H́nh ảnh trang

notion of the geography of his native land, and of the influence of locality upon habits, language, and national character, if he carries his studies no farther. The physical geography of the United Kingdom is of more importance than its political geography; and the directions of its hills and mountains, of its rivers, the position of its mineral beds, the shape of its coast-line, its situation with respect to other countries, &c., alone furnish the key to many of the anomalies in our history.

Much miscellaneous information has been given in this volume, which, it is hoped, will not only render it acceptable to learners, but present to them a faithful picture of our country in times past. It is more important to know how the people lived and what they thought, than to be familiar with the secrets of cabinets or the marches and countermarches of armies. The one concerns us all, in our homes and in our markets; the influence of the other is transitory, fading away almost before the grass covers the graves of the slaughtered soldiery.







1. THE history of a nation, to be really instructive, should contain nothing but the truth. We are naturally inclined to believe what we read in books without questioning its accuracy; and historians, taking advantage of this disposition, have sought to gratify their own prejudices and the national vanity by misrepresenting facts, or by exaggerating the antiquity and warlike achievements of their ancestors. Thus succeeding writers, adopting without examination the tales recorded by their predecessors, and even adding to them, have in many cases either entirely obscured the truth, or supplied its place by fable and falsehood. As very little is known of the early inhabitants of this island for nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, most readers, and the young especially, take little interest in a narrative which does not enlist their sympathies by the heroic exploits of great men and the triumphs or reverses of the nation. Encouraged by this feeling, our earlier historians have sought to relieve the dryness of a general account by the invention of particulars that have little or no foundation in fact. Although this volume will contain

nothing but what the author has good grounds for believing to be true, it may afford the learner some amusement as well as instruction, to be told the kind of fables which were related about the early history of England, Scotland, and Ireland. And it must be remembered that a belief in these fables was not confined to ignorant people, or silly old nurses, but was entertained by clergymen, lawyers, and other educated men, who wrote them in large books, and generally in the Latin language.

2. ENGLAND.-A monk, named Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote a history of Britain about the middle of the twelfth century. He gives a list of seventy kings who flourished before the landing of Julius Cæsar,-the earliest fact concerning Britain which we know on good authority. When you read the history of Greece, you will become acquainted with the siege of Troy. It occurred in the early infancy of the Greeks, and the real facts connected with it were not well known even to themselves. You would not expect to find this event connected with the history of England; but, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, it had nearly as much to do with this country as the battle of Bannockburn or of Waterloo. He tells us, that young Ascanius, who fled with his father Æneas from Troy, had a son called Brute, from whose name this island was called Brutain or Britain. After having wandered over the world with an army of Trojans, it seems that he came to an island beyond Gaul, inhabited by giants. Brute and his army are said to have performed great feats of valour; and one of his followers had the credit of slaying a hundred men with his own hand in one battle. They slew all the giants in the island, and built London, which they called Troy Novant, or New Troy, after their native city. The chroniclers tell us that Brute had three sons, called Locrinus, Albanactus, and Kamber. To the first he left the kingdom of England, to the second that of Scotland, and to the third that of Wales. Geoffrey and the others who adopt his narrative give an account of a succession of kings from Brute downwards; and to show how preposterously fictitious his narrative is, it may be sufficient to say, that he gives a minute history of King Lear as the contemporary of Solomon, king of Israel. Of this King Lear a pleasant and instructive story is told. It is said,

[ocr errors]

that having three daughters, he desired in his old age to divide his kingdom among them, but first wished to know in what degree each loved him, that he might reward them accordingly. One of them said, "She loved him above all creatures; "another said, "She loved him above her own soul;" but the third would only say, My love towards you is as my duty bids;-what should a father seekwhat can a child promise more? they who pretend beyond this flatter.' The foolish old man, enraged at this candid speech, divided his kingdom between the two elder daughters, and left the third, whose name was Cordelia, destitute. But Cordelia's virtues, as the story goes, attracted the admiration and love of a distant and powerful monarch, named Aganippus, who made her his queen. In the mean time, King Lear, with a party of threescore knights, bethought him that he would live in happiness and comfort at the court of his eldest daughter. But she, complaining that his followers were disorderly, treated him and them with affronts and incivilities, and gradually got them reduced to the number of thirty. He then went with his diminished retinue to his second daughter; but she followed the example of her sister, and reduced his attendants to five. The old man next sought to return to his eldest child, but she refused to admit him if he had more than one attendant. And now the heart-broken monarch began to think of the words of his daughter Cordelia, and sought a refuge at her husband's court. She was only too glad to receive and honour her poor old father; and, in the words of the great poet Milton, who gives the story a place in his history of England, "not enduring either that her own or any other eye should see him in such forlorn condition as his messenger declared, discreetly appoints one of her most trusty servants first to convey him privately towards some good sea-town, then to array him, bathe him, cherish him, and furnish him with such attendants and state as beseemed his dignity; that then, as from his first landing, he might send word of his arrival to her husband Aganippus; which done, with all mature and requisite contrivance, Cordelia, with the king her husband, and all the barony of his realm, who then first had news of his passing the sea, go out to meet him; and after

all honourable and joyful entertainment, Aganippus, as to his wife's father and his royal guest, surrenders him during his abode there the power and disposal of his whole dominion." Aganippus afterwards sent an army which conquered the kingdom from the two ungrateful daughters, and restored it to their old father.-Such is the story of the old chroniclers; which, though not true, at all events contains a good moral. It formed the groundwork of the most affecting of all Shakspeare's tragedies.

3. SCOTLAND.-The Scottish historians were resolved not to be behind their neighbours in the antiquity which they claimed for their nation. Their story was, that a certain prince of Greece-some of them say a grandson of Nimrod named Gathelus-having quarrelled with his father, went over to Egypt, where he married Scota, the daughter of that Pharaoh who was drowned in the Red Sea. This couple, during their wandering life, founded a kingdom, which, after the husband, was called Partugathel or Portugal, and thence they proceeded to this island, where they founded another kingdom, which, after the lady, was termed Scotia or Scotland. All these events, of course, took place nearly as long before the Christian era as we are now living after it; and while little more is truly known about Scotland a thousand years back than the names of a few chiefs or kings, the annalists profess to give us a minute account of what happened in the country more than three thousand years ago. These fables, being often repeated, were partly believed even by clever men, who thought they added to the dignity of their country; and the great scholar Buchanan credited so much of them, that in his history he has given the lives of more than forty kings who never existed. Nay, so far was the national feeling on this subject carried, that there may yet be seen on the walls of Holyrood Palace grave-looking portraits, professing to be the likenesses of these very monarchs.

4. IRELAND.-But the Irish annalists far excelled those of either England or Scotland in the wonderful antiquity which they attributed to their country. They carry their history back before the Flood, and tell us that the island was first colonized by Bamba, a daughter of Cain. There are various accounts of the manner in which the island was re

« TrướcTiếp tục »