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issues as inconsistencies between diVerent national origin myths, ques-
tions of imperial suzerainty and regnal autonomy within the British Isles,
and matters of national honour.Ã
˜Irish™ culture, for example, exercised a curious attraction and repul-
sion on Scottish literati. Despite the hostility to Gaeldom as an extension
of the barbarism of Irish culture to Scotland, patriotic Scots were keen to
appropriate much of medieval Ireland™s rich history of learning and
holiness to lend solidity and amplitude to Scotland™s comparatively im-
poverished pantheon. The emigre Scottish Catholic Thomas Dempster
´ ´
provoked an indignant Irish response when, by exploiting the ambiguities
in the term ˜Scotia™, he hijacked for Scotland Ireland™s saints and schol-
ars.• Thereafter, until the Enlightenment, captured Irish icons became
the mainstay of Scottish hagiography and literary patriotism.’ In the
1760s the historical apparatus which James Macpherson deployed in
support of the Ossianic epic initiated a new round of these old debates.
Charles O™Conor of Belanagar, a keen defender of Irish antiquities, saw in
Ossianic history an attempt to reconstruct Dempster and Sir George
Mackenzie in the aftermath of Father Innes™s unpatriotic demolition of
Scottish antiquity.“
Throughout the vital period of ˜Celtic™ invention, national traditions of
discourse persisted which cut across the centre“periphery model. The
Welsh, for example, did not identify themselves with their fellow ˜Celts™,
but saw themselves as the descendants of the ancient Britons, ˜the pri-
mary people of the British Isles™ and founders of the proto-Protestant
church of pre-Augustinian ˜England™. Indeed, in certain areas English

À J. Hunter, ˜The Gaelic connection: the Highlands, Ireland and nationalism, 1873“1922™,
SHR 54 (1975), 178“204. For an early example of pan-Celticism, see the ideas of Thomas
Price (Carnhuanawc; 1787“1848) outlined in J. Davies, A history of Wales (1990: Har-
mondsworth, 1994), pp. 386“7.
à H. Trevor-Roper, George Buchanan and the ancient Scottish constitution, EHR supplement 3
(1966); J. Leerssen, Mere Irish and F±or-Ghael (1986: 2nd edn, Cork, 1996).
´
• M. Mac Craith, ˜Gaelic Ireland and the Renaissance™, in G. Williams and R. Jones (eds.),
The Celts and the Renaissance (CardiV, 1990), p. 78; Leerssen, Mere Irish, pp. 264“5.
’ George Mackenzie, MD, The lives and characters of the most eminent writers of the Scots
nation (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1708“22).
“ C. O™Halloran, ˜Irish re-creations of the Gaelic past: the challenge of Macpherson™s
Ossian™, P+P 124 (1989), 69“95.
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 187

and Welsh identities overlapped, while the Welsh continued to champion
the myths of GeoVrey of Monmouth long after most English historians
had abandoned them.“ In Scotland, as we have seen, the patriotic inspira-
tion drawn from the ancient Irish settlers of the west Highland kingdom
of Dalriada did not prevent Lowland Scots from persecuting the early
modern descendants of the Dalriadans.” In Ireland, the Old Irish and the
Hibernicised Old (Norman) English defended their Gaelic ways from
English detractors not by asserting the superiority of Celtic culture, but
by showing how their ancient civilisation stood comparison with the
classical cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and with the humanistic
standards of modern Christendom.¦»
Moreover, seventeenth-century literati did not construct the historic
Celts of the British Isles as an alien ˜other™, however much the New
English in Ireland or Scots Lowlanders might in practice treat the Old
Irish or Gaelic Highlanders as inferior uncivilised peoples. In the realms
of scholarship, or pseudo-scholarship, a number of factors, according to
Stuart Piggott, conspired to prompt belief in some degree of ˜Anglo-
Celtic sanguinity™, notably between the Germanic peoples and Brythonic
Celts of Wales, Britanny and ancient Gaul.¦¦ Not until Thomas Percy
(1729“1811) published his critical edition of Mallet™s Northern antiquities
in 1770 did a clear distinction between Celts and Germans begin to take
hold among scholars. This would gradually become established as a
permanent feature of the scholarly Wrmament, but in the meantime it was
still common to lapse into confusion or inconsistency. The 1786 edition
of Ephraim Chambers™s Cyclopedia claimed that the ˜Celtes™ were north-
ern nations, that the Druids were to be found among the ˜ancient Celtae,
or Gauls, Britons, and Germans™ and that the Icelandic Edda were ˜said
to contain the Celtic mythology™, while elsewhere in the same edition
other contradictory articles argued that the Edda were ˜Gothic™ and that
the Celts were to be clearly distinguished from the Goths.¦ 
“ P. Morgan, A new history of Wales: the eighteenth-century renaissance (Llandybie, 1981),
pp. 17, 57, 86. See also Davies, History of Wales, pp. 242, 251. For the Welsh champion-
ship of GeoVrey of Monmouth™s ˜British™ history into the eighteenth century, see G. H.
Jenkins, The foundations of modern Wales, 1642“1780 (Oxford, 1987), pp. 246“7; Davies,
History of Wales, p. 303. Among the London Welsh the Society of Ancient Britons was
established in 1715, and in 1751 the Society of Cymmrodorion (or ˜aborigines™, i.e.
earliest natives of Britain): see Morgan, Eighteenth-century renaissance, pp. 57“8; Jenkins,
Foundations, p. 390. ” See above, ch. 6.
¦» C. Kidd, ˜Gaelic antiquity and national identity in Enlightenment Ireland and Scotland™,
EHR 109 (1994), 1202“4.
¦¦ S. Piggott, Celts, Saxons, and the early antiquaries (O™Donnell Lecture, 1966: Edinburgh,
1967), p. 11.
¦  Ephraim Chambers (d. 1740), Cyclopedia (4 vols., London, 1786 edn), I, ˜Celtes™; II,
˜Druids™, ˜Gothic™; IV, ˜Teutonic™. See Piggott, Celts, p. 18, for Gibbon™s confusion on
this topic; Leerssen, Mere Irish, p. 412 n. 94.
188 Points of contact

