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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XXVI - The Celts


As I promised, I will give you some opinions concerning the Celts, about whom people dispute so much. The Gaels are certainly a part of that people, whether they are from Scotland, Ireland, or the Isle of :Flan, and, excepting those who have emigrated from these islands, there exists no Gaelic speaking people elsewhere; but they are only a part of the great people called Celts. The opinions as to the Celts are so numerous that you would be tired of the word if I ventured to tell you half, and so various and so wild have some of these notions been that the holders have been called Celtomaniacs. There is scarcely any other class of language or people that has such a following, so you have a proof of the interesting character of both. I have known Celtomaniacs and may quote some of their opinions : for example, I have been told by one that Gaelic was spoken in Paradise; and that if you do not allow a child to hear a language it will of itself speak Gaelic. There are milder forms; if you derive Hebrew from Gaelic, or such names as Nile, Nineveh, Nimrod, Sabbath, Abraham, Sarah, and Babylon from Celtic, then I think you are a Celtomaniac. When you say it is spoken among the Berbers you are one; and some will say that it will apply also to those who bring the Greek from it, and I agree with them. But when we come nearer here we are obliged to be more cautious; for example, who will say that the Latin did not to a great degree rise from or along with the Celtic. There are different degrees of mania, and here we may begin to be cautious. After all who were the Celts? In the time of the Roman kings some of them came to the north of Italy, and they made incursions far south into Italy. They stayed a while among the hills, but how long we do not know, and how many of their people they left behind them we do not know. They troubled the Etruscans, who lived south of the Cisalpine Gauls, and they broke through the Etruscan territory to Rome. It is said that they were all driven back; but the Romans knew little of Italy in early times, and the hills close to them were inhabited by strangers, perhaps Celtic. The Celts had, if not all Gaul, at least most of it; apparently all the present France except the extreme south-west possibly. North-east Gaul was Belgic, and probably the Belga, were a mixed population of Celts. Switzerland, at least the part called Helvetia, was Celtic, and the inhabitants made incursions into Germany, so that Celtic was spoken in some parts there, and it is said even, in some parts, down to the Middle Ages. Germans and Celts fought with each other about the Rhine, as they have done in our day. Spain also had Celts; how far mixed we do not know. And probably all Britain and Ireland were Celtic in Caesar's time, so far as the speech was concerned. Celts also are said to have peopled Galatia, and there is a saying of St. Jerome that he had heard the same language there as in Treves. (Dr. Karl Wieseler has endeavoured to show that the language was German. This does not oppose the theory here.) Celts appear to have at one time overrun Asia Minor, and there are some reasons for supposing them to have appeared in North Africa.

Now, I have read numerous and wearisome opinions, and have looked carefully for little phrases that would show the Gauls or some class of Celts to have been in Italy, as far south as Rome, before the reputed building of that city; but it is not easy to prove it by quotations from historians, and I wish to search a wider field. It seems to me that the similarity of language speaks decidedly of a connection between Rome and Gaul, and tends to show that Latin was Gaulish to begin with, then tinctured by the Greek of Magna Grxcia. It in time developed itself in its own method, by its own character, derived perhaps from the Tuscans and various tribes of Italy. (I have just time to insert a note calling attention to "Vorgeschichte Rums, by Johann Gustav Cuno. Erster Tell, Die Kellen. Leipzig. Teubner, 1878," which came to me when this was passing through the press. The general conclusions are like mine, but my mode of reasoning is different. Mine were obtained without the minute study of the many different languages spoken of in the volume alluded to.)

But, again, what are Celts or Kelts? I must tell you that the reason for writing the K instead of the C is not so good as many imagine. We obtain C from the Latins; if we pass the Roman empire and go back to the Greek for our words, we must make a great change. But we must not be bigoted. We say king and kingly, and we think it right at times to say regal, it has something of Roman majesty about it; but we never say basileus or basilikos, it is a step too far back. If we go eastward we may next meet some Phoenician dialect, and say melck instead of king.

At what stage did the Italians soften their C! why do we pass beyond this period without even knowing where it is?

