Discontinuity of Thought (Robertson, 1897)

1.235, 517-18. John Mackinnon Robertson, The Saxon and the Celt: A Study in Sociology, (London: University Press, Limited, 1897), pp. 197, 199. BL 8155.eee.4

Extracts from John Mackinnon Robertson, The Saxon and the Celt (1897).

In his chapter ‘Mommsen and Richey on Gauls and Irish’, Robertson analyses a passage from Professor Richey’s Lectures on the History of Ireland (1869), which includes Richey’s reflections on Irish ‘discontinuity of thought’. Unlike Stephen, who practises a Parnellite self-control at 1.215-26, for example, Mulligan appears to dramatize his own subjectivity precisely in terms of this stereotype:

As contrasted with the Teuton, the Celt possesses a peculiar susceptibility of emotion, and a peculiar rapidity of perception, so much that it may be almost said that an idea has passed away from the mind of a Celt before a Saxon begins to understand it at all. But this has an unfortunate result in practice, because it too often amounts to an incapacity of holding an idea for a long period…. The Celt conceives ideas rapidly and clearly, but forgets them as easily. He is brilliant, but not persevering; his thoughts are vivid but not enduring.

Robertson observes:

Mr Richey was here, doubtless, contrasting the Irish peasant class, as he knew it, with either the English peasant class or the English educated classes. He seems to have confused vivacity and mobility of temperament with disconnectedness of thought. The latter defect is common to the majority of mankind, and goes as often with temperamental slowness as with temperamental quickness. It is probably true that the people of Ireland and of France are as a rule more vivacious than the people of England. The cause for such differences is to be looked for in (1) influences of climate and beverages, and (2) influences of political events, including massacres and rebellions, on the nervous system of a race; such effects being probably heritable, Weismann notwithstanding.