On the other hand, throughout the early modern era, the Goidelic
Celts “ or Gaels “ were identiWed as a race apart from the Brythonic Celts,
the former linked “ in the opinion of some antiquaries “ through descent
from the shadowy Scythians (not least because of a pseudo-etymological
derivation of ˜Scot™ from Scythian). To complicate matters further, the
Goths, themselves distinguished from the Germans, were also held by
some scholars to descend from the Scythians. Within interpretations of
sacred history, the Scythian forefathers of the Gaels were ascribed to the
lineage of Magog, son of Japhet, while the ˜Celts™, whom we would
consider Brythonic Celts, were held to be of the line of Gomer, another
son of Japhet and father of Ashkenaz, from whom descended the Ger-
mans.¦À
Only with the onset of romanticism and racialism did a strong sense of a
Celtic identity emerge. For most of the early modern period Saxons were
barely distinguishable from Celts in the eyes of scholars working in the
Welds of ethnic classiWcation and the histories of nations. A variety of
factors contributed to the aYliation of Celtic (especially Brythonic) and
Germanic identities. Some were intrinsic to the practices of ethnological
and linguistic scholarship; others arose from broader ideological currents.
The phenomenon reXected the contours of political argument. English
antiquarians committed to a prescriptive ancient constitution tended to
minimise the diVerences between the Saxons and the ancient Britons.


ClassiWcation
The ˜Celts™ of early modern scholarship were not the ˜Celts™ of nine-
teenth- and twentieth-century ethnology. Celtic and Germanic diVeren-
ces were blurred in the fog of confusing ethnic terminology which
shrouded the terrain of early modern antiquarianism. Although the mod-
ern observer can peer only so far into the scholastic miasma of ethnic
labelling, we can nevertheless discern some of the basic strategies, diY-
culties and lines of interpretation.
For a start, the term Celtic had two meanings in the early modern
period, neither of which referred directly to the peoples of the peripheries
of western Europe known as Celtic in the late twentieth century. Stuart

¦À For Ireland™s Scythian“Magogian origins, see Peter Walsh, A prospect of the state of Ireland
(London, 1682), pp. 7, 12, 356; Roderic O™Flaherty, Ogygia (1685: trans. James Hely, 2
vols., Dublin, 1793), I, pp. lxix“lxx, 12“15; Nathaniel Crouch, The history of the kingdom
of Ireland (London, 1693), pp. 6, 33“4; Francis Hutchinson, A defence of the antient
historians: with a particular application of it to the history of Ireland (1733: Dublin, 1734),
pp. 49, 58; Charles Vallancey, An essay towards illustrating the ancient history of the
Britannic Isles (London, 1786), pp. 11“13. For Scotland, see Mackenzie, Lives of writers,
I, pp. v“viii.
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 189