The question now is, who are the Celts? Philologists can tell us only that they are those who speak Celtic. This is so far a very good definition. What is food ? It is that which people eat, is a question with an analogous answer; it is a proof of ignorance, but there is much of this reasoning adopted for want of better, and I fear it is that which I must also adopt. The Celts are said by Caesar, Tacitus, and others to have been red or light haired, and to have had blue eyes; others say they had dark hair; now I have come to the conclusion that we must not trust merely to the ancient campaigners.

We know what errors travellers make, and how necessary it is to have statements sifted in all branches of history, and to do this we must attend to the contradictions of different historians. For old times we have too few to trust to, and their knowledge was too limited. Let us look at the countries over which Caesar went, and those of which Tacitus wrote, and take into consideration the great influx of Germans into Europe, and Franks enough to give a name to old Gaul, also Normans giving one to a province of France, and we feel surprised to see that the usual French are not at all like Germans, and that their appearance is as different as their language and their character. I believe, whatever ancient historians may say, that France, as a rule, retains its old races, whilst the old tales of destruction are mostly boastings of the conquerors or melancholy moanings of the conquered. Now we see chiefly black hair in west France, and blonde in Germany. Of course some will say that hair changes. Why has Germany not changed, why have England, Sweden, Norway, Italy, and Spain, not changed? This argument cuts both ways. We know of no time when dark hair prevailed in the former, or light as a rule in the two latter countries.

If we go to Ireland, a true land of the Gaelic, we find both red hair and dark, and the native records speak of a yellow-haired race, a brown-haired and a dark-haired. In the Highlands of Scotland there is the same diversity, the dark preponderating, notwithstanding the influx of the light; but complete statistics have not been taken. In Wales the same thing is found. Spain, Portugal, and Italy have all dark hair; we may except some of the northern Italians, where the invaders were very numerous. In short, if you look at the Celtic countries—i.e., countries in which Celtic was spoken in old time, or is spoken now—or countries on the continent called Celtica, you find a predominance of dark hair, and, notwithstanding invasions, this holds good also on the islands.

As to the question of hair changing, I will not say that it is a trifling one. Fair-haired children become dark-haired as the nervous system becomes more active. Take Germans with fair hair into the town, and dark hair increases as the busy life of the town strains the nervous system. I wait for this to be confirmed by the statistics now being collected, but I myself have counted in German town churches a great preponderance of dark hair, and this is a very fair way of taking statistics; so whatever the greater result may be, I know the truth of some cases to be as I say, and this I concluded many years ago. However, I know of no rural light-haired population becoming dark-haired, although I do not say that it is impossible.

The argument then is, that the nations alluded to who arc dark-haired to a great extent now, were dark-haired to an equal or greater extent when the earliest writers spoke of them ; we know no influx of dark-haired people to change them. If that be the case, the Celts of the early time must have been dark haired to a great extent, and the assertions of several historians must be wrong. It may certainly be a daring thing to tell Ceasar that we know better than he did the appearance of a Celt.

Instead of writing this, I might almost quote an article by Dr. Beddoe in the Journal of Anthropology, 1870, wherein he shows with remarkable clearness the dark character of the hair of all those countries now Celtic, and Celtic in the Imperial Roman time. There still remains a difficulty, namely, the fact that several historians ascribe to them light hair. Dr. Beddoe explains some of this by the contrast which the Romans, accustomed to black hair, would find in men who had not black but such as we should call dark hair,,whilst they appeared to the Romans light. (Dr. Beddoe has brought his arguments so fully and fairly that had I seen the article in time I should have relied on it solely, although my own opinions are of long standing on this point.) A curious sentence in Stanley's Journey Across Africa illustrates this; having long been accustomed to black faces he looked on the faces he first met at Bemo, in the west of Africa, as exceedingly pale, whereas they were rather of an olive complexion.

Another mode of surmounting the difficulty has been adopted of late. This affirms that Celts and Teutons are all one race; they are all Aryans, and, therefore, we require no more to account for differences in them than in private families. The argument that all are one would seem at first a powerful one. Men, for centuries, have spoken of the differences, and now, suddenly, the word is passed that there are no differences. We like, when we understand a subject, to enter into full detail, to examine it by the aid of every department of physics, to look into it with the microscope when our own eyes are deficient, to send back reflections from history, when the present is not enough, and to reason with the utmost subtlety over every detail: but when we can come to no sound conclusion it is pleasant to dash the whole aside, or to cut it like the Gordian knot, and to determine that, if possible, no man shall solve it if we cannot. But this mode of acting will not settle the Celtic question. The Gordian knot was destroyed, but the Celtic question remained unaffected by the sword.

