A giant of scholarship.
THE TRIP ARTITE LIFE OF WHITLEY STOKES (1830-1909).
DUBLIN: FOUR COURTS PRESS. 201. 49.50 [euro].
THIS HANDSOME BOOK had its genesis in a conference held at Cambridge in 2009 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the death of Whitley Stokes, philologist, etymologist, codifier of Anglo-Indian law, scholar and editor. The interdisciplinary approach of that Cambridge conference is reflected in the eclectic range of scholars who have contributed to the present volume.
The authors of the fourteen chapters turn various lenses to the three salient aspects of Whitley Stokes's "tripartite life" dealt with in the book: Stokes the person, Stokes the philologist and Stokes the servant of Empire in his guise as codifier of Anglo-Indian law.
As Boyle and Russell note in their nuanced and well written introduction, the "tripartite life" of the title is also a deliberate echoing of the Vita Tripartita of St. Patrick, which was edited by Stokes (1). Both the Cambridge conference and the publication of this book were given added impetus by newly discovered archival material. These archival sources included the use of material related to Rudolf Siegfried by Pol O Dochartaigh (29-43) and the location of letters from Stokes to Adalbert Kuhn by Bernhard Maier. Most important of all was the accidental but timely discovery in Leipzig by Daibhi O Crrinin of Stokes's notebooks (4-5). The contents of these notebooks are detailed in another important recent Four Courts publication, Whitley Stokes (1830-1909): the Lost Celtic Notebooks Rediscovered (2011). Coming as it does in the immediate aftermath of O Croinin's seminal discovery, this timely publication should shine new light on a scholar who has not always received the attention he deserves.
(LEFT: Whitley Stokes)
Stokes, however, has not always suffered from such neglect. Obituaries in the Proceedings of the British Academy and An Claidheamh Soluis at the time of his death gave due recognition to the scholar's achievements. In a 1951 memorial discourse, R.I. Best deemed Stokes "the greatest philologist this country has produced" and Best's monograph provided a bibliography of Stokes's work. A colophon from Stokes's edition of Toghil Troi was cited by Best and is reproduced and commented upon here in more than one chapter. As the editors recognize in their introduction, this colophon, written in India, proves a compelling entry point into the unusual view of Irish culture afforded by Stokes's unique life experience:
Ata indopair beccso iarnacrichnugud isimla itir nacoicabann anoenmad la fichet domis septimbir inbliadain daes crist mdccclxxxi.... This little work has just been finished in Simla, in the land of the five rivers, on the twenty-first day of the month of September in the year of the age of Christ 1881.
The editors rightly draw attention to "this remarkable conjunction of medieval Irish literature and the late nineteenth-century consolidation of the British imperial presence in India" (2). The colophon finishes with references to Ireland's pitiable state with its "intleda," "breic," and "fingail" ("traps and deceits and kin-slaying") as well as the outrages the author perceives as being perpetrated by "drochdoini etir saxanchu agus herenchu," by "bad people, both English and Irish" (I). That a British civil servant in India chose to outline his views on the Land War in the evocative terminology of Middle Irish should surely impress on readers that Stokes is a far more interesting subject than the arid scholar imagined by previous commentators or even the "controversialist" described elsewhere by Sean O Luing. The editors appropriately note the nonsectarian tone of the colophon and its reminder of the "fundamental symbiosis between Stokes's legal work and his work as a scholar of Celtic" (2).
The opening chapter by Jacqueline Hill evokes the life and world of Whitley Stokes senior, the grandfather of the subject of this book. He, too, proves an enticing subject. As Hill reminds us, Whitley senior was a close friend of Wolfe Tone and an important figure in the context of the Protestant push for Irish language literacy in the early nineteenth century (14-28). The discussion by Hill (and later by O Muraile) of grandfather Stokes interaction with the United Irishmen is compelling in itself while it also adds to our understanding of the background from which Whitley Stokes emerged.
O Muraile's account of Wolfe Tone's short-lived contingency plan for the mass emigration of United Irishmen and the foundation of a college in Kentucky with Stokes as professor is surely enough material for one of the greatest "what ifs" of Irish history (197). Kuno Meyer told Peadar O Laoghaire that his grandfather met with Napper Tandy who even "took him by the hand" in Hamburg; Meyer himself knew Roger Casement. Scholars beware: the philologists and revolutionaries did not follow totally separate paths.
