English Remorse (Arnold, 1867)

1.173, 481-82. Matthew Arnold, On the Study of Celtic Literature, (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1867), pp.21-23. BL 11840.ppp.6

Extract from Matthew Arnold, On The Study of Celtic Literature (1867), on English remorse.

In this passage, Arnold suggests the development of a new spirit of reconciliation and ‘kindliness’ between Celt and Saxon and makes reference to an increasing English “remorse for past ill-treatment” of the Irish. At the same time, the continuance of this new state of affairs is made contingent upon the absence of any “malignant revolution,” a deliberately ambiguous phrase for an Englishman writing about Ireland:

In the sphere of politics, too, there has, in the same way, appeared an indirect practical result from this science; the sense of antipathy to the Irish people, of radical estrangement from them, has visibly abated amongst all the better part of us; the remorse for past ill-treatment of them, the wish to make amends, to do them justice, to fairly unite, if possible, in one people with them, has visibly increased; hardly a book on Ireland is now published, hardly a debate on Ireland now passes in Parliament, without this appearing. Fanciful as the notion may at first seem, I am inclined to think that the march of science, — science insisting that there is no such original chasm between the Celt and the Saxon as we once popularly imagined, that they are not truly, what Lord Lyndhurst called them, aliens in blood from us, that they are our brothers in the great Indo-European family, — has had a share, an appreciable share, in producing this changed state of feeling. No doubt, the release from alarm and struggle, the sense of firm possession, solid security, and overwhelming power; no doubt these, allowing and encouraging humane feelings to spring up in us, have done much; no doubt a state of fear and danger, Ireland in hostile conflict with us, our union violently disturbed, might, while it drove back all humane feelings, make also the old sense of utter estrangement revive. Nevertheless, so long as such a malignant revolution of events does not actually come about, so long the new sense of kinship and kindliness lives, works, and gathers strength; and the longer it so lives and works, the more it makes any such malignant revolution improbable.

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