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The same thing is true of the Arthurian Legend and the story of the Holy Grail. Dante knew of King Arthur's fame, and mentions him in the Inferno. To Dante he was a Christian hero, and the historical Arthur may have been a Christian; but much in the story goes back to the pagan Celtic religion. We can find in Irish literature many references that indicate a belief in a self-sustaining, miraculous object similar to the Holy Grail, and the fact that this object was developed into a symbol of some of the deepest and most beautiful Christian truths shows the high character of the civilization and literature of ancient Ireland.


Wright: St. Patrick's Purgatory (London, 1844); Krapp: The Legend of St. Patrick's Purgatory (Baltimore, 1900); Becker: Mediaeval Visions of Heaven and Hell (Baltimore, 1899); Shackford : Legends and Satires (Boston, 1913); Meyer and Nutt: The Voyage of Bran, edited and translated by K. Meyer, with an Essay on the Irish Version of the Happy Other World and the Celtic Doctrine of Rebirth, by A. Nutt, 2 vols. (London, 1895); Boswell: An Irish Precursor of Dante (London, 1908).




MONG the literary peoples of the west of Europe, the

Irish, in late medieval and early modern times, were singularly little affected by the frequent innovations in taste and theme which influenced Romance and Teutonic nations alike. To such an extent is this true, that one is often inclined to think that far-off Iceland was to a greater degree in the general European current than the much more accessible Erin. During the age of chivalry, conditions in Ireland were not calculated to promote the growth of epic and lyric poetry after the continental manner. Some considerable time elapsed before the Norman barons became fully Hibernicised, previous to which their interest may be assumed to have turned to the compositions of the trouvères. In the early Norman period, the poets of Ireland might well have begun to imitate Romance models. But, strange to say, they did not, and, for this, various reasons might be assigned. The flowing verses of the AngloNorman were impossible for men who delighted in the trammels of the native prosody; and in the heyday of French influence, the patrons of letters in Ireland probably insisted on hearing the foreign compositions in their original dress, as these nobles were doubtless sufficiently versed in NormanFrench to be able to appreciate them. But a still more potent factor was the conservatism of the hereditary Irish poet families. A close corporation, they appear to have resented every innovation, and were content to continue the tradition of their ancestors. The direct consequence of this tenacious clinging to the fashions of by-gone days rendered it impossible, nay almost inconceivable, that the literary men of Ireland should have exerted any profound or immediate influence upon England or western Europe. Yet, nowadays, few serious scholars will be prepared to deny that the island contributed in considerable measure to the common literary stock of the Middle Ages.

We might expect to find that direct influence, as a general rule, can be most easily traced in the case of religious themes. Here, in the literature of vision, so popular in Ireland, a chord was struck which continued to vibrate powerfully until the time of the Reformation. In this branch the riotous fancy of the Celtic monk caught the medieval imagination from an early period. Bede has preserved for us the story of Fursey an Irish hermit who died in France, A. D. 650. The greatest Irish composition of this class with which we are acquainted, the Vision of Adamnan, does not appear to have been known outside the island, but a later work of a similar nature met with striking success. This was the Vision of Tundale (Tnudgal), written in Latin by an Irishman named Marcus at Regensburg, about the middle of the twelfth century. It seems probable that this work was known to Dante, and, in addition to the numerous continental versions, there is a rendering of the story into Middle English verse.

Closely allied to the Visions are the Imrama or "voyages” (Lat, navigationes). The earliest romances of this class are secular, e. g., Imram Maelduin, which provided Tennyson with the frame-work of his well-known poem. However, the notorious love of adventure on the part of the Irish monks inevitably led to the composition of religious romances of a similar kind. The most famous story of this description, the Voyage of St. Brendan, found its way into every Christian country in Europe, and consequently figures in the South English Legendary, a collection of versified lives of saints made in the neighborhood of Gloucester towards the end of the thirteenth century. The episode of St. Brendan and the whale, moreover, was probably the ultimate source of one of Milton's best known similes in his description of Satan. Equally popular was the visit of Sir Owayn to the Purgatory of St. Patrick, which is also included in the same Middle English Legendary. Ireland further contributed in some measure to the common stock of medieval stories which were used as illustrations by the preachers and in works of an edifying character.

