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ON THE CONDITION OF THE BRITONS UNDER THE ROMAN
PART 1. THERE are few subjects, the proper enable us to present the Britons in three treatment of which requires more varied distinct aspects :information, more tact in discrimina. (1) About the time of the Roman tion, and more impartiality of judg- invasion ; (2) during the time the Roment, than that of the early history of mans were endeavouring to establish a people. The main cause of this is themselves in the country; (3) from the obvious—the extreme paucity of well- time of their complete subjugation till authenticated historical facts. The ma- the abandonment of the island by the terials which constitute the framework Romans. that gives at once solidity and symme- 1.This first part of our subject is at try to the historic narrative are clear,
Clear, once the most difficult to treat and the undoubted facts, and without these this
most necessary to be known : the forspecies of literary composition forfeits
mer, because of the impenetrable obthe name of history and becomes, for
scurity in which many important questhe most part, a figment of the fancy tions "connected with it are involved : Unfortunately for the proper and sa
the latter, because on our knowledge tisfactory examination of our present
of the country and its inhabitants we subject, we find, on looking over the re
must mainly rely in forming anything cords of the past, that the above-men
like an accurate and comprehensive tioned indispensable requisites of his.
notion of the nature of those materials tory are in a situation strikingly similar
with which the Roman genius and to that of the good followers of the
arms had to deal, and which, whatever “ pious Æneas,"
they may have been, must have modi“ Rari nantes in gurgite vasto.”
fied in a very great degree the future
relative position of the conquerors and Since, then, this is the case, our subject the conquered. is more curious than useful; it belongs The principal sources of our knowmore to the antiquarian than to the ledge of an ancient people are, the rephilosophical historian. We admit corded deeds and fortunes of that peothere cannot be drawn from it that in- ple, or its history strictly so called ; struction which is so plentifully afforiled traditions; religion, laws, manners, and by narratives equally interesting but far customs ; well-defined and distinctive more valuable, inasmuch as they are ethnological characteristics ; language ; faithful records of past events. How- and the topographical nomenclature of ever, it is pleasant to speculate occa- the country. sionally; and to see how a difficult topic In what we shall have to say of the has been treated by men of clear judg- state of the Britons immediately before ment and ardent curiosity, may not be and at the time of the Roman invasion, altogether wanting in instruction, we shall freely make use of the labours
In attempting to give a brief sketch of others in this interesting field of inof Britain under the Roman rule it ap- quiry, and state, as briefly as possible, pears necessary, first of all, to deter- the leading views entertained on the mine, as far as it is practicable, the subject by the very few authorities condition of Britain immediately before which have come within our reach. and at the period of the Roman inva. The first question which naturally sion, in order thereby to comprehend requires consideration is, by what race more fully the relative position of the or races was Britain inhabited previous invaded to the invaders, and by that to the landing of Cæsar? The story means see more clearly what is involved of the Trojan origin of the population in the eventual predominance of the of Britain may here be merely menlatter over the former, and the subse- tioned as a specimen of the dusky fable quent fusion of the two hostile parties. in which the history of our country is This method of viewing the subject will involved. It is equally amusing and instructive to see with what dexterity “tisfactorily settled by the famous disthe modest and cautious Camden en- “covery, attributed to General Vallandeavours to impugn the authenticity of “coy, of the true meaning of the Carthis tale, which no one in the present “thaginian lines in Plautus." day hesitates for a moment in regard- This discovery was, that the speech ing as about equal, in point of historical in Plautus was Irish Gaelic, and consevalue, to the adventures of “ Sinbad quently that the Irish was Carthagi. the Sailor.” He tells us that the origin nian and