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Joseph JeVerson in The ruins of a temple conXated deities from the Norse
pantheon such as Woden and Thor with Celtic Druidism.¦ À Similarly,
George Monck Berkeley™s Maids of Morven confounded Odin with Os-
sianic heroes.¦ Ã Moreover, even in the late eighteenth century as Percy™s
attack on the traditional blurring of Celtic and German identities began
to take hold, the septentrional assimilation of the two stocks received an
additional boost, as we have seen, from the Nordic cult of Ossian.

Almost a century later, I. A. Blackwell™s edition of Mallet™s Northern
antiquities from the middle of the nineteenth century neatly exhibits the
ampliWcation of Percy™s classiWcation into a full-blown racialism. Accord-
ing to Blackwell the Teutonic and Celtic races were divided both by
physiological and by psychological characteristics. The former were ˜in-
delible™, while the latter were capable of being ˜modiWed™ by diVering civil
or religious institutions. Nevertheless, there were also ˜certain psycho-
logical traits, which may be regarded as inherent, susceptible of undergo-
ing a slight modiWcation “ of assuming a greater or lesser degree of
intensity; but so long as the race remains unmixed, totally ineradicable™.
How did Celts and Teutons diVer physically? Celts, a people of middling
stature, had dark complexions, black hair, brown eyes and narrow chests,
while Teutons were broad-chested and fair, with large blue eyes. Need-
less to say craniology featured in Blackwell™s analysis. The Teutons had
larger, rounder skulls than the oval-headed Celts. Temperament was also
ascribed to physiology, the Teutons categorised as sanguine, the Celts
tending to a ˜bilious/bilious-nervous™ nature. Psychologically, the gulf
was equally large between the two races. The Celts were irascible, sexual-
ly incontinent, lacking in ˜caution and providence™ and with ˜little disposi-
tion for hard work™, though also gallant, quick in perception and egalitar-
ian. The Teutons, on the other hand, had bottom; they were slower but
more acute in perception, lacking the Celtic capacities for witticism and
Xippancy, but with greater depth of mind and sincerity. They were,
moreover, a clean and prudent people who placed more value upon

¦ ¦ Gray to Mason, [24 March] 1758, in Correspondence of Thomas Gray, II, p. 567; Gray to
Mason, [22] January 1758, ibid., II, p. 557.
¦   R. Heppenstall, ˜The children of Gomer™, Times Literary Supplement, 17 October 1958,
600. ¦ À Snyder, Celtic revival, p. 182. ¦ Ã Ibid., p. 185.
210 Points of contact

independence than equality of condition or rank.¦ • We have come a long
way from the confused overlapping classiWcations of Cluverian ethnogra-
phy.
¦ • I. A. Blackwell, ˜Remarks on Bishop Percy™s Preface™, in P. H. Mallet, Northern an-
tiquities (ed. Blackwell, London, 1847), pp. 33“6. For the wider culture of nineteenth-
century British Teutomania and anti-Celticism, see e.g. L. P. Curtis Jr, Apes and angels:
the Irishman in Victorian caricature (Newton Abbot, 1971); Kidd, ˜Teutonist ethnology™.
9 Mapping a Gothic Europe




The Gothicism of seventeenth-century Englishmen and eighteenth-cen-
tury Britons presents a subtle challenge to one of the most inXuential
approaches to the study of ethnicity within history and the social sciences,
the boundary thesis. Proponents of this line of analysis, most notably
Fredrik Barth, argue that frontier relationships, binary oppositions and
stereotypes of the alien are fundamental elements in the construction of
ethnic identity.¦ The processes of group deWnition, it is claimed, have
always depended less on self-image than on perceived contrasts with the
characteristics of outsiders. Although a central component of English
national identity, England™s Saxon identity did not magnify the diVeren-
ces between England and the Continent. Paradoxically, the very matter of
English ethnicity also served to diminish the sense of distance between
England and the ˜other™.
There was a crucial ambiguity in the commonplace contrast between
England™s libertarian achievement and the benighted monarchies of
Catholic Europe. Against a backdrop of persistent international conXicts
driven by confessional divisions, mercantilist goals and the interplay of
national and dynastic interests, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
English commentators demonised many of their continental European
adversaries, the French in particular; but they did not forget “ and,
indeed, continued to celebrate “ the common descent of the various
Gothic nations of Europe, Anglo-Saxons and Franks included. For the
craven, despotic and Roman Catholic ˜other™ of the Continent was not
wholly alien, but a deformed and corrupted version of the hardy libertar-
ian Goth. Certainly, Englishmen boasted of their unique national free-
doms; but, as Gothicism displaced the cult of the immemorial constitu-
tion inherited from the aboriginal Britons, so they tended to emphasise
the exceptional nature of England™s historical experience rather than any

