The Changeability of the Gael (Bryant, 1913)

1.177-78, 634-35. Sophie Bryant, The Genius of the Gael: A Study in Celtic Psychology and its Manifestations, (London and Leipsic: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913), pp.42-43, 46-48. BL 012354.g.16

Extracts from Sophie Bryant, The Genius of the Gael (1913), on the capacity of the Gael for maintaining ‘opposites in mood’.

This extract is a description of the Gael from Bryant’s chapter on ‘The Psychology of the Celt’ and it includes not only the typical Connaughtman who is Bryant’s chief focus, but also, in the author’s opinion:

. . . the civilized Gael of the universities [who is] as primitive as his forefathers beneath all this modern embroidery of pleasure and convenience.

The passage below might appear to be relevant to Stephen’s exchange of resentment for “the revival of some natural fellow-feeling” towards Haines at 1.177-78 and again at 1.634-35, and Mulligan’s sudden changes of mood at various points in ‘Telemachus’:

¶¶Thus the genuine Irishman of the West has little instinctive taste for the pursuit of either virtue or truth by the Aristotelian method of steering in the mean between two extremes. On the contrary, his manner of self-correction when he finds himself on one extreme horn of argument or mood is to stretch across to the other horn, and so raise or lower his being on to the ground of a better common sense. And this the healthy Irishman does for the most part instinctively. He is in a rage of resentment, and recovers himself suddenly by the revival of some natural fellow-feeling with the person who has offended him. He corrects himself, not by suppression, but by some new form of expression. His ability for swift transition from one mood to the opposite is the natural counterpart of his positiveness; it has developed in him as the necessary alternative to the abstract self-control which is so conspicuous in the Englishman. Thus, being both emphatically positive and easily moved, the Gael makes himself conspicuous by what I have called his moral dialectic, the maintenance of opposites in mood — of thesis and anti-thesis in meditation. It can hardly be said that he has any characteristic moral trait without the suggestion of its opposite as also characteristic.
¶¶The Irishman is self-assertive: he is also instinct with consideration for the selfness of another. He may talk much, but he seldom loses his power of listening. If he allows himself to boast unduly, his good manners will presently prescribe a pause to let you have your turn. He has a vivid sense of respect due to himself, but it seldom extinguishes his sense of respect as equally due to others. He is self-conscious and easily offended; he is other-conscious also, and not hard to be reconciled. His quarrelsomeness and his courtesy are a twin growth. He is uncompromising in his adherence to his opinion while it is his opinion; but he has a rare accessibility to the ideas of others. He is sensitive and easily hurt; he is elastic and soon recovers balance. And from this tissue of opposites — his vivid human nature — there bubbles up within him, as from a well-spring, an inexhaustible fund of humour to gladden our toil-worn race. For the basis of humour is the sense of the normal self-contradictoriness of human nature in detail.

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