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clearly, or by imagining more actively, he has been prepared for feeling more purely, for wishing more nobly, perhaps also for resolving more firmly.
A gracious spirit o'er the earth presides,
Who care not, know not, think not, what they do! Yet the lessons to be learned from Literature have not been received either completely or altogether safely, until we have accustomed ourselves to think of all its monuments in their Historical Relations.
The most illustrious masterpieces of genius are not justly valued, unless we know both the facilities which encouraged them and the obstacles which they overcame. The most energetic achievements of the seekers after truth are not fitly honoured, unless we have marked the errors which they rooted out, and the extent to which their teaching was effectual. The most sublime of the moral representations exhibited in eloquence and poetry do not exert their whole power over us, unless we have qualified ourselves for conceiving the character of the external impulses by which they were affected, and for noting how far they were able to act on the minds of their own and following times. It is further true, that, when the historical view is taken, a real importance is found to be possessed by many literary effusions, so unsubstantial as not to deserve permanent celebrity, or so faulty in their ethics that they ought not to meet the eye of youthful students. Such productions often require and reward a passing notice; as being sometimes symptoms indicating, and sometimes causes producing, degeneracy of taste or of morals, in the age that gave them birth, or in the class of readers for which they were framed.
Thoughts yet more comprehensive and more serious dawn and brighten on us, when we regard the History of English Literature as a whole; when we reflect on it as a magnificent series of events, concurrent with those wonderful changes that have successively impressed themselves on the face of society. We then perceive, in one of its most signal instances, this great truth; that, notwithstanding all shortcomings and aberrations, the progress of literary culture keeps pace, partly as cause partly as effect, with the progress of the nations of the earth towards that renovation of man's spiritual nature, which Christianity has been divinely appointed to create. Nor, when this reflection has arisen, can it fail to be accompanied by others. We are reminded that Literature is necessarily
a moral power, a power modifying the character of mankind, and aiding in the determination of their position now and hereafter: a solemn and widely-reaching truth, which ought also to teach every individual among us, how unspeakably important it is, that the books we read be wisely selected. We are reminded, also, that the capacities which bestow this responsible function on the records of intellect, are conferred by that Omnipotent Father of our spirits, who rules the thoughts and acts of all His intelligent creatures : and this thought, the most elevated of all which our studies suggest, cannot but inspire humble and reverential gratitude for the goodness of Him, from whom we receive knowledge, and intellectual enjoyment, and life, and all things.
In the preparation of this little Manual of Literary History, it has been a duty to collect facts and opinions from many and various sources; and it would be a duty not less pleasant to cite these often and thankfully. But, in such a volume, a large array of notes and references would be both inconvenient and needless.
Some of the most valuable of those works, in which particular sections of our Literature are treated either historically or critically, will be named in the text, or noted as furnishing us with instructive quotations.
SECTION FIRST : LITERATURE IN THE CELTIC AND LATIN
1. The Four Languages used in Literature-Latin and Anglo-Saxon-The
Two Celtic Tongues—The Welsh-The Irish and Scottish Gaelic.-CELTIC
1. DURING the Anglo-Saxon times, four languages were used for literary communication in the British islands.
Latin was the organ of the church and of learning, here as elsewhere, throughout the Dark and Middle Ages. Accordingly, till we reach Modern Times, we cannot altogether overlook the literature which was expressed in it, if we would acquire a full idea of the progress of intellectual culture.
Of the other three languages, all of which were national and living, one was the Anglo-Saxon, the monuments of which, with its history, will soon call for close scrutiny. The second and third were Celtic tongues, spoken by the communities of that race who still possessed large parts of the country. These, with their scanty stock of literary remains, must receive some attention at present; although they will be left out of view when we pass to those later periods, in which the Germanic population became decisively predominant in Great Britain.
The first of the Celtic tongues has oftenest been called Erse or Gaelic. It was common, with dialectic varieties only, to the Celts of Ireland and those of Scotland. Ireland was wholly occupied by tribes of this stock, except some small Norse settlements on the seacoast. Whether Scotland, beyond the Forth and Clyde, was so likewise, is a question not to be answered, until it shall have been determined whether the Picts, the early inhabitants of the eastern Scottish counties, were Celts or Goths. It is certain, at least, that, either before the Norman Conquest or soon afterwards, the Celtic Scots were confined within limits corresponding nearly with those which now bound their descendants.
And here, while we are looking beyond the Anglo-Saxon frontiers, it is to be noted that the Romans did not conquer any part of Ireland, and that their hold on the north and west of Scotland had been so slight as to leave hardly any appreciable effects.
The second Celtic tongue, that of the Cymrians or ancient Britons, has been preserved in the Welsh. Its seats, during the Anglo-Saxon period, were the provinces which were still held by Britons, quite independent or imperfectly subdued. Accordingly, it was universally used in Wales, and, for a long time, in Cornwall; and, for several centuries, it kept its hold in the petty kingdoms of Cumbria and Strathclyde, extending to the Clyde from the middle of Lancashire, and thus covering the north-west of England and the south-west of Scotland.
We have not time to study the history of Galloway, situated in Strathclyde, but long occupied chiefly by Gaelic Celts; nor that of the Hebrides and other islands, disputed for centuries between the Gaelic Celts and the Northmen.
CELTIC LITERATURE. 2. Of the two Celtic nations whose living tongue was the Erse, Ireland had immeasurably the advantage, in the success with which its vernacular speech was applied to uses that may be called literary.
To others must be left the task of estimating rightly the genuineness, as well as the poetical merit, of the ancient Metrical relics still extant in the Irish language. They consist of many Bardic Songs and Historical Legends. Some of these are asserted to be much older than the ninth century, the close of which was the date of the legendary collection called the Psalter of Cashel, still surviving, and probably in its genuine shape. Competent critics have admitted the great historical value of the Prose Chronicles, preserved to this day, which grew up, by the successive additions of many generations, in the monasteries of the “ Island of Saints.” In the form in which these now exist, none of them seems to be so ancient as the Annals compiled by Tigernach, who died in the close of the eleventh century; but it is believed, on good grounds, that, both in this work, in the Annals of the Five Masters, and in several such local records as the Annals of Ulster and Innisfallen, there are incorporated the substance, and often the very words, of many chronicles composed much earlier. It does not thus appear rash to say, that the Irish possess contemporary histories of their country, written in the language of the people, and authentic though meagre, from the fifth century or little later. No other nation of modern Europe is able to make a similar boast.
Nor does it appear that the Scottish Celts can point to literary monuments of any kind, having an antiquity at all comparable to this. Indeed their social position was, in all respects, much below that of their western kinsmen. All the earliest relics of their language are Metrical. Such is the Albanic Duan, an historical poem, described as possessing a bardic and legendary character, and said to belong to the eleventh century. The poems which bear the name of Ossian are professedly celebrations, by an eye-witness, of events occurring in the third century. But, though we were to throw out of view the modern patchwork which disguises the original from the English reader, and though likewise we should hesitate to assert positively that the Fingalic tales were really borrowed from Ireland, it is still impossible to satisfy oneself that any pieces, now exhibited as the groundwork of the poems, have a just claim to so remote an origin. All such productions seem to be merely attempts, some of them exceedingly imaginative and spirited, to invest with poetical and mythical glory the legends of generations which had passed away long before the poet's time.
3. The literature of the Cymric Celts becomes an object of lively interest, through our familiarity with circumstances relating to it, which occurred in the Middle Ages. We seek eagerly, among the fallen fragments of British poetry and history, for the foundations of the magnificent legend, which, in the days of chivalry, was built