Professor Huxley on Celts and Teutons

Pall Mall Gazette (January 1870)

Athenæum Club

Sir,–Your correspondent, "A Devonshire Man," is good enough to say of me that "cutting up monkeys is his forte and cutting up men is his foible." With your permission I propose to cut up "A Devonshire Man" but I leave it to the public to judge whether, when so employed, my occupation is to be referred to the former or to the latter category.

"1. As a matter of history," and "2. Geography."–Lappenberg and the Rev. Isaac Taylor are undoubtedly valuable authorities; but most persons who are interested in early English history have made it their business, as it has been their pleasure, to acquaint themselves with Mr. Freeman's remarkable history of the "Norman Conquest of England." If "A Devonshire Man' has not read the first volume of that history he would have done well to hold his peace on such questions as that under discussion. If he has read it, why has he ignored the following weighty passage, which gives the deliberate opinion of a most competent judge upon the very question at least?–

During a space of three hundred years the process of West Saxon conquest still went on; step by step the English frontier advanced from the Ax to the Parrot, from the Parrot to the Tamara; Tontine at one stage, Exited at another, were border fortresses against the Welsh enemy; step by step the old Cornish kingdom shrank up before the conquerors, till at last no portion of the land south of the Bristol Channel was subject to a British Sovereign. This was conquest, and, no doubt, fearful and desolating conquest; but it was no longer conquest which offered the dreadful alternatives of death, banishment, or personal slavery. The Christian Welsh could now sit down as subjects of the Christian Saxon. The Welshman was acknowledged as a man and a citizen; he was put under the protection of the law; he could hold landed property; his blood had its price, and his oath had its ascertained value. The value put on his life and on his oath shows that he was not yet looked on as the equal of the conquering race; but the Welshman within the East Saxon border was no longer a wild beast, an enemy, or a slave, but a fellow-citizen living under the King's peace.

There can be no doubt that the great peninsula stretching from the Axe to the Land's End was, and still is, largely inhabited by men who are only naturalized Englishmen, descendants of the Welsh inhabitants, who gradually lost their distinctive language, and became merged in the general mass of their conquerors In fact, the extinction of the Cornish language in modern Cornwall within comparatively recent times, was only the last stage of a process which began with the conquests of Cornwealh, in the seventh century. The Celtic element can be traced from the Axe, the last heathen frontier, to the extremities of Cornwall, of course increasing in amount as we reach the lands which were more recently conquered, and therefore less perfectly Teutonized. Devonshire is less Celtic than Cornwall, and Somersetshire is less Celtic than Devonshire; but not one of the three counties can be called a pure Teutonic land like Kent or Norfolk,–"The History of the Norman Conquest of England,"

vol. 1, p. 86.

With Mr. Freeman's authority; that of the late Sir Francis Palgrave in his "Rise of the English Commonwealth;" and, better still, the "Laws of Inc," which every one who will take the trouble may consult for himself in Thorpe's well-known collection, published thirty years ago, in my favour, I see no reason to retract the opinion I have expressed, that the application of the term "Anglo-Saxon" to the population of Devonshire, as a whole, is absurd.

"3 and 4."–I fail to perceive the bearing of the enumeration of proper names, or the discussion of dialect on the question. If I had denied that there has been a strong infusion of Anglo-Saxon blood in Devonshire; or if I had asserted that the Anglo-Saxons have not been the dominant stock since their invasion of Dammonia, "A Devonshire Man's" line of argument would be intelligible. But as it is essential to my parallel between Devonshire and Tipperary that this large infusion should have taken place, and that the Anglo-Saxon element should have been dominant, I am perplexed by the Devonian dialects.

"5."–Under this numeral follows a wonderful passage about "the Teutonic character (as seen in the Germans) on the one side, and the Celtic character (as seen in the French and the pure Irish) on the other.

"The Teutonic character (as seen in the Germans)."–Does "Germans" here include Scandinavians, or does it not? If it does, what is the "character" common to the Norseman, the Dane and the Suabien?

