The mythology and fables of the ancients, explainâ€™d from history (1738â€“40: 4 vols., London,
1739â€“40), III, p. 306. However, Gray believed that the (misunderstood) Keyslerâ€™s
â€˜Celtic and his septentrional antiquities [were] two things entirely distinctâ€™: see Gray to
William Mason, 13 January 1758, in Correspondence of Thomas Gray, II, pp. 550â€“1.
192 Points of contact
In early seventeenth-century linguistics a Scytho-Celtic compound was
hypothesised as the probable basis of the modern European languages.
However, not all of the modern â€˜Celticâ€™ languages were included within
the Scytho-Celtic group. While many eighteenth-century philological
models tended to link the Brythonic peoples with the Germanic, there
was some reluctance, ironically, to embrace the Goidelic tongues within
this â€˜Celticâ€™ group. Ethnologically, the â€˜Celtsâ€™ constituted a much broader
grouping of peoples than the modern-day â€˜Celtsâ€™, but excluded the
Irish.Â Å“ With the exception of Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540â€“1609), who
grouped Welsh discretely among the seven matrices minores rather than
the four basic groupings, or matrices maiores, of Latin, Greek, Teutonic
and Slavonic, the mainstream of seventeenth-century European linguistic
scholars identiWed the Brythonic as a close kin of the principal continental
tongues within the broad supergroup of Celto-Scythian languages.Â â€“
Goidelic, by contrast, was usually seen as doubly isolated: it was neither
linked to the main body of European languages, nor was its aYliation to
Brythonic generally established. The main exception was the pan-Ger-
manist linguistic model of Schottel which embraced the full range of
Celtic tongues, including Irish, as well as the Gothic family of lan-
Abraham Mylius (1563â€“1637) used a bewildering series of inter-
changeable terms to denote the Germanic language group â€“ lingua Teu-
tonica, lingua Germanica, lingua Celtica, lingua Cimbrica, and lingua Bel-
gica, not forgetting luxuriant hybrids such as lingua Cimbrica-Belgica. The
Teutonic peoples, according to an excessively latitudinarian Mylius, con-
sisted of the Belgae, Celtae, Cimbri, Cimmerii, Galatae, Galli, Germani,
Getae, Goti, Langobardi, Saxones, Scytae, Teutones and Vandali.Ã€Â»
Similarly, another leading philologist Marcus Boxhorn (1602â€“53) of
Leiden, though illuminating the relationship between Welsh and ancient
Gaulish, assumed a deeper Celto-Scythian connection between Welsh
and the Germanic languages.Ã€â€¦ The philosopher and polymath Gottfried
Wilhelm Leibniz (1646â€“1716), who had a deep interest in philology,
located a shared origin for Greek, Latin, Germanic and Gallic in an
archaic langue commune. Leibniz thought that the Brythonic, which in-
Â Å“ D. Droixhe, â€˜Ossian, Hermann and the Jewâ€™s harpâ€™, in T. Brown (ed.), Celticism (Amster-
dam, 1996), pp. 21â€“2.
Â â€“ Scaliger also classiWed Irish as another minor European language quite separate from
Welsh. Droixhe, â€˜Ossianâ€™, p. 22; Leerssen, Mere Irish, p. 288; Bonfante, â€˜Ideas on the
kinship of the European languagesâ€™, 687; Bonfante, â€˜Contribution to Celtologyâ€™, 22â€“3.
Â â€” Droixhe, â€˜Ossianâ€™, p. 23.
Ã€Â» G. J. Metcalf, â€˜Abraham Mylius on historical linguisticsâ€™, PMLA 68 (1953), 535 n.
Ã€â€¦ P. Morgan, â€˜Boxhorn, Leibniz and the Welshâ€™, Studia Celtica 8â€“9 (1973â€“4), 220â€“8;
Droixhe, La linguistique, pp. 334â€“5.
