The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

IX. Anglo-Irish Literature

§ 3. Translations

The bard of early days felt it even among the icy rigours of winter, while the cheerful companionship with nature of the Irish monk or anchorite is in marked contrast with the fakir-like indifference to her influences of a St. Simeon Stylites or the voluntary withdrawal from them of the enclosed Orders of later days. Enough has been said here to suggest that there is much in Irish Gaelic literature, which, if well translated into English verse or prose, might have a stimulative effect upon English letters. Stopford Brooke set himself to prove this by an instructive essay entitled The Need and Use of getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue, written three and twenty years ago, in which he showed that there is a vast body of that literature untranslated or inadequately translated, and that very much of it, in good hands, might be so rendered as to prove a substantial gain to English literature.

There has been a considerable response to his appeal, and it is not a little remarkable that, more than a hundred years ago, an early scion of the same literary stock, Charlotte Brooke, daughter of Henry Brooke, the dramatist, had conceived the same view of the importance of recruiting English literature from Irish Gaelic sources, and put it into practice by her own volume of translations from Irish poetry.

Unfortunately, however, the artificial, not to say affected, English verse of her day was about the worst vehicle for the reproduction of the best Gaelic poetry, and the contributors to Hardiman’s Irish Minstrelsy, which followed her volume, and even later writers in the nineteenth century, were found wanting as effective translators from the Irish. But a new impulse to, and pleasure in, the study of Gaelic poetry was contributed by the vivid versions in kindred English forms of the great Irish prose epics, and of the lyric passages with which they are studded, as well as of the poems of the earlier and later bards wrought by such writers as Edward Walsh and Sir Samuel Ferguson, Mangan and Callanan, Whitley Stokes and Standish Hayes O’Grady, and the editors of the Ossianic society’s publications.

A band of contemporary authors, some of whom had already translated many poems, have further answered to the call. This became more easy, owing to the impetus given to the study of Irish by the foundation of the Gaelic league. The Irish Text society was started, and more than a dozen volumes of important English translations from Irish classics have been issued by it. Many translations have been the work of Irishwomen, while further translations of Irish lyric poetry, Irish heroic tales and myths and Irish dramatic poetry have been made. It is only during the last twenty-five years that the language of this poetry has been carefully studied, and later scholars have had the advantage over their predecessors in being able to introduce with great effect reminiscences of the characteristic epithets and imagery which formed a large part of the stock-in-trade of the medieval bard.