Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

date, let us see what there is on record to corroborate our author's hypothesis.

Sir James Mackintosh sets great value upon the native legends and songs of a people. Niebuhr, Arnold, and Macaulay, from the half-uttered echoes of Rome's antiquity, picture many of the opening scenes of her drama. Mr. Herbert assigns the like importance to the poetry of Britain, as not less genuine because sometimes tinged with the extravagance of monkish fable. The collection of legends in the Triads’ is well known. The majority of these are of Bardic date, composed by the Bards, who, with the Britons, had fled from the Saxon yoke to an exile among the Welsh mountains, and who were then what their ancestors, the Druids, had been, the sole depositaries of the traditional lore of their nation. Our author's study of this collection enables him to state, that, of those few legends which bear the marks of an ante-Roman age, (such as the absence of Latin names,) and which are, therefore, in strictness, alone Druidic, none contain any mention of the Great Cor,' or 'Circle of Emmrys,' as Stonehenge is called in the native poetry; or of the name of Merlin, to whose potent spells that mighty work has been vulgarly attributed. On the other hand, the lays of the post-Roman era abound in allusions, under a variety of names, to the achievement of great national works which no antiquary has hitherto hesitated to identify with those under our consideration. Such are the raising of the stone of Ceti, the building of the work of Emmrys, and the heaping of the 'pile of Cyvangron' (p. 35). This important distinction seems to have been lost sight of by previous writers, from their not having noticed the various style of these compositions.

Besides, throughout the latter series the Bards speak, not as men reverting to times long gone by, but as if the pride and power from which they had fallen, and of which these temples were the sad monuments, were but a yesterday's loss, bewailing them with all the freshness of the Trojan exile's mourning, Quæque ipse miserrima vidi et quorum pars magna fui.

Such evidence Mr. Herbert thinks conclusive, as far as it goes, for the recency of those objects which are thus regarded a recency which at once contradicts the notion of an ante-Druidic existence, which latter, after what has been said, is perhaps the greatest obstacle we have to get over. With the love which these minstrels testify for their religion and its shrines, to suppose that they would go and nestle like owls in the forgotten

ruins of an untold antiquity, claim them as pertaining to their own era, and make them the Sion of their harps,' our author justly thinks 'an incredibility' (p. 36).

But besides the testimony of the legends, he has on his side

the professed native historians, the authors of the various · Bruts,' or Chronicles. We give his general comments on the value of their evidence in his own language :

• The native authors' [says he] 'declared that the Great Cor was constructed in the latter days of Britannia, after the Roman emperors had ceased to govern her. They did not draw that conclusion from any reasonings or etymologies; for they neither used any such, nor had any pretensions to the capacity of so doing. It is assertion, not inference. They merely stated it because they were told it; and I will add, they were told it because it was so. The traditions of mankind are prima facie true; though obvious motives may raise the presumption of their being in part or even totally false. National vanity is one such motive; and therefore the origin of traditions wbich magnify the antiquity of national greatness is to be regarded with suspicion and frequent incredulity. Such, for instance, would have been the case had the same authorities assured us that Gomer, son of Japhet, lay buried under these stones. The spirit of exaggerating antiquity was not one from which the Cambro-Britons were exempt; and it is strongly apparent in these very chronicles of Brutus the Trojan and his lineage. Why should not their giant Cors have been sanctified with antiquity as well as all other modes of honour, and have been made the glorious work of Brute, Locrine, or Beli Mawr?'- Cyclops, p. 35.

Yet, instead of reading the names of Gomer, Brutus, Hercules, or even King Arthur, in connexion with these works, we here meet with a plain tradition which assigns the Great Cor' to the latest period of the British nation's existence east of Severn, ' and showing that they had scarcely piled up these giant stones ' when they were expelled (by the Saxon) for ever from the ' lands of their forefathers, and their religion a second time exiled into the wilds and mountains; an admission, Mr. Herbert exclaims, directly opposed to their national vanity, 'humiliating to their nation and its antiquities, and at variance with all imaginable motives for falsehood.'

