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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Celtic Literature
Critical Introduction by William Sharp (1855–1905) and Ernest Rhys (1859–1946)
 
THE WIDESPREAD and deepening contemporary interest in Celtic literature is primarily due to four distinct influences. The publication (followed by its worldwide repute and the bitterest literary controversy of modern days) of Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’ comes first. There is no inorganic development in art, whether the art of words or any other: in the fundamental sense, there is no accident. It is a mistake therefore to speak of Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’ as a startling meteor which flashed across the world of literature, a brief apparition out of a void into which it has returned, leaving only a mass of débris to testify to its actuality and bygone splendor: a mistake, for this famous production was indirectly but closely related to another literary influence, the publication of Bishop Percy’s celebrated ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.’ In art there is no room for accidents: for art is an organic development, and the most seemingly arbitrary variations are inevitable or at least natural.  1
  After Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’ the next important influence is the ‘Mabinogion,’ as retold in English from the early Welsh originals by Lady Charlotte Guest. The influence, as well as the inherent beauty and interest, of each of these famous productions will be dealt with later in these volumes.  2
  ‘Ossian’ and the ‘Mabinogion’ afforded a new standpoint. The two heralds of the treasure we have inherited in this Celtic literature of the past were Ernest Renan and Matthew Arnold. Renan by his treatise on ‘La Poésie des Races Celtiques,’ and later Matthew Arnold by his essay on ‘Celtic Literature,’ accomplished an almost inestimable service. Everything that has been done since is but a variation along the lines indicated by these two great critics; and with this result, that it is already a commonplace to say we have in the Celtic literature of the past not only an almost inexhaustible mine of beauty, but the material for a new and vivid Anglo-Celtic literature of the imagination.  3
  In the ensuing brief sketch of some of the main features of this subject, at once so fascinating and so important, no attempt is made to do other than to interest, and perhaps allure further, the general reader. For convenience’s sake, this brief paper may be divided into four sections:—Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish.  4
 
 
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