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 193
cluded ancient Gaulish and its closest surviving relatives, Welsh and
Breton, was half-Teutonic: â€˜linguam Wallicam aut Armoricam proximam
veteri Gallicae ipse credo, nec indiligenter inspexi, et semi-Germanam
agnoscoâ€™. Irish Gaelic was, however, considerably more distant from the
Germanic languages.Ã€Â With his suspicion of an uncritical etymologising,
belief that a distinction had to be made between cognates and loan-words
and suspicion of some of the Abbe Pezronâ€™s claims for the high antiquity
of Gaulic, Leibniz stood at the limits of early modern linguistic specula-
tion. Yet, he did not challenge the basic Scytho-Celtic model, which
remained inXuential within the eighteenth-century republic of letters.Ã€Ã€
According to Pelloutier, for example, the German tongue was a remnant
of the Celtic Ur-language, â€˜un reste de lâ€™ancienne langue des Celtesâ€™.Ã€Ãƒ
Cluverian ethnology and Scytho-Celtic linguistics â€“ together with the
Book of Genesis and the legacy of classical authorities â€“ constituted
essential points of departure for early modern treatments of British ori-
gins. An etymological-cum-diVusionist tradition Xourished into the
eighteenth century which combined universal Mosaic history with a very
slack approach to onomastics. Names found in classical geographers and
historians and unsupported by any substantial ethnographic context were
used as connecting links in the genealogies of the British peoples, often to
Wll in the huge gaps between their present location and their Noachic
origins in the Near East. The Cimbri, a Germanic tribe associated with
the Cimbric Chersonesus, or Jutland, the homeland of the Jutes, hap-
pened to posses a name which resembled the vernacular Celtic term for
the Welsh descendants of the ancient Britons, Cymri. The Cimbri were
directly linked to the Teutons, Jutes and Germanic history, but etymol-
ogy hinted at deeper connections with the Cymri, Kimmerians and
ultimately at descent from Gomer. The Scythian tribe of Cimmerians
were also assumed to be a branch of the Gomerian line. Such etymologi-
cal connections helped forge the rudimentary structures of ethnological
taxonomy. It was often easier to accommodate subversive data within the
Ã€Â Bonfante, â€˜Contribution to Celtologyâ€™, 26â€“9; Bonfante, â€˜Ideas on the kinship of the
European languagesâ€™, 693; Droixhe, La linguistique, p. 133. See Leibniz to the linguist
Hiob Ludolf (1624â€“1704), July 25, 1702, in J. T. Waterman (ed.), Leibniz and Ludolf on
things linguistic: excerpts from their correspondence (1688â€“1703) (University of California
publications in linguistics 88, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978), p. 56 (and Waterman,
â€˜Commentaryâ€™, pp. 59â€“60).
Ã€Ã€ Droixhe, De lâ€™origine du langage, pp. 74â€“5; Bonfante, â€˜Contribution to Celtologyâ€™, 29â€“31;
Leerssen, Mere Irish, pp. 291â€“2; Droixhe, La linguistique, pp. 132â€“3.
Ã€Ãƒ Pelloutier, Histoire des Celtes, p. 165.
194 Points of contact
established parameters of Celto-German kinship than to challenge the
In the early seventeenth century the Mosaic paradigm held sway.
Various English antiquaries made the pseudo-etymological connection of
Gomerites, Cimmeri and Cimbri which linked Celts and Germans.Ã€Ã•
Verstegan, a founding father of the English Gothicist tradition, acknowl-
edged the kinship of the Saxon and Celtic peoples in the lineage of Noahâ€™s
grandson Gomer, and noted that both the Germans and the Gauls were
referred to by the ancients as Celtae.Ã€Å’ John Speed believed the Cimbrians
to be the ancestors of the Celts and Gauls.Ã€Å“ Peter Heylin traced the
descent of the Cimbri back through the Cimmerians to Gomer, the
supposed grandfather of the Celts.Ã€â€“ In Pansebeia (1653), his inXuential
encyclopaedia of the worldâ€™s religions, which went through six editions in
the second half of the seventeenth century, Alexander Ross grouped
together the common religious practices of the Germans, Gauls and
Britons (though he dealt separately with those of the Scythians, Getes,
Cimbrians and Goths).Ã€â€” The Cambridge antiquary Daniel Langhorne
believed the Germans to be â€˜Cimbrians (or Gomerians) . . . and therefore
of kin to the Gaulsâ€™. With a misplaced genealogical precision he identiWed
the Angles as a tribe of the Suevi oVspring of the Asiatic Syebi and
Sasones who were â€˜of the same Gomerian original with the Cimbriansâ€™.
Moreover, Langhorne derived the various other peoples of the British
Isles from Germanic stock. The Picts and Scots were â€˜Gothic nations, of
the same Gomerian original with the Cimbrians, and came from Scandia,
which is also called Scythia Germanicaâ€™; the Irish too could be traced to
the â€˜German Chauciâ€™.ÃƒÂ» Langhorneâ€™s fellow Cantabrigian, the orientalist
Robert Sheringham, argued that the Cimbri, the ethnic stock of the
Saxons, Angles and Getae, had been known to the ancients as â€“ and
confounded with â€“ the Celts, Gauls, Germans and Galatians.Ãƒâ€¦
The institutions, laws and manners of the Celtic Britons were woven
into the ancient libertarian pattern of English history. Like the awkward
â€˜conqueringâ€™ Normans, the Celts were trimmed to Wt the Procrustean bed
of Anglo-Saxon constitutionalism. Within the prevailing languages of
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English political culture, such as
Ã€Ã• J. W. Johnson, â€˜The Scythian: his rise and fallâ€™, JHI 20 (1959), 256; Kliger, Goths, p. 292.
