Cimbri and the Welsh Cymri.Ã•Ã• This was still the case in the middle of the
eighteenth century. According to the revisionist History of the Cymbri (or
Ã•â€¦ Edward Lhuyd, Archaeologia Britannica (Oxford, 1707); F. V. Emery, Edward Lhuyd
FRS 1660â€“1709 (CardiV, 1971), esp. p. 87.
Ã•Â P. Morgan, â€˜The Abbe Pezron and the Celtsâ€™, Transactions of the Honourable Society of
Cymmrodorion (1965), 286; Morgan, Eighteenth-century renaissance, pp. 87â€“9, 106; Wil-
liams, â€˜History of Welsh scholarshipâ€™, 214â€“15, 218; Jenkins, Foundations, pp. 223â€“4.
Ã•Ã€ Paul Pezron, The antiquities of nations; more particularly of the Celtae or Gauls, taken to be
originally the same people as our ancient Britains (1703: trans. D. Jones, London, 1706),
p. 222. Ã•Ãƒ Carte, General history, I, p. 12 n.
Ã•Ã• An universal history, from the earliest account of time to the present (7 vols., London,
1736â€“44), I, p. 166.
198 Points of contact
Tis very generally held that the Germans, Gauls, Britons and Irish were originally
one and the same nation, only divided in process of time into so many diVerent
clans or branches. This opinion prevails among our historians, very few to be
found of diVerent sentiment. But it is a gross error.Ã•Å’
Nevertheless, this treatise also retailed the traditional line about the lack
of any strong connection between the Welsh and Irish: â€˜the Irish Celtae
and the Cymbri were two diVerent nations, and had each their peculiar
diVerent tongue even since mankind were cantoned into several diVerent
tribes at the Tower of Babelâ€™.Ã•Å“ In The origin of language and nations
(1764), the Welsh scholar Rowland Jones argued that the â€˜Cimbri, Gauls,
Celtes and Germans [were] the descendants of Gomer and his eldest son
Ashkenazâ€™.Ã•â€“ Similarly, in his History of England the London-based Scot
Tobias Smollett associated the ancient Celtae with the Cimbri and Teu-
The Celto-Scythian paradigm remained intact throughout much of the
English Enlightenment. In this era antiquarians were still groping to-
wards a hard and fast distinction between Celtic and Germanic cultures
and peoples. Many of the literati of the middle of the eighteenth century
took similar interests in the Celtic and Gothic pasts, and often confused
them. Squire referred to â€˜the Celts, part of whom the Britons, as well as
the Germans undoubtedly wereâ€™.Å’Â» Bolingbroke even included the Nor-
mans within an almost meaningless Celtic supergroup. The Normans, he
claimed cavalierly, â€˜were originally of Celtic, or Gothic extraction, call it
what you please, as well as the people they subdued. They came out of the
same northern hive.â€™ Bolingbroke used Celtic and Scythian in a â€˜large and
general senseâ€™, their original meanings. For by Celtae the ancients had
comprehended not only the people of Gaul, but a much wider grouping.Å’â€¦
An ancient constitutional imperative reinforced the notional resem-
blances between the Celtic and Gothic peoples of the English past. If
whigs claimed feudal tenures as an institution which preceded the irrup-
tion of the Normans in 1066, then would that argument not be stronger if
they could establish the earlier provenance of feudalism in the customs of
the indigenous ancient Britons? Unsurprisingly, some English antiquaries
believed that Celtic British tenures had conformed to a basic feudal
model. Henry Rowlands devoted a section of his Mona antiqua restaurata
Ã•Å’ The history of the Cymbri (or Brittains) (n.p., 1746), p. 141. Ã•Å“ Ibid., pp. 153â€“4.
Ã•â€“ Rowland Jones, The origin of language and nations (London, 1764), â€˜Prefaceâ€™.
Ã•â€” Smollett, Complete history of England, I, pp. 6â€“9. Cf. William Stukeley, Stonehenge, a
temple restored to the British Druids (London, 1740), pp. 47â€“8, on the descent of the Welsh
through the Germanic Belgae.
Å’Â» Squire, Enquiry into the foundation of the English constitution, p. 25 n.
Å’â€¦ Bolingbroke, Remarks on the history of England (1730â€“1), in Bolingbroke, Works (5 vols.,
London, 1754), I, p. 316.
