THE CELTIC FRINGE. -|- Educational Philosophy Theory


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We Celts henceforth will rule the roost in Britain.

What is that you mutter? "A very inopportune moment to proclaim the fact." Well, no, I don't think so. And I'm sorry to hear you say it, for if there is a quality on which I plume myself, it's the delicate tact that makes me refrain from irritating the susceptibilities of the sensitive Saxon. See how polite I am to him! I call him sensitive. But, opportune or inopportune, Lord Salisbury says we are a Celtic fringe. I beg to retort, we are the British people.

"Conquered races," say my friends. Well, grant it for a moment. But in civilised societies, conquerors have, sooner or later, to amalgamate with the conquered. And where the vanquished are more numerous, they absorb the victors instead of being absorbed by them. That is the Nemesis of conquest. Rome annexed Etruria; and Etruscan Mæcenas, Etruscan Sejanus organised and consolidated the Roman Empire. Rome annexed Italy; and the Jus Italicum grew at last to be the full Roman franchise. Rome annexed the civilised world; and the provinces under Cæsar blotted out the Senate. Britain is passing now through the self-same stage. One inevitable result of the widening of the electorate has been the transfer of power from the Teutonic to the Celtic half of Britain. I repeat, we are no longer a Celtic fringe: at the polls, in Parliament, we are the British people. Lord Salisbury may fail to perceive that fact, or, as I hold more probable, may affect to ignore it. What will such tactics avail? The ostrich is not usually counted among men as a perfect model of political wisdom.

And are we, after all, the conquered peoples? Meseems, I doubt it. They say we Celts dearly love a paradox—which is perhaps only the sensible Saxon way of envisaging the fact that we catch at new truths somewhat quicker than other people. At any rate, 'tis a pet little paradox of my own that we have never been conquered, and that to our unconquered state we owe in the main our Radicalism, our Socialism, our ingrained love of political freedom. We are tribal not feudal; we think the folk more important than his lordship. The Saxon of the south-east is the conquered man: he has felt on his neck for generations the heel of feudalism. He is slavish; he is snobbish; he dearly loves a lord. He shouts himself hoarse for his Beaconsfield or his Salisbury. Till lately, in his rural avatar, he sang but one song—

"God bless the squire and his relations, And keep us in our proper stations."

Trite, isn't it? but so is the Saxon intelligence.

Seriously—for at times it is well to be serious—South-Eastern England, the England of the plains, has been conquered and enslaved in a dozen ages by each fresh invader. Before the dawn of history, Heaven knows what shadowy Belgæ and Iceni enslaved it. But historical time will serve our purpose. The Roman enslaved it, but left Caledonia and Hibernia free, the Cambrian, the Silurian, the Cornishman half-subjugated. The Saxon and Anglian enslaved the east, but scarcely crossed over the watershed of the western ocean. The Dane, in turn, enslaved the Saxon in East Anglia and Yorkshire. The Norman ground all down to a common servitude between the upper and nether millstones of the feudal system—the king and the nobleman. At the end of it all, Teutonic England was reduced to a patient condition of contented serfdom: it had accommodated itself to its environment: no wish was left in it for the assertion of its freedom. To this day, the south-east, save where leavened and permeated by Celtic influences, hugs its chains and loves them. It produces the strange portent of the Conservative working-man, who yearns to be led by Lord Randolph Churchill.

