Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Cornwall and the Cornish

Going to the most south-western tip of England was a prospect that Alexander Carmichael wrote about with some amount of relish. It was a post that could afford him the opportunity to explore a different but not too unfamiliar area of folklore. His romantic persona shines through his brief note of his impending transfer to Cornwall:

In the early spring of 1862 when it became
known to me that I was coming to Corn-
wall I own that I was much pleased. I
was pleased at the prospect of coming
to the land of the good and gallant
King Arthur pleased at the prospect
of coming to the land of ancient song
and story and above all pleased at
the prospect of learning an additional
language and that language the language
of the ancient South Britons.


What Carmichael did at Wadebridge in Cornwall, other than attend to his duties as an exciseman, remains rather unclear for it seems he collected next to nothing nor does it seem that he ever realised his ambition of learning the Cornish language, something that he had shown so much enthusiasm for before he set out. The two years spent in Cornwall may not have been fruitful but it did allow Carmichael to ‘enjoy’ a distance from his own native culture and from his activity of collecting folklore which allowed him to gain a better perspective for his return north in 1864.

References: CW 463, fo. 17.
Image: Wadebridge, Cornwall.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]