Whitley Stokes (1830–1909)
The lost Celtic notebooks rediscovered
Dáibhí Ó Cróinín
Whitley Stokes was described as ‘the greatest of living Celtic philologists’. After legal studies he practised as an equity draughtsman and conveyancer and during his spare time he studied philology with Rudolf Siegfried, from whom he acquired his mastery of the Celtic languages and of Sanskrit. In 1862 Stokes was sent to India, as Secretary to the Legal Department, and later Law Member of the Council of the Governor-General, a post he held until his retirement in 1882. He was responsible for codifying almost the entire body of Anglo-Indian laws, but during those years in India he was also carving out a reputation for himself as a Celtic scholar. The discovery, by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, of all Stokes’s 150 working Celtic notebooks, unnoticed since 1919 in the University Library, Leipzig, has only now revealed the extent of Stokes’s astonishing industry in his later years, and makes available the previously lost manuscript notebooks that Stokes used during a lifetime of research in Celtic Studies. Readers will be able to follow the course of his 50-year career, and the evolution of his scholarly works as pioneer text-hunter and publisher of previously unpublished materials in Old Irish, Old Welsh, Old Cornish, and Old Breton. As his notebooks are dated, it is possible to follow his every step along the path that made him the foremost Celtic scholar of his time.
Dáibhí Ó Cróinín is professor of history, NUI, Galway.