The Celt and Practicality (Bryant, 1913)

1.329-30. Sophie Bryant, The Genius of the Gael: A Study in Celtic Psychology and its Manifestations, (London and Leipsic: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913), pp.36-38. BL 012354.g.16

An extract from Sophie Bryant, The Genius of the Gael (1913), on opposing concepts of the Gael’s capacity for practicality.

Bryant opens her chapter on ‘The Psychology of the Celt’ by presenting two diametrically opposed conceptions of the Gael, as characterised chiefly by dreamy impracticality on the one hand, by a capacity for ‘practical genius’ on the other. Which of the two might best apply to Stephen adapting his valise as a chair is open to question, given what that reveals of the disrepair of this ‘house’, but the contrast between the two types of Gael presented here – or an interrogation of it – has ramifications throughout Ulysses, not least the contrast between Stephen and Bloom.

Our inquiry assumes that we know whom we mean by the Gael — the Connaughtman perhaps would be the most typical representative — and we ask for a description of his characteristics, and, if possible, for a definition of the essential characteristic which lies at the root of him, and by which he is differentiated from his fellows. Common sayings on the subject abound. Friends of the Gael, and his detractors no less, delight to sum him up in a sentence or a chapter.
¶¶He is the dreamer in Europe, says one — the visionary idealist, whose life is in the force and intensity of his imagination, and whose deeds are as naught. Artistic by temperament, he is ineffective in execution — unpractical essentially. His life is in his own mind apart from interest in material conditions. He lives in a house much out of repair, with broken china, in untidy rooms, of which the doors do not shut. But that time of which the poet speaks is always with him.
¶¶In the same strain another explains the economic condition of the country now, and its political unsuccess throughout the centuries, by the well-known incapacity of this dreamer for practical life — his lack of executive industry in material things.
¶¶On the other hand, I have heard it well argued that practical genius is the special mark of the Celt in history, and that the Gaelic Irishman all over the world is showing himself to-day, by contrast with the Teuton, as the man who does things, whose resourceful mind is most frequently at its best in devising means to ends, and accomplishing the ends, while the Teuton feels and dreams and thinks as poet and philosopher. It is easy to illustrate this view of the case. The sentimentalist of Europe is the German. He is the poet, the Frenchman is the artist. Irishmen have left the marks of their executive genius all over the history of the British Empire, and elsewhere as well. There is no lack of practical effectiveness in the Irish immigrant across the seas.