by-the-way, are more apparent than real—may be classed, nearly all, under two heads, viz.: 1st, those which originate in ignorance; and 2nd, those comprised in the modern term, “philistinism.” The great mass of ordinary people are quite ignorant of the general nature and peculiar characteristics and differences of different languages, and as they judge of all other forms of speech by that which they habitually use, and in which they think, they are unwilling, unless persuaded by the public opinion around them, to allow of the existence of beauty or merit in any tongue differing much from their own in sound or construction. To such narrow-minded I speakers of English alone, who have not been taught otherwise, Irish, if they ever hear it spoken, is an object of dislike or even of contempt. They are prone to despise or hate whatever they cannot understand. Of this description are many Irishmen who not only do not know anything of their country’s language, but are equally ignorant of her history and antiquities, and of the very existence of an Irish literature. Of course they know nothing of the value of the language and literature to philological science, or of the beautiful construction of the former and its use equally with Greek, German, or Sanscrit, as a training for the mind. In the same way, men who are classical scholars and nothing else, generally have a dislike for mathematics, while mathematical specialists usually detest the study of classics. Thus there are thousands who know of the existence of the Hiberno-Celtic only to dislike or depreciate it. On this class of persons, whether Irish or not, argument on the subject is thrown away. Disregarding the axiom that we must know something about a subject before we can pass judgment on it, their ignorance gives them a force of inertia proof against the appeals of science, patriotism, and intellect, and their crass prepossessions are impenetrable to the force of argument or the light of progressing intelligence. So we must needs leave them in their darkness, it being impossible to teach those who will not learn.
The second great obstacle to the learning of Irish is “philistinism.” By philistinism is generally understood that devotion to material gain and sensual enjoyments which makes money-grubbing the sole object of life, without regard to moral, intellectual, or artistic considerations. This money-grubbing, and the love of sensual pleasures—in short, that gross form of materialism so characteristic of the nineteenth century—these low and base motives, constitute the principal obstacles to the study of the Irish language. One hears continually in reference to this study: “Will it pay?” or “what shall I gain by learning it?”—just as if the goodness and value of everything were to be measured by the amount of money to be acquired by it. Religion, art, science, literature, patriotism, poetry, virtue—everything that is ennobling to human nature, would possess but little influence or charm if judged by this sordid standard. The man who essays to teach Irish must set his face firmly against this degrading philistinism, and must impress upon his pupils the necessity of taking into account the beauties of the language, and the advantages to the mind of the novel and fresh modes of thought developed in its construction and expressions. He must show how—
Bright-eyed Fancy hovering o’er,
Scatters from her pictured urn
Thoughts that breathe and words that burn.
But even those who are not absolute and thorough “philistines” are frequently repelled from the study of Irish by difficulties which are really only apparent, such as the difference of printed characters, the, at first sight, complex grammar, the unfamiliar articulations, and the scarcity of good elementary books and of skilled teachers. These difficulties we shall show to be very slight indeed, and easily overcome, when resolutely faced. But before proceeding to prove our point, we need merely allude to the numerous class of persons in this country who, animated by an irrational and unpatriotic spirit, would wish for nothing better than that the Irish language should be dead and forgotten, as is the Sumerian or Etruscan, and all Irish books and manuscripts sunk in the sea or consumed by fire.