The law is one part of Stokes's tripartite life. Nigel Chancellor contributes an excellent and wide-ranging chapter on Stokes and Irish identity in British India. His discussion of the context which informed the "refreshing" by Stokes and others of an "archaic Indian society of ordered caste and religion through the logic of Indo-European philology" is balanced and considered (59-77). Thomas Charles-Edwards's chapter asks--and answers--the important question of why Stokes, expert as he was in law, should never engage deeply with old Irish Law. Citing various sources, he shows also that while Stokes was quick to find fault in others, his own knowledge had limitations, and he was slow to acknowledge his own mistakes (161-74).
Padraic Moran's comparison between the differing scholarly approaches of O'Donovan and Stokes to the Irish linguistic tradition is enhanced by his knowledgeable discussion of the etymological scholarship that informed those approaches (175-184). Similar contextualization and background information proves useful in the contributions of several other scholars. Maxim Fomin's careful contextualizing enriches his nuanced discussion of Stokes's interest in Sanskrit, while the chapters by Bernhard Maier and Paul Russell provide very useful summaries of the development of modern philology and etymology (119-133; 144-160). Elsewhere, Alderik H. Blom's study of Stokes's very specialized study of continental Celtic is a model of accessibility and clarity (134-143). A lively and good-humored style makes Nollaig O Muraile's chapter on Stokes and Modern Irish a joy to read and his occasional levity grounds considerable erudition in accessible terms (196-217).
Given the varied and often idiosyncratic nature of Stokes's scholarship such contextualization and clarity are essential in making this book accessible to readers, few of whom are likely to be as au fait with Sanskrit, the "Celtic" languages and Anglo-Indian Law as Stokes was. However, an otherwise stimulating chapter by Ananya Jahanara Kabir is unfortunately occasionally marred by awkward clauses and excessive theorizing. A book about a scholar of Sanskrit is challenging enough without clouding discussion with allusions to "writtenness" and "triangulation." Nonetheless, Jahanara Kabir provides an important overview and analysis of the intersections between philology and empire (78-97). She also provides one of the more memorable and thought-provoking moments in the book when she seizes upon Coetzee's phrase regarding empire "creating the time of history" to describe an aspect of philology's role within empire.
Although his focus was generally on philology, Stokes did interest himself in literature. Elizabeth Boyle and John Drew remind us of his participation in contemporary literary circles and events: the Pre-Raphaelites and the republication of the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" (44-58; 11-118). While Boyle's analysis of a potential Pre-Raphaelite influence on Stokes's translations of Danish ballads is interesting and well-argued, consideration of the original Danish text would have added to the authority of this part of her discussion (51-58). In another important chapter (on Stokes, Standish O'Grady and Acallamh na Senorach), Geraldine Parsons shows great empathy with Stokes and understanding of his limitations--the utilitarian nature of his editions noted also by O Muraile. Parsons's compassionate imagining of Stokes as St. Patrick to Hayes O'Grady's Caoilte show an acute understanding of the bigger picture of the history of Irish literature where the sometimes arid work of editing and saving texts made future literature possible (185-95).
There are a few (very few) editorial lapses, and Nigel Chancellor's reference to Whitley Stokes senior having taken part in the 1798 rebellion goes unchecked (74), although the contributions of O Muraile and Hill make clear that Stokes senior took no part in the rebellion itself.
The publication of this beautifully designed volume, along with the recent publication of O Croinin's book should draw attention to Whitley Stokes as a giant of nineteenth century scholarship and as a pivotal figure in the scholarship that prepared the way for the literary and cultural revival of the late nineteenth century. The various chapters are enriched by the primary and secondary sources they draw on and are given authority by the wide ranging expertise of the contributors. A comprehensive bibliography and a very useful index of unpublished manuscripts and archival sources will prove an invaluable resource for future scholars. The editors modestly present this volume as "a starting point"; its excellence and accessibility surely signal that Stokes's papers will be studied by future scholars from a wide range of disciplines for years to come.
--St. Patrick's College, DCU
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|Title Annotation:||19TH CENTURY; The Tripartite Life of Whtley Stokes (1830-1909)|
|Author:||Ni Ghairbhi, Roisin|
|Publication:||Irish Literary Supplement|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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