Given the political impetus behind Arnold’s Celticism, its desire to endorse and galvanize a settled and homogeneous British nation, it may seem odd that the Irish nationalist Yeats should take up Arnold’s template in his own essay ‘The Celtic Element in Literature’. But it does need to be acknowledged that where Arnold saw the different races as complementing one another in a unified British State, Yeats seeks to turn Arnold’s model against its own putative logic. Yeats argues that if Saxon and Celt are so racially, historically and culturally distinct in their identities and values, then this necessitates political separatism and an Ireland unfettered by British domination and materialism. Nonetheless — as will be discussed in due course with regard to those critical paradigms opposed to Yeats’s project — while his political intentions are radically different from Arnold’s, Yeats does broadly accept the racial designations and assumptions of Arnold’s lectures. Yeats is eager, however, to stress his deeper and more profound attachment to Celtic culture than Arnold, in a manner that helps explain the reasons for his own and Lady Gregory’s systematic effort to collect, recuperate and rewrite a disparate array of Irish folk cultural sources into a literary tradition, such as in
Representative Irish Tales
(1891). Yeats claims:
■ When Matthew Arnold wrote, it was not as easy to know as much as we know now of folk-song and folk-belief, and I do not think he understood that our ‘natural magic’ is but the ancient religion of the world, the ancient worship of Nature and that troubled ecstasy before her, that certainty of all beautiful places being haunted, which it brought into men’s minds.