H́nh ảnh trang
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]







It is fortunate for mankind, that those periods of history which are the least serviceable, are the least known. It has been the study of many learned men to rescue from obscurity, and throw light upon, those early ages when the Britons were wholly barbarous, and their country uncultivated. But these researches have generally terminated in conjecture; so that whence Britain was at first peopled, or took its name, is still uncertain. The variety of opinions upon this head serve to prove the futility of all.

It will, therefore, be sufficient to observe, that this beautiful island, by some thought the largest in the world, was called Britannia by the Romans long before the time of Cæsar. It is supposed that this name was originally given to it by the merchants who resorted hither from the continent. These called the inhabitants by one common name of Briths, from the custom among

the natives of painting their naked bodies and small shields with an azure blue, which in the language of the country was called brith, and which served to distinguish them from those strangers who came among them for the purpose of trade or alliance.

The Britons were very little known to the rest of the world before the time of the Romans. The coasts opposite Gaul, indeed, were frequented by merchants who traded thither for such commodities as the natives were able to produce. These, it is thought, after a time, possessed themselves of all the maritime places where they had at first been permitted to reside. There, finding the country fertile, and commodiously situated for trade, they settled upon the sea-side, and introduced the practice of agriculture. But it was very different with the inland inhabitants of the country, who considered themselves as the lawful possessors of the soil. These avoided all correspondence with the new-comers, whom they considered as intruders upon their property.


The inland inhabitants are represented as extremely numerous, living in cottages thatched with straw, and feeding large herds of cattle. Their houses were scattered all over the country, without observance of order or distance, being placed at smaller or greater intervals, as they were invited by the fertility of the soil, or the convenience of wood and water. They lived mostly upon milk, or flesh procured by the chase. What clothes they wore to cover any part of their bodies were usually the skins of beasts ; but much of the body (as the arms, legs, and thighs) was left naked, and those parts were usually painted blue. Their hair, which was long, Howed down upon their backs and shoulders, while their beards were kept close shaven, except upon the upper lip, where it was suffered to grow.

The dress of savage nations is every where pretty much the same, being calculated rather to inspire terror than to excite love or respect. The

commodities exported from Britain were chiefly hides and tin. This metal was then thought peculiar to the island, and was in much request abroad, both in nearer and remoter regions. Some silver mines were also known, but not in common use, as the inhabitants had little knowledge how to dig, refine, or improve them. Pearls also were frequently found on their shores, but neither clear nor coloured like the oriental, and therefore in no great esteem among strangers. They had little iron; and what they had, was used either for arms, or for rings, a sort of money current among them. They had brass money also; but this was all brought from abroad.

Their language, customs, religion, and government, were generally the same with those of the Gauls, their neighbours of the continent. As to their government, it consisted of several small principalities, each under its respective leader; and this seems to be the earliest mode of dominion with which mankind is acquainted, and deduced from the natural privileges of paternal authority. Whether these small principalities descended by succession, or the princes were elected in consequence of the advantages of age, wisdom, or valour in their families, is not recorded. Upon great or uncommon dangers a commander-in-chief was chosen by common consent, in a general assembly; and to him was committed the conduct of the general interest, the power of making peace, or leading to war. In the choice of a person to such power,

it is
easy to suppose

that unanimity could not always be found; whence it often happened, that the separate tribes were defeated one after the other, before they eould unite under a single leader for their mutual safety.

Their forces consisted chiefly of foot, and yet they could bring a considerable number of horse into the field upon great occasions. They likewise used chariots in battle, which, with short scythes fastened to the ends of the axle-trees, inflicted desperate wounds, spreading terror and devastation wheresoever they drove. Nor, while the chariots were thus destroying, were the warriors who conducted them unemployed. These darted their javelins against the



enemy, ran along the beam, leaped on the ground, resumed their seat, stopped or turned their horses at full speed, and sometimes cunningly retreated to draw the enemy into confusion. Nothing can be more terrible than the idea of a charioteer thus driving furiously in the midst of dangers; but these machines seem to have been more dreadful than dangerous; for they were quickly laid aside when this brave people was instructed in the more regular arts of war.