"The Celtic character as (seen in the French and the pure Irish)."–Who are "the French"? French ethnologists imagine that there is a wonderful contrast between the typical forms of the inhabitants of France, on the two sides of a line drawn from Brittany to Nice. Does the Picard, the Provençal, or the Breton represent the French character? Or is it a new compound formed by the mixture of these discordant elements? And in the latter case how far can it be called Celtic? And "the pure Irish." Who, in the name of the Four Masters, are they? Are they the Milesians, or the Firbolga, or the Cruithneach, or some diagonal between these three divergent stocks known only to "A Devonshire Man?"

Finally, when you have caught your "Frenchman" and your "pure Irishman" and put them side by side, what resemblance is there between the two in physical, moral, or mental characteristics?

When your correspondent supplies intelligible and satisfactory answers to these very needful preliminary inquiries, it will be possible to discuss his diction "That the English character stands midway, or nearly midway, between the two, with more enterprise and esprit than the one, more love of law and order than the other." At present I confess it sounds like a platitude, absorbed from a newspaper, and exhaled again, unchanged by even accidental contact with the reasoning faculty, at an agricultural dinner.

The "Devonshire Man's" statistics are excellent. I believe it is quite true that there are twenty times as many Irishmen in the army as in the navy; but I cannot help thinking that the facts that Plymouth, Portsmouth, Dover, Chatham, Sheerness and Milford Maven, are in England and not in Ireland–that English merchant ships do not, for the most part, clear out of Irish ports–and that, while there is no great dockyard in Ireland, there are numerous recruiting-sergeants, may possible have as much influence on this unequal distribution of Irish pugnacity as its Celtic lineage. The Spaniards and the Portuguese, again, have been reasonably good sailors, whether for fighting or exploring purposes, in their day. So have the Basques. But, assuredly, a great deal of the same blood runs in the veins of these people, and of those whom "A Devonshire Man" calls Celts.

In conclusion, as to Cæsar–WE all know pretty well what Cæsar says about the gauls; and that which is well known "A Devonshire Man" has copied out for us at length.. But the passage twhich I alluded is one that I cannot help thinking most people forget. And that particular passage "A Devonshire Man," "honestly however imperfectly," urging his arguments, suppresses. I therefore trouble you with it– [...]

According to a "Devonshire Man," the following is a fair representation of the sense of this passage:–"And here it deserves to be noted that Cæsar does not say that there had ever been a time when the Gauls resembled the Germans but that once upon a time ("fuit antea tempus ") the difference between them had been quite in another direction." As you observe, what Cæsar does say is, in brief–that, formerly, the Gauls were better men than the Germans, made war upon them, and threw colonies of their surplus population across the Rhine; that the Volcae Tectosages, one of their tribes, settled around the Black Forest, and in Cæsar's time still held that region, being a people as frugal, patient, just, and warlike as the Germans themselves. The Gauls of Gallia, on the other hand, corrupted by the influence of commerce and Roman civilization, had gradually sunk into the low condition which Cæsar describes. But it is plain from Cæsar's words that he believed the Gauls to have been, primitively, just as good men as the Germans.

Whatever my "temperament" may be, Sir, no one can say that I have ever objected to hard-hitting in fair and open controversy. "A Devonshire Man," with no object that I can discern except that of offence, twits me with the attack of my valued friend Professor Sylvester, at Exeter. That matter is not quite settled yet. Mr. Sylvester's arguments, and his well-won fame as a mathematical philosopher, alike demand respectful and patient consideration; and if, after such consideration of the difficult questions between us, I find myself in the wrong, I shall surrender without a blush to such an open and loyal opponent.

I confess my feeling is other towards an adversary who hides himself behind the hedge of a pseudonym, to fire off his blunderbuss of platitudes and personalities at a man who has made a grave and public statement, on a matter concerning which he is entitled to be heard. And, while fresh from "fumbling" his man of science, "A Devonshire Man" seems to me to be inconsistent in so haughtily repudiating all kinship with a "Tipperary Boy."–I am, your obedient servant, T .H .Huxley


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University