Although a few men of high position have attempted to carry the careless view alluded to, it has not been possible to darken the eyes of historians generally to the great question. The Celts, that is, the people in countries which have been or are Celtic, have not been and are not of the same race as the Teutons in any useful sense of the word. It is wonderful what difference there is between the dark Frenchman and the light German, between the small and dark Irish, the descendants, according to one authority, of the Firbolgs, and the same great smooth-skinned and fleshy Teuton. It is marvellous, too, how they differ in character. This difference is proverbial, and has been so for ages, one may say; to this clay it is plain to all who have had any acquaintance with both. It is true that we have the same difference in Ireland itself, both in appearance and character, that is, we hear of Milesians with brown hair invading the country, and Tuatha de Danann with light hair, and it is clear, therefore, that Ireland had, in the earliest known times, a mixed population. In those times there was no attempt to prove that the dark, small, and mean were of the same race as the brave, large, and noble, because it would have been simply absurd, and it has been left for bolder men of our day. There was a class, low and degraded in character, another generous, open, and such as bards could admire and sing of The one small and dark, the other large and light We must, therefore, distinguish between these and name them differently since they are different ; to call them the same is passing those boundaries to which I, for one, confine myself.

It is clear, then, that in earliest times men recognized the difference of races, and that in some Celtic countries the races were mixed, and so mixed that the ignorant people of the time could recognize the difference. Even now these various peoples and others also may be recognized to some extent, although some do say that the MIilesian race has gone out.

The people of the Celtic lands were not one, and who can tell the exact character of a Celt? One may ask, is the Celtic character in one section of the mixture only? We cannot shew this, they are not now sufficiently kept separate, but there is a character obtained by the union of all. This does not deny that there may have been a definite and uniform character of body and mind which originally gave rise to the name Celt.

We may suppose, then, that it is scarcely worth proving that Celt and Saxon are not the same, reasoning and feeling, body and mind, are different. Literature, which is the outcome of the inner soul of a people, is remarkably so, and that of the Celts has a peculiar character, such as never has been found among Teutons.

It is scarcely worth while alluding to things so well known. To prove them all requires a considerable time. Now, for example, let us take the last and the most important—the spirit of people in their literature. I shall not trouble you by bringing the arguments forward, they would be very numerous, but I should advise any one interested to read the literature of Ireland, after being pretty well acquainted with that of England and of Europe; and if the peculiarity of this most Celtic of all literatures is not visible, then, of course, this argument fails more than expected.

Read Dr. Beddoe's accounts, and examine his tables of the eyes and hair of Celtic and Teutonic nations, and see if that argument fails.

It is very difficult, indeed, to remove a population. The boundaries of the Celtic remain in some places in this island, the same, to a few yards, as they were centuries ago. I speak with consideration when I say yards, meaning by this a small portion of a mile. The Comte de Villemarque, as quoted by Dr. Beddoe, says that the boundary line has been the same for French and Breton for four centuries; how much longer is not known. I shall mention a similar case in Scotland—one may say that Britain has an example extending all the length of Wales and north Scotland.

It may be said by men who seek a flaw that the argument only proves that light people and dark exist in a peculiarly Celtic country such as Ireland, whilst there arc also light and dark people in the peculiarly Teutonic countries.

At first a loosely-constructed opposition like this sounds well, but we cannot travel in France or Germany without seeing remarkable differences such as are striking to the most careless, and when we enter into details and take the statistics that have been prepared, the result is certain that there is a majority dark in the one and light in the other.

Here I can imagine some one saying, It has been abundantly proved that an Aryan race has peopled Mid-Europe, the languages, with slight exception, being closely allied, and to upset such a well-established theory will require another generation, even if the arguments for the theory are not good, but on the other hand they appear incontestable.