vice versa. Sir Wm. Betham of the Britons would be placed beyond is an advocate for this opinion, both all dispute, if he could just be certain of with regard to Ireland and Britain. the authenticity of the story of Brutus, We have no means, even had we the who was alleged to be the son of Silvius, ability, to pursue these views farther ; the grandson of Ascanius, and the great. although we venture to surmise that grandson of Æneas, who had Jupiter Dr. Latham shows a little too much for his father and Venus for his mother, historical scepticism in his estimate of From this very respectable family were them. Nor perhaps can aught else be the brave Britons descended, according said of the great Gesenius, whom Dr. to Geoffrey Ap Arthur of Monmouth. Latham seems to quote in support of This noble origin was, no doubt, highly his own opinion : for it may be quesgratifying to the patriotism of Geoffrey. tioned whether Gesenius were suffiPatriotism is a noble and manly senti- ciently acquainted with the lingua Himent, and in these strange times noth- bernica to use such strong language as ing could be more worthy of modern be does, in opposition to the deliberate Britons than to imitate Geoffrey, in opinions of eminent Irish scholars. spirit at least, by showing the same de- However, we gladly turn away from sire to secure for themselves a glorious these philological and antiquarian quagdestiny among the nations, that he did mires, and place our foot on more solid to establish a splendid origin for the ground. This we find in the fact, first inhabitants of Britain. The whole which seems to be admitted on all story of Brutus, however, is quietly hands, that the people whom Cæsar and prudently handed over by Camden found in the southern part of Britain, to the mercy and concern of the “ So- on his first arrival'there, and of whom ciety of Antiquaries" (just then esta. he thus speaks,“ hominum est infinita blished), he deeming himself too weak multitudo,” were a race whose immein judgment to determine a point of so diate progenitors were the inhabitants much importance (!) Other accounts of Gallia, now called France. We learn of the origin of the early inhabitants of from Cæsar and Tacitus that the buildBritain have been given by Welsh po- ings, religion, and language of this peoetical histories called Triads, but they ple were, generally speaking, similar to are to all appearance of little value in those of the Gauls; but this statement the present inquiry.
applies only to the southern Britons; for Modern investigators have endea- Cæsar could not speak with accuracy of voured to trace the first inhabitants of any but those whom he had seen. On Britain to a Phoenician origin. The the authority of the traditions of these following notice of this theory is taken southern Britons, he describes the inhafrom Dr. Latham's acute and learned bitants of the interior of the country work on “ The English Language.” as extremely rude in their manpers, far
“As early as the year A.D. 1676, behind the inhabitants of the coast in “an opinion was advanced by Aylett point of civilization, and also of a dif“ Sammes, in a work entitled - Britan- ferent race. “When he inquired,” says “nia Antiqua Illustrata,' that the first Dr. Lingard, “after their origin [that “ colonisers of Ireland were the mer- “is, the origin of the tribes inhabiting “chants of Tyre and Sidon. In confir- “the interior], he was told that their “mation of this opinion the existence “ancestors were the spontaneous pro“ of several Eastern customs in Ireland “duction of the soil : Jater discoveries “ was adduced by subsequent antiqua. “ showed that they were Celtæ, and “rians. Further marks of an Eastern “ the descendants of the first colonists “ origin of the Irish were soon found in “of Britain.” On what grounds this “the Gaelic dialect of that country ; last important assertion is inade Dr. “ finally, the matter (in the eyes at Lingard does not state. “ least of the national writers) was sa- In considering this comparatively
barbarous portion of the inhabitants of “Upon the whole, the probability Britain, we seem to rest no longer on seems to be, that although the inhathe firm ground we spoke of above ; for bitants of the inland part of south we are met by points of considerable Britain, at the time of the Roman indifficulty, the chief of which is, that the vasion, were the posterity of a much tribes inhabiting the coast considered earlier colonization than that which had those of the interior to be a totally dif- peopled the maritime parts of the ferent race.
