Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/386

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Celtic Myth and Saga.

The contents of the volume (already given in full, Folk-Lore, ii, p. 125) are of too miscellaneous a character to allow of detailed criticism. Suffice to say that whilst the earliest stratum of Irish story-telling is practically unrepresented, the middle and later stages are fully illustrated. These stages are of especial interest to the student of oral literature still surviving among the Celtic-speaking populations of these islands. The wonderful continuity of mode of thought and expression, upon which I have so often insisted, is once more brought into relief. The Gaelic story-tellers of to-day work in a convention which has subsisted for over a thousand years.

Undoubtedly the most important text translated by Mr. O'Grady is the Agallamh na Senorach, or Colloquy with the Ancients, the chief representative of the second stage of the Ossianic romance, and one of the most characteristic specimens extant of Irish story-telling, with its fondness for annalistic and topographical minutiæ, its mingling of dreamy romance and would-be historic accuracy. Renewed acquaintance with this text has not led me to modify the opinions I expressed concerning its nature and date three years ago (MacInnes, p. 411), nor to view with added favour Prof. Zimmer's hypothesis concerning the origin of the Fenian cycle.

Mr. O'Grady has been as chary of exegetical as of critical comment, and this is greatly to be regretted. A romantic literature such as is the Irish, singularly self-contained and cast in a traditional mould equally familiar to reciter and to hearer, offers many pitfalls to the outsider. It is so easy to attach undue importance to an expression or an epithet in a particular passage before one learns that it is merely a conventional cliché. Mr. O'Grady's unrivalled knowledge of Irish romance would enable him, if he but would, to give precious assistance to the student. The few obiter dicta scattered through the volume are pregnant and illuminating. But I must confess my disbelief in the soundness of one, and as the question is of interest to the