Ã€Å’ Richard Verstegan, A restitution of decayed intelligence (1605: London, 1634), pp. 9, 28;
Piggott, Celts, p. 11.
Ã€Å“ D. Woolf, The idea of history in early Stuart England (Toronto, 1990), p. 69.
Ã€â€“ Peter Heylin, Cosmographie (London, 1652), â€˜General introductionâ€™, p. 15.
Ã€â€” Alexander Ross, Pansebeia: or, a view of all religions in the world (London, 1653),
ÃƒÂ» Daniel Langhorne, An introduction to the history of England (London, 1676), pp. 17, 197.
Ãƒâ€¦ Robert Sheringham, De Anglorum gentis origine disceptatio (Cambridge, 1670), ch. 3.
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 195
common law immemorialism and whiggish ancient constitutionalism,
Celtic and Saxon characters tended not to be contrasted as timeless
antitheses. The logic of these prescriptive schemes dictated otherwise.
Thus Celts and Saxons were, instead, linked temporally as successive and
almost indistinguishable manifestations of the libertarian spirit which had
inspired the peoples of the realm of England since its earliest recorded
settlement. Ethnic aYnity reinforced the plausibility of immemorialism.ÃƒÂ
Writing in the immediate aftermath of the Union of the Crowns of
1603, George Saltern gave voice in his antiquarian treatise Of the antient
lawes of Great Britaine (1605) to the argument that all the peoples of
Britain were descended from the same lineage.ÃƒÃ€ Saltern inserted this
notion of the ethnic consanguinity of Britainâ€™s Celtic and Germanic
stocks into an overarching thesis that the common law was of ancient
British origin, had been maintained by the Saxons, and also bore strong
aYnities to the ancient customary laws and institutions of the Scots.ÃƒÃƒ
Thus, a more perfect union of the laws would betray neither legal heri-
In his History of gavel-kind (1663), Silas Taylor denied that this custom
was peculiar to Kent. Rather, he argued, gavelkind tenures had been
established in England by â€˜our British aboriginesâ€™. Underlying Taylorâ€™s
excursion down this antiquarian byway was a concern to defend the
shibboleth of an immemorial chain of continuity in English legal history:
in spite of â€˜several changes and revolutions of aVairs, and governmentsâ€™,
the previous 1,700 years had witnessed â€˜no considerable mutations or
alterations in our laws and customsâ€™. The cause of prescriptive legitimacy
entailed the neglect not only of substantial diVerences between the cus-
toms and institutions of the Celtic Britons â€“ â€˜the Wrst planters of our isleâ€™ â€“
and their successors, but also the assumption of a Celtic provenance for
gavelkind.ÃƒÃ• A century later, Smollett too traced gavelkind to an ancient
An examination of the ethnological fantasies constructed by the late
seventeenth-century English antiquarian Aylette Sammes reveals the
twin inXuences of scholarly confusion and ideological motivations.
Sammes captured the ancient Britons for the same Germanic lineage as
the Anglo-Saxon nation. Sammes was obsessed with proving the ethnic
ÃƒÂ See Nathaniel Bacon, An historical and political discourse of the laws and government of
England (1647: London, 1689 edn), p. 10.
ÃƒÃ€ George Saltern, Of the antient lawes of Great Britaine (London, 1605), pp. 12â€“16.
ÃƒÃƒ Ibid., esp. pp. 3, 5, 29â€“31, 58â€“9, 69â€“73.
ÃƒÃ• Silas Taylor, The history of gavel-kind (London, 1663), p. 80.
ÃƒÅ’ Tobias Smollett, A complete history of England from the descent of Julius Caesar (1757â€“8:
2nd edn, 11 vols., London, 1758â€“60), I, p. 232 n. See also Thomas Carte, A general
history of England (4 vols., London, 1747â€“55), I, p. 79.