This I believe to be a fallacy which has caused much error. I am not aware of any proof of a purely Aryan race existing anywhere, neither do I know that any one has shown what an Aryan race really is. There certainly is no proof that such a race ever fully peopled Europe, but there are abundant proofs that it never did so in any known epoch. To have such a result we must put the dark-faced hillmen of Italy and the plain-dwellers of Holland and Schleswig into the same category, although they are as different to ordinary observation as negroes and Chinese. We must bring in the Spanish and the Portuguese with the Slav and the German. The Welsh and the Norman become one although so different in type, and the Irish of all kinds, long recognised as different by themselves, and as coming from different countries, must be called one. Character goes for nothing in this mode of arguing, as nearly all the characteristics known to us from India to Portugal, with some slight exception, are thrown into one. The shapes of the head are not considered the broad, square Roman one, the long Anglo-Saxon, and the Irish are all one. This is merely to cease observing. Of course, I am willing to say that all men are one, but there are differences, and it is convenient to call these by. names, the word race being very well chosen for the purpose. Whenever two peoples cannot be found to have distinctions we may call them of one race.

It may, however, be asked whether I am intending to deny all the conclusions obtained by comparative grammar, and the results which indicate not only a similarity of language among nations in India and Europe, but a certain identity in many points of thought and tradition. This is not my intention. So far as I see, it is proved that an Aryan language has spread from the East, and, of the whole theory of the language and its relations, it is most interesting to learn the important results obtained. They have been found by men who have devoted their lives to the purpose. It is quite otherwise, however, with the idea of an Aryan race being co-extensive with an Aryan language, and it seems to me that many persons do not see the difference. I have seen no proof of the spread of any one race to such an extent as to people the Nest, and the differences already alluded to when speaking of the Celts constitute of themselves sufficient reasons.

There remains; then, the old difficulty, how to account for the similarity of language or the Aryan relationship of the languages. Whatever these difficulties he I will not throw them all aside as trifling, and, if I cannot account for them, I will wait for more information.

The permanence of the boundaries of language is enough to surprise us. A German language is found on one side of the Upper Rhine valley, although not on the river itself, and a Celtic on the other, and this is as old as history. The Belgians have their own German tongue, why should that be considered to have changed its boundary more than the other? In the little town of Nairn, in the North of Scotland, a few years ago, I found that Gaelic was spoken in one part and English in another, and it is said that King James I. of England made the same remark 300 years ago. I stood on the pier at Dunoon, and asked a policeman there how far it was across to the other side, in Renfrewshire? He said, "I do not know, I was never there." The distance was about two and a half miles. The oldest people of Dunoon speak Gaelic now; the people in Renfrew have spoken English for centuries, it is not easy to say how many. The conclusion is that language is a very permanent boundary or institution if nature helps to separate, as in this case, or even without apparent natural boundaries as at Nairn.

When I was a boy few people at Dunoon spoke English; now a large town exists, and all imported people speak English; we may say the same of similar places around, and miles of pure country district. The conclusion is that language is not a permanent boundary. We have these two contradictory and remarkable results from places well known.

Let us apply the lesson to Europe. We see at Dunoon that centuries of an opposing population never changed the boundary. Centuries under one government did not change it, but an influx of an overwhelming number, something like twenty or more to one of the original number, changed the language rapidly. This would lead us to say that no overwhelming invasions had taken place since Caesar's time, from Germany to France or Spain, nothing to overwhelm the original language, and yet German and Scandinavian incursions have been so numerous that one would not have been surprised if the language had changed to Teutonic. If we go back to Roman times, still less do we find that enormous numbers invaded the country, so as to change entirely the population.

It was said that all the Celtic races are rather dark, but it was made clear that even in the supposed most Celtic of countries—Ireland, the colour of the hair and the character of body and mind were mixed. The dark hair, however, was a very general characteristic, and there was the peculiarity of speech besides.

This seems to lead to the conclusion of a pretty general existence of a prehistoric race, or of previous races covering the countries alluded to, and having some similarity. If we go very far back we find men with very little enterprise. Savage nations do not wander far; the world is small to them, and they lock each other out by their animosities. A country peopled in this way may have districts with many peculiarities as we find in Africa, and if it has a sea coast it may have many strangers coming in, but the tendency with a low civilization and similar original habits is to an estrangement. The primitive people then could not be the Celts in the condition in which history brings them to Europe. When we hear of the Celts coming as invaders they are said to have had a civilization which comprised a knowledge of the usual metals.

