Celtic Correspondences: Letters from Whitley Stokes to Adolphe Pictet and from Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville to Ernst Windisch

Bernhard Maier
Eberhard-Karls University of Tübingen


When Johann Caspar Zeuss laid the foundations of modern Celtic Philology with his Grammatica Celtica (1853), he had at least three immediate forerunners: the English physician and anthropologist James Cowles Prichard (1786–1848) with his book The Eastern Origin of the Celtic Nations (1831), the Swiss specialist in ballistics and amateur linguist Adolphe Pictet (1799–1875) with his essay ‘De l’affinité des langues celtiques avec le sanscrit’ (1836), and the German founding father of Comparative Philology Franz Bopp (1791–1867) with his treatise ‘Über die celtischen Sprachen vom Gesichtspunkt der vergleichenden Sprachforschung’ (1838). However, as Prichard had died as early as 1848 and Bopp had moved on to studying other branches of Indo-European, it was only Adolphe Pictet who continued his Celtic researches in the wake of Zeuss’ seminal work, publishing articles in scholarly periodicals and corresponding with fellow scholars in Ireland, Britain, France and Germany. For the last sixteen years of his life, Pictet exchanged letters with Whitley Stokes, who was just beginning to make his name in Celtic Philology at that time. While Pictet’s letters to Stokes have yet to be traced, 26 letters and two postcards from Stokes to Pictet are extant among the papers of Adolphe Pictet in the Library of Geneva.

Among the papers of the German Celticist and Indologist Ernst Windisch (1844–1918), which are preserved in the Archive of the University of Leipzig, the most extensive collection of letters and postcards in the field of Celtic Studies is due to Kuno Meyer (1858–1919), who was among Windisch’s earliest, most faithful and most productive pupils. Next to this, the most extensive Celtic correspondence of Windisch appears to have been with his French colleague Henri d’Arbois de Jubainville (1827–1910), first professor of Celtic at the Collège de France and long-time editor of Révue celtique. Unlike Windisch, who was an Indo-Europeanist by training and continued to combine an interest in ancient Ireland with one in ancient India for most of his active academic career, d’Arbois de Jubainville was first and foremost an historian with a strong archaeological bent. Both men, however, shared a keen interest in the fabric of ancient civilisations and its reflection in literature. Between 1884 and 1907, more than fifty letters and postcards from d’Arbois to Windisch testify to the cordial relationship between the two scholars, who are among the most important founding fathers of Celtic Studies as an academic discipline in France and Germany.

In this paper, I shall try to present an overview of these letters, pointing out in which ways and to which extent they reflect specific problems of research, the institutional setting of Celtic Studies in the decades around 1900, and the personality of the letter writers. In conclusion I shall address the question to what extent a comprehensive analysis and appraisal of as yet unpublished scholarly letters may contribute not only to a profounder understanding of the formation and early history of Celtic Studies, but also to an enhanced appreciation of its present situation.

Studia Celto-Slavica 11: 111–128 (2020)


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