Of all the native chronicles, the ‘Brut' of Kings by Tysilio is the most conspicuous for its absurdly fabulous and Trojanistic' spirit. Yet affording, as it does, so many proofs of its author's hardy contempt for the trammels of historic truth, and with every disposition in him to the contrary, it contains the plain statement that Stonehenge was erected posterior to the Roman age. The collateral points of the story are palpably fabulous, and the motives, as we shall hereafter show, dissimulative; but the fact remains broadly and undeniably asserted.

His account of it is the following :—That the site of Stonehenge was the scene of the murder and burial of those British chieftains who were slain by Hengest the Saxon, when they had assembled, on the occasion of the festival of the Calanmai, to celebrate the good feeling between the two nations; and that the Bard Merlin afterwards advised the reigning king Emmrys, or Ambrosius, to remove the Giant's Circle from Ireland, and

[ocr errors]

p. 34.)

set it up as a monument over their graves. (Cyclops,'

Thús much for Mr. Herbert's evidence, with which, as we have said, many, doubtless, have been long as familiar as he ; but they feared or failed to draw the conclusion to which it would seem to point. But the great feature of our author's hypothesis is the new light which its development throws upon a long darkened page in our country's annals. We will endeavour to follow our guide as closely as our limits will allow.

It is the fashion amongst historians to represent the weakness of Rome as the sole cause of the separation of Britain from the empire under whose dominion she had acquired so much importance, and enjoyed so much prosperity. They suppose that she was left suddenly defenceless, and that, as suddenly, her degenerate sons fell before their hardier foes, the barbarians. But was it so in fact ? Was it not rather from her conscious strength, and by her own act, that, in .408, she threw off the conqueror's yoke, and assumed an independent position, so important as to be acknowledged by the Emperor Honorius? We are inclined to believe the only pretence for the above opinion is, that about this period (but before the Roman fall, as well as after it) we, for the first time since the days of Agricola, hear of our island being desolated by barbarian invasion. Yet strong as is the language of Gildas, when describing the invasions of the Scots and Picts, Mr. Herbert thinks that its strictest acceptation will hardly carry their ravages lower than the Latin town of Eboracum, in either of the great inroads previous to the year 446; the chief contests being confined to the northern districts. No towns are said to have been taken, except such fortresses as were connected with the frontier wall, relictis civitatibus muroque celso. (P. 74.) Besides, it is fair that Mr. Herbert's opinion should be tried by the event; and we have a right to assume that, had Britain been so weak, the ravages by land would have been extended, and the maritime descents from other countries more fre nt; for, as an island, she was peculiarly exposed; and the absence of her late experienced leaders, and the necessarily divided state of her government, would have rendered her an easy prey. Why did not the vast forests of Scandinavia and Germany, now long charged with overflowing multitudes, pour their thousands upon her inviting shores? We may surely infer that we have not the whole truth here; for it is evident that the new state must, considering all its confessed disadvantages, have possessed in itself a means of resistance beyond what we have generally given it credit for, when we find it without a decisive invasion for more than forty years, and even then the foe gained a footing only by invitation from within ; while the


[ocr errors]

away by

final subjugation of the island was deferred for more than a century. No man can deliberately assume that the scanty contingents occasionally sent from Gaul on the urgent demand of the 'groaning Britons,' could do more than they are related to have done; that is, have repaired the ruined wall and repulsed the frontier enemy: they could not have protracted the conquest of a people who were ripe to be conquered.

Mr. Herbert thinks the true account of this phenomenon is to be sought in the nation themselves. He suggests that there had arisen in Britain a great moral convulsion, which, for a time, fused the differences of race and faith under the stronger heat of some all-powerful influence. The revolt of the insular and 'Armorican Britannias in 408,' he afterwards remarks, was an unique event, curious in its nature, and locally, at least, 'momentous .... The rest of the empire crumbled 'the conquering inroads of the foreigner. But here a conquest of the early Cæsars was restored to (and we may add, for a time, at least, maintained by the mixed race of its ancient inhabitants and Roman colonists.' (P. 217.)