¦ F. Barth (ed.), Ethnic groups and boundaries (Oslo, 1969). Cf. J. Armstrong, Nations before
nationalism (Chapel Hill, NC, 1982). However, for a more nuanced view of ˜analogic™
categorisation according to degrees of ethnic diVerence and similarity, see T. Hylland
Eriksen, Ethnicity and nationalism: anthropological perspectives (London, 1993), pp. 66“7.

211
212 Points of contact

qualitative diVerence between the peoples of England and Europe. Na-
tional diVerences were real and substantial, but a result of historical
processes, not of inherent and aboriginal ethnic characteristics.
Nevertheless, traditional interpretations of English Saxonism leave
little scope for this reading of the phenomenon. The Teutonic racialism
which dominated the nineteenth-century English ethnic self-image has
distorted our understanding of early modern English conceptions of
ethnicity. Although Teutonism evolved out of the preoccupation of
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English antiquarians with the
Anglo-Saxon origins of England™s institutions, freedoms and national
characteristics, nineteenth-century racialists altered its orientation. Their
revisions included a greater emphasis on ethnic determinism, the drawing
of a sharper distinction between Gothic and non-Gothic peoples, a
heightened awareness of English exceptionalism and the reclassiWcation
of certain European peoples, formerly thought of as Gothic, within alien
categories. Altered perceptions of Europe™s ethnic contours led to a
redrawing of the map of Anglo-Saxondom™s ethnic aYnities. It became
common to relate Anglo-Saxon values and manners with an exclusively
Nordic cousinhood in Scandinavia and Germany. The achievements of
this extended Nordic family, in which the Anglo-Saxon stood out su-
preme, were set against the foil of Europe™s less fortunate racial stocks,
among whom were the Latins, a group which included peoples formerly
recognised as Gothic libertarians “ the French, Spanish and Italians. 
These nineteenth-century perspectives have been repudiated by the late
twentieth-century English intelligentsia, but they still stand in the way of
our attempts to reconstruct the place of Anglo-Saxonism in early modern
English political culture.
Linda Colley has recently argued that British identity was forged in the
course of eighteenth-century warfare as a Protestant and libertarian foil to
a Roman Catholic and authoritarian French ˜other™. According to Colley,
a British identity was constructed not so much through ˜an internal and
domestic dialogue™ involving the nations of England, Scotland, Ireland
and Wales, but through a series of wars with France which enabled an
artiWcial Britishness to be ˜superimposed™ on ˜much older alignments and
loyalties™. Similarly, Gerald Newman has traced the emergence of an
˜English nationalism™ in the middle of the eighteenth century whose
cultural impetus was derived from a nativist reaction to Grand Tour
cosmopolitanism.À While I do not wish to challenge the broad sweep of

