French Celt

French Celt

In Brief

To Stephen's reasonable reply to his badgering question about an Englishman's proudest saying (that "the sun never sets" on the British empire), Mr Deasy blurts out, Ba! "That's not English. A French Celt said that.' He is wrong. The saying is not unique to the British, but it has no known association with French Celts.

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Thornton remarks that "This has been said, in one form or another, of every great empire since that of Alexander the Great." Gifford delves into specifics: "The germ of the sun-never-sets image is in Herodotus (Xerxes brags about the glory of the Persian Empire). Subsequent reworkings of the phrase can be found in Capt. John Smith, Sir Walter Scott, Friedrich von Schiller, and Daniel Webster, none of them 'French Celts.'" In 1773, after the Seven Years War and the concluding Treaty of Paris (1763) added immense new territories to Britain's empire, the colonial administrator George Macartney, an Irishman descended from Scottish forbears who became an earl in England, wrote of "a vast Empire, on which the sun never sets."

No one has ever identified a source of the sort that Deasy refers to, and his notion is preposterous on its face, considering that no worldwide "French Celt" empire ever existed. The schoolmaster continues to pile up egregious misstatements, making his structural analogy to wise old Nestor seem more and more parodic.

JH 2012
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