Page images

strates, by analogy, that animals were eaten by our ancestors; but that they were cannibals, or devourers of the-flesh of their own species, cannot be admitted beyond the possibility of their indulging in similar savage triumphs over their vanquished enemies, related in one or two solitary instances by Captain Cook. There is something so disgusting in the idea of eating raw meat, that we must indulge in the hope, that the Britons dressed their meals from the earliest page of history: the Roman authors declare, that they boiled, roasted, and broiled, at the period of their invasion; nor were they ignorant of the means of making a horrid dirty salt, with which they preserved their food. Many vegetables are still eaten raw, and all were perhaps so eaten by the Britons.

Water was unquestionably the original beverage of man; milk probably the first mixture with it; then the juices of plants, or the of trees. Infusions or extracts of grain seem the result of thought and experience: some of the liquids thus composed will produce fermentation merely by standing after combination; and hence followed the system of brewing; but who shall venture to fix the period when beer, ale, &c. superseded similar delicate compositions with that of the cava bowl? Pliny mentions a mixture of corn juices and water with which the Western natives of Europe intoxicated themselves : those of our own island could not have known the use




of wine till commerce was in some degree matured. Nature required what we term a breakfast soon after the cessation of sleep; and as all men rose early, it is rational to suppose, that something like a regular meal took place in each family: whether other meals followed in an equally regular manner, is at least doubtful; though it is asserted, that the day closed with one. Some of the smaller weapons used in war might serve to séparate their food; but the fingers and teeth were principally concerned in this operation. Plates of some sort held their meat, which were supported by stools; and each individual sat on the ground. Feasts were frequently given.

Many incontrovertible proofs still exist of the manner in which the antient Britons disposed of their dead. The barrows of England have been too often explored to render a description of the state of their contents necessary : whole families are known to have been inhumed together; and the spear-heads and stone weapons found with them shew their mode of fighting. Ornaments, consisting of beads and bracelets, and anklets even of pure gold, are sometimes found in these vaults, formed of rude stones, and covered with earth. The Romans, it may be imagined, effected a considerable change in this particular: their mode of burning their dead was unquestionably continued in England, as the urns and lachrymatories, and their sepulchral inscriptions,


are discovered in every direction; but whether the custom prevailed before or long after the period when they evacuated the country, cannot be decidedly ascertained, though probability seems against the supposition that it did. In those cases where imitation was easy, it is not unlikely that the Britons were very nearly assimilated to the Romans; it is however evident, that when thought and practice were equally required, it was far otherwise.

In thus noticing the arts and customs described as peculiar to this first æra of our habits, we cannot forget the contradictions discoverable in the accounts transmitted to us; in which we may trace connexion of facts, embellished with such fictions as were calculated to enhance the value of the conquests made in England in the ideas of the people of Rome and its dependencies. For instance, the habitations of the natives are said to have been similar to those of the Germans, or deep caves dug into the earth, where they resided, surrounded by their provisions for the winter, almost wholly concealed from casual view, and suffocated with smoke. When the summer approached, those dungeons were abandoned ; and they constructed huts, composed of stakes driven into the ground, and interwoven with branches of trees on the sides and top. The people of Kent derived from Gaul the improvement of filling the intervals of the branches with

mud, mud, and whitening it with chalk. To suppose men thus situated capable of planning streets and towns, would be ridiculous; nor doth it appear that, even after they had substituted beams for stakes, and wattles and straw for a roof of branches and leaves, they thought of the convenience and regularity of a city, for which we are certainly indebted to the Romans. In all the above particulars, we perceive a regular system of detail, suited to the savage state of man; and these are every way probable: nor can it be denied that Cæsar pronounced the truth, when he asserted he found the inhabitants of the interior clothed in skins, and those parts of their bodies which were exposed stained with woad producing a blue tint, and ornamented (if such figures as they were capable of executing deserved the term) with beasts, birds, &c. Here again we find a strong resemblance of the rude customs of other uncivilized nations, described under the word tattowing.

Now, although our countrymen were actually discovered in this state of debasement, we are not to imagine that their intellects were equally imperfect with the performances of their hands. It is well known, that savages possess the most sublime conceptions, and utter sentences unconsciously which are without a parallel in the more refined states of society: in short, they pronounce the genuine dictates of nature, and prove that art


[ocr errors]

and contrivance often mar her conceptions. The savage never thinks; he that thinks hesitates, and is lost for the moment. Did the savage think, he would speak incorrectly till art had, in some degree, recovered his powers; and he would invent the conveniencies and embellishments of life. Some authors have been loud in their praises of the poetry of the antient Britons, nor shall I dispute its pretensions to superior excellence': on the contrary, I can readily imagine the energy and beautiful extravagance of their war-songs and songs of victory, because they were a species of sudden poetic inspiration, fearless of criticism, and not polished till meaning and spirit were expelled: but how are we to reconcile the above particulars with their long broad swords without points, suspended by a chain or belt round their shoulders, their short sharp-pointed daggers fixed in their girdles, their spears thrown and recovered again by means of a thong tied to them; with their balls of brass, containing pieces of metal fixed to one end, to terrify their enemies' cavalry in battle, mentioned by Herodian and Tacitus? Were all these invented, and the composition of brass known, by a people that were too ignorant to contrive a house? And no less than four species of chariots used, for domestic, agricultural, and warlike purposes, when the possessors of them had not sufficient art to discover any other clothing than dried skins ? To shew this incre

« PreviousContinue »