island, yet both the tribes of the coast The fact of the tribes inhabiting the and those of the interior were of the interior being far less civilized than same Celtic descent, and all spoke those of the southern and maritime dialects of the same Celtic tongue. districts, can be sufficiently accounted We find the evidences of this comfor on a principle, the truth of which munity of language and of lineage has been corroborated in numerous in- spread over the whole length of the stances, both in ancient and modern country, from its northern boundary times : it is this, that in proportion as to the channel; for the oldest names the facilities of intercommunication be- of natural objects and localities, even tween the different parts of a country in the portion of this range which become increased, in the same propor. is commonly understood to have been tion will the dormant energies of that eventually occupied by Belgic colonies, people be called forth. England, at are equally Celtic with those that occur the present moment, is one of the most elsewhere. remarkable cases in point which the “ It is not unlikely that a few settleworld affords. But that which appears ments may have been effected, in very most difficult to account for is, the fact early times, on the west coast by the of these southern Britons believing Spaniards, and on the east coast by those of the interior not only to be of a emigrants from the opposite Scandidifferent race, but also to be the spon- navian regions; but, with these exceptaneous production of the soil. The tions, there appears to be little reason mere existence of this belief is quite to doubt that the whole of what is now enough to induce one to be of opinion called England was first occupied by a that what may for the sake of distinction Celtic population, which came over in be called the inhabitants of the northern successive swarms from the neighbourparts of Britain, were a decidedly dif- ing country of Gaul. At any rate, it ferent people from those who, in Cæsar's may be assumed that the first migratime, dwelt in the southern parts and tion from the one to the other took on the sea coast. The tradition pre- place at a very early period, most provailing among the southern Britons, bably considerably more than a thouas mentioned by Cæsar, is that they sand years before the commencement themselves were of Belgic origin; that of our era. The Belgic colonization of they had come over to Britain, and had the southern coast seems to have been taken forcible possession of the terri- an event of historic memory—that is to tories adjoining the sea; that they say, not yet transformed into the shape drove into the interior the inhabitants of fable-in Cæsar's day; and, therewhom they found there; that as regards fore, we may suppose it to have hapthe origin of the latter they were, as pened within two or three centuries stated above, the children of the land. preceding that date.” This shows, at least, that the coloniza. With regard to the origin of the tion of Britain was of a much earlier Dame Britain, numerous, ingenious, abdate than the arrival of the Belgic surd, and extravagant have been the tribes in the south. But the great conjectures from time to time, as may questions, who were these early colo- be seen by consulting Camden and nists, and whence came they, are others on the matter. On becoming shrouded in mists which seem im- acquainted with these various etymopenetrable. Again :, were the Belgą logies, one by one, we are forcibly reof Celtic or Teutonic origin? All we minded of the old saying, “one story is have read on this point is confused and good until another is told.” One of the unsatisfactory. We quote the opinion clearest and most sensible derivations of a modern writer on these controverted of the name Britain which we have met topics :
with is the following :-" There can be
little doubt that the element tan, in of the Southern Britons) appeared Britannia, is the same word which either in vest and trousers, or else a we find forming a part of so many deeply-plaited tunic of braided cloth, names of countries, both ancient and over which was thrown a square modern, such as Mauri-tan-ia, Aqui- mantle. This, considering their age tan-ia, Lusi-tan-ia, Kur-dis-tan, Af- and circumstances, was very respectable ghapis-tan, Kuzis-tan, Louris-tan, indeed. How many of our modern Hindos-tan, &c. It appears to signify Britons, in this civilized nineteenth cenmerely land or country, though it is not, tury, are not half so decent and comwe believe, found in that sense in any fortable in their attire. Their second existing dialect of the Celtic; and, for finger displayed a ring, an article for anything that is known, it may after which human beings, savage and civiall be really Daoine, people, as sug- lized, ancient and modern, seem to have gested by Sir William Betham. a peculiar, we had almost said mysteBruit, again, is the Celtic term for tín, rious, predilection. Their ideas of aror metal generally; so that Bruit-tan, chitecture do not appear to have been or, as smoothed down by the Greeks of a very extended or elegant descripand Romans, Britannia signifies alto- tion. We are told that their huts regether the metal or tin land-an epi- sembled those of their Gallic neighthet which would be naturally bestowed bours. Cæsar tells us that they made upon the country from the circum- forests to answer the purpose of cities. stance for which it probably first be- They cut down a great number of trees, came known to other nations. The so as to make a large circle; within this meaning of the name is exactly the they built huts for themselves and stalls same with that of the Greek Cassiteri. for their cattle, of rather a frail and des, by which alone the British islands portable kind. According to Cæsar, were known to Herodotus."