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 199
(1723) to the rents, services, duties, mulcts and attendances of an ancient
British feudalism.Å’Â In a similar vein, Squire noted the basic similarities
between the comites, ambacti and soldurii of the Britons and the thanes and
vasses of the Saxons.Å’Ã€ Most explicit of all, John Whitaker claimed that the
ancient Britons had enjoyed a system of land tenures whose guiding
principle was essentially feudal.Å’Ãƒ Thus, not only was feudalism an inte-
gral thread in the immemorial fabric of English customs and laws, but the
British Celts and their Saxon cousins had also shared similar values and
Despite the decline of immemorialism, there remained an important
place for the British Celts within Gothicist ideology. Seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century Gothicism was a loose â€˜agglutinativeâ€™Å’Ã• tradition â€“
dominated by the controlling metaphors of the hive, or storehouse, of
nations â€“ quite diVerent from the certainties and chauvinistic exclusivism
of nineteenth-century Teutonic racialism. The terms Goth and Celt
displayed a similar elasticity in their range of ethnic reference. For in-
stance, the Gothicist rhetoric of the anti-Walpolean Patriots embraced a
variety of non-Roman peoples, Celts included.Å’Å’ The contrast between
the classical and septentrional worlds embodied a more vivid opposition
than the diVerences comprehended within the latter catch-all.
In the eighteenth century the voguish appetite for libertarian primi-
tivism was fed from both Gothic and Celtic sources. Pelloutier, in par-
ticular, made a vivid and unqualiWed case for the libertarian characteristi-
cs of the ancient Celtic peoples. He pointed to their love of liberty and to
the popular accountability of their elective leaders. Above all, from the
perspective of Germano-Celtic kinship, Pelloutier conferred on the
ancient Celtic nations tribal meetings akin to rudimentary parliaments: â€˜il
est constant que les assemblees generales ou toutes les aVaires de lâ€™etat se
Â´ Â´Â´ ` Â´
decidoient a la pluralite des voix, etoient le plus ferme rempart de la
Â´ ` Â´ Â´
liberte des nations Celtiquesâ€™.Å’Å“
Furthermore, the familiar stereotype of the industrious Teuton, and
the economically hopeless Celt wrapped up in melancholy, mysticism,
sentiment and the poetic was in large part a nineteenth-century inven-
tion.Å’â€“ According to the Gothicist antiquarian, Samuel Squire, the Anglo-
Saxons â€˜were formerly extremely averse to trade; they looked upon it as
Å’Â Henry Rowlands, Mona antiqua restaurata (Dublin, 1723), pp. 116â€“32.
Å’Ã€ Samuel Squire, An historical essay upon the ballance of civil power in England (London,
1748), pp. 124â€“5 n., 148â€“9.
Å’Ãƒ John Whitaker, The history of Manchester (2 vols., London, 1771â€“5), I, pp. 262â€“4.
Å’Ã• Kliger, Goths, pp. 26, 84â€“5.
Å’Å’ C. Gerrard, The patriot opposition to Walpole (Oxford, 1994), pp. 112, 136â€“7; B. Cottret,
Bolingbrokeâ€™s political writings: the conservative Enlightenment (Houndmills, 1997), p. 71.
Å’Å“ Pelloutier, Histoire des Celtes, p. 503. Å’â€“ Sims-Williams, â€˜Visionary Celtâ€™.
200 Points of contact
beneath the dignity of a soldier to condescend to practise the mechanic
arts; none but a slave, agreeably to their notion of things, would submit to
do the work of other peopleâ€™.Å’â€” James Ibbetson, another Gothicist, con-
curred: â€˜When the Saxons were introduced into the kingdom by Vor-
tigern for its defence against the Scots and Picts, they had neither time
nor inclination for the culture of the land; it is probable that this fell to the
lot of the less warlike though more industrious Britons, who retained their
former possessions under the powerful protection of their new allies.â€™Å“Â»
Gibbon, for instance, concluded of the Germans that a â€˜people jealous of
their persons, and careless of their possessions, must have been totally
destitute of industry and the arts, but animated with a high sense of
honour and independenceâ€™.Å“â€¦ By contrast, Tobias Smollett associated the
ancient Celtae with commerce and trade.Å“Â
Moreover, the Irish historiographical tradition explicitly celebrated the
ancient Milesian ancestors of the Gaels as a civilised, commercialised and
technologically advanced nation.Å“Ã€ Not only did the Milesians have par-
liaments, it was claimed, they were also governed by aonachs, special
assemblies which â€˜had for their objects a close inspection into the state of
trade, commerce and mechanic artsâ€™.Å“Ãƒ Indeed Charles Oâ€™Conor boasted
that ancient Ireland had once been a great trading nation, â€˜the prime
emporium of the northern commerceâ€™.Å“Ã• Only in eighteenth-century
Scotland, where a progressive sociology of development was qualiWed by
a nostalgic cult of primitive virtue and Wne feelings, were the indigenous
Celts, the Gaelic Highlanders, associated with economic backwardness
and a lack of commercial ingenuity or application.Å“Å’ In time, this was to
become the common image of the feckless Celt; but it did not hold sway
in the eighteenth-century British world.