With the North and the West, things go wholly otherwise. Even Cornwall, the earliest Celtic kingdom to be absorbed, was rather absorbed than conquered. I won't go into the history of the West Welsh of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall at full length, because it would take ten pages to explain it; and I know that readers are too profoundly interested in the Shocking Murder in the Borough Road to devote half-an-hour to the origin and evolution of their own community. It must suffice to say that the Devonian and Cornubian Welsh coalesced with the West Saxon for resistance to their common enemy the Dane, and that the West Saxon kingdom was made supreme in Britain by the founder of the English monarchy—one Dunstan, a monk from the West Welsh Abbey of Glastonbury. Wales proper, overrun piecemeal by Norman filibusterers, was roughly annexed by the Plantagenet kings; but it was only pacified under the Welsh Tudors, and was never at any time thoroughly feudalised. Glendower's rebellion, Richmond's rebellion, the Wesleyan revolt, the Rebecca riots, the tithe war, are all continuous parts of the ceaseless reaction of gallant little Wales against Teutonic aggression. "An alien Church" still disturbs the Principality. The Lake District and Ayrshire—Celtic Cumbria and Strathclyde—only accepted by degrees the supremacy of the Kings of England and Scotland. The brother of a Scotch King was Prince of Cumbria, as the elder son of an English King was Prince of Wales. Indeed, David of Cumbria, who became David I. of Scotland, was the real consolidator of the Scotch kingdom. Cumbria was no more conquered by the Saxon Lothians than Scotland was conquered by the accession of James I. or by the Act of Union. That means absorption, conciliation, a certain degree of tribal independence. For Ireland, we know that the "mere Irish" were never subjugated at all till the days of Henry VII.; that they had to be reconquered by Cromwell and by William of Orange; that they rebelled more or less throughout the eighteenth century; and that they have been thorns in the side of Tory England through the whole of the nineteenth. As for the Highlands, they held out against the Stuarts till England had rejected that impossible dynasty; and then they rallied round the Stuarts as the enemies of the Saxon. General Wade's roads and the forts in the Great Glen, aided by a few trifles of Glencoe massacres, kept them quiet for a moment. But it was only for a moment. The North is once more in open revolt. Dr. Clark and the crofters are its mode of expressing itself.

Nor is that all. The Celtic ideas have remained unaltered. Of course, I am not silly enough to believe there is any such thing as a Celtic race. I use the word merely as a convenient label for the league of the unconquered peoples in Britain. Ireland alone contains half-a-dozen races; and none of them appear to have anything in common with the Pict of Aberdeenshire or the West-Welsh of Cornwall. All I mean when I speak of Celtic ideas and Celtic ideals is the ideas and ideals proper and common to unconquered races. As compared with the feudalised and contented serf of South-Eastern England, are not the Irish peasant, the Scotch clansman, the "statesman" of the dales, the Cornish miner, free men every soul of them? English landlordism, imposed from without upon the crofter of Skye or the rack-rented tenant of a Connemara hillside, has never crushed out the native feeling of a right to the soil, the native resistance to an alien system. The south-east, I assert, has been brutalised into acquiescent serfdom by a long course of feudalism; the west and north still retain the instincts of freemen.

As long as South-Eastern England and the Normanised or feudalised Saxon lowlands of Scotland contained all the wealth, all the power, and most of the population of Britain, the Celtic ideals had no chance of realising themselves. But the industrial revolution of the present century has turned us right-about-face, has transferred the balance of power from the secondary strata to the primary strata in Britain; from the agricultural lowlands to the uplands of coal and iron, the cotton factories, the woollen trade. Great industrial cities have grown up in the Celtic or semi-Celtic area—Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Belfast, Aberdeen, Cardiff. The Celt—that is to say, the mountaineer and the man of the untouched country—reproduces his kind much more rapidly than the Teuton. The Highlander and the Irishman swarm into Glasgow; the Irishman and the Welshman swarm into Liverpool; the west-countryman into Bristol; Celts of all types into London, Southampton, Newport, Birmingham, Sheffield. This eastward return-wave of Celts upon the Teuton has leavened the whole mass; if you look at the leaders of Radicalism in England you will find they bear, almost without exception, true Celtic surnames. Chartists and Socialists of the first generation were marshalled by men of Cymric descent, like Ernest Jones and Robert Owen, or by pure-blooded Irishmen like Fergus O'Connor. It is not a mere accident that the London Socialists of the present day should be led by Welshmen like William Morris, or by the eloquent brogue of Bernard Shaw's audacious oratory. We Celts now lurk in every corner of Britain; we have permeated it with our ideas; we have inspired it with our aspirations; we have roused the Celtic remnant in the south-east itself to a sense of their wrongs; and we are marching to-day, all abreast, to the overthrow of feudalism. If Lord Salisbury thinks we are a Celtic fringe he is vastly mistaken. But he doesn't really think so: 'tis a piece of his ponderous Saxon humour. Talk of "Batavian grace," indeed! Well, the Cecils came first from the fens of Lincolnshire.

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