« PreviousContinue »
The imperfect notices we have of the people. who at first inhabited England, necessarily lead us to view the accounts of very antient authors with suspicion: it would, however, be wrong to reject them as entirely fabulous ; particularly as we have no other than conjectural objections. The Scriptures, we know, solve all our difficulties, and prove man to have diverged from one centre: hence it will appear that the most extended parts of the circle were peopled last, through the gradual progress of population, and the imperfect means of conveyance when every art was in its infancy. Three principles, apparently inherent in the nature of man, contributed to the distribution of his species ; war, the vindictive spirit of ambition, and commerce, united with curiosity. It is useless to attempt ascer
taining more than general objects in this research. Asia, then, we take as the centre, where a certain peculiarity of manners and customs prevailing, those of every degree in remove may be supposed to have changed as circumstances dictated, and degenerated in the same proportion as the agitation of water declines from the precise spot where it was first disturbed. Were we to examine the refinements of the East as a criterion to judge of those of the borders of the continent, next to England, we should be compelled to acknowledge, from the testimony of many authors, that they were absolutely lost and forgotten by the Cimmerians and Celts, as the inhabitants of that part of Europe were termed. These nations, influenced by the most turbulent and savage propensities, were the terror of their neighbours; who, however, at length contrived to reduce their numbers, and confine them within the peninsula of Jutland.
It has been supposed, by some of our own writers, that learning, civilization, and the arts originating in the East, were not to be imputed to the orientality or the action of the Sun; but to the circumstance of man having been first placed there, according to the position of Europe. Sir Walter Raleigh fixes upon the Mountains of Ararat for the precise spot on which the ark rested ; whence the qualities above mentioned at length reached our quarter of the globe. Sir
Thomas Browne thinks that the progression was perceptible; but that a long period elapsed ere our Island obtained these blessings. “ For notwithstanding the learning of Bards and Druids of elder times, he that shall peruse that work of Tacitus, · De Moribus Germanorum, may easily discern how little civility two thousand years had wrought - upon that nation. The like he
may observe concerning ourselves, from the same author, in the *Life of Agricola.' And more directly from Strabo; who, to the dishonour of our predecessors and the disparagement of those that glory in the antiquity of their ancestors, affirmeth, the Britons were so simple, that though they abounded in milk they had not the artifice of cheese.”
Several circumstances occur which lead to a fair inference, that a part of the above-mentioned nations entered England; and as their manners come within the intention of this work, it will be proper to say that they dwelt in cells excavated in the earth, and that their customs were exactly correspondent with the savage state of their mental faculties. It is probable that tradition led them into a kind of patriarchal government, formed of. the most admired member of any given number of relations, or in the manner of the clans in Scotland, though infinitely less sociable in the compact. Discord, the constant companion of man, and envy united with avarice and ambition, made it impossible that each family should remain in
dependent; contests for property, accumulated by the industrious and coveted by the idle, naturally excited personal and mixed combats, as a sense of justice or partiality suggested, which were fomented by the ambitious; whence proceeded individual power and tyranny. Families united on either side of any question, and separate states were thus produced. The uncivilized and ferocious state of the Cimbri, as described by the Roman writers, makes their account of the females probable; who are mentioned by them as performing the rites of priestesses, and sacrificing the captives made by their husbands, fathers, and sons, and drawing inferences of good or ill fortune from the flowing of their blood, and the motions of their intestines: besides assisting in the operations of the field of battle by rushing through the ranks, hurling around them burning brands. Admitting this specimen of their customs to be correct, there is nothing disgusting or vile in human nature that may not be imputed to these first inhabitants of England.
At some period of the history of this Island the Phoenicians discovered that it contained the means of promoting their commerce by the exportation of tin. This enterprising people visited it frequently ; and endeavoured, through a spirit of monopoly, to keep the continent of Europe in ignorance of the fact. How they effected their purpose to any extent requires a better solution than that given by Strabo ; who says, that the Phænicians of Cadiz contrived that the pilots of their vessels, bound to England, should cause the stranding of any Roman bark discovered in the act of tracing their destination ; because, we must then suppose the merchants of Gaul, trading to Britain, destitute of the least information as to the state of the country, and the inhabitants incapable of communication. Both these ideas must necessarily be fanciful : even the first invaders, . the Cimmerians, knew the art of navigation, or they could not have reached the opposite shores of England at the narrowest point of the channel. But if they came from any of the more Northern parts of the continent, their skill must have been proportionably greater ; and surely equal to the performance of a coasting voyage quite round the island. If then this barbarous race were thus far advanced in maritime knowledge, why should we imagine the Gauls were ignorant that England was not a continent, particularly as the British Isles are said to have been known to the Greeks and Carthaginians ? Sueh are the notices certain writers give us of the earliest state of our commu. nity. The Romans, according to others, were destitute of the least knowledge concerning us; and, consequently, the majority of mankind. . Cæsar, however, had contrived to obtain some in, timation of the advantages likely to arise from our subjection ; and, proceeding methodically, assem