type which we noticed in the last period. These older bards were without exception subjects of the princes of North Wales, where the old heroic poetry was still popular, and when the power of these princes came to an end the old poetry too ceased. When the Welsh muse emerges again from the darkness of this interval she is no longer of the North; the new poets are drawn from the Welshmen of the South, a land which had practically ceased to be a part of an independent Wales shortly after the Norman conquest of England. We find, too, that the poetry which poured forth from the Welsh bards of the south is of an altogether different type, it is modern in all its essentials, in diction, in language, and, comparatively speaking, in sentiment. Indeed, there is an infinitely greater difference between Dafydd ab Gwilym and Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch than there is between him and any poet writing in the alliterative metres in the 19th century. So that we must suppose that at the time when the poets of North Wales still sang of war and mead-drinking in a style and diction that was an inheritance from the times of the Gododin, the poets of the South, unharassed by wars, were developing a new poetry of their own, a poetry that had relinquished for ever the Old Welsh models and was at last in line with the great poetical movements of Europe. And, judging from the fact that the earliest of these poets whose works are accessible to us are in the full zenith of their poetical development, we must believe that their work is the consummation of a period, that is to say, that they must have had a long line of predecessors whose works were lost during the period intervening between the loss of Welsh independence and the rise of Dafydd ab Gwilym. These men wrote, as we have already said, in South Wales, a country which was then under the rule of the Norman lords, who, with the lapse of years and the rise of new systems, were fast becoming Welsh. It is no wonder, then, that the poets who wrote under their patronage should show unmistakable traces of Norman influence. Most of the barons still spoke French, and it was only natural that they should be well versed in French poetry. The poets followed the lead of their patrons, and their work was modelled to a very great extent on French and Provençal poetry. Nor does this account altogether for the wonderful similarity between Welsh cywyddau and other poems of this period and the French lays; we must remember that the Welsh poets lived under conditions similar to those under which the troubadours and the trouvères lived, and it was natural that the same environments should produce the same kind of work. The Provençal alba and the French aube, the serenade and other forms, became well known in South Wales and were of course read by the Welsh poets. We find continual references in the poets to “books of love” under the name of llyfr Ofydd, or the “book of Ovid,” and a reference in one of Dafydd ab Gwilym’s poems shows conclusively that one particular llyfr Ofydd was a work of the French poet Chrestien de Troyes. Indeed, one of the commonest names among the poets of this period—the llatai,3 or love-messenger—may be a Romance word borrowed through the Norman-French from the Italian Galeotto, originally the name of the book of the loves of Galahaad, but afterwards the ordinary word for a go-between. This book of Galeotto, by the way, was the book which taught Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, in Dante’s Divina Commedia, the tragic secret of love.
Another movement also was favourable to the rise of the new Welsh poetry. The iron hand of the church, which had been the censor of poetry for so many centuries, was slowly relaxing its grasp, and the men who a few years before would have sung religious hymns to the Virgin, now laid their tributes at the feet of divine womanhood as they saw it in the Welsh maidens and matrons living among them. The pale queen of heaven no longer held hearts captive; they had transferred their allegiance to the “brow that was as the snow of yesternight,” and “the cheeks that were like the passion-flower.” The Iolo MSS. assert that some time between January 1327 and November 1330 there were held, under the patronage of Ivor Hael, Dafydd ab Gwilym’s patron, and others, the three Eisteddfodau Dadeni, or the Eisteddfods of the Revival of the Muse, to reorganize the bards, and to set in order all matters pertaining to Welsh poetry. The most important bards who are reported as present at some or all of these meetings were Dafydd ab Gwilym, Sion Cent, Rhys Goch of Eryri, and Iolo Goch. It is now, however, generally agreed that this account is a fabrication and that the date of all the poets is later.
Dafydd ab Gwilym is certainly the most distinguished of all the Welsh poets, and were it not for the absolute impossibility of adequately translating his cywyddau he would rank amongst the greatest poets of medieval times. By Dafydd ab Gwilym.far the greater part of his poetry is written in the metre called cywydd, with heptasyllabic lines rhyming in couplets. It was he who imparted so much lustre to this metre that it became the vehicle of all the most important poetry from his time to the 19th century, and he is generally referred to by his contemporaries as the special poet of the cywydd—Dafydd gywydd gwin, “Dafydd of the wine-sweet cywydd.” Most of his poems deal with love in the spirit of the medieval writers of France and of Provence, but with this very important difference, that the French writers must base their reputation on their treatment of love as a theme, whereas Dafydd’s claim to fame is based on his treatment of nature and of out-door life. In many cases, indeed, love is only a conventional peg whereon he may hang his observations on nature, and Welsh literature may claim the distinction of having had its Wordsworth in the 14th century. His treatment of nature is not merely realistic and objective, it has a certain quaint and elusive symbolism and a subjectiveness which come as a revelation to those who are acquainted with the medieval poetry of other nations. Many 645of the poems attributed to him are undoubtedly the work of later hands, but even after making all possible deductions, there is still an infinite variety among what remains, ranging as his poems do from a sturdy denunciation of monkish fraudulence to the most delicate and pathetic recollections of departed joys. He has, besides, considerable importance as a teacher, as when, for instance, he invites the nun “to leave her watercress and paternosters of Romish monks,” and to come with him “to the cathedral of the birch to listen to the cuckoo’s sermons,” for, “were it not an equally worthy deed to save his (Dafydd’s) soul in the birch-grove as to do so by following the ritual of Rome and St James of Compostella”? Even in his old age, when he is beginning to repent of his rash and merry youth, nature has not deserted him,—the very tree under which in the old days he used to meet his sweetheart has become bent and withered in sympathy with him. Though Dafydd yields not the palm to any poet of his class throughout the world, and though his influence is still a potent factor in the literature of Wales, we are certain of hardly a single fact about his life. He flourished between 1340 and 1390. His works were published in London in 1789. This edition was reprinted by Ffoulkes of Liverpool in 1870. See L.C. Stern, Zeitschr. f. celt. Phil. vol. vii.
Sion Cent was chaplain to the Scudamores of Kentchurch in Herefordshire, and though, therefore, in orders, was a most bitter opponent of the pretentious and the evil life of the monks of his time. All his writings show signs of the influence of the moralists of the middle ages, and treat of religious or of moral subjects. His poetry is strong and austere, interfused here and there with the most biting satire. He died about 1400. Like many of his contemporaries, Dunbar, Villon, Menot and Manrique, his dominant note is that of sadness and regret.
Rhys Goch Eryri had a sprightly muse which deals with fanciful subjects. His themes are often similar to those of Dafydd ab Gwilym, but whereas the subject of Dafydd’s muse was nature and his treatment universal, Rhys Goch’s are simply natural objects which he treats in a vigorous but narrow and cold manner.
Iolo Goch, that is, Iorwerth the Red, deserves a special mention as the poet who voiced the aspirations of a new Wales when Owen Glyndwr began to rise into power, and it is to one of his poems that we owe a most minute description of Sycharth, Owen Glyndwr’s home. His poetry is slightly more archaic in diction than that of his contemporaries, as his subject—war and the glory of Welsh heroes—belonged more properly to the age before his own. In one very striking cywydd composed after Glyndwr’s downfall, he calls upon this hero to come again and claim his own, and addresses himself fancifully to all the countries of the world where his hero may be in hiding. He died after 1405, and, if the dates generally given for his birth be even approximately correct, he must have lived to a prodigious age (cf. Gweithiau Iolo Goch, by Charles Ashton, London, 1896).
Rhys Goch ap Rhiccert claims to be named with Dafydd ab Gwilym as a writer of lyrics in praise of beautiful women. He has one advantage, however, over his more famous contemporary in the variety of his metres. The musical lilt and the delicate workmanship of his poems, with their recurring refrain, give him a unique position among his medieval contemporaries as the first purely lyrical poet. His floreat is probably a little later than that of Dafydd ab Gwilym, for we must not be misled by the late orthography of his poems.
Dafydd Nanmor is chiefly famous for two exquisite cywyddau, Cywydd Marwnad Merch, or Elegy of a Maiden, and Cywydd i wallt Llio, or Cywydd to Llio’s Hair. In both these poems he shows elegance rather than depth, and a fancy as bold as that of his great master Dafydd. In the first of these cywyddau his grief is so great that he wishes that he were but the shroud around his dead sweetheart, and, in the second, Llio Rhydderch’s golden hair over her white brow is compared to the refulgence of lightning over the fine snow. He is supposed to be a younger contemporary of Rhys Goch Eryri, but there are many facts to warrant a supposition that he lived much later, even as late as 1490.
