The Ethnology of the British Islands
by Robert Gordon Latham
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If we look at the numerous local, national, and individual names of the Belgae, we find that they agree so closely in form with those of the undoubted Gauls, as to be wholly undistinguishable. The towns end in -acum, -briva, -magus, -dunum, and -durum, and begin with Ver-, Caer-, Con-, and Tre-, just like those of Central Gallia; so that we have—to go no farther than the common maps—Viriovi-acum, Minori-acum, Origi-acum, Turn-acum, Bag-acum, Camar-acum, Nemet-acum, Catusi-acum, Gemini-acum, Blari-acum, Mederi-acum, Tolbi-acum; Samaro-briva; Novio-magus, Moso-magus; Vero-dunum; Marco-durum, Theo-durum; Ver-omandui; Caer-asi; Con-drusi; Tre-viri—all Gallic compounds on Belgian ground, and all forms either wholly foreign to any German area, or else exceedingly rare. Now it is no objection to this remarkable and exclusive preponderance of Gallic names in Belgian geography, to say that there is no proof of the designations in question being native; and that, although they existed in the language of Caesar's informants, who were Gauls, they were strange to the Belgae, even as the word Welsh is strange to a Cambro-Briton—being the name by which he is known to an Englishman, but not the true and native denomination. I say that all argument of this kind, valid as it is in so many other cases where it is never applied, has no place here; since Caesar's informants about the Belgic populations were the Belgae themselves, and it is inconceivable that they should have used nothing but Gallic terms when they spoke of themselves, if they had not been Gauls.

The names of the individual Belgic chiefs are as Gallic as those of the towns and nations, e.g., Commius and Divitiacus, and so are those of such Britons as Cassibelaunus.

I submit that this is, as far as it goes, a reason for limiting rather than extending all such statements as the ones in question. And it is by no means a solitary one. A statement of Strabo confirms it:—"The Aquitanians are wholly different" (i.e., from the other Gauls) "not only in language, but in their bodies,—wherein they are more like the Iberians than the Gauls. The rest are Gallic in look; but not all alike in language. Some differ a little. Their politics, too, and manners of life differ a little."—Lib. iv. c. 1.

With the external evidence, then, of Strabo, coinciding with the internal evidence derived from the geographical, national, and individual names, it seems illegitimate to infer from the text of Caesar more than has been suggested.

Unless we believe the Belgae of Picardy to have been Germans, the second fact stated by Caesar, viz., the Belgic origin of the south-eastern Britons is comparatively unimportant, since it merely shews that between the Britons of the south-eastern coast, and those of the interior, there were certain points of difference, the former being recent immigrants, and Belgium being the country from which they migrated. Nevertheless, this introduces a difficulty; since, by drawing a distinction between the men of Kent, and the men of the Midland Counties, we are precluded from arguing that the Britons in general belonged to the same class as the Gauls; inasmuch as Caesar's description may fairly be said to apply to the Belgic Britons only.

I think, myself, that Caesar's statement must be taken as an inference rather than as evidence; in other words, he must not be considered to say that certain Attrebates and Belgae crossed the Straits of Dover and settled in Britain, but that, as certain portions both of Belgium and Britain bore the same names, a migration had taken place; such being the explanation of the coincidence. Or, if we suppose Caesar himself to have been too acute a reasoner to confound a conclusion with a fact (as, perhaps, he was), we may attribute the inference to his informants. Whoever is in the habit of sifting ethnological evidence, is well aware that a confusion of kind in question is one of the commonest of the difficulties he must deal with.

At the same time, that there were some actual Belgae in Britain is likely enough; but that they were a separate substantive population, of sufficient magnitude to be found in all the parts of Britain where Belgic names occurred, and still more that they were Germans, is an unsafe inference; safe, perhaps, if the two texts of Caesar stood alone, but unsafe, if we take into consideration the numerous facts, statements, and presumptions which complicate and oppose them.

The Belgic names themselves, which occurred in Britain, were as follows:—

a. Attrebates.—There were Attrebates both in Belgium and Britain; the Gaelic ones in Artois, which is only Attrebates in a modern form. Considerable importance attaches to the fact, that before Caesar visited Britain in person, he sent Commius, the Attrebatian, before him. Now, this Commius was first conquered by Caesar, and afterwards set up as a king over the Morini. That Commius gave much of his information about Britain to Caesar is likely; perhaps he was his chief informant. He, too, it was who, knowing the existence of Attrebates in Britain, probably drew the inference which has been so lately suggested, viz., that of a Belgae migration, or a series of them. Yet the Attrebates of Britain were so far from being on the coast, that they must have lain west of London, in Berkshire and Wilts; since Caesar, who advanced, at least, as far as Chertsey, where he crossed the Thames, meets nothing but Cantii, Trinobantes, Cenimagni, Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci and Cassi. It is Ptolemy who first mentions the British Attrebatii; and he places them between the Dobuni and the Cantii. Now, as the Dobuni lay due west of the Silures of South Wales, we cannot bring the Attrebatii nearer the coast than Windsor.

