To establish even an approximate date for the text will, I fear, be found almost impossible. Internal evidence furnishes criteria, at best of a negative character. The absence of dated texts, and the present isolation of works in this style, render the task still more difficult. Suffice it to say that no evidence has been found of linguistic peculiarities not in the spoken language of, say, the last five hundred years. The peculiarities associated with middle Irishthe survival
p.xand confusion of infixed pronouns, the persistence of the neuter gender, the fluctuating verbal forms and nominal declensionall these have disappeared. The infixed pronoun (a fair test) does not occur, so that in short the language of the tract may be set down as a good example of the treatment of technical matter in the later schools. The forms have settled down, and are practically those in use amongst good speakers of Irish at the present day.
An exact determination of the state of a language at any period, at all times difficult, is doubly so in the case of Irish. Much of the Irish prose of the modern period, say from 1500 onward, is obviously not the Irish of the period at which it was written. There is a conscious striving after words and forms long since obsolete or at least archaic, with a deliberate avoidance of the language of everyday life, resulting generally in a pedantic mass of bombast, wholly unnatural, and quite valueless artistically or philologically.
The subject-matter of our text precludes all that rhetoric and expansion so popular in translation of narrative matter. Lucidity being the chief object, the style is simple and straightforward, sometimes even bald in description; it bears no trace of affectation, becoming almost colloquial in places, so that one is tempted to put it down as a sample of the spoken Irish of the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. But any such attempts at dating must be necessarily conjectural. External evidence furnishes us with some information in this respect. The Arabic of Messahalah was translated into Latin in the thirteenth centuryI cannot at present find a more accurate date. If the reference to spectacles in chapter VII. were in the original of the second Latin text, from which the Irish translator worked, and not an interpolation, it could scarcely have been written before 1325, and certainly the Irish text could not have been produced before
p.xithen. If then we take 1325 as the superior limit for the Irish translation, it would postulate that it was translated immediately. If we assume the mention of spectacles was not in the original Latin, that date might still remain the superior limit, although their use in Ireland probably began somewhat later than on the Continent and England.
It is, however, unlikely that the Irish translation should follow so quickly on the Latin translation. It would have to get to Ireland, be translated and copied. This process might take place in a few years, and, on the other hand, might take a century to come about. The former is perhaps more likely. Mr. Close, in his already much-quoted article, cites the case of the Rosa Medicinae Anglicana, by John Gaddesden, who died in 1361. Extracts from that work were translated into Irish in the Yellow Book of Lecan in 1390.
That the text of none of the three MSS. is the actual translation is proved, I think, by the mutilation of the Latin spelling in the chapter headings, which could not have come about if the writer had the actual Latin text before him.
I admit that the foregoing proves nothing definite, but it is probable that such translations were made and used for educational purposes in Ireland during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, that period which Mrs. J. R. Green associates with the "Second Irish Revival."
In conclusion, I have to thank Professor Bergin, whose pupil I had the honour to be, and at whose suggestion this edition was undertaken, for much valuable advice and assistance, gladly and readily given. To him fell the thankless task of proof-reading, and without his aid the passage of the work through the press would have been difficult.