Llywelyn Goch ap Meurig Hen deserves to be mentioned as the author of the famous Marwnad Lleucu Llwyd, an elegy which is far more convincing in its sincerity than Dafydd Nanmor’s cywydd. Few of his compositions are extant, but the one already mentioned is sufficient to place him in the first rank of the poets of the period. He lived approximately from 1330 to 1390.
The other poets of this period who deserve some mention are Dafydd Ddu o Hiraddug, who wrote poems on religious subjects, and who is supposed to have translated part of the Officium Beatae Mariae into Welsh; Gruffydd Grug, between whom and Dafydd ab Gwilym a most fierce poetic quarrel raged, but who is the author of a beautiful elegy on his opponent; Gruffydd Llwyd ab Dafydd, who was the poet of Owen Glyndwr, and whose cywydd in praise of his patron is one of the best of that type; Hywel Swrdwal and Gwilym ab Ieuan Hen.
5. The Silver Age of the Cywydd, 1440-1550.—The insurrection of Owen Glyndwr, though originally the result of a private quarrel, was the general revolt of a nation against the conquerors whom it hated, and the English king knew well enough that the discontent with his rule was fanned by the older and more national Welsh institutions, and by none more than by the system of wandering bards. The conditions which had given rise to this system were fast dying out, but the noblemen, who fortunately were still intensely Welsh, were loth to give up their family bards, and the bards themselves, never a too industrious class, were too glad of their freedom and easy life to turn to more profitable work. We find, therefore, that a law was passed in 1403, the fourth year of Henry IV.’s reign, prohibiting bards “and other vagrants” from exercising their profession in Gwynedd or North Wales. This law, however, like its predecessor in the reign of Edward I., failed utterly in its purpose. By prohibiting the Welsh noblemen from giving their patronage to the bards, and, therefore, from distinguishing between the real bards and the mendicant rhymesters, this law took away the only safeguard against the latter class, with the result that by about 1450 they had become a pest to the country. About that time there flourished a poet called Llawdden, who, noticing the very unsatisfactory state of poetry in Wales, induced his kinsman, Gruffydd ab Nicolas, a nobleman living in Y Drenewydd (Newtown), to petition Henry VI. for permission to hold an eisteddfod similar in purpose to the three Eisteddfodau Dadeni of the last period. This famous eisteddfod Eisteddfod of 1451.was held at Caerfyrddin (Carmarthen) in 1451, and shortly before the actual eisteddfod was held a “statute” was drawn up under the direction of Llawdden, regulating the different orders of bards and musicians and setting in order the cynghaneddion a mesurau, the different kinds of alliterative verse to be presented to the assembled bards at the meeting. Among those present at that eisteddfod the most distinguished was Dafydd ab Edmwnd, who then made famous the dictum that the purpose of an eisteddfod was “to bring to mind the past, to consider the present, and to deliberate about the future.” He, therefore, proposed emendations in “the rules of Welsh verse,” making them more strict, so as to keep the unlearned rhymesters from the privileged bardic class. This measure had a most important effect on Welsh literature. It effectively put an end to the charming spontaneity which distinguishes the poetry of Dafydd ab Gwilym and his contemporaries, and by introducing an arbitrary set of rules gave an artificial tone to almost all the poetry of the next two hundred years. It had, indeed, exactly the same retarding effect on Welsh poetry as the Unities had on the French drama. So that, whereas the poems of Dafydd ab Gwilym, though written in the difficult alliterative metres, are nearly all light and have a sweet lyrical re-echo, the poetry of Dafydd ab Edmwnd and his successors is often heavy and nearly always artificial. After making, however, all these deductions, it is a debatable point whether the hard and fast rules which now regulated Welsh poetry did not eventually justify their existence. They have helped, by inciting to carefulness, to keep the idiom and the language pure and undefiled, and to this day style in Welsh 646poetry is not necessarily a striving after the uncommon as it too often is in English.
There are some poets included in this period who belong more properly to the last, but even these show signs of the attempt at correctness and distinction which was supplanting the old simplicity. Ieuan ap Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd, who is supposed to be a brother of the Llio Rhydderch of Dafydd Nanmor’s poem, is the author of some cywyddau and other poems addressed to the Virgin, the structure of which shows great skill accompanied by force and clearness. He flourished about 1425. Dafydd ab Meredydd ap Tudur, who flourished about 1420, is the author of a cywydd “to Our Saviour.” About the same time lived Rhys Nanmor, Ieuan Gethin ab Ieuan, and Ieuan Llwyd ab Gwilym. Among the earliest of the poets who belong properly to this period is Meredydd ap Rhys, whose cywyddau are a fair specimen of the generality of poems written in these years. Among the most famous of his works is a cywydd “begging for a fishing-net,” and another giving thanks for the same. We shall find that many of his contemporaries were able to write long and interesting poems on such seemingly dry and uninteresting subjects, but it is vain to look for anything beyond good verse in such compositions. Of poetry, as generally understood, there is none.
The commanding figure in this period is, of course, Dafydd ab Edmwnd, who was a disciple of Meredydd ap Rhys. He bears somewhat the same relation to his contemporaries as Dafydd ab Gwilym does to his, and to strain an Dafydd ab Edmwndanalogy, we might say that as Dryden was to Milton, so Dafydd ab Edmwnd was to Dafydd ab Gwilym. He was regarded by his contemporaries as the greatest poet that North Wales had ever produced, and some would set him up as a rival even to Dafydd ab Gwilym himself. He would probably have produced much greater poetry had he understood that the cywydd and the other metres were strait and shackled enough without the cymeriadau and other devices which he introduced, or at least sanctioned and made popular. He begins many of his cywyddau and odes with the same letter; he is the chief among Welsh formalists, but in spite of his self-imposed restrictions he is a great poet also. His most famous poems are three Cywyddau Merch or “Poems to a Lady,” and his Cywydd i Wallt Merch, “cywydd to a lady’s hair.” He is the author of the lines already quoted: “thy brow,” he sings, “is as the snow of yesternight, and thy cheeks like a shower of roses.” He died about 1480. Dafydd ab Edmwnd’s disciples were Gutyn Owain and Tudur Aled, who was also his nephew. Gutyn Owain lived between 1420 and 1500, and was one of the men appointed by the king’s commissioners to trace, or perhaps to manufacture, the Welsh pedigree of Henry VII. He belonged entirely to the school inaugurated by Dafydd ab Edmwnd, and though he was by no means wanting in imagination, the highest distinction of his verse is its intricacy of form and very often the felicity of his couplets.
Just as the rise of Owen Glyndwr in the beginning of the century had given a new impulse and a new interest to poetry, so in 1485, when Henry VII.—the “little bull” as he is called by the poets—ascended the throne of England, a particular kind of poetry called brud, half history and half prophecy, became popular, and we have in the manuscripts much writing of this description, a good deal of it worthless as poetry. Occasionally, however, some of these “bruts” may claim to be called poetry, especially the compositions of Robin Ddu o Fon, who wrote poems in praise of the Tudors and hailed them as the deliverers of the nation, even before Henry VII. had landed in England, and Dafydd Llwyd ab Llywelyn, whose works deserve to be much better known than they are at present. One of the best cywyddau among his works is the “Address to the Raven,” to whom he promises a right royal feast when the hero whom all Wales is expecting has met his royal enemy. Tudur Aled, too, was a zealous partisan of Henry VII. and wrote many cywyddau in praise of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, the great champion of Henry’s cause in South Wales. He is also famous as having supplemented and made a new recension of Dafydd ab Edmwnd’s rules of poetry in the eisteddfod held at Caerwys in 1524. Tudur Aled has always been more widely known in Wales than almost any other of the earlier poets except Dafydd ab Gwilym. This is perhaps due to the quotability and sententiousness of his couplets. There is a certain refreshing dryness about his poetry which partly makes up for his want of imagination. One of the most interesting poets of this century is Lewis Glyn Cothi, who lived between 1410 and 1490. During the Wars of the Roses he was a zealous Lancastrian, and his bitterest enemies were the men of Chester, who had treated him scurvily while he was there in hiding, and his awdl, satirizing the men of that city, is one of the most vigorous compositions in the language. Indeed, among so many cywyddau of this period in conventional praise of different patrons, it is most refreshing to find such an outburst of sincere personal feeling, boldly and fiercely expressed. He wrote an awdl also rejoicing in the victory of Henry VII. Most of his work, however, consists of cywyddau mawl—praise of patrons—containing weary and unpoetical pedigrees. Gruffydd Hiraethog, who flourished about 1540, was a disciple of Tudur Aled. A fierce poetical dispute raged between him and Sion Brwynog of Anglesey, who was a contemporary of his. About this time there were many poets in Wales who were imitators of Dafydd ab Gwilym, and who did not follow implicitly the lead of Dafydd ab Edmwnd, like those whom we have mentioned. Much of their poetry is feeble, but Bedo Brwynllysg especially stands out from among the rest, and his poetry, though highly imitative and often over fanciful, is of a much higher order than the genealogical poems of Lewis Glyn Cothi and others. In the same way the only poem of any merit of Ieuan Denlwyn printed in the Gorchestion is written in this imitative strain. Other poets of the middle of this period are Deio ap Ieuan Du, Iorwerth Fynglwyd, Lewys Morganwg, Ieuan Brydydd Hir, and Tudur Penllyn, who wrote a superb cywydd to Dafydd ab Siencyn, the outlaw.
