The Celt and the Red Man

From the introduction to The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, W. Y. Evans Wentz, (1911):

“Many of the most remote parts of these lands were visited; and often there was no other plan to adopt, or any method better, or more natural, than to walk day after day from one straw-thatched cottage to another, living on the simple wholesome food of the peasants. […] I tried to see the world as [the Celt] does; I participated in his innermost thoughts about the great problem of life and death, with which he of all peoples is most deeply concerned; and thus he revealed to me the source of his highest ideals and inspirations. I daily felt the deep and innate seriousness of his ancestral nature; and, living as he lives, I tried in all ways to be like him.

[…]

And even where we find materialists of either type dwelling in the country, we generally find them so completely under the hypnotic sway of city influences and mould of thought that in matters of education and culture, and in matters touching religion, that they have lost all sympathetic and responsive contact with nature, because unconsciously they have thus permitted conventionality and unnaturalness to insulate them from it. The Celtic peasant, who may be their tenant or neighbour, is—if still uncorrupted by them—in direct contrast unconventional and natural. He is normally always responsive to psychical influences—as much so as an Australian Arunta or an American Red Man, who also, like him are fortunate to enough to have escaped being corrupted by what we egotistically distinguish ourselves from them, call ‘civilization’.

[…]

Are city-dwellers like these, Nature’s unnatural children, who grind out their lives in an unceasing struggle for wealth and power, social position, and even for bread, fit to judge Nature’s natural children who believe in fairies?”

This introduction is perhaps one of the most patronising that I have read. I found myself having to replace indignation with laughter; laughter with recognition of the author’s time and place; and once placing the author in his context, sifting out the facts from his bias. (New historicism, ahoy!) This, my friends, I hope is the mark of a good scholar.

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