Piggott warned that only in the eighteenth century did the term Celt
assume its current meaning.¦Ã The groups we know today as Celtic
peoples tended to be referred to in the early modern period as Gallic or
Gaulic, stressing their aYnity in manners with the tribes described by
Caesar in The Gallic war. On the one hand, Celtic had a narrow deWnition,
which associated it with Gaul. Thomas Blount™s dictionary of 1656
deWned Celt as ˜one born in Gaul™.¦• The other meaning of Celtic was
exceptionally broad. The vague ethnological terms ˜Celtic™ and ˜Scythian™
were used very loosely as umbrella categories to describe vast and dispar-
ate ethnic groupings.¦’ From the medieval era, as J. W. Johnson points
out, the Scythians had come to be regarded ˜as the parent of virtually
every nation in western Europe™.¦“ This had the eVect of linking Celtic
and German peoples in the same racial supergroup. The category of Celt
was almost equally wide. Percy noted that the consensus among his errant
predecessors ran as follows: that from the Celts ˜were uniformly descend-
ed the old inhabitants of Gaul, Germany, Scandinavia, Britain, and
Spain, who were all included by the ancients under the general name of
Hyperboreans, Scythians, and Celts, being all originally of one race and
nation, and having all the same common language, religion, laws, cus-
toms and manners™.¦“ The vagueness of the terms Celtic and Scythian,
and the tendency to conXate both categories, proved a recipe for ethno-
logical confusion. The early eighteenth-century German scholar
Johannes Wachter (1663“1757) identiWed three distinct groups of
Scythians among the peoples of Europe “ the northern Scythians proper,
the western Celtae and the Germanic Celto-Scythians “ and described
the Celtic tongue as ˜the Wnal stage of a united Germanic language before
the evolution of its various dialects™.¦” Another eighteenth-century writer
on the Celts, Simon Pelloutier (1694“1757), noted ˜divers noms que les
peuples Celtes portoient autrefois™, including ˜Scythes™, ˜Iberes™,
˜Gaulois™ and ˜Teutons™. »
Despite this terminological elusiveness, we can establish the sources

¦Ã Piggott, Celts, p. 11. ¦• Blount, quoted in Piggott, Celts, p. 6.
¦’ D. Droixhe, La linguistique et l™appel de l™histoire (1600“1800) (Geneva, 1978); Droixhe,
De l™origine du langage aux langues du monde: etudes sur les XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles (Tu
´ ` ¨bin-
gen, 1987), pp. 65“80; J.-C. Muller, ˜Early stages of language comparison from Sassetti
to Sir William Jones (1786)™, Kratylos 31 (1986), 10“12.
¦“ J. W. Johnson, ˜The Scythian: his rise and fall™, JHI 20 (1959), 250“7. See Edward
StillingXeet, Origines Britannicae (London, 1685), p. 38.
¦“ Thomas Percy, ˜Translator™s preface™, in P. Mallet, Northern antiquities (2 vols., London,
1770), I, pp. iii“iv.
¦” G. Bonfante, ˜A contribution to the history of Celtology™, Celtica 3 (1956), 31; S. Brough,
The Goths and the concept of Gothic in Germany from 1500 to 1750 (Frankfurt, 1985),
pp. 157“8; Droixhe, La linguistique, p. 129.
 » Simon Pelloutier, Histoire des Celtes (The Hague, 1740), p. 152.
190 Points of contact