Towards the end of the period we begin to breathe a literary atmosphere that is gradually but surely changing,—it is the change from the misty Wales of Roman Catholic times to the modern Wales after the Reformation. The poetical incoherencies of the old metres and the tricks of fancy of the old stylists occasionally form a somewhat incongruous dress for the thoughts of later poets. The old spirit and the glamour were gradually wearing away, only to be momentarily revived in the poetry of Goronwy Owen, nearly two centuries later. Two or three figures, indeed, stand out prominently during these years, among whom are some of the bards ordained penceirddiaid (master-poets) in the second Caerwys Eisteddfod held in 1568, viz. William Llýn, William Cynwal, Sion Tudur, and Sion Phylip. William Llýn (1530?-1580) was a pupil of Gruffydd Hiraethog. His complicatedawdlau are marvels of ingenuity, but many of them are on that very account almost unintelligible. He was, however, a complete master of thecywydd, in which he sometimes displays a sense of style and a sweetness of imagery allied to a melodiousness of language unequalled by the other poets of the period. His best-known work is the famous marwnad to his master, Gruffydd Hiraethog. Sion Tudur (d. 1602), also a disciple of G. Hiraethog, was connected in some capacity or other with the cathedral at St Asaph. He is a realist, and delights in giving vivid word pictures in a less fanciful strain than his predecessors. Sion Phylip (1543-1620) wrote a famous marwnad to his father and a cywydd “to a sea-gull,” which is a superb piece of nature-painting in the style of Dafydd ab Gwilym. While dealing with this second Eisteddfod at Caerwys, we may note that Simwnt Fychan’s “Laws of Poetry” were accepted at this festival.
Two poets of this period, whom an English writer describes as “the two filthy Welshmen who first smoked publicly in the streets,” were captains in Queen Elizabeth’s navy, viz. Thomas Prys (d. 1634) of Plas Iolyn, and William Myddleton (1556-1621), called in Welsh Gwilym Canoldref. The former wrote, among other things, humorous cywyddau descriptive of life in London and in the English navy of those days, in a style which was afterwards attempted by Lewys Morys. The work of 647Myddleton, by which he is best known, is his translation of the Psalms (1603) into Welshcywydd metre, a difficult and profitless experiment.
With Edmwnd Prys (1541-1624), the famous archdeacon of Merioneth, we come to distinctly modern times. He is hardly a great poet, if we judge him by the canons which are now popular. His gift was a gift of terse and biting statement, and his cywyddau on the whole have more of literary than of poetical merit. He was a man of vast learning, and his works are full of scholastic and often difficult allusions. His most famous cywyddau are those written in the literary quarrel between him and Wiliam Cynwal. “Wiliam Cynwal,” says Goronwy Owen, “though the greater poet, was like a man fighting with bare fists against complete armour,” and it may be freely granted that in this, the most famous quarrel in Welsh literature, the palm of victory rested with the contentious old ecclesiastic. We shall deal with the rest of Edmwnd Prys’s literary work in the section on the rise of popular poetry.
Here the age of the cywydd and the awdl, as the chief forms of verse, ends. They appear again in the succeeding centuries, but as aliens among a nation that no longer paid them homage. The distinctly Welsh fashion in song was dying out.
6. Prose, 1550-1750.—One of the most striking features of Welsh literature is the almost entire absence of prose between 1300 and 1550. The genius of the people has always been an eminently poetical and imaginative one, and the history of Wales, politically and socially, has always been a fitter subject for poetry than for prose. During this period, Wales enjoyed a rest from propagandists and revolutionaries which has seldom been the happy lot of any other nation—they lay content with their own old traditions, acquiescing proudly in their separation from the other nations of Europe, and in their aloofness from all the movements which shook England and the continent during those years. Dynasties came and went, one religion ousted another religion, a new learning exposed the absurdities of the old, but the Welsh, among their hills, knew nothing of it; and when new ideas began to brood over the consciousness of the nation, they never got beyond the stage of providing new subjects for cywyddau. The Peasant Revolt, for instance, had but little effect on Welsh history, its most important contribution to the heritage of the nation being Iolo Goch’s superb “Cywydd to the Labourer.” Even the Reformation, which helped to change the whole fabric of English literature, had little effect on that of Wales, and the age of the cywydd dragged out wearily its last years without experiencing the slightest quickening from the great movement which was remaking Europe. Hardly a prophet or reactionary raised his voice in defence or condemnation, and the Welsh went on serenely making and reading poetry. The two political movements in which Wales was really interested, the revolt of Glyndwr and the accession of Henry VII., paid their tribute to its poetry alone, and both enterprises had sufficient of romance in them to repel the historian and to capture the poet. Naturally, therefore, we have no prose in this period, because there was no cause strong enough to produce it. What prose the nation required they found in the tales of romance, in the legends of Arthur and Charlemagne and the Grail, and, as for pedigrees and history, were they not written in the cywyddau of the poets?
The little prose that was produced during this period (1300-1550) was of an extraordinary kind. It was simply an exercise in long sentences and in curiously built compounds, and therefore more nearly allied to poetry. It generally took the form of dewisbethau, a list of the “choice things” of such and such a person, or of the later triads (trioedd), which, starting from an ancient nucleus, gradually grew till, at the present day, Wales has a gnomic literature out of all proportion to the rest of its prose. Modern Welsh prose, however, is only very indirectly connected with these compositions. It is almost altogether a product of the Biblical literature which began to appear after the Reformation, and we shall proceed to give here the main facts and dates in its development. The first Welsh book was printed in 1546. It consisted of extracts in Welsh from the Bible and the Prayer Book, and a calendar. The author was Sir John Prys (1502-1555). The most important name in the early part of this period is William Salesbury (1520?-1600?). His chief books were, A Dictionary in Englyshe and Welshe (printed in 1547, and published in facsimile reprint by the Cymmrodorion Society),Kynniver Llith a Ban (1551), the Prayer Book in Welsh (1567), and the most important of all his works, the translation of the New Testament (1567). It is difficult to form any estimate, at this distance of time, of the impetus which William Salesbury gave to Welsh prose, but it must be regretfully admitted that his great work was marred by many defects. He had a theory that Welsh ought to be written as much like Latin as possible, and the result is that his language is very poor Welsh, both in spelling and idiom; it is an artificial dialect. It is a striking testimony, however, to his influence that many of the constructions and words which he manufactured are found to this day in correct literary Welsh.
In 1567 was published a Welsh Grammar by Dr Gruffydd Roberts, a Roman Catholic priest living at Milan (reprinted in facsimile, Paris, 1883), and in 1583, under the direction of Dr Rhosier Smyth, his Drych Cristionogawl was published at Rouen. Many other important Welsh books were produced during these years, but the work which may be regarded as having the greatest influence on the subsequent literature of Wales was the translation of the Welsh Bible (1588) by Dr William Morgan (1547?-1604), bishop of Llandaff, and afterwards of St Asaph. The Authorized Version (1620) now in use is a revision of this work by Dr Richard Parry, bishop of St Asaph (1560-1623). In 1592 the Welsh Grammar of Sion Dafydd Rhys (1534-1609) was published—a most valuable treatise on the language and on the rules of Welsh poetry. It was followed in 1621 by the Welsh Grammar, and in 1632 by the Welsh Dictionary of Dr John Davies o Fallwyd (1570?-1644).