196 Points of contact
unity of the peoples of England. Not only were the Saxons, Angles and
Jutes â€˜all branches of the same stock, though called diVerently, agreeing
exactly in language, customs, and religionsâ€™, but the superWcially alien
Celts, the Britons, who had preceded these Gothic peoples were also of
I have been more particular in treating of these Cimbri, because from a branch of
this very same nation, in after ages, our English ancestors proceeded, providence
so ordering it, that although the ancient Cumri of Britain were grievously mo-
lested by the Gauls, and afterward aZicted and kept under by the Romans, yet
may they be said to have recovered these seats again, although not by themselves,
being but a small relic, yet by the succession of a people descended from the same
Apparent diVerences of language, and of closer aYnities with the Gauls,
were explained away. The â€˜concordanceâ€™ between the Britons and the
Gauls â€˜in point of language and other customsâ€™ did not arise from ethnic
kinship, but from circumstances, notably â€˜their joint commerce with the
Sir William Temple subscribed to the view that the ancient septen-
trional peoples had enjoyed similar primitive manners and institutions.
Clanship was found even among the Gothic peoples. Temple noted that
the government of the ancient Britons was â€˜like that of the ancient Gauls,
of several small nations under petty princes, which seem the original
governments of the world, and deduced from the natural force and right
of paternal dominion: such were the hordes among the Goths, the clans in
Scotland, and septs in Irelandâ€™. The Gaels of Ireland and Scotland,
Temple believed, were both peoples of northern Scythian stock.Ãƒâ€“
In the late seventeenth century there were strong links between Saxon-
ist and Celticist scholarship. The pioneering Celticist Edward Lhuyd
(1660â€“1709) took an interest in Saxon and Danish studies, and belonged
to the same close-knit if quarrelsome cohort of Oxford literati as the
renowned Saxonist George Hickes.Ãƒâ€” Lhuyd made a tremendous contri-
bution towards undoing the terminological confusion which surrounded
the notion of Celticity. Elaborating upon insights made by the humanist
George Buchanan in the late sixteenth century between the Belgic and
â€˜Celticâ€™ languages of the ancient peoples of the British Isles,Ã•Â» and carry-
ing out philological Weldwork in the Celtic peripheries, Lhuyd grouped
ÃƒÅ“ Aylette Sammes, Britannia antiqua illustrata (London, 1676), â€˜Prefaceâ€™ and pp. 15, 411.
Ãƒâ€“ William Temple, An introduction to the history of England, in Temple, Works (2 vols.,
London, 1731), II, pp. 531, 533â€“4.
Ãƒâ€” G. J. Williams, â€˜The history of Welsh scholarshipâ€™, Studia Celtica 8â€“9 (1973â€“4), 209â€“11.
Ã•Â» A. Williamson, Scottish national consciousness in the reign of James VI (Edinburgh, 1979),
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 197
and classiWed the Celtic languages.Ã•â€¦ Thus, by the early eighteenth cen-
tury, the linguistic aYnities of Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Manx,
Cornish and Breton were known, and the distinction between the P-
Celtic group (Welsh, Breton and Cornish) and the Q-Celtic (the Gaelic
tongues and Manx) had been established. Yet, the work of Lhuyd was far
from creating a pan-Celtic identity.
Lhuydâ€™s pioneering technical contribution to Celtic studies was less
widely read and much less inXuential within British antiquarian circles at
the turn of the eighteenth century than the vivid fantasy-picture of ancient
Europe woven by his French contemporary the Abbe Pezron (whose
work Lhuyd was, ironically, keen to promote).Ã•Â As a result, the latterâ€™s
Japhetan scheme remained a major building block of British Celticism
well into the age of Enlightenment. According to Pezron, Celts and
Germans could take pride in their kindred genealogies:
As therefore the language, which Gomer, who was the father of the Celtae, left his
posterity, was an original language, made in the time of the confusion at Babel,
some ages after the Deluge; we must say and think the same thing concerning that
of Ashkenaz, who was the father of the Germans, which he left to his descendants:
And this without doubt is the reason, why Moses took so much care to mention
these two men in the tenth of Genesis; they being the father and founders of two of
the most famous and potent nations that came from Japhet, Noahâ€™s eldest son.
Now in viewing the origin of these two powerful nations, the conformity between
their languages may easily be discovered: For the Celtae descending from Gomer,
and the Germans from Ashkenaz, his eldest son, itâ€™s no diYcult thing to imagine,
that the language of these two nations, who had in a manner the same origin, must
be in some sort like to one another.Ã•Ã€
Lhuydâ€™s comparative approach was unable to displace the established
etymological-diVusionist tradition. Thomas Carte attributed the ancient
peopling of Europe to the Gomerian Celts, of whom the Germans,
descendants of Ashkenaz, were an important branch.Ã•Ãƒ The Universal
history (1736) made the classic connection between the descendants of