they must have been great charioteers. This cursory view of the early in- In declivities and precipices they could habitants of Britain will perhaps suf- stop their horses on full speed, and imfice for our present purpose, which is mediately check and turn them, run not to inquire minutely into the early along the pole of the chariot, stand on history of the people, but to endeavour the yoke, and, with the same rapidity, to determine their probable condition return to their chariots again. Accordabout the time of the Roman invasion. ing to Diodorus Siculus, they raised The ancient historians afford us but more corn than was required to supply little aid in settling this important their immediate necessities, and stored point; but, such as it is, it is almost all it past in the ear, and rubbed out what we possess. The Roman historians all they required for daily use. But these agree in describing the Britons as bar- observations apply only to the Southern barians. But, as Dr. Lingard re- Britons. Farther inland, every trace of marks, this is a term of indefinite im- this comparative civilization and its port. In fact, its signification is purely scanty comforts disappeared. Agriculrelative to the position in point of civi- ture and manufactures were nowhere in lization occupied by those who use the any shape to be met with; everywhere term, and those to whom it is applied. vast and wild tracts of country, with At all events, its classic meaning should here and there a patch of pasture. never be lost sight of when it is used The inhabitants depended for subsiswith reference to the Britons, or it may tence on the uncertain produce of the mislead. No doubt the Britons were chase, the milk and flesh of their own barbarous, in any sense of that term, flocks, or the fruits of trees. Living compared with the proud, refined, under these circumstances, they were and luxurious Romans, to whose su patient of fatigue, hunger, and cold, to perior power and discipline they were a very great degree. Dio Cassius says at last obliged to yield. Nevertheless, that they were able to remain immersed the natives of the sonth, compared with to the chin in water for the space of sethose of the north, were comparatively veral days. These were the people becivilized. Their dress is said to have fore whose fierce and sanguinary nature been of their own manufacture. What the bravest legions of Rome trembled. one might suppose to be the “bet- From this meagre, unconnected, aud ter classes ” of the Britons (that is, unsatisfactory account, we may at least infer that the present beautiful country chiefly inhabited by a people of Celtic England, intersected as it is in every blood, who, as is evident from the very direction by railways and canals, smil. brief accounts we have received of them, ing from one end to the other under the possessed in abundance all the characinfluence of enlightened and systema- teristics which ethnographers have attic agriculture, dotted with prosperous 'tributed to that remarkable race towns, adorned with magnificent villas, strong animal and social feelings; viosplendid palaces, and stately cathedrals lent passions and a strong tendency to
the residence of the most enlightened quarrel ; an almost ineradicable superpeople on earth-was, at the time above stition ; a courage which could scarcely alluded to, covered with immense fo- be daunted, and a power of endurance rests and marshes, and that, with the which no fatigue could subdue ; but, at exception of portions of the south, the the same time, a total absence of perwhole country was little, if at all, re- severance, prudence, and solidity of moved from a state of savage wildness, character.
SCENE.-A small room ; a table, covered with books and writing materials.
PRUDENTIUS, Criticus, and Felix seated round the fire.
PRUDENTIUS.-On my word, Felix, a goodly pile of books for our critical examination. You surely don't want us to read all these in one evening.
CRITICUS.-No! no! he only means you to put the knife into a page of each, like some people who, for mere mischief, will spoil the look of a dish without any intention of eating any of it.
FELIX.-You are both in the wrong, my good friends; some of these books are already acquaintances of yours, Prudentius ; with others you, Criticus, have ere now dallied, and in their pleasant company forgot to criticise—while, for the rest, I can do master of the ceremonies to them, and introduce ther“ to a discerning public.”
CRITICUS. -Aye! But don't commence like Sir John Sinclair, when, in the House of Commons, brandishing a cane, saying, “ Mr. Speaker, such are my sentiments on this subject,”-rat-a-tat went his cane on the table—“such, I repeat, are my sentiments on the subject,"'--rat-a-tat on the table again—" and if any one differ from me, he must be totally and decidedly wrong." Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, went bis cane, fast and furious, to conclude his oration. You know you have an air of authority about you already, and I hate dogmatism,
FELIX.—Come, Criticus, that is rather severe; but the good Sir John must have looked rather foolish, drumming on the table in that manner, like some one I know in that trick.-Eh ! Criticus !
PRODENTIUS.—You have got a tit-for-tat now, I think ; or, to be classic, “ a quid pro quo.”
CRITICUS.-[Taking up a book.]–Here's a quid for you.
FELIX.—“Angels and ministers of grace defend us.”
PRUDENTIUS. Be serious for once in your life, Felix, and look at the volume. It is worth reading, were it only to show how friendship hoodwinked a talented man. With much originality of thought, with many brilliant passages such as the sketch of Sir Robert Peel, which, however, does not do him justice-and with many striking tableaux, the book is, as a whole, a failure. It is too party. I am annoyed at it, for I expected better things from D’Israeli.
FELIX.-So did I. I recollected the talent shown in “ Coningsby,” “ Sybil,” and “ Tancred," and dreamt of something superior to them.
CriticuS.-So did not I. D’Israeli is D'Israeli here, as in all his other books.