But if we suppose the historic invading Celts to be only a small portion of the total races called Celtic, we can account for a great deal of contradiction, one part being rude in the extreme, and the other considerably advanced. In this way the invaders might bring a peculiar language called Celtic and impose it, in part, on the people. This would account for it part of the Gaelic being Aryan, and a large part not being proved to be so. The invading people might be light in colour, and large in stature, ruling over a considerable variety of people inferior in weight.

This is one mode of considering the question, but I want to bring in the Romans as having this Celtic tongue also, and as allied to the rest of Europe. We can do this by supposing the Celts to be only a branch of the same people that peopled Latium at a period earlier than we hear of the Celts in Italian history. By doing this we have to pass only a few generations back to the legendary building of Rome, a time which I do not doubt was one of no small commotion, worthy of many a tale even if Romulus and Remus are thrust out. We have nothing in the history of the Italian nations to quite contradict this, and much to make it seem possible, whilst I would revert to my former remarks, and look on the language as making it certain. There is also considerable reason for looking on Celtic nations as existing in Italy very early, but I am not ready to enter on the questions regarding Liguria and Umbria.

It must not be supposed that the Romans were even by this theory only Celts, or the Celts Romans. There is a remarkable difference in their characters and in their languages. The old Roman language has a wonderful firmness, hardness, and definiteness. Every •word is as if shaped by a carpenter, every sentence is like a well dovetailed box. The sharpness of consonants is like their laws and their armies, and the beauty is more of the reason than of the feeling. It is not easy to find from whom the language received this characteristic; it does not seem to be derivable from any known neighbours. The Etruscan may have had some influence, but it is an unknown factor; or quite possibly the peculiarity may have come from a very small knot of men, as the true old Roman head probably existed among few. Had it been common, the ruling class would not have been so small or so readily worn out. One sees the head occasionally in the present day, but if unmeasuring observation is to be regarded as enough, the old Roman head is not the Italian head.

The strong Roman character is in great contrast with the lighter Celtic, and was a matter of early observation. The Celtic may be quicker and more penetrating, but it has not the Roman grip. The languages illustrate this well. It is remarkable how well the Romans have retained the pronunciation of their language, even although the old Roman strength of individual character be rare. The language has kept up the early spirit, and the sound of the Italian is wonderfully clear and near to the Latin as it is spelt and as in many cases it must have been pronounced. Nevertheless there is a change such as the pure Roman of old would certainly object to; but when we go to France the tendency to break down a language is seen in great vigour. One might say that the cause of this was simply the distance from Rome and the mixture with the Celtic, and so far this may be true, but that same inclination to degradation of firm and clear sounds into soft, easy, and uncertain sounds is seen with remarkable fulness in the change and loss of the consonants in the branches of the Celtic called Gaelic.

The German has, like Latin, little flexibility, but the way in which Latin and German roots become hidden in Gaelic is very strange and even amusing. We may compare them to a hard character and a soft, to an active man and an idle, to a stern man and an easy man, and this last is the best comparison. Hard Roman words drop lightly out of Celtic mouths, consonants go away entirely whilst others are changed, and vowels take a form more easily pronounced. The manner in which Latin is broken down in Gaelic is marvellous; let us look at a few examples.

For example: liber, a book; leabhar, pronounced lyonr in Gaelic Alb. Gladius, a sword; claidheamh, pronounced clai. Benefactus, Latin; beannaiglithe, Irish Gaelic, pronounced bannihe. Tectum, a building or covering, is in Gaelic tigh, pronounced tei, and aspirated in certain cases to hei, Gaelic Alb.

Not only so, but Gaelic itself decays, it has this tendency in it, and it is becoming merely a few sighs and gutturals from its desire to soften. Gobha is pronounced gow, although the b was pronounced in old time. Aedh, a king, is ay; the d was certainly pronounced, as it occurs in English in the name Aidan. Cath, a battle, pronounced ca, although the pronunciation must have been cat, as the stones commemorating them are called cat-stones in Lowland Scotch.

With this great diversity of character in Celt and Roman, and the great difference in the tendency of language, we have an undoubted similarity of roots, and this we must closely remember. If it were merely an Aryan similarity we might leave it ; but we believe it to show that the flow of the two peoples westward was at the same time or nearly the same time, and therefore that the Celts did not make their first appearance in Europe when we hear of them frightening the Romans.

