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ties,” respecting different stone circles existing in various parts of England and Wales, it appears to present a view of their usual peculiarities of character, equally comprehensive and concise : “ The figure of these monuments is either simple or compounded. Of the first kind are exact circles, elliptical or semicircular. The construction of these is not always the same, some having their circumference marked with large separate stones only; others having ridges of small stones intermixed, and sometimes walls, serving to render the inclosure more compleat. Other circular monuments have their figure more complex and varied, consisting not only of a circle, but of other distinguishing properties. In, or near, the centre of some, stands a stone, taller than the rest; in the middle of others is a Kistvaen, whilst a Cromlech distinguishies the centre of some circles. Some have only one line of stones in their circumference; and others have two; some circles are adjacent, some contiguous, and some include, and some intersect each other. Frequently urns" (skeletons, and other funeral deposits) “are found in or near them; and these circles are of very different dimensions. Some are curiously erected on geometrical plans, the chief entrances facing the cardinal points of the heavens. Some have avenues leading to them, placed exactly north and south, with detached stones, sometimes in straight lines to the east and west, sometimes triangular: all evidences of more than common exactness and design.”*
In ascribing to these various circles their respective objects of destination, great room is allowed for the speculations of ingenuity; as it is only by a comparison with the alledged customs of other countries, in remote ages, that conjecture is here formed on ground in the least degree satisfactory. That many were intended for religious ceremonials, and that circles of stone formed, indeed, the uniform temples of the Druids (although enveloped in masses of oak, all but equally sacred with themselves) is ex
• Borlase's Antiq of Cornwall, p. 192—193. This extract of Dr. Bore lase's valuable publication is in several places altered and abridged, to suit the purpose of the present work.
tremely probable, from analogy of manners. Such appear to have been of Patriarchal usage in the very first recorded ages; and, from its mode of construction, this rude, but venerable species of temple, was, assuredly, well adapted to the tenets of the Druids, who maintained, among other opinions indicative of much grandeur of conception, that the Gods were not to be confined within walls, but were to be worshipped on a spot quite open to the heavens, thongh separated from profane interference. In confirmation of the very rational conjecture that numerous stony circles found in different parts of this island, were used for reli. gious purposes, it may be observed that in the area of many are discoverable the remains of a Cromlech, or other kind of fabric appearing to have served as an altar, although it is by no means evident that the circles in which such vestiges are found were used for a sepulchral purpose.
But that circles of stone were exclusively devoted to religious uses is quite unlikely, and may, indeed, be denied on a tenable foundation. In attention to that coinparison of national manners which is noticed above, it may be observed that the monuments constructed in a Patriarchai age, and at first dedicated simply to religions duties, afterwards became the seats of justice and national council. That a similar union of great solemnities was adopted in regard to the British temples, will appear highly probable, when it is remembered that the priests were also the legislators of the state, and that they sedulously laboured to inculcate a belief of the law proceeding immediately from the Deity, through therselves his ministers. The place of council was probably, also, that of election and inauguration.
It may be remarked, that some traces of the custom of judicial officers sitting on stones, placed in a circular manner, is noliced by Martin in bis “ Description of the Westeru Isles;'* and, concerning the election and inauguration of princes in such cir
• “In the Holm, as they call it, in Shetland, there are four g:eat stuves, mpon which sat the judge, clerk, and other officers of the court.” Martin's descrip:ion of the Westersi Isles.
cles, it is observed by the historian of Cornwall, on the authority of Wormius, that “the custoin of chusing princes, by nobles, standing in a circle upon rocks” (or rather upon stones) “is said to have remained among the northern nations till the reign of Charles the Fourth, and the Golden Bull, A. D. 1356. Some of these northern circles have a large stone in the middle; as the monument near Upsal, in Sweden, on which Ericus was made King of Sweden, no longer since than the year 1396."'*
If we are content to illustrate the subject of these curious an.' tiquities by the manners of other countries, we shall find an appropriation for the leading particulars of many circles which are supposed to have been arranged for civil purposes; and on this head'may be submitted the following remarks: “When assemblies for council, judicature, and election, were convened, it was the custom either to stand by, or to stand upon, or, thirdly, to sit upon, stones placed round a circular area; and each of these different positions of the body, required a peculiar arrangement of the stones. In the first case, whilst any election or decree was depending, or any solemn compact to be confirmed, the principal persons concerned stood each by his pillar; and, where a middle stone was erected in the circle, there stood the prince, or general elect. This seems to be a very ancient custom, and is spoken of, as such, before the Babylenishi captivity.