b. The Belgae.—These—like the Attrebatii, first mentioned by Ptolemy—are placed south of the Dobuni, and on the sea-coast between the Cantii and Damnonii of Devonshire; so that Sussex, Hants, and Dorset, may be given them as their area.

c. The Remi are mentioned by no better an authority than Richard of Cirencester, as Bibroci under another name.

d. The Durotriges, too, or people of Dor-set, are stated by the same authority to have been called Morini.

e. f. In Ireland we have two populations with German names; the Menapii and the Chauci, both in the parts about Dublin, and in the neighbourhood of one another. And these are mentioned by Ptolemy.

Now, whatever these Belgic names prove, they do not prove Caesar's statement that it was the maritime parts of Britain which were Belgic; since the Menapii and Chauci must have been wholly unknown to him, and the Attrebatii lay inland.

At the same time, they prove something. They also introduce difficulties in the very simple view that Britain was solely and exclusively British. This leads to a further consideration of the details. The Remi may be disposed of first. They stand on bad authority, viz., that of a monk of the twelfth century.

So may the Morini. Though I admit the ingenuity and soundness of the doctrine that the existence of a double nomenclature such as that by which the Durotriges are called Morini, and the Morini, Durotriges, is well explained by the assumption of a second language, and the notion that the inhabitants of certain districts were sometimes called by a British, sometimes by a German, name, the hypothesis is not valid where the facts can be more easily explained otherwise. No one would thus explain such words as Lowlander and Borderer applied to the people of the Cheviot Hills. Yet both are current; one being given when their relation to England, the other when their difference from the Highland Gaels, is expressed.

Now, it so happens that Morini and Durotriges are words that can as little be considered as synonymous terms belonging to different languages as Lowlander and Borderer; since good reasons can be given for referring them both to the Keltic. Their exact import is difficult to ascertain; but if we suppose them to mean coasters and watersidemen, respectively, we get a clear view of the unlikelihood of one being German and the other Keltic. Thus—

Duro-triges coincides with the Latin compound ponticolae, since dwr in Welsh, Cornish, and Armorican means water, and trigau means to remain or to inhabit; trig-adiad denoting dwellers, or inhabitants, as is well remarked by Prichard, v. iii. 128.

Mor, in Morini, is neither more nor less than the Latin word mare.[6] Surely this sets aside all arguments drawn from the supposed bilingual character of the words Morini and Durotriges.

The Cauci and Menapii of Ireland tell a different tale. One name without the other would prove but little; but when we find Cauci in Germany not far from Menapii, and Menapii in Ireland not far from Chauci, the case becomes strengthened. Yet the likelihood of Menap, being the same word as the Menai of the Menai Straits in Wales, suggests the probability of that word being a geographical term. Nevertheless, the contiguity of the two nations is an argument as far as it goes.

And here I must remark, that the process by which words originally very different may become identified when they pass into a fresh language is not sufficiently attended to. Cauci is the form which an Irish, Chauci that which a German, word takes in Latin. And the two words are alike. Yet it is far from certain that they would be thus similar if we knew either the Gaelic original of one, or the German of the other. A dozen forms exceedingly different might be excogitated, which, provided that they all agreed in being strange to a Roman, would, when moulded into a Latin form, become alike. Still the argument, as far as it goes, is valid.

Such are the reasons for believing, at one and the same time, that the Britons came from Belgic Gaul, and that the Belgae from whence they came were Kelts.

We cannot, however, so far consider the origin of the British branch of the Keltic stock to be disposed of, as to proceed forthwith to the Gaelic; another population requires a previous notice. This is the Pict.


[5] These are the exact words of one of the ablest supporters of the Germanic origin of the south-eastern Britons, Mr. E. Adams, in a paper entitled, "Remarks on the probability of Gothic Settlements in Britain Previously to A.D. 450."—Philological Transactions, No. ciii.

[6] This root is important. As it means sea in more European languages than one, it has created a philological difficulty in the case of a very interesting gloss, Mori-marusa, meaning dead sea; where by a strange coincidence the same consonants (m-r) are repeated, but with a difference of meaning.

Prichard, who drew attention to this remarkable compound, having stated that a passage in Pliny informed us that the Cimbri called the sea in their neighbourhood Mori-marusa, inferred that the name was Cimbric; and further argued, that as mor mawth in Welsh meant the same, the Cimbric tongue was Welsh, Cambrian, or British. As far as it went the inference was truly legitimate; but the reasoning which led to it was deficient. The likelihood of there being more languages than one wherein both mor meant sea, and mor meant dead, was overlooked; though one of the languages that supplied the coincidence was the Latin—mare mort-uum.

