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Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival$
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Sinéad Garrigan Mattar

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780199268955

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199268955.001.0001

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The Rise of Celtology

The Rise of Celtology

(p.21) 1 The Rise of Celtology
Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival

Sinéad Garrigan Mattar

Oxford University Press

In his famous 1860 lectures ‘On the Study of Celtic Literature’, Matthew Arnold argued that the time was ripe for a reassessment of what was meant by the term ‘Celticism’. In the latter half of the century, the burgeoning of comparative science transformed the way that Celtic culture was viewed, and this development bifurcated Celticism in a way which persists to this day. The confirmation of links between Celtic and Sanskrit was both a turning and a sticking point in terms of the primitivism of Celticism. Arnold echoed much of Ernest Renan's arguments (and even his sources), but still protested his own scientism against Renan's avowed Celticism. Yet Arnold's own approach to the study of Celtic literature was far from scientific. The ‘old school’ of primitivist popular Celticism had to be put in its place if Celtology was to succeed. The Irish Revival writers were to realise the belatedness of popular Celticism only during the first decade of the 20th century, when they increasingly had recourse to Celtological versions of the past as an antidote to the idealisations of ‘Irish Ireland’.

Keywords:   primitivism, Irish Revival, Matthew Arnold, Celticism, Celtology, comparative science, Ernest Renan, Celtic literature, Ireland

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