  J. Urry, ˜Englishmen, Celts and Iberians: the ethnographic survey of the United King-
dom, 1892“1899™, in G. Stocking (ed.), Functionalism historicized: essays on British social
anthropology (Madison, WI, 1984), p. 84.
À L. Colley, Britons: forging the nation 1707“1837 (New Haven and London, 1992), pp. 5“6;
Mapping a Gothic Europe 213

the theses championed by Colley and Newman, each requires some
measure of reWnement and qualiWcation. England™s patriotic intelligent-
sia of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries “ Saxonist antiquaries
included “ do not conform to the narrowly xenophobic picture of national
identity outlined above. Englishness was presented in large part as an
exceptionalism, and as a Protestant jewel resplendent against a largely
Roman Catholic continental backdrop of dark superstition and spiritual
tyranny. Nevertheless, one should not exaggerate the crudity of the
juxtaposition. The oppressed subjects of the modern European despot-
isms were depicted not as pathetic Calibans, but as fellow Goths, who
through accident and complex chains of historical causation had had the
misfortune to succumb to the new political force of absolute monarchy.
Although European character was often contrasted unfavourably with the
sterling qualities of the stolid John-Bullish English Wbre, a number of
commentators, historians especially, paid more than lip-service to the
notion of a common Gothic origin. Furthermore, British anxieties about
the emergence of a Bourbon ˜universal monarchy™, however self-centred
in fact, were Wltered through expressions of concern for the fate of the
˜liberties of Europe™ and the continental ˜balance of power™.
To what extent did eighteenth-century Englishmen think of themselves
as a unique ethnic group? This view was, it seems, most prevalent in the
realm of popular xenophobia and within the more radical ranks of English
Saxonism, where an insular chauvinism prevailed. Radical Saxonism was
nourished by a critique of the feudal yoke which the Gothic Normans had
imposed on the libertarian Saxons of Old England.Ã Catherine Macaulay,
a celebrated purveyor of an uncompromisingly whiggish history of Eng-
land, was chauvinistic in her attitudes. The English, she maintained,
enjoyed privileges unknown to other nations. Indeed, Macaulay was
forthright in her condemnation of the part played by a continental Grand
Tour in the education of England™s future leaders: ˜This is the Wnishing
stroke that renders them useless to all the good purposes of preserving the
birth-right of an Englishman.™•
However, English historians were generally less self-centred in their
approach to the history of English liberty. Within the articulate elite of
clerics and gentlemen-scholars, a sense of English superiority tended to
be qualiWed by feelings of a deep-rooted kinship with the less fortunate
nations of Europe. Patriotic Gothicism was Janus-faced. How was the
Colley, ˜Britishness and otherness: an argument™, in M. O™Dea and K. Whelan (eds.),
˜Nations and nationalisms: France, Britain, Ireland and the eighteenth-century context™,
SVEC 335 (1995), 66“7; G. Newman, The rise of English nationalism: a cultural history
1740“1830 (London, 1987).
à C. Hill, ˜The Norman yoke™, in Hill, Puritanism and revolution (1958: Harmondsworth,
1986). • Catherine Macaulay, History of England (8 vols., London, 1763“83), I, p. xv.
214 Points of contact

exceptional nature of English constitutional history to be explained? Not
in terms of ethnic diVerences. Britishness might be providential, but it
was nothing to do with any notion that God™s Englishman was made of a
diVerent stuV from his European neighbours. Indeed, historians now
recognise that the apocalyptic tradition was not a saga focused exclusively
on the vicissitudes of the ecclesia anglicana, but told the story of the
universal corruption and renewal of Christianity.’ The truly providential
aspect of British liberty was the fact of insularity. As an island, Britain had
been protected by geographical factors from conquest and expansionist
Counter-Reformation Catholicism. Furthermore, it had also obviated the
need for a substantial standing army, upon whose foundations a despot-
ism might have arisen, as it had in many of the formerly limited monar-
chies of continental Europe.
The widely shared view that Europe consisted of a common family of
Gothic kingdoms served to dilute the ˜nationalist™ force of Saxonism.
Although English Gothicism is typically associated with chauvinism, the
mental universe of early modern antiquarian scholarship bore marked
aYnities with the international sophistication of the Grand Tourists.
Although Newman identiWes Saxonist rhetoric as a product of a more
assertively nationalist culture which emerged in the middle of the eight-
eenth century, English Gothicism had, in fact, also Xourished long before
this era. Moreover, while Newman is right to suggest that late eighteenth-
century Englishmen, radicals especially, were becoming more insular in
their Gothicism, his argument becomes less surefooted when he points to
Saxon identity as the nativist antithesis of the cosmopolitan perspective.
The Anglo-Saxon myth not only vindicated the deeds of England™s island
story; it also located English history within a wider context, as but one
element, albeit exemplary, of the lively mosaic of limited Gothic monar-
chies which arose during the medieval period to replace the monolithic
uniformity of the Roman Empire. Part of its message of Gothicist his-
toriography was that England was not as exceptional as insular common
law mythographers such as Edward Coke had claimed. Eighteenth-cen-
tury Saxonists were to inherit a vision of Europe which located England
and its arch-rival France as part of a glorious constellation of Gothic
nations. Gothicism did not open up a high road to Francophobia. Rather
it introduced a leavening of some political and historical sophistication
into the diVerences between English liberty and French slavery which
were such a stock feature of late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
English rhetoric.
Instead Gothicism fostered concentric loyalties. A shared heritage of
manners and institutions connected the Anglo-Saxons with the libertar-
’ K. Firth, The apocalyptic tradition in Reformation Britain 1530“1645 (Oxford, 1979);
J. P. Sommerville, Politics and ideology in England, 1603“1640 (London, 1986), p. 78.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 215