Religious zeal is one such all-powerful motive. Let us see if this will apply to the case before us. There can be little doubt, he thinks, that the revolution was mainly a religious one, or, rather, that circumstances which, on the failure of the sedition of Maximus and his death, had rendered the overthrow of the Roman power a feasible as well as a desirable object, opened the way under his son Eugenius, (called “Owen Finddu' in the Triads), and the auspices of the fanatic mother of the latter,-a British ‘Helena'-to the re-establishment of the old native superstition. The parties in the field were the remnants of the Druidic body, existing hitherto beyond the Roman pale, small in numbers and weakened by the persecution of more than four centuries, but strong in the prestige of an ancient title, and elated by the weakness of their bitterest foes. On the other hand, the Christians, though perhaps superior in numbers, had been of late weakened by division and heresy, particularly that of Pelagius, and had besides lost the support which the liberal state-religion of Rome had afforded them. Both were anxious to assert and extend their faith. It was not for the interest of either to maintain a contest of intolerance between themselves, which must expose both to the attacks of the vast force of Paganism which lay beyond and around them. Is it improbable that there might have been a compromise between them (with all due submission we advance such a topic), in the first place, intended as an extraordinary remedy, and suggested by common danger and national sympathy-one, too, which seemed feasible without great sacrifice of principle on either side, though the

[ocr errors]

ulterior results may have proved untoward ? On the side of the Church we cannot imagine there would have been much difficulty. Its proselytising spirit and ready adoption of national prejudices is a fact above the necessity of proof. The compromise, which, as we believe, would have been the result of the Judaizing tendencies of some even of the apostles, had it not been denounced and overborne by the fearless character of S. Paul, had been attempted, we know, at a later time, and with fatal success, in the case of the Gnostics in the East, and Platonists in Egypt, and so it was, we may suppose, in Britain.

It must be always borne in mind that we are now only endeavouring to interpret our author's conjectures. He frankly confesses that the whole period is a blank in every annalist. It is 'manifest,' he remarks, that British history has been com

* pletely falsified in its chronicles, and that another and more • true history was formerly known, which a Nennius and a "Tysilio did not think good for our edification, and of which the

memory is now lost.' (Britannia after the Romans, p. 35.) His theory, therefore, at present, rests on such bare gleanings of evidence as his industry has collected. More than this could not be said of much that Niebuhr wrote. It will be for further research to determine the measure of our faith, or the extent of our adhesion,

The chief points of historical evidence to which Mr. Herbert refers for a confirmation of this, his view, are the following: It is almost the precise time,' he says, 'of Britain's separation ' from the Empire that the paschal schism is said to have arisen 'there upon the suggestion of Sulpicius Severus. See S. Adhelm Epist. ad Gerontium, and Usher, Index Chron. in anno 410, p. "219. We have it on record that the British Church up to the time of Constantine had, in conformity with the Nicene decree, celebrated Easter on the 16th day of the month, corresponding in a cycle of 84 years to the Jewish Nisan ; (Epist. of Const. Ad omnes Ecclesias, Spelman. Conc. p. 45, quoted by Mr. Herbert, Brit. after the Romans, p. 42;) while at a later period we find its members incurring the charge of heresy as Quartodecimans, for adopting the Jewish celebration on the 14th day. If this change had occurred under the Roman system, we should have found it alluded to in historical or theological writers. Mr. Herbert therefore assigns it to the days of confusion and dismemberment contemporary with Sulpicius, and quotes the authority of Archbishop Usher. (Brit. Eccl. p. 483, ed. 1687.) That prelate refers the advice of Sulpicius in this matter to a desire of obtaining a medium between the discordant computes of Alexandria and Rome. From this Mr. Herbert dissents, but it matters little to us what was the object. The fact of Britain's separation from

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »