Professor Huxley's Last New Theory

by A Devonshire Man
Pall Mall Gazette (January 18, 1870)

To the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette.

Sir,–Even professor Huxley's enemies, if has any, must admit that he is a very able man, and that his energy is, to say the least, quite equal to his judgment. If he has a fault, it is, perhaps, that, like Cæsar, he is ambitious. We all know what Sydney Smith said of Dr. Whewell:–"Science is his forte, but omniscience is his foible:" perhaps his playful wit would have passed somewhat the same kind of judgment, and with the same justice, on our ubiquitous Professor. He might have said, perhaps, that cutting up monkeys was his forte, and cutting up men was his foible. A little while ago he ran amuck at the Comtists, then he attacked the mathematicians, now he has undertaken to prove against all comers that there is no difference whatever, except in language, between the Teuton and the Celt. At the last meeting of the British Association, Professor Sylvester took up the cudgels on behalf of the mathematicians very successfully, and if there were among our ethnologists any one as courageous and as competent as the Woolwich Professor he might possibly gain at the next meeting of the British Association as complete a victory. My ambition is of a much humbler kind. I only wish, with your permission, to be allowed to question one very decided statement which Professor Huxley repeats with much emphasis more than once in the lecture you reported on Monday, and briefly to mention a few facts in arrest, if I may so say, of judgment.

Professor Huxley asserts that "Devonshire men are as little Anglo-Saxons as Northumbrians are Welsh;" and again he declares that a native of Tipperary is just as much, or as little, an Anglo-Saxon as a native of Devonshire.

1. As a matter of history, it is nearly 1,0000 years since Athelstan drove the Cornish men, "Cornwallenses," out of Exeter, and forced them to retire beyond the Tamar. Lappenberg thinks it probable that there were some Saxon inhabitants in Exeter in the time of the Romans, and possibly even before.

2. Geography. The Rev. Isaac Taylor has made "An analysis of the names of villages, hamlets, hills, woods, valleys, &c.," in Devonshire and several other counties, and he finds that the proportion of Anglo-Saxon names to Celtic in Devonshire is as 65 to 32 or more than two to one; in Ireland the proportion if 19 to 80, less than one in four; and in Cornwall it is nearly the same. Now as these Anglo-Saxon names must have been given by Anglo-Saxon men, what has become of their descendants?

3. Surnames. If we apply the old and approved text

to the two counties of Devonshire and Cornwall, we find these Celtic prefixes still everywhere predominant in the one county, and considering their relative position, strangely uncommon in the other. So among Christian names, the Celtic Jennifer (Guinever) is still used in Cornwall, and the Teutonic Herman (Arminius) in Devon. If we run through the names of the principal "Devonshire worthies," we find they are all, without a single exception, peculiarly and undeniably Saxon:–Raleigh, Drake, Hooker, Churchill (Duke of Marlborough), Reynolds, Gifford, Coleridge, Northcote, Eastlake, Turner (Turner was born in Devon). It would be curious to compare this list with one similar of the great men born in Tipperary; but it unfortunately happens that I am not acquainted with their names. If Professor Huxley would employ some rare moment of leisure in arranging the names of all the great men born in Ireland in two parallel columns, one comprising those of Scotch or English extraction, the other the undeniably Irish, he would perhaps be a little surprised at their relative value and length.

4. Dialect. It is strange that Professor Huxley, "speaking as an ethnologist," does not seem to be aware that there is such a thing as a Devonshire dialect (or an "Exmoor scolding"), and that it is peculiarly, I may say wonderfully, Saxon. I have repeatedly heard "leery" for empty, "drang" for press, "fang" for take, "rin" for run, "to" (zu) for at, &c. &c. Even the personal pronouns "er" and "ihn" (for he and him) are still in much common use among the peasantry as to have given rise to the Cockney joke that in Devonshire they call everything her except a tomcat. These examples–and many more might be given–are sufficient to prove that the language was spoken in Devon in Anglo-Saxon times, and not imported ready-made in its later form, as was the case in Ireland.

5. It has been hitherto believed, and the belief may possibly survive Professor Huxley's dictum, that there is a wide difference between 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; and 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. Now I believe any competent judge will admit that the Devonshire man approaches more nearly than even the average Englishman to the recognized Teutonic type.

It has also been believed in the Prehuxlian period that the Celtic race is very far from sharing that passionate love of the sea which distinguishes the German (especially in the Scandinavian branch) wherever he lives upon the coast. Now, though Ireland is surrounded by the ocean (it was no Englishman who called it "the melancholy ocean"), though no place in the interior is more than forty miles from the coast, I venture to think it would be found that the number of sailors which all Ireland supplies to the navy is less than what is furnished by the county of Devonshire alone. In the census of 1851, the latest which I have at hand, the number of Irish in the navy was only 2,572, just one-tenth of the whole effective force. In the same year the number of Irish in the army was 51,499, out of a total of 142,870; or considerably more than one-third.

Professor Huxley quotes Cæsar as a witness, but hardly, I think, with that fairness for which he is usually distinguished. He tells us what Cæsar had heard as to the comparative merits of Gauls and Germans at some long anterior period (according to Long, 300 years B.C.), but he does not tell us what this "keen observer" saw . He does not tell us that Cæsar draws a broad distinction–one may almost say a contrast–between the Gauls and Germans as he knew them. He does not tell us that Cæsar paints the Celt of his day in "living characters," which even now, after the lapse of nearly 2,000 years, are most curiously applicable even in the smallest particular to the Celtic population of Ireland, still utterly inapplicable to the Germans and their kindred. The Celts, he says, are quick and impulsive ("ut sunt Gallorum subita et repetina consilia"); fond of fighting, but wanting in steadiness, and endurance ...; fickle, unstable, and fond of novelty ...; much given to factions, not only in every State, but in every district and village, and almost in every house... ; devoted to their religious observances ...; they are completely in the power of their priests, who settle almost all controversies, and whenever a murder or any great crime is committed, &c., the whole matter is submitted to them ... ; the priests enforce their judgments by excommunication, and those excommunicated are considered impious; no one will associate with them; they forfeit all rights, offices, &c. ...; their funerals are costly, with as much display as their means will allow ...; one of their greatest chiefs feared, or pretended that he feared, the sea ...; they keep up their courage by shouting and howling ("clamore et ululatu suorum animos confirmabant").

Now, I would ask any Englishman who has lived in the Celtic part of Ireland whether this "keen observer," if he had lived in our day, could have written a description of the actual Irish Celt more exact or more exhaustive than this, and I would ask any Irishman who has ever lived in Devonshire whether he could recognise any one of these traits in the Devonshire peasant.

After describing the manners and customs of the Gauls, Cæsar turns to those of the Germans, which he expressly says were widely different. A few of the German characteristics he describes may possibly be discovered still in some of their descendants: their aversion to priestcraft, their love of field sports, their contempt for hardship and danger, and their very decided liking for animal food.

Next follows, curiously enough, the passage Mr. Huxley has quoted. And here it deserves to be noted that Cæsar does not say 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 in quite another direction.

Mr. Huxley feels warmly what he says boldly. Men of this temperament are not easily moved to retract an opinion once expressed. But I hope the facts here adducted, and the arguments honestly, however imperfectly, urged, may be held by some of your readers to prove that the honour of ranking with "the Tipperary boys" is as little deserved as it is desired by one who has the privilege to subscribe himself, like your obedient servant,


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University