Page:Historical characteristics of the Celtic race.djvu/25

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


donian fire, a "Brosnachadh Cath" on the eve of a battle. It almost looks as if Tacitus felt a moral grandeur in the simple manners and proud sentiments of the Caledonian Celts, which he looked for in vain among his own degenerate countrymen; and there is no more striking fact in ancient history than the circumstance that Tacitus, with an eye of almost prophetic vision, looked away over the Alps from Italy and the enervated nations of the south to the Celtic and Germanic races of the north as containing, under the rough shell of barbarian manners, and amid the northern snows, the future hope of the world. The Germania and Agricola of that historian are thus of a singular importance in the development of the ages, leading out the old and preparing the way for leading in the new civilisation; and, to you, therefore, the Agricola which tells of the brave resistance of the Caledonians, ought to possess a special interest, as it forms a splendid literary monument to the virtues and patriotism of the Celtic race.

Into the later fortunes of the Celtic family time and space forbid us to enter with any minuteness. We can only glance at one or two of the most prominent points among the many tempting themes that would present themselves in a complete survey. Foremost among these, we might name the peculiar Celtic influence diffused from the mysterious lays of Ossian as well as from the Irish melodies of Tom Moore, a proud pathetic melancholy of which all Europe has felt the power. That constitutes the literary honour of the Scoto-Irish or family of the Gael. But hardly less important has been the influence of the other branch of the Celtic stock which we know as the Welsh, or, as they style themselves, Cymric, a race which looks as if it were to preserve its speech and nationality longest among all the Celtic peoples. The Welsh still cling to their language with an almost Jewish tenacity. That speech is an anvil that has worn out many hammers; it has survived three conquests—the Roman, the Saxon, the Norman—and they can claim a continuous national existence up to the Roman times of Cassivelaunus and Caractacus. Our Queen Victoria, will it be believed? is with them only Victoria the Second; they claim an older one, the Queen of the Iceni, the same of whom the poet tells as

  "The British warrior queen
Bleeding from the Roman rods."