ian barbarians who established limited monarchies throughout western
Europe as they overran the later Roman Empire. Indeed, William Cam-
den, one of the Wrst major historians to establish the Anglo-Saxon descent
of the English nation, was keenly attuned to a wider set of Gothic
resemblances in language and manners.“ The European scope of the
inXuential Gothic concept meant that our received idea of a ˜unique™
Anglo-Saxon heritage was, in fact, very severely qualiWed among English
literati of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For example, the
economic projector and political commentator Charles Davenant (1656“
1714) associated a shared ancestry with common manners, freedoms and
institutions:
these several branches springing from the same stem, it must follow, that the fruit
they bore would be near of a taste; by which we mean, that in their manners, laws,
and principally in their politic government, they must of consequence, as indeed
they did, very much resemble one another. And whoever looks into the ancient
constitutions of England, France, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden will Wnd, that all
these nations had one and the same form of government; and though they might
vary in some circumstances, yet they all agreed in certain fundamentals, which
were, that the people should have their rights and privileges; that the nobles, or
men of chief rank, should have some participation of power, and, that the regal
authority should be limited by laws.“
The loose association of Gothicism with the libertarian, democratic
and martial manners of the barbarian peoples of ancient Europe also
made it possible for some commentators to provide shelter for the pre-
Gothic Germans and freedom-loving Celts described by Tacitus under
the broad Gothic umbrella.” Identities were not exclusively determined
by ethnicity, nor were ethnic identities crudely conWned by national
categories. Indeed, Gothic identities could be based either on descent
from these peoples or, in the case of a non-Gothic nation, on the adoption
of free Gothic institutions. The Poles, for instance, were often classiWed
as Gothic, on the basis of their rigorously limited elective monarchy.
Algernon Sidney, for example, described the free nations of Europe
under a variety of terms, including ˜the northern nations™, ˜all the nations
that have lived under the Gothic polity™ and ˜the legal kingdoms of the
North™.¦» There was a vagueness in Sidney™s Gothicism, characteristic of
the idiom, which appeared to embrace both an ethnic and an institutional
identity.
“ H. MacDougall, Racial myth in English history (Montreal and Hanover, NH, 1982), p. 46.
“ Charles Davenant, A discourse upon grants and resumptions, in Davenant, Political and
commercial works (ed. C. Whitworth, 5 vols., London, 1771), III, pp. 59“60. See also
Davenant, An essay upon the balance of power, ibid., III, pp. 429.
” R. J. Smith, The Gothic bequest (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 40“1, 61“2; C. Gerrard, The patriot
opposition to Walpole (Oxford, 1994), p. 112.
¦» Algernon Sidney, Discourses concerning government (ed. T. G. West, Indianapolis, 1990),
pp. 204, 376, 477, 484.
216 Points of contact

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