There are two prose compositions which stand entirely by themselves in this period of Bibles and grammars—the History of Ellis Gruffydd, and Morris Kyffin’s Deffyniad y Ffydd. The former was a soldier in the English army during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and wrote a long history of England from the earliest times to his own day. This document, which has never been published, and which lies hidden away among the Mostyn MSS., is a most important and valuable original contribution to the history of the author’s contemporaries, and it sheds considerable light on the inner life of the court and the army. It is written in a delightfully easy style, contrasting favourably with the stiff diction of this period of translations. The work of Morris Kyffin (1555?-1598?) which we have mentioned is a translation of Bishop Jewel’s Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae (1562) and was published in 1595. This work is the first piece of modern Welsh prose within reach of the ordinary reader, written in the rich idiom of the spoken Welsh. It is a precursor of many other books of its kind, a long series culminating in the immortal Bardd Cwsc. In this sense Morris Kyffin may with perfect justice be hailed as the father of modern Welsh prose.
Most of the works which were afterwards written in the strong idiomatic Welsh of Morris Kyffin were on religious subjects, and many of them were translated from the English. The first was Ymarfer o Dduwioldeb (1630) by Rowland Vychan o Gaergai (a translation of Bailey’s Practice of Piety), which was followed in 1632 by Dr John Davies’s Llyfr y Resolution, and in 1666 by Hanes y Ffydd Ddiffuant (A History of the True Faith) by Charles Edwards. All these authors and many of their successors were strong adherents of the Established Church, which was then intensely Welsh in sentiment. But in the midst of these churchmen, a flame-bearer of dissent appeared—Morgan Llwyd o Wynedd, who published in 1653 “a mystery to be understood of some, and scorned of others”—Llyfr y Tri Aderyn (The Book of the Three Birds). It is in the form of a discussion between the eagle (Cromwell), the dove (Dissent) and the raven (the Established Church). This book is certainly the most important original composition published during the 17th century, and to this day remains one of the widely-read classics of the Welsh 648tongue. Morgan Llwyd wrote many other books in Welsh and English, all more or less in the vein of the first book.
During the remaining years of this period, the prose output of the Welsh press consisted mainly of devotional books, written or translated for or at the instigation of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The Established Church, with the help of this society, made a gallant attempt to lighten the darkness of Wales by publishing books of this description, and it is mainly due to its exertions that the lamp of Welsh prose was kept burning during these years. Among the clergy who produced books of this description were Edward Samuel (1674-1748), who published among other works Holl Ddyledswydd Dyn, a translation of The Whole Duty of Man (1718); Moses Williams (1684-1742), a most diligent searcher into Welsh MSS. and translator; Griffith Jones of Llanddowror (1683-1761), the father of Welsh popular education; Iago ab Dewi (1644?-1722) and Theophilus Evans (1694-1769), the famous author of Drych y Prif Oesoedd (1716 and 1740). This book, like Llyfr y Tri Aderyn and Y Bardd Cwsc, has an established position for all time in the annals of Welsh literature.
We come now to the greatest of all Welsh prose writers, Ellis Wyn o Lasynys (1671-1734). His first work was a translation of Jeremy Taylor’sHoly Living, under the title of Rheol Buchedd Sanctaidd (1701). His next work was the immortal Gweledigaethau y Bardd Cwsc (1703). The foundation of this work was L’Estrange’s translation of the Suenos of the Spaniard Quevedo. Ellis Wyn has certainly followed his original closely, even as Shakespeare followed his, but by his inimitable magic he has transmuted the characters and the scenery of the Spaniard into Welsh characters and scenery of the 17th century. No writer before or after him has used the Welsh language with such force and skill, and he will ever remain the stylist whom all Welsh writers will strive to imitate. The magic of his work has endowed the stately idiom of Gwynedd with such glamour that it has now become the standard idiom of Welsh prose. See Stern, Z. f. celt. Phil. iii. 165 ff.
7. The Rise of Popular Poetry, 1600-1750.—When Henry VII. ascended the throne, the old hostility of the Welsh towards the English disappeared. They had realized their wildest hope, that of seeing a Welshman wearing “the crown of London.” Naturally enough, therefore, the descendants of the old Welsh gentry began to look towards England for recognition and preferment, and their interest in their own little country necessarily began to wane. The result was that the traditional patrons of the Welsh muse could no longer understand the language of the poets, and the poets were forced to seek some more profitable employment. Besides, the old conditions were changing; the medieval traditions were indeed dying hard, but it gradually and imperceptibly came about that the poets of the older school had no audience. The only poets who still followed the old traditions were the rich farmers who “sang on their own land,” as the Welsh phrase goes. A new school, however, was rising. The nation at large had a vast store of folk-poetry, full of all the poetical characteristics of the Celt, and it was this very poetry, despised as it was, that became ultimately the groundwork of the new literature.
The first landmark in this new development was the publication in 1621 of Edmwnd Prys’s metrical version of the Psalms (followed by later editions in 1628, 1630, 1638 and 1648), and of the first poem of the Welshmen’s Candle (Cannwyll y Cymry) of Rhys Pritchard, vicar of Llandovery (1569-1644). This was published in 1646. These works were not written in the old metres peculiar to Wales, but in the free metres, like those of English poetry. The former work is of the utmost importance, as these Psalms were about the first metrical hymns in use. They are often rugged and uncouth, but many of the verses—such as the 23rd Psalm—have a haunting melody of their own, which grips the mind once and for ever. The second work, the first complete edition of which was published in 1672, consisted of moral verses in the metres of the old folk-songs (Penillion Telyn), and for nearly two centuries was the “guide, philosopher and friend” of the common people. Many other poets of the early part of this period wrote in these metres, such as Edward Dafydd o Fargam (fl. 1640), Rowland Fychan, Morgan Llwyd o Wynedd and William Phylip (d. 1669). Poetry in the free metres, however, was generally very crude, until it was given a new dignity by the greatest poet of the period, Huw Morus o Bont y Meibion (1622-1709). Most of his earlier compositions, which are among his best, and which were influenced to a great extent by the cavalier poetry of England, are love poems, perfect marvels of felicitous ingenuity and sweetness. He fixed the poetic canons of the free metres, and made what was before homely and uncouth, courtly and dignified. He wrote a cywydd marwnad to his contemporary, Edward Morus o’r Perthi Llwydion (d. 1689), who was also a poet of considerable merit. Most of his work is composed of “moral pieces” and carols. Other poets of the period were Sion Dafydd Las (1650-1691), who was among the last of the family bards, and Dafydd Jones o Drefriw (fl. 1750). Towards the end of the period comes Lewys Morys (1700-1765). His poetry alone does not seem to warrant his fame, but he was the creator of a new period, the inspirer and the patron of Goronwy Owen. According to the lights of the 18th century, he was, like his brothers Richard and William, a scholar. His poetry, except a few well-known pieces, will never be popular, because it does not conform to modern canons of taste. His greatest merit is that he wrote the popular poetry then in vogue with a scholar’s elegance.
8. The Revival, 1750-1830.—The two leading figures in this period are Goronwy Owen (1722-1769) and William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717-1791). Goronwy Owen wrote all his poetry in the cynghanedd, and his work gave the old metres a new life. He raised them from the neglect into which they had fallen, and caused them to be, till this day, the vehicle of half the poetical thought of Wales. But he was in no way a representative of his age; he, like Milton, sang among a crowd of inferior poets themes quite detached from the life of his time, so that he also, like his English brother, lacks “human interest.” After Dafydd ab Gwilym, he is the greatest poet who sang in the old metres, and the influence of his correct and fastidious muse remains to this day. William Williams, however, wrote in the free metres in a way that was astoundingly fresh. It is not enough to say of him that he was a hymnologist; he is much more, he is the national poet of Wales. He had certainly the loftiest imagination of all the poets of five centuries, and his influence on the Welsh people can be gauged by the fact that a good deal of his idiom and dialect has fixed itself indelibly on modern literary Welsh. Besides the hymns, he wrote a religious epic, Theomemphus, which is to this day the national epic of evangelical Wales. Even as Goronwy Owen is the father of modern Welsh poetry in the old metres, so William Williams is the great fountain-head of the free metres, because he set aflame the imagination of every poet that succeeded him. With two such pioneers, it is natural that the rest of this period should contain many great names. Thomas Edwards (Twm o’r Nant) (1739-1810) has been called by an unwarrantably bold hyperbole, “the Welsh Shakespeare.” Most of his works are interludes and ballads, and he used to be very popular with the common people; he is, to this day, probably the oftenest quoted of all the Welsh poets. William Wynn, rector of Llangynhafal (1704-1760), is the author of a “Cywydd of the Great Judgment,” which bears comparison with Goronwy Owen’s masterpiece. Evan Evans (Ieuan Brydydd Hir) (1731-1789) was famous both as a poet and as a scholar and antiquarian. Edward Rhisiart (1714-1777), the schoolmaster of Ystradmeurig, was a scholar and a writer of pastorals in the manner of Theocritus. Most of the other poets who flourished towards the end of this period—Dafydd Ddu Eryri (1760-1822), Gwallter Mechain (1761-1849), Robert ab Gwilym Ddu (1767-1850), Dafydd Ionawr (1751-1827), Dewi Wyn o Eifion (1784-1841)—were brought into prominence by the Eisteddfod, which began to increase in influence during this period until it has become to-day the national festival. They all wrote for the most part in cynghanedd, and the work of nearly all of them is marked by correctness rather than by poetical inspiration.