Ossian and the Picts
The most striking examples of ethnological confusion are found in eight-
eenth-century Scotland, in the Ossianic phenomenon and in the debate
over the origins of the Picts. The ethnic politics of Ossian are not reduc-
ible to an exclusively Celtic interpretation. Indeed, it is not clear whether
James Macpherson, though a Highlander and champion of Scotlandâ€™s
Celtic antiquity, distinguished between Celts and Germans, or, if he did,
Å’â€” Squire, Enquiry into the foundation of the English constitution, p. 247.
Å“Â» James Ibbetson, A dissertation on the folclande and boclande of the Saxons (London, 1777),
p. 19. Å“â€¦ Gibbon, DF, I, p. 242. See also pp. 235â€“8.
Å“Â Smollett, Complete history of England, I, p. 7. Å“Ã€ Kidd, â€˜Gaelic antiquityâ€™.
Å“Ãƒ Sylvester Oâ€™Halloran, A general history of Ireland (2 vols., London, 1778), II, p. 34.
Å“Ã• Charles Oâ€™Conor, Dissertations on the antient history of Ireland (Dublin, 1753), p. 4.
Å“Å’ Kidd, â€˜Gaelic antiquityâ€™.
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 201
even considered himself a Celt.
It is possible that Macpherson may have thought of himself as Ger-
manic rather than Celtic. He argued that the only ancient people of
Caledonia of Germanic (though not Gothic) stock were the Catti, the
ancestors of the Clan Chattan, a confederation of clans which included
the Macphersons.Å“Å“ The Clan Chattan, according to Macpherson, were
the descendants not of Celts but of the Germanic tribe of Catti who had
in ancient times crossed the North Sea to Caithness:
It must be confessed, that several tribes in the north-east angle of Scotland have
preserved in their traditions, and the genealogical histories of their families,
pretensions to a German origin. The Clancattin, or the tribe of Catti, consisting of
a great variety of branches . . . aYrm, with one consent, that the famous Catti of
ancient Germany were their ancestors.Å“â€“
This was no fantastic invention of Macphersonâ€™s. This tradition was
already an established feature of Scottish antiquarianism. For example,
the celebrated antiquary Sir Robert Sibbald had advanced a similar thesis
in the early eighteenth century: â€˜Germanicae autem originis ex Pictis
fuere incolae Cathenesiae. Quae lingua Pictica dicta fuit Cattai-nes, seu
promontorium Cattorum. Catai hi ex Cattis Germaniae orti sunt,
nominis vestigium manet in Catana tribu Clanchattan dicta.â€™Å“â€” Dr
George Mackenzie also conjectured that Scotland had been populated
from northern Europe. Noting â€˜the conformity that was to be observed
betwixt the customs and manners of the ancient Celto-Scythae and our
Highlandersâ€™, Mackenzie went on to confound the scalds of the Germans
and the bards of the Gaels: â€˜The Celtae had their schaldres, who recited
the genealogies of their great men; and our highlanders have their sana-
chies, who do the same.â€™â€“Â» Although Macpherson conceded that there
had been only a limited amount of migration from Germany to Cal-
edonia, he suspected that it might nevertheless have been inXuential in
the shaping of Caledonian identities: â€˜the German colony might, by
intermixing their blood with the eastern Gael, have been the chief cause of
that separation of government, which gave rise to the two national names
Å“Å“ See Macphersonâ€™s obituary in the Scots Magazine 58 (April 1796), 221, which begins:
â€˜This gentleman was descended from one of the most ancient families in the north of
Scotland, being cousin-german to the chief of the clan of the Macphersons, who deduce
their origin from the ancient Catti of Germany.â€™
Å“â€“ James Macpherson, Introduction to the history of Great Britain and Ireland (3rd edn,
London, 1773), p. 139.
Å“â€” Robert Sibbald, Introductio ad historiam rerum a Romanis gestarum, in ea borealis Britanniae
parte, quae ultra murum Picticum est (Edinburgh, 1706), p. 36, in Sibbald, Tractatus varii
ad Scotiae antiquae et modernae historiam facientes (Edinburgh, 1711). See also Chris-
topher Irvin, Historiae Scoticae nomenclatura Latino-vernacula (Edinburgh, 1682), p. 186.
â€“Â» Mackenzie, Lives of writers, I, p. vi.