• It was also the custom to stand upon stones placed in a cir. cular manner, and shaped for that purpose, as so many pedestals to elevate the nobles above the level of the rest; consequently, such stones (bowever rude) were of different shape, and are, therefore, carefully to be distinguished from the abovementioned columnar stones erect, by the side of which the kiug and principal persons stood, and upon which it cannot be supposed that any one ever intended to stand. Where we find stones of this kind
• Borlase, p. 205. apud Wornius, p. 88, 90. Vestiges of the inauguration stone are noticed in the Western Isles, by Martin, in his description, &c, p. 211; and by King, Munimenta Antiqua, Vol. I. p. 147.
and order, we may pronounce them merely elective, consullory, and judicial, as never intended for the rites of worship."*
Besides the above important purposes, it is supposed that many of these circular monuments of stone were adapted to other uses, the most estimable of which was the advancement of the science of Astronomy. It is well known that the Druids of Bri. tain are believed, on the testimony of Cæsar, " to have taught many things to their scholars concerning the stars, and their motion.”+ From the frequency with which circles constructed by the Druids are placed on elevated and open tracts; and from the circumstance of many being apparently formed on gewetrical plans, it has been rationally conjectured that these spherical temples were often used by the learned priests of the early Britons, as theatres of study, and schools in which they imparted astronomical knowledge. I
It has been frequently ascertained that interments were made within these sacred circles; but that they were not places of ordinary sepulture is evident, as it is unusual to find within them the relics of numerous funeral deposits. - Persons favoured with interment on a spot so sacred, had possibly been diguificd minis. ters of religion and dispensers of law.
But circles, probably designed for religions and civil purposes, were not uniformly constructed in so laborious a manner as those noticed above. It is remarked by Sir R. C. Hoare that many earth-works, of a circular form, are dispersed about the downs of
• Antiq. of Cornwall, p. 204–205.
In King's Munimenta Antiqua (p. 139–143) are many remarks on this subject, in the course of which the author strains ingenuity of conjecture to so great a leng:h, as to say that there is ground for fairly suspecting that, in many instances, the stones of Druidical circles were placed so as to answer the purpose of rude astronomical instruments. Mr. Chapple, likewise, cope jectures that erections of stone were used by the Druids for many refined purposes connected with the science of Astronomy. In Polwhele's Devonshire are some juclicious observations, in reply to the latier writer.
Wiltshire, and chiefly on high and commanding situations. “ The slightness of the vallum and ditch that surround them, as well as the smallness of their area, clearly indicate them not to have been constructed for any military purpose, but most probably for some civil or religious object. In countries abounding with stone, as in Wales and Cornwall, the circle was defined by rude upright stones; but on chalk hills, where nature produces nothing larger than a flint, or an occasional sarsen-stone, the circle is described by a bauk and ditch."*
Such appear to be the most important observations presented hy authors, who have bestowed particular attention on the subject of those mysterious circles which are calculated to excite so much curiosty. In regard to the ages in which they were constructed, it has been shewn that some are ascertained to have existed prior to the Roman ascendancy in this island; and, from the similarity which prevails as to general feature, there is fair reason for supposing that all are to be attributed to the hands of the Britons. The occurrence of such monuments in parts of Germany, 'in Scandinavia, Norway, &c. perhaps merely shews that the people of those countries derived similar usages with the Britons, from the same common ancestors. These circles in Britain have sometimes been supposed the work of the Daues; but they are often seen in districts which the Danes never visited : and it is observed by Mr. King + that we might, on as rational grounds, suppose the circular monuments in Denmark to be the works of the Britons.
But not any of the above remarks apply, in a satisfactory manner, to the two most distinguished ruins of structures composed of rude stone. The interesting and far-famed vestiges of the
• Hist, of Ancient Wilts. Part I. p. 18.
+ Munimenta Antiqua, Vol. I. p. 153.—The following are the principal works consulted in regard to the above article on circles of upright stones: Borlase's Antiq. of Cornwall. Rowlands' Mona Antiqua. Dr. Stukeley's works. King's Munimenta Antiqua. Sir R. C. Hoare's Ancient Wiltshire. Polwhele's History of Devonshire,