9. Prose after 1830.—In the preceding periods, we have seen that Welsh prose, though abundant in quantity, had a very narrow range. Few writers rose above theological controversy or moral treatises, and the humaner side of literature was almost entirely neglected. In this period, however, we find a prose literature that, with the exception of scientific works, is as wide in its range as that of England, and all departments are well and competently represented, though by but few names. Dr Lewis Edwards (1809-1887) struck a new note when he began to contribute his literary and theological essays to the periodicals, but, though many have equalled and even surpassed him as theological essayists, few, if any, of his followers have attempted the literary and critical essays on which his fame as writer must mainly rest. Together with Gwilym Hiraethog (1802-1883), the author of the inimitable Llythyrau Hen Ffarmwr, he may be regarded as the pioneer of the new literature. Samuel Roberts (1800-1885), generally known as S.R., wrote numerous tracts and books on politics and economics, and as a political thinker he was in many respects far in advance of his English contemporaries. It was in this period, too, that Wales had her national novelist, Daniel Owen (1836-1895). He was a novelist of the Dickens school, and delighted like his great master “in writing mythology rather than fiction.” He has created a new literary atmosphere, in which the characters of Puritanical and plebeian Wales move freely and without restraint. He can never be eclipsed just as Sir Walter Scott cannot be eclipsed, because the Wales which he describes is slowly passing away. He has many worthy disciples, among whom Miss Winnie Parry is easily first. Indeed, in her finer taste and greater firmness of touch, she stands on a higher plane than even her great master. The inspiring genius of the latter part of this period is Owen M. Edwards (b. 1858), and, as a stylist, all writers of Welsh prose since Ellis Wynn have to concede him the laurel. His little books of travel and history and anecdote have created, or rather, are creating a new school of writers, scrupulously and almost pedantically careful and correct, an ideal which, on its philological side is the outcome of the scientific study of the language as inaugurated by Sir John Rhys and Professor Morris Jones. One of the earliest, if not the ablest writer of this “new Welsh” was the independent and original Emrys ap Iwan (d. 1906), whose Homiliauwas published in 1907.
10. Poetry after 1820.—The origins of this period are really placed in the last period. Its great characteristics are the development of the lyric, and the influence of English and continental ideas. Just as the cywydd was among the older writers the favourite form of poetry, so the lyric becomes now paramount, almost to the exclusion of other forms. The first great name, after those already mentioned in the development of this form of poetry, is that of Anne Griffiths (1776-1805). Her poetry is exclusively composed of hymns, but to the English mind, the word “hymn” is entirely inadequate to give any idea of the passion, the mysticism and the rich symbolistic grace of her poems. She gave to the Welsh lyric the depth and the rather melancholy intensity which has always characterized it. Evan Evans (Ieuan Glan Geirionydd) (1795-1855) was also a hymnologist, but he wrote many secular lyrics and awdlau—among the former being the famous Morfa Rhuddlan. Ebenezer Thomas (Eben Fardd) (1802-1863) was a famousEisteddfodwr; his best work is his awdlau, and no one will deny him the distinction of being the master poet of the awdl in the 19th century. Gwilym Cawrdaf (1795-1848), also a writer of awdlau, has the gift of simple and direct expression, well exemplified in Hiraeth Cymro am ei wlad. Daniel Ddu (1792-1846) was a scholar who wrote some touching lyrics and hymns. Gwilym Hiraethog (1802-1883) attempted an epic, Emmanuel, with indifferent success. His shorter works and some of his awdlau are of a much higher order. Caledfryn (1801-1869) was a direct successor of Dewi Wyn and the earlier writers of awdlau, but his Drylliad y Rothsay Castle is superior to anything which his master wrote. Similar in genius, though not on quite as high a plane, were Nicander (1809-1874), Cynddelw (1812-1875), Gwalchmai (1803-1897) and Tudno (1844-1895).
John Blackwell (Alun) (1797-1840) was a lyricist of the first order. With Ieuan Glan Geirionydd, he is the pioneer of the secular lyric of the 19th century. Succeeding to this group of lyricists, we have another later group, Ceiriog (1832-1887), Talhaiarn (1810-1869) and Mynyddog (1833-1877), who certainly had the advantage over their predecessors in freshness, in vigour and in human interest, but they lacked the scholastic training of the earlier group, and so their work is often uneven, and cannot therefore be fairly compared with that of the earlier poets. Ceiriog, of course, is the greater name of the three, and is to Wales what Robert Burns was to Scotland, sharing with him his poetical faults and merits. He is called the national poet of Wales, because he was the first to sing of the land and the nation he knew, and he cast the glamour of his genius over the life of thegwerin, the peasants of Wales.
Somewhat higher flights were essayed by Gwilym Marles (1834-1879) and Islwyn (1832-1878). Their poetry is Wordsworthian and mystical, and well exemplifies the love of metaphysics and speculation which is growing in Wales. Islwyn’s Y storm, though uneven, is full of powerful passages, and he was a master of blank verse. Of the remaining poets of the period living in 1908, the most distinguished was the Rev. Elvet Lewis in the older generation, and Eifion Wyn in the younger—both writers of lyrics. Other lyrical poets of the first class are Gwylfa and Silyn Roberts. In the old metres, two poets stand out prominent above all others—J. Morris Jones and T. Gwynn Jones. The Awdl i Famon of the former, and the Ymadawiad Arthur of the latter, gave reason to believe that Welsh poetry was only entering on its golden period.
Authorities.—General.—T. Stephens, Literature of the Kymry (London², 1876); L.C. Stern in Die Kultur d. Gegenwart, i. xi. 1 pp. 114-130; Gweirydd ap Rhys. Hanes Llenyddiaeth Gymreig, 1300-1650 (London, 1885); C. Ashton, Hanes Llenyddiaeth Gymreig, 1651-1850 (Liverpool, 1893); J. Loth, Les Mabinogion (2 vols., Paris, 1889); E. Anwyl, Prolegomena to Welsh Poetry (London, 1905), also on the Mabinogi in Zeitschr. f. celt. Phil. i. 277 ff.; I.B. John, The Mabinogion (London, 1901); T. Shankland, Diwygwyr Cymru, reprinted from Seren Gomer (1899); W.J. Gruffydd, Foreign Influences on Welsh Literature in the XIV. and XV. Centuries, Guild of Welsh Graduates (1908); Gwilym Lleyn, Llyfryddiaeth y Cymry (Llanidloes, 1867); Robert Williams, Enwogion Cymru (Llandovery, 1852); Owen Jones, Cymru (2 vols., London, 1875); D.W. Nash,History of the Battle of Cattraeth (Tenby, 1861); Encyclopaedia Cambrensis (10 vols²., 1889-1896); C. Ashton, Bywyd ac amserau yr Esgob Morgan (Treherbert, 1891); J. Foulkes, J. Ceiriog Hughes, ei fywyd a’i waith (Liverpool, 1887); J.M. Jones, Llenyddiaeth fy ngwlad (Holywell, 1893); H. Elvet Lewis, Sweet Singers of Wales (London, 1889); H.W. Lloyd, Welsh Books Printed Abroad in the XVI. and XVII. Centuries (London, 1881).
Anthologies, Selected Prose and Verse, &c.—W.F. Skene, The Four Ancient Books of Wales (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1868); W. Owen (Pughe), Iolo Morganwg and Owen Jones (Myfyr), Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales (3 vols., London, 1801;² Denbigh, 1870, in 1 vol.); Dr John Davies (o Fallwyd), Flores Poetarum Britannicorum (Shrewsbury, 1710; Swansea, 1814; reprinted London, 1864); Iolo Morganwg, Iolo Manuscripts(Llandovery, 1848); E. Evans, Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Antient Welsh Bards translated into English, &c. (London, 1764); Hugh Jones,Dewisol Ganiadau yr Oes Hon (Shrewsbury, 1759;5 Merthyr, 1827), Diddanwch Teuluaidd (London, 1763); David Jones, Blodeugerdd Cymry(Shrewsbury², 1779); Owen Jones, Ceinion Llenyddiaeth Gymreig (2 vols., London, 1876); W. Lewis Jones, Caniadau Cymru (Bangor², 1908); W. Jenkyn Thomas, Penillion Telyn (Carnarvon, 1894); Myrddin Fardd, Cynfeirdd Lleyn (1905); Cyfres Lien Cymru, vols. i.-vi. (Cardiff, 1900-1906); W.J. Gruffydd, Y Flodeugerdd Newydd (Cardiff, 1908); O.M. Edwards, Beirdd y Berwyn (Conway, 1903).
Versification, &c,—Dafydd Morganwg, Yr Ysgol Farddol (Cardiff3, 1887); Iolo Morganwg, Cyfrinach Beirdd Ynys Prydain (Merthyr, 1829²; Carnarvon, 1874); Simwnt Vychan and Dafydd Ddu Athraw, Dosparth Edeyrn Davod Aur, ed. by J. Williams ab Ithel (Llandovery, 1856); J. Morris Jones, “Welsh Versification,” Zeitschr.f. celt. Phil. iv. pp. 106-142.
Collected Works, Editions and Reprints,—J. Gwenogvryn Evans and John Rhys, Y Llyvyr Coch o Hergest (2 vols. Oxford, 1887-1890), Pedeir Kainc y Mabinogi (Oxford, 1897); J. Gwenogvryn Evans, The Black Book of Carmarthen (Oxford, 1907; also in facsimile, Oxford, 1888), Llyvyr Job trans. by Dr Morgan, 1558 (reprinted 1888), Oll Synwyr pen [Salesbury] (Bangor, 1902); J. Morris Jones and John Rhys, Llyvyr Agkyr Llandewivrevi (Oxford, 1894); Aneurin Owen, Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales (2 vols., London, 1841), Brut y Tywysogion (London, 1863); J. Williams ab Ithel, Gododin with Notes and Translation (Llandovery, 1852); T. Stephens, 650Gododin with Notes and Translation, ed. by T. Powel (London, 1888); R. Williams, Selections from the Hengwrt MSS. (2 vols., London, 1876-1892); T. Powel, Ystorya de Carolo Magno (London, 1883); Psalmau Dafydd trans. by W. Morgan (facsimile, 1896); Owen Jones (Myfyr) and W. Owen (Pughe), Barddoniaeth Dafydd ab Gwilym(London, 1789); Walter Davies and J. Jones, Poetical Works of Lewis Glyn Cothi (1837); Prince Louis Bonaparte, Athrawaeth Gristnogavl by Morys Clynoc (facsimile London, 1880); Walter Davies, Caniadau Huw Morus (2 vols., 1823); Psalmau Dafydd gan W. Middleton (Llanfair, 1827); J. Morris Jones, Gweledugaethai y Bardd cwsg gan Elis Wynne (Bangor, 1898); R. Jones, The Poetical Works of Goronwy Owen (2 vols. London, 1876); W.J. Gruffydd, Cywyddau Goronwy Owen (Newport, 1906); T.E. Ellis, Gweithiau Morgan Llwyd (Bangor, 1899); J.H. Davies, Yn y Llyvyr hwn (Bangor, 1902); S.J. Evans, Drych y Prif Oesoedd gan Th. Evans (Bangor, 1902); W.P. Williams, Deffyniad Ffydd Eglwys Loegr gan Morys Kyffin (Bangor, 1908); N. Cynhafal Jones, Gweithiau W. Williams Pantycelyn (2 vols., 1887-1891); O.M. Edwards, Gweithiau Islwyn (1897).
(W. J. G.)
V. Breton Literature.—Unlike the literature of Wales, the literature of Brittany is destitute of originality, and we find nothing to compare with theMabinogion. Till the 19th century all the monuments which have come down to us are copies of French models, though the retention down to the 17th century of that intricate system of versification found in Welsh and Cornish may indicate that what was really Breton in spirit has not been preserved (v. J. Loth, La Métrique galloise, ii. 177-203). It is usual to divide the literature into three periods in conformity with the language in which the monuments are written—Old, Middle, and Modern Breton. No connected monuments of the first period (8th to 11th centuries) have come down to us. For our knowledge of the language of this period we must have recourse to the manuscripts containing glosses and the names occurring in ancient documents. The chief collections of glosses are (1) the Oxford glosses on Eutychius; (2) the Luxemburg glosses; (3) the Bern glosses on Virgil; (4) the glosses on Amalarius (Corpus Christi, Cambridge); (5) five Collationes Canonum, the chief manuscripts being at Paris and Orleans. All these glosses have been published in one volume by J. Loth (Vocabulaire Vieux-Breton, Paris, 1884). From a linguistic point of view the Breton names in the Latin lives of saints are very important, particularly those of St Samson, St Paul, Aurelian, St Winwaloe, St Ninnoc, St Gildas and St Brieuc. Of even greater value are the names in the Charter of Redon, which was written in the 11th century, but dates largely from the 9th (published by A. de Courson, 1865); we may also mention the Charter of Landevennec (11th century). In the Middle Breton period, which extends from the 11th to the 17th centuries, we are obliged, down to the 15th century, to rely on official documents such as the Charter of Quimperlé. French seems to have been the language of the aristocracy and the medium of culture. Hence the oldest connected texts are either translated or imitated from French, and are full of French words. We might mention a Book of Hours belonging to the 16th century, published by Whitley Stokes, and three religious poems bound up with the Grand Mystère de Jésus; further, the Life of St Catherine (1576) in prose (published by Ernault, Revue celtique, viii. 76), translated from the Golden Legend, the Mirror of Death, containing 3360 verses, which was composed in 1519 and printed in 1576, the Mirror of Confession, a translation from the French in prose (1621), the Christian Doctrine, a translation in verse (1622), a collection of carols (An Nouelou ancien, 1650,Rev. celt. vols. x.-xiii.) and the Christian Meditations of J. Cadec, 1651 (Rev. Celt. xx. 56). The earliest Breton printed work is the Catholicon of Jean Lagadeuc, a Breton-Latin-French dictionary, dated 1464 but printed first in 1499 (reprinted by R.F. Le Men, Lorient, 1867). Modern Breton begins with the orthographical reforms of the Jesuit, Julien Maunoir, whose grammar (Le Sacré Collège de Jésus) and dictionary appeared in 1659. Throughout the modern period we find numerous collections of religious poems and manuals of devotion in prose and verse, which we cannot here attempt to enumerate. But the bulk of Breton literature before the 19th century consists of mysteries and miracle plays. This class of literature had a tremendous vogue in Brittany, and the native stage was only killed about 1850. It is stated, for instance, that no less than 15,000 copies were sold of the Tragedy of the Four Sons of Aymon, first published in 1815. It is impossible to give the titles of all the dramas which have come down to us (about 120). The manuscript collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is described in the Revue celtique, xi. 389-423 (many since published) and Le Braz gives a useful list of other manuscripts in the bibliographical appendix to his Théâtre celtique. A few of these plays belong to the Middle Breton period. The Life of St Nonn, the mother of St David, belongs to the end of the 15th century, and follows the Latin life (published by Ernault in the Revue celtique, viii. 230 ff., 405 ff.). Le Grand Mystère de Jésus (1513) follows the French play of Arnoul Gresban and Jean Michel (published by H. de la Villemarqué, Paris, 1865). A French original is also followed in the Mystère de Sainte Barbe (1st ed., 1557, 2nd ed., 1647, reprinted by Ernault, Nantes, 1885). These mystery plays may be divided into four categories according to the subjects with which they deal: (1) Old Testament subjects; (2) New Testament subjects; (3) lives of saints; (4) romances of chivalry. There is occasionally a dash of local colouring in these plays; but the subject matter is taken from French sources or, in the case of the third category, from Latin lives. Even when the life of a Breton saint, e.g. St Gwennolé, is dramatized, the treatment is the traditional one accorded to all saints of whatever origin. Amongst the most favourite subjects in addition to those already mentioned we may note the following: Vie des quatre fils Aymon, Ste Tryphine et le roi Arthur, Huon de Bordeaux, Vie de Louis Eunius, Robert le Diable. These mysteries commonly contain from 5000 to 9000 lines of either 12 or 8 syllables apiece. For the sake of completeness we may add the names of three farces, described by Le Braz: Ar Farvel goapaer (Le bouffon moqueur), Ian Melargé (Mardi-gras), La Vie de Mardi-gras, de triste Mine, sa femme, et de ses enfants. The actors, who were always peasants, came to be regarded with an unfavourable eye by the clergy, who finally succeeded in killing the Breton stage.
We look in vain for any manifestation of originality in Breton literature until we reach the 19th century. The consciousness of nationality then awakened and found expression in verse.
The movement led by Le Gonidec (described above in the section on Breton language) caused ardent patriots to endeavour to create a national literature, more especially when the attention of the whole world of letters was directed to Brittany after the publication of the Barzas Breiz. The most prominent of these pioneers were Auguste Brizeux, F.M. Luzel and Prosper Proux. Brizeux (1803-1858), better known as a French poet, wrote a collection of lyrics entitled Telen Arvor, or the Armorican Harp (Lorient, 1844, reprinted Paris, 1903). Luzel’s original compositions were published under the title of Bepred Breizad, Toujours Breton (Morlaix, 1865), and Prosper Proux is known as the author of Canaouenno grét gant eur C’hernewod (1838) and Ar Bombard Kerne, or The Hautboy of Cornouailles (Guingamp, 1866). Dottin also mentions Telenn Remengol, by J. Lescour (Brest, 1867); Telenn Gwengam, by the same writer (Brest, 1869), a volume of Chansoniou by Y.M. Thomas (Lannion, 1870), and another by C. Rannou. This was a very creditable beginning, but the themes of these writers are apt to be somewhat conventional and the constant recurrence of the same situation or the same idea grows monotonous. An anthology of poems connected with this movement appeared at Quimperlé in 1862 under the title of Bleuniou Breiz, Poésies anciennes et modernes de la Basse-Bretagne (reprinted, Paris, 1905). Several of La Fontaine’s fables were published in a Breton dress by P.D. de Goesbriand (Morlaix, 1836), and a collection of fables in verse which is thought very highly of by cultivated Bretons appeared under the title of Marvaillou Grac’h koz by G. Milin (Brest, 1867). A book of Georgics in the dialect of Vannes appeared under the title of Levr al labourer (The Farmer’s Book) by l’Abbé Guillome (Vannes, 1849), and Le Gonidec prepared a translation of the Scriptures, which was revised by Troude and Milin, and published at St Brieuc in 1868. But the real literature of Brittany consists of legends, folk-tales and ballads. The first to tap this source was 651Hersart de la Villemarqué (1815-1895), who issued in 1839 his famous collection of ballads entitled Barzas Breiz, but which cannot be regarded as an anthology of Breton popular poetry. The publication of this work gave rise to a controversy which is almost as famous as that caused by Macpherson’s forgeries. De la Villemarqué was endowed with considerable poetic gifts, and, coming as he did at a time when folk-poetry was the fashion, he determined to collect the popular literature of his own country. However, he was not content to publish the poems as he found them circulating in Brittany. With the aid of several collaborators he transformed his material, eliminating anything that was crude and gross. The poems included in his collection may be divided into three classes: (1) Poems rearranged by himself or others. These consist mainly of love-songs and ballads. (2) Modern poems transferred to medieval times. (3) Spurious poems dealing with such personages as Nominoe and Merlin. The compiler of the Barzas Breiz unfortunately laboured under the delusion that these Breton folk-songs were in the first instance the work of medieval bards corresponding to Taliessin and Llywarch Hen in Wales, and that it was possible to make them appear in their primitive dress. The very title of the collection indicates the artificial nature of the contents. For Barzas (in the 2nd edition of 1867 spelt Barzaz) is not a Breton word at all but is formed on Welsh barddas (bardic poems). For the whole controversy the reader may consult H. Gaidoz and P. Sébillot, “Bibliographie des traditions et de la littérature populaire de la Bretagne” (Revue celtique, v. 277 ff., and G. Dottin in the Revue de synthèse historique, viii. 95 ff.). In Brittany it is usual to divide the popular poetry into gwerziou and soniou. The gwerziou (complaintes) deal with local history, folk-lore, religious legends and superstitions, and are in general much more original than the other class. The soniou consist of love-songs, satires, carols and marriage-lays, as well as others dealing with professional occupations, and seem in many cases to show traces of French influence. The first scholar who published the genuine ballad literature of Brittany was F.M. Luzel, who issued two volumes under the title of Gwerziou Breiz-Izel, chants populaires de la Basse-Bretagne (Lorient and Paris, 1868, 1874). This collection contains several of the originals of poems in the Barzas Breiz. Luzel is also the author of a collection of Breton tales in French translation, Contes bretons recueillis et traduits par F.M. Luzel (Quimperlé, 1870). The same author published Les Légendes chrétiennes de la Basse-Bretagne (Paris, 1881) and Veillées bretonnes, moeurs, chants, contes et récits populaires des Bretons-Armoricains (Morlaix, 1879). Another indefatigable collector of Breton legends is Anatole le Braz, who was commissioned by the minister of public instruction to investigate the stories current with reference to An Ankou (death). Le Braz’s results are to be found in his La Légende de la mort (1902²). A well-known collection of stories with a French translation was issued by the lexicographer Troude under the title of Ar marvailler brezounek (Brest, 1870), and one of the most popular books at the present day is Pipi Gonto, by A. le Moal (St Brieuc, vol. i. 1902, vol. ii. 1908). A recent collection of stories with a religious tendency is C.M. le Prat’s Marvailhou ar Vretoned (Brest, 1907). The modern movement, which started in the ’nineties of last century, has already produced numerous dramas and volumes of lyrics, and it may now be affirmed in all seriousness that Brittany is producing something really national. The scope of the writers of the earlier movement was very limited and little originality was displayed in their productions. The literary output of the last ten years in Brittany may truly be termed prodigious, and much of it reaches quite a high level. The dramas which are being produced are mainly propagandist in the interests either of the Union Régionaliste Bretonne or of temperance reform. These are for the most part very crude, but they have been received with great enthusiasm, and this has led to the revival of the old mysteries, though in a somewhat modified form. The foremost living writer is Fanch Jaffrennou, who writes under the name of “Taldir” (Brow of Steel) and is the author of two very striking volumes of lyrics—An Hirvoudou or Sighs (St Brieuc, 1899) and An Delen Dir or The Harp of Steel (St Brieuc, 1900). The latter is the most interesting outcome of the modern movement. Among other poets we may mention N. Quellien (Annaïk, Paris, 1880; Breiz, Poésies bretonnes, Paris, 1898), Erwan Berthou (Dre an Delen hag ar c’horn-boud, Par la harpe et par le cor de guerre, St Brieuc, 1904), C.M. le Prat, who writes under the name of Klaoda (Mouez Reier Plougastel, “The Voice of the Cliffs of Plougastel,” St Brieuc, 1905), J. Cuillandre (Mouez an Aochou, La Voix des grèves, Rennes, 1903), abbé Lec’hvien, Gwerziou ha soniou (St Brieuc, 1900), and, further, two anonymous volumes of verse,An Tremener, Gwerziou ha soniou (Brest, 1900), and Kanaouennou Kerne (Brest, 1900). Two older collections are mentioned by Dottin—J. Cadiou,En Breiz-Izel (Morlaix, 1885) and Ivona (Morlaix, 1886). An anthology of latter-day lyrics appeared at Rennes in 1902 under the title of Bleuniou Breiz-Izel, Dibab Barzoniezou. Of the numerous plays those most deserving of mention from a literary point of view are perhaps Ar Vezventi by T. le Garrec; the comedy Alanik al Louarn by J.M. Perrot (Brest, 1905) based on the farce of Pathelin; Tanguy Malmanche, Le Conte de l’âme qui a faim, in which Breton superstitions connected with the spirits of the dead are introduced with strange effect; J. le Bayon, En Eutru Keriolet (Vannes, 1902), which deals with the life and death of a blaspheming Breton nobleman of the early part of the 17th century; F. Jaffrennou, Pontkallek (Brest, 1903), which tells of the betrayal of a noble Breton who was put to death by the French in 1720; and the farce Eur Pesk-Ebrel by L. Rennadis (Morlaix, 1900).
Authorities.—A history of Breton literature does not exist, though we possess ample materials for such a work. The following works and articles may be consulted: G. Dottin. Revue de synthèse historique, viii, 93-104, contains a full bibliography; J. Loth, Chrestomathie bretonne(Paris, 1890); L.C. Stern in Die Kultur d. Gegenwart, i. xi. 1, pp. 132-137; A. le Braz, Le Théâtre celtique (Paris, 1904); H. Gaidoz and P. Sébillot, “Bibliographie des traditions et de la littérature populaire de la Bretagne” (Revue celtique, v. 277-338; supplement by P. Sébillot, Revue de Bretagne, de Vendée, et d’Anjou, 1894); F.M. Luzel, “Formules initiates et finales des conteurs en Basse-Bretagne” (Revue celtique, iii. 336 ff.); L.F. Sauvé, “Formulettes et traditions diverses de la Basse-Bretagne” (Revue celtique, v. 157 ff.); Charmes, “Oraisons et conjurations magiques,” ibvi. 66 ff.; “Devinettes bretonnes,” ib. iv 60 ff.; “Proverbes et dictons de la Basse-Bretagne,” ib. i-iii. For Breton proverbs see also A. Brizeux, “Furnez Breiz,” in Oeuvres de A. Brizeux (Paris, 1903); J. Loth, “Chansons en bas-vannetais” (Revue celtique, vii. 171 ff.); N. Quellien, Chansons et danses des Bretons (Paris, 1889); E. Ernault, “Chansons populaires” (Revue celtique, xxiii. 121 ff.); P. le Roux, “Une Chanson bretonne du xviiiesiècle” (Revue celtique, xix. 1). Since 1901 a complete bibliography of modern works pertaining to Breton language and literature appears from time to time in the Annales de Bretagne.
(E. C. Q.)
VI. Cornish Literature.—The literature of Cornwall is more destitute of originality and more limited in scope than that of Brittany, and it is remarkable that the medieval drama should occupy the most prominent place in both. The earliest Cornish we know consists of proper names and a vocabulary. About 200 Cornish names occur among the manumissions of serfs in the Bodmin Gospels (10th century). They were printed by Whitley Stokes in the Revue celtique, i. 232. Next comes the Cottonian Vocabulary, which seems to follow a similar Anglo-Saxon collection and is contained in a 12th-century MS. at the British Museum. It consists of seven pages and the words are classified under various headings, such as heaven and earth, different parts of the human body, birds, beasts, fishes, trees, herbs, ecclesiastical and liturgical terms. At the end we find a number of adjectives. This vocabulary was printed by Zeuss², p. 1065, and again in alphabetical order by Norris in the Ordinalia. The language of this document is termed Old Cornish, although the forms it contains correspond to those of Mid. Welsh and Mid. Breton.
The first piece of connected Cornish which we know consists of a poem, or portion of a play(?), of forty-one lines discovered by Jenner in the British Museum. This fragment was probably written about 1400 and deals with the subject of marriage (edited by W. Stokes in the Revue celtique, iv. 258). A little later is the Poem of Mount Calvary or the Passion, of which five MSS. are in existence. The poem has been twice printed, 652first by Davies Gilbert with English translation by John Keigwin (1826), and again by W. Stokes for the London Philological Society in 1862. It consists of 259 stanzas of eight lines of seven syllables apiece, and contains a versified narrative of the events of the Passion made up from the Gospels and apocryphal sources, notably the Gospel of Nicodemus. But the bulk of Cornish literature is made up of plays, and in this connexion it may be noted that there still exist in the west of Cornwall the remains of a number of open-air amphitheatres, locally called plan an guari, where the plays seem to have been acted. The earliest representatives of this kind of literature in Cornwall form a trilogy going under the name of Ordinalia, of which three MSS. are known, one a 15th-century Oxford MS. from which the two others are copied. The Ordinalia were published by Edwin Norris under the title of The Ancient Cornish Drama (Oxford, 1859). The first play is called Origo Mundi and deals with events from the Old Testament down to the building of Solomon’s temple. The second play, the Passio Domini, goes on without interruption into the third, the Resurrectio Domini, which embraces the Harrowing of Hell, the Resurrection and Ascension, the legend of St Veronica and Tiberius, and the death of Pilate. Here again the pseudo-Gospel of Nicodemus is drawn upon, and interwoven with the Scriptural narrative we find the Legend of the Cross. As the title Ordinaliaindicates, these plays are of learned origin and are imitated from English sources. The popular name for these dramas, quari-mirkle, is a literal translation of the English term miracle play, and Norris shows that whole passages were translated word for word. Many of the events are represented as having taken place in well-known Cornish localities, but apart from this scarcely any traces of originality can be discovered. The same remark holds good in the case of another play, Beunans Meriasek or the Life of St Meriasek. This deals in an incoherent manner with the life and death of Meriasek (in Breton Meriadek), the son of a duke of Brittany, and interwoven with this theme is the legend of St Silvester and the emperor Constantine, quite regardless of the circumstance that St Silvester lived in the 4th and St Meriasek in the 7th century. The MS. of this play was written by “Dominus Hadton” in the year 1504, and is preserved in the Peniarth library. The language is more recent than that of the Ordinalia, and there is a certain admixture of English. The Life of St Meriasek falls into two parts, and at the end of each the spectators are invited to carouse. St Meriasek was in earlier times the patron saint of Camborne, where his fountain is still to be seen and pilgrims to it were known by the name ofMerra-sickers. In this play, consequently, we might expect to find something really Cornish. But le Braz has shown that the author of this motley drama was content to draw his materials from Latin and English lives of saints. The story of Meriasek himself was taken from a Breton source and closely resembles the narrative of the 17th-century Breton hagiographer, Albert le Grand. The last play we have to mention is Gwreans an Bys (The Creation of the World), of which five complete copies are known. Two of these are in the Bodleian and one in the British Museum, which also possesses a further fragment. The oldest text was revised by William Jordan of Helston in 1611, but there are indications that parts of it at any rate are older than the Reformation. This play bears a great resemblance to the first part of the Origo Mundi, and may have been imitated from it. It was printed first by Davies Gilbert in 1827 with a translation by John Keigwin, and again by W. Stokes in the Transactions of the London Philological Society for 1864. The language shows considerable signs of decay, and Lucifer and his angels are often made to speak English. The only other original compositions of any length written in Cornish are Nebbaz Gerriau dro tho Carnoack (A Few Words about Cornish), by John Boson (printed in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 1879), and the Story of John of Chy-an-Hur (Ram’s House), a folk-tale which appears in Ireland and elsewhere. The latter was printed in Lhuyd’s Grammar and in Pryce’s Archaeologia. Andrew Borde’s Booke of the Introduction of Knowledge(1542) contains some Cornish conversations (see Archiv f. celt. Lexikographie, vol. i.), and in Carew’s Survey of Cornwall a number of words and phrases are to be found. Apart from the Cornish preface to Lhuyd’s Grammar, the other remains of the language consist of a few songs, verses, proverbs, epigrams, epitaphs, maxims, letters, conversations, mottoes and translations of chapters and passages of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Commandments, King Charles’s Letter, &c. These fragments are to be found (1) in the Gwavas MS. in the British Museum, a collection ranging in date from 1709 to 1736; (2) in the Borlase MS. (1750); (3) in Pryce’s Archaeologia Cornu-Britannica (1790); (4) in D. Gilbert’s editions of the Poem of the Passion (1826) and the Creation of the World (1827). They are enumerated, classified and described by Jenner in his Handbook.
Authorities.—H. Jenner, Handbook of the Cornish Language (London, 1904); A. le Braz, Le Théâtre celtique (Paris, 1905); E. Norris, The Ancient Cornish Drama (2 vols., Oxford, 1859); T.C. Peter, The Old Cornish Drama (London, 1906); L.C. Stern, Die Kultur d. Gegenwart, i. xi. 1, pp. 131-132.
(E. C. Q.)
1J. Loth gives it as his opinion that as late as 1400-1600 a Cornishman and a Breton might have been able to understand one another.
2It is indeed probable that Myrddin is a purely fictitious character, whose name has been made up from Caer Fyrddin (= Maridunum), which was certainly not a personal name.
3Another derivation of this word is from llad, “profit” + hai, a suffix denoting the agent. Others derive it from or connect it with the Irish slad-.