This view makes the immediate pre-historic inhabitants of Europe diverse in appearance and not necessarily alike in language, whilst a new language comes in and obtains the ascendancy, not driving out the old. The invasion of Celtic-speaking people might be succeeded by Teutonic, and the great mixture of Teutonic roots would be accounted for, the substratum of the people remaining little changed, or at least changed less than the language.

Another view would make the Celtic the prevailing language in Europe, by pressure the Celts themselves being driven forward to become a conquering people. This also would connect the Romans and Celts; but it is not easy to suppose all Europe, or even West Europe and the British Isles, to have been inhabited by one people, and then invaded in historic times by such a diversity of races as to cause the present differences, and the languages made similar by invasion. I prefer to make them diverse beforehand. The languages, if diverse, as I think probable, would have an Aryan similarity introduced, either by the historic Celts, or by previous invaders from the East. The original very old substratum would supply the diversity in the language not proved to be Aryan.

Beyond these modes of reasoning it is difficult to go. If we do go we are apt on one side to suppose the Celtic element to grow into Roman with a rapidity quite incredible, and to fall into other great difficulties.
We may put the reasoning in fewer words.

1st. We may suppose a dark-haired race all over Central Europe and Britain, as well as much of Italy, with an uniform Aryan language ; whilst incursions of various tongues to different spots changed it.

2nd. We may imagine a diversity of people over the present Celtic Europe—not forgetting Rome—with a diversity of languages, these being invaded by Celts who imposed much of their language and by Germans who imposed some also.

There are many other alternatives; but these two account for a great diversity of appearance in the people. In the first case the diversity would be produced by various mixtures made in long periods among a widely extended substratum with one language. In the second the languages and people may both have been different, but the newer race coming in produced the Celtic portion of the language, and extended it in the comparatively known short period to all the lands alluded to. This language is the main, perhaps only one, point- joining all people called Celts.

Both theories account for that which we must be prepared to admit, a great diversity of appearance and that which may be called races or sub-races even among Celts, and a still greater separation from the Teutons as a great whole, notwithstanding all similarities of portions. In this we take the Celt as he is known to us in all the fulness of the meaning of the term, and do not confine ourselves to certain observations of the ancients, whose words cannot weigh when contradicted by other ancients, and cannot outweigh well known appearances.

We cannot imagine that, in all the long periods before history, people were so miserable that they died off like Australians before the eyes of the historic Celt; archeological remains seem to contradict this, and history does not support it. If the historic Celt of one type had driven the people out, he would have left only one type in, and one type does not appear alone, for neither are the people one, nor is the predominating people such as is described by Cesar for example. That the Celt should bring one language or dialect of Aryan is probable enough; but the remarkable thing is that it is like the Roman. We are compelled either to bring in this language with its speakers to join a number of people diverse in appearance, language, and character, or to bring in the latter to join the former. The mixture in historic times, great as it has been, by no means solves the Celtic mystery.

This one race may have been thoroughly Aryan, and some people may prefer to fix upon it and give it exclusively the title of Celtic; but it is not clearly the original idea, as the title goes over too much ground, as has been said, and is possibly too old for the invading portion which attacked Rome. We can, however, readily suppose the race to have conquered far and to have Aryanized the words and thoughts of the conquered, who were themselves being lost in the crowd. We can account for any variety of people in this way among men called Celts, and even for the sixty-two tribes which existed in Gaul. We gather up all the wild pre-historic fragments of tribes, and with every variety of face and tongue, give them an attachment to their leaders, who are Aryan, and as much of their Aryan language as will make them be understood whilst the diversity of dialects is also accounted for. We account also for a brilliancy and greatness of character in certain Celts, in contrast with the backwardness of the race generally, in places where the true Aryan had less hold.

This is my view, after reading many volumes.

After all, it may be asked, how does this theory differ from that of others ? It differs, so far as I see, from most in this, that it considers the overpowering yellow-haired race to be the minority, whether they brought in the Aryan language or not, and the races before them, however old, still to be in the majority, and to differ distinctly in mind and body from the fair, however diverse among themselves, and united by the one language.

Note.—Enquiries now making in Italy may enable us to speak more decidedly of the Celts in relation to that country. See the latest "Die Italiker in Po Ebene, by Wolfgang Helbig, 1879."


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