out of which these Ximsy categories were constructed and the basic
contours of ethnological and philological discourse. Classical writings
constituted a vital reservoir of source material and evidence for early
modern ethnographers. Like other areas of intellectual endeavour in this
era the study of ethnic groups was largely a text-based activity. Archaeol-
ogy impinged only slightly on the construction of ethnic diVerence,
though a new and important role was opening up for comparative philol-
ogy. To the humanist intellectual elites of sixteenth- and seventeenth-
century Europe the Celtae were familiar as one of the major prehistoric
founder-settlers of northern Europe “ the Keltoi of the ancient Greeks,
and Celtae of ancient Roman authors. The Keltoi were perceived to have
some aYnity with the Galatae; others interpreted the Celtae to be the
Gauls and other peoples related to them in Spain and Italy. ¦
The works of Tacitus and Caesar remained necessary buttresses of
ethnological argument, and shaped the construction of the Celt. Caesar
advanced a more restricted view of the Celtae, limiting the term to the
tribes of middle Gaul. Only one thing seems clear “ that classical com-
mentators did not include the Britons among the Celtae. The literati of
early modern Europe found the classical ethnographic legacy diYcult to
master, and varied widely in their exegeses of the vague and conXicting
textual references to the Celtae, as also in their discussions of the
Scythians. In particular, it appeared that the manners of the ancient
Germans described by Tacitus in the Germania bore a marked similarity
to the customs of the Gauls described in Caesar™s Gallic war. Moreover,
the noble Caledonians who appeared in Tacitus™s Agricola appeared to
have the same ferocious libertarian characteristics as the tribes of ancient
Germany. The Germania was used as a pertinent source both in Gothicist
ideology and in investigations of the Celt (and vice versa in the case of
Caesar™s Gallic war).   Samuel Squire, extolling the virtues of the Anglo-
Saxons, warned his readers: ˜I shall not scruple to illustrate this account of
the ancient German customs and manners by what I Wnd in Caesar, or
any other author concerning the Gauls, and the other Celtic nations.™ À
In addition to the eVorts of classical geographers and historians, early
modern scholars were also burdened with the eVorts of medieval chron-
iclers to reconcile the Genesis account of the dispersal of peoples with
classical ethnography. Such glosses further confounded the existing
vagueness in classical accounts of the barbarian peoples who lived outside
the expanding sphere of central and eastern Mediterranean civilisation,
 ¦ Piggott, Celts, pp. 4“5.
   See Philip Cluverius, An introduction into geography both ancient and modern (Oxford,
1657), p. 127.
 À Samuel Squire, An enquiry into the foundation of the English constitution; or, an historical
essay upon the Anglo-Saxon government both in Germany and England (London, 1745),
pp. 17“18 n.
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 191

and added to the miasma of possible genealogies surrounding the origins
of the Celtae. Gaps were Wlled where possible with (apparently) relevant
scraps of information found in classical authors and medieval chronicles.
Antiquarians, as we shall see, were quick to exploit superWcial etymologi-
cal resemblances as a means of establishing genealogical relationships
between ethnic groups. It so happened that the notional descents of the
Celtic and German peoples were littered with tribal nomenclature sug-
gestive of some degree of kinship between these two ethnic stocks. Ã
The dominant Wgure in early modern ethnic classiWcation was the
renowned German geographer and antiquary, Philip Cluverius (1580“
1622). In his inXuential treatise Germania antiqua (1616), Cluverius
divided the peoples of Europe into two broad groupings, the Celts and the
Sarmatians. Among the Celts Cluverius listed most of the nations of
northern and western Europe: the Gauls, Germans, Britons, Saxons and
Scythians. The Sarmatians, on the other hand, were basically the Slavic
peoples of central and eastern Europe. The sacred genealogies of Noah™s
descendants found in Genesis reinforced the close link between the Celts
and Germans in the Japhetan line. • The system of ethnic classiWcation
which Cluverius established in the early seventeenth century was main-
tained well into the eighteenth century by later generations of linguistic
and ethnographic scholars, most prominent among whom were Justus
Georg Schottel (1612“72), Johann Georg Keysler (1689/1693“1743),
the Genevan antiquary Paul-Henri Mallet (1730“1807) who went on to
become professor of literature at Copenhagen, the Swedish philosopher
Johann Ihre (1707“80) and Simon Pelloutier, a Lyonese Huguenot born
in Leipzig who ministered to the French church in Berlin and acted as
librarian of the Berlin Academy. The theories of most of these Wgures
were familiar to British scholars. Cluverius™s Introduction into geography,
both ancient and modern, which included ethnological matter, was pub-
lished in English translation at Oxford in 1657, and the widely travelled
Keysler, who lived in England for a while, was to be elected a Fellow of
the Royal Society. ’

 Ã Johnson, ˜Scythian™; Piggott, Celts.
 • G. Bonfante, ˜Ideas on the kinship of the European languages from 1200 to 1800™,
Journal of World History 1 (1953“4), 689; Droixhe, La linguistique, pp. 126“7; H. Wein-
brot, ˜Celts, Greeks, and Germans: Macpherson™s Ossian and the Celtic epic™, 1650“
1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era 1 (1994), 12.
 ’ Correspondence of Thomas Gray (ed. P. Toynbee and L. Whibley, 3 vols., Oxford, 1935),
II, pp. 546, 553; Droixhe, La linguistique, pp. 129“32, 141; Bonfante, ˜Contribution to
Celtology™, 33; Brough, Goths, p. 86; S. Piggott, William Stukeley (1950: London, 1985),

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