When we turn to purely secular themes, we find ourselves on much less certain ground. Though the discussion as to the origins of the "romance of Uther's son", Arthur, continues wit!

unabated vigor, many scholars have come to think that the Celtic background of these stories contains much that is derived from Hibernian sources. Some writers in the past have argued in favor of an independent survival of common Celtic features in Wales and Ireland, but now the tendency is to regard all such coincidences as borrowings on the part of Cymric craftsmen. At the beginning of the twelfth century a new impulse seems to have been imparted to native minstrelsy in Wales under the patronage of Gruffydd ap Cynan, a prince of Gwynedd, who had spent many years in exile at the court of Dublin. Some of the Welsh rhapsodists apparently served a kind of apprenticeship with their Irish brethren, and many things Irish) were assimilated at this time which, through this channel, were shortly to find their way into Anglo-French. Thus it may now be regarded as certain that the name of the "fair sword” Excalibur, by Geoffrey called Caliburnus (Welsh caletfwlch), is taken from Caladbolg, the far-famed broadsword of Fergus macRoig. It does not appear that the whole framework of the Irish sagas was taken over, but, as Windisch points out, episodes were borrowed as well as tricks of imagery. So, to mention but one, the central incident of Syr Gawayn and the Grene. Knyght is doubtless taken from the similar adventure of Cuchulainn in Bricriu's Feast. The share assigned to Irish influence in the matière de Bretagne is likely to grow considerably with the progress of research.

The fairy lore of Great Britain undoubtedly owes much to Celtic phantasy. Of this Chaucer, at any rate, had little doubt, as he writes :

In th' olde dayes of the King Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
Al was this land fulfild of fayerye;
The elf-queen, with hir joly companye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene med.

And here again there is a reasonable probability that certain features were borrowed from the wealth of story current in the neighboring isle. Otherwise it is difficult to understand why the queen of fayerye should bear an Irish name (Mab, from Irish Medb), and curiously enough the form of the name rather suggests that it was borrowed through a written medium

and not by oral tradition. On the other hand it is incorrect to derive Puck from Irish puca, as the latter is undoubtedly borrowed from some form of Teutonic speech.

So all embracing a mind as that of the greatest English dramatist could not fail to be interested in the gossip that must have been current in London at the time of the wars in Ulster. References to kerns and gallowglasses are fairly frequent. He had evidently heard of the marvellous powers with which the Irish ibards were credited, for, in As You Like It, Rosalind exclaims :

“I was never so be-rhymed since Pythagoras' time, that I was an Irish rat, which I can hardly remember."

Similarly, in King Richard III, mention is made of the prophetic utterance of an Irish bard, a trait which does not appear in the poet's source. Any statements as to Irish influence in Shakespeare that go beyond this belong to the realm of conjecture. Professor Kittredge has attempted to show that in Syr Orfeo, upon which the poet drew for portions of the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Irish story of Etain and Mider was fused with the medieval form of the classical tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Direct influence is entirely wanting, and it is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise.

Even in the case of the Elizabethan poet who spent many years in the south of Ireland, there is no trace of Hibernian lore or legend. Spenser, indeed, tells us himself that he had caused some of the native poetry to be translated to him, and had found that it "savoured of sweet wit and good invention." But Ireland plays an infinitesimal part in the Faerie Queene. The scenery round Kilcolman Castle forms the background of much of the incident in Book V. "Marble far from Ireland brought” is mentioned in a simile in the second Book, where we also read:

As when a swarme of gnats at eventide
Out of the fennes of Allan do arise.

But Ireland supplied no further inspiration.

The various plantations of the seventeenth century produced an Anglo-Irish stock which soon asserted itself in literature. As a typical example, we may take the author of The

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