French Celt

French Celt

In Brief

To Deasy's badgering interrogation about the proudest saying of an Englishman, Stephen reasonably supposes it may be that "the sun never sets" on his 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 identifies specific writers: "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.'"

Some Brittanic Celts did voice the trope. 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." Slote cites Scottish journalist John Wilson (1785-1854), who wrote under the pen name Christopher North. But Deasy's claim is preposterous on its face, since 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