The religion of the Britons was one of the most considerable parts of their government; and the Druids, who were the guardians of it possessed great authority among them. These endeavoured to impress the minds of the people with an opinion of their skill in the arts of divination; they offered sacrifices in public and private, and pretended to explain the immediate will of Heaven. No species of superstition was ever more horrible than theirs. Besides the severe penalties which they were permitted to inflict in this world, they inculcated the eternal transmigration of souls, and thus extended their authority as far as the fears of their votaries. They sacrificed human victims, which they burned in large wicker idols, made so capacious as to contain a multitude of persons at once, who were thus consumed together. The female Druids plunged their knives into the breasts of the prisoners taken in war, and prophesied from the manner in which the blood happened to stream from the wound. Their altars consisted of four broad stones, three set edge-wise, and the fourth at top, many of which remain to this day. To these rites, tending to impress ignorance with awe, they added the austerity of their manners, and the simplicity of their lives. They lived in woods, caves, and hollow trees; their food was acorns and berries, and their drink water: by these arts they were not only respected, but almost adored by the people. They were admired not only for knowing more than other men, but for despising what all others valued and pursued. Hence they were patiently permitted to punish and correct crimes from which they themselves were supposed to be wholly free; and their authority was so great, that not only the property but also the lives of the people were entirely at their disposal. No laws were instituted by the princes, or common assemblies, without their advice and approbation ; no person was punished by bonds or death, without their passing sentence; no plunder taken in war was used by the captor, until the Druids determined what part they should seclude for themselves.

It may be easily supposed that the manners of the people took a tincture from the discipline of their teachers. Their lives were simple, but they were marked with cruelty and fierceness ; their courage was great, but neither dignified by mercy nor by perseve

In short to have a just idea of what the Britons then were, we have only to turn to the savage nations which still subsist in primæval rudeness. Temperate rather from necessity than choice; patient of fatigue, yet inconstant in attachment; bold, improvident, and rapacious :-such is the picture of savage life at present, and such it appears to have been from the beginning. Little entertainment, therefore, can be expected from the accounts of a nation thus circumstanced; nor can its transactions come properly under the notice of an historian, since they are too minutely divided to be exhibited at one view; the actors are too barbarous to interest the reader: and no skill can be shown in developing the motives and counsels of a people chiefly actuated by sudden and turnultuary gusts of passion.





THE Britons, in the rude and barbarous state in which we have just described them, seemed to stand in need of more polished instructers; and indeed whatever evils may attend the conquest of heroes, their success has generally produced one good effect, in disseminating the arts of refinement and humanity. It ever happens, when a barbarous nation is conquered by another more advanced in the arts of peace, that it gains in elegance a recompense for what it loses in liberty. The Britons had long remained in this rude but independent state, when Cæsar, having over-run Gaul with his victories, and willing still farther to extend his fame, determined upon the conquest of a country that seemed to promise an easy triumph. He was allured neither by the riches nor by the renown of the inhabitants; but, being ambitious rather of splendid than of useful conquests, he was willing to carry the Roman arms into a country, the remote situation of which would add seeming difficulty to the enterprise, and consequently produce an increase of reputation. His pretence was, to punish these islanders for having sent succours to the Gauls while he waged war against that nation, as well as for granting an asylum to such of the enemy as had sought protection from his resentment. The natives, informed of his intention, were sensible of the unequal contest, and endeavoured to appease him by submission. He received their ambassadors with great complacency, and having exhorted them to continue steadfast in the same sentiments, in the mean time made preparations for the execution of his design. When the troops destined for the expedition were embarked, he set sail for Britain about midnight, and the next morning arrived on the coast near Dover, where he saw the rocks and cliffs covered with armed men to oppose his landing.

Finding it impracticable to gain the shore where he first intended, from the agitation of the sea and the im

pending mountains, he resolved to choose a landing-place of greater security. The place he chose was about eight miles farther on, (some suppose at Deal), where an inclining shore

[ocr errors]


ch. 55.

« TrướcTiếp tục »