202 Points of contact
of Picts and Scotsâ€™.â€“â€¦ Furthermore Macpherson himself managed to
combine with his Ossianic interests a warm appreciation of the English
Saxonist tradition. In his Introduction to the history of Great Britain and
Ireland, Macpherson celebrated not only the glories of Scotlandâ€™s ancient
Celtic liberties, but also the English heritage of Anglo-Saxon liberty.â€“Â
Moreover, although Macpherson believed that â€˜the great body of the
peopleâ€™ of the Scottish nation was composed principally of the â€˜remainsâ€™
of the ancient Caledonians, he none the less paid due acknowledgement
to the â€˜Scoto-Saxonâ€™ blending in the south and east. The Saxons being â€˜in
some measure addicted to commerceâ€™, they had fostered â€˜the arts of civil
lifeâ€™ in medieval Scotland.â€“Ã€
However, there is a further level of confusion here. For Macpherson
also distinguished Germans from Goths. The ancient Germans were
assimilated to the Celts, but were classiWed separately from the Gothic
race. According to James Macpherson, â€˜the Saxons, who poured into
Britain in the Wfth century, trod only in the steps of many more ancient
migrations from the lower Germanyâ€™, by which he meant those of the
Cimbri and Belgae.â€“Ãƒ The Cimbri he described as â€˜Celtic Germansâ€™.â€“Ã•
Macpherson, however, distinguished the ancient Germans from later
waves of Goths whom Macpherson classed as Sarmatae. The Celts were
Germans, but not Goths. Macpherson believed the Celtic, â€˜Teutonicâ€™
and Slavonic language groups to be distinct and â€˜radically diVerent from
one anotherâ€™.â€“Å’ By Teutonic, Macpherson appears to have meant Scandi-
navian, though he noticed close alliances between the Celto-German
Cimbri and the Teutoni. The Anglo-Saxons were, according to Mac-
pherson, â€˜the most unmixed of the posterity of the Sarmataeâ€™.â€“Å“ Neverthe-
less, Macpherson admired the similar libertarian manners of both Celts
and Sarmatic Saxons. Apart from a measure of Druid theocracy the
â€˜public freedomâ€™ of the Celts had been as extensive as that of the Saxons.â€“â€“
In Macphersonâ€™s confused system of ethnic classiWcation one can Wnd
warring and ill-digested elements of both the old Cluverian system and
the new insights of Percy.
Macphersonâ€™s supporters were also latitudinarian in their ethnic aYli-
ation. The Reverend John Macpherson (1710â€“65), whose son John was
to be James Macphersonâ€™s protege, noted parallels between the manners
and forms of government of the Caledonians and the ancient Germans.â€“â€”
James Macpherson, Introduction to the history of Great Britain and Ireland, p. 82.
Ibid., pp. 315â€“404. â€“Ã€ Ibid., pp. 91â€“2. â€“Ãƒ Ibid., p. 48. â€“Ã• Ibid., p. 55.
Ibid., p. 45. â€“Å“ Ibid., p. 38. â€“â€“ Ibid., pp. 289â€“97.
John Macpherson, Critical dissertations on the origins, antiquities, language, government,
manners and religion of the ancient Caledonians (London, 1768), pp. 151â€“73. Such atti-
tudes even found their way into the law courts. See Advocatesâ€™ Library (Edinburgh),
Session Papers, Elphinstone 32.1, cases 1â€“7, Allan Maconochie, â€˜Information for Joseph
Constructing the pre-romantic Celt 203
James Grant (1743?â€“1835), an advocate who wrote in defence of the
glories of Ossian and took pride in Gaelic as the universal language, felt
no inhibitions about including Gothicist sentiments in these Celticist
treatises. He expressed admiration for the libertarian manners of the
ancient Tacitean Germans, and also celebrated the roles of the â€˜industri-
ousâ€™ Anglo-Saxons who had Xed England in the aftermath of the Norman
Conquest, as well as Normans and Flemings, in the benign Gothicising of
medieval Scotland: the Anglo-Saxons had not only â€˜mixed with the
ancient inhabitants of Scotlandâ€™, but, â€˜being farther advanced in the
knowledge of the useful arts than were the people with whom they had
inmixedâ€™, had â€˜gradually improved the condition of the Scottish peopleâ€™.â€”Â»
Among the champions of Ossian, the Reverend John Smith of Kilbran-
don in Argyleshire noted that â€˜Tacitus ascribes to the old rude Germans
all the virtues which Ossian ascribes to his heroes, who were originally the
same people, and had the same customs, religion and laws.â€™â€”â€¦
The appeal of Ossian reached well beyond the â€˜Celticâ€™ world. Given