My mother, who was a Gascon on one side (her father was a native of Bordeaux), told these anecdotes with much wit and tact, passing deftly between what was real and what was fanciful, so as to leave the impression that these things were only true from an ideal point of view. She clung to these fables as a Breton; as a Gascon she was inclined to laugh at them, and this was the secret of the sprightliness and gaiety of her life. This state of things has been the means of giving me what little talent I may have for historical studies. I have derived from it a kind of habit of looking below the surface and hearing sounds which other ears do not catch. The essence of criticism is to be able to realise conditions different from those under which we are now living. I have been in actual contact with the primitive ages. The most remote past was still in existence in Brittany up to 1830. The world of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries passed daily before the eyes of those who lived in the towns. The epoch of the Welsh emigration (the fifth and the sixth centuries) was plainly visible in the country to the practised eye. Paganism was still to be detected beneath a layer, often so thin as to be transparent, of Christianity, and with the former were mixed up traces of a still more ancient world which I afterwards came upon again among the Laplanders. When visiting in 1870, with Prince Napoleon, the huts of a Laplander encampment near Tromsoe, I felt some of my earliest recollections live again in the features of several women and children and in certain customs and traits of character. It occurred to me that in ancient times there might have been admixtures between the lost branches of the Celtic race and races like the Laplanders which covered the soil upon their arrival. My ethnical position would in this case be: “A Celt crossed with Gascon with a slight infusion of Laplander blood.” Such a condition of things ought, if I am not mistaken, according to the theories of the anthropologists, to represent the maximum of idiocy and imbecility; but the decrees of anthropology are only relative: what it treats as stupidity among the ancient races of men is often neither more nor less than an extraordinary force of enthusiasm and intuition.
[Footnote 1: A conscientious and painstaking student, M. Luzel, will, I hope, be the Pausanias of these little local chapels, and will commit to writing the whole of this magnificent legend, which is upon the point of being lost.]
[Footnote 2: The ancient form of the word is Ronan, which is still to be found in the names of places, Loc Ronan, the well of St. Ronan (Wales).]