Home  »  Volume XIII: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part One The Nineteenth Century, II  »  § 8. The Study of Celtic Literature

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

IV. Matthew Arnold, Arthur Hugh Clough, James Thomson

§ 8. The Study of Celtic Literature

While little fault can be found with his standards and ideals, as a critic of poetry, some of his methods lie open to easy and serious objection. Their defects are inherent in the very qualities that give charm and individuality to the best of his literary criticisms. None of his works exhibits so well both the strength and the weakness of his methods as The Study of Celtic Literature—one of the most delightful of his books, consisting of number of Oxford lectures directly inspired by an essay by Renan. In his excursions into the Celtic wonderland, Arnoldlacked one of the chief qualifications which he desiderates in a critic—knowledge. At least, he had no knowledge of a single Celtic tongue; and, though he wanders into by-paths of ethnology and philology, he has to rely upon the learning of others for evidence in support of his brilliant generalisations. But, even those who do know something of the Celtic tongues are among the first to recognise these lectures as a triumph of the intuitional method in their instinctive seizure of the things that really matter in Celtic literature, and in their picturesque diagnosis of the Celtic genius. The “intuitional” process, however, has its dangers, and the passages in which Arnold traces the Celtic “note” in Shakespeare, Byron, Keats, Macpherson and the rest are about as adventurous an example of skating on the thin ice of criticism as anything to be found in our literature.