Another such a tongue was the Slavonic; and to that tongue I imagine Morimarusa to be referrible. I also imagine that by the Cimbri of Pliny were meant the Cimmerii; so that the Sea of Azof was the true Dead Sea; or, perhaps, the Propontis; in which case its present name, the Sea of Marmora, is explained.

The name of the Province, Ar-mor-ica, means the country on the sea, and if rendered in Latin would be ad mare. Ar-gail is such another word; and it was the name of the landing-place of the Gael=ad Gallos.

To the Gaelic Ar-mor-ica, the Slavonians have an exact parallel in the word Po-mor-ania; where po means on, and mor the sea.



The Picts have never been considered Romans; but, with that exception, a relationship with every population of the British Isles has been claimed for them. As Germans on the strength of Tacitus' description of their physical conformation of the Caledonian, and as Germans on the strength of the supposed Germanic origin of the Belgae, the Picts have been held the ancestors of the present Lowland Scotch. They have been considered Scandinavians also. On the other hand, they have been made Gaels, in which case it is the Highlanders who are their offspring. They have been considered Britons, and they have been considered a separate stock.

That they were Kelts rather than Germans is the commonest doctrine, and that they were Britons rather than Gaels is a common one; the arguments that prove the latter proving the first a fortiori.

We approach the subject with a notice of the Irish missionary St. Columbanus, whose native tongue was, of course, the Irish Gaelic. This was unintelligible to the Northern Picts, as is expressly stated on in Adammanus:—"Alio in tempore quo Sanctus Columba in Pictorum provincia per aliquot demorabatur dies, quidam cum tota plebeius familia, verbum vitae per interpretatorem, Sancto praedicante viro, audiens credidit, credensque baptizatus est."—Adamn. ap. Colganum. l. ii. c. 32.

This, however, only shews that the Pict was not exactly and absolutely Irish. It might have approached it. It might also be far more unlike than the Welsh was.

A document known as the Colbertine MS., from being published from the Colbertine Library, contains a list of Pictish kings. This has been analysed by Innes and Garnett; and the result is, that two names only are more Gaelic in their form than Welsh—viz., Cineod or Kenneth, and Domhnall or Donnell. The rest are either absolutely contrary to what they would be if they were Gaelic, or else British rather than aught else. Thus, the Welsh Gurgust appears in the Irish Annal as Fergus, or vice versa. Now the Pict form of this name is Wrgwst, with a final T, and without an initial F. Elpin, Drust, Drostan, Wrad, and Necton are close and undoubted Pict equivalents to the Welsh names Owen, Trwst, Trwstan (Tristram), Gwriad, and Nwython.

The readers of the Antiquary well know the prominence given to the only two common terms of the Pict language in existence pen val, or as it appears in the oldest MSS. of Beda peann fahel. This is the head of the wall, or caput vall, being the eastern extremity (there or thereabouts) of the Vallum of Antoninus. Now the present Welsh form for head is pen; the Gaelic cean. Which way the likeness lies here, is evident. For the fahel (or val) the case is less clear. The Gaelic form is fhail, the Welsh gwall; the Gaelic being the nearest.

But some collateral evidence on this subject more than meets the difficulty. "In the Durham MSS. of Nennius, apparently written in the twelfth century, there is an interpolated passage, stating that the spot in question was in the Scottish or Gaelic language called Cenail. Innes and others have remarked the resemblance between this appellation and the present Kinneil; but no one appears to have noticed that Cenail accurately represents the pronunciation of the Gaelic cean fhail, literally head of wall, f being quiescent in construction. A remarkable instance of the same suppression occurs in Athole, as now written, compared with the Ath-fothla of the Irish annalists. Supposing, then, that Cenail was substituted for peann fahel by the Gaelic conquerors of the district, it would follow that the older appellation was not Gaelic, and the inference would be obvious."[7]

In thus making pen val a Pict gloss, I by no means imagine that any of the three forms were originally Keltic at all; since val, gwal, fhail all seem variations of the Roman vallum, at least, in respect to their immediate origin. Still, if out of three languages, adopting the same word, each gives a different form, the variation which results is as much a gloss of the tongue wherein it occurs, as if the word were indigenous. Hence, whether we say that pen val are Pict glosses, or that pen is a Pict gloss, and val a Pict form is a matter of practical indifference.

The Vallum Antonini was a work of man's hands, and its name is of less value than those of natural objects, such as mountains, rivers, or lakes. Nevertheless, these latter have been examined: thus the Ochel Hills in Perthshire are better explained by the Welsh form uchel than by the Gaelic nasal. But the most important word of all is the first element of the words Aber-nethy, and Inver-nethy. Both mean the same, i.e., the confluence of waters, or something very much of the sort. Both enter freely into composition, and the compounds thus formed are found over the greater part of the British Isles as the names of the mouths of the larger and more important rivers. But it is only a few districts where the two names occur together. Just as we expect a priori aber occurs when inver is not to be found, and vice versa. Of the two extremes Ireland is the area where aber, Wales where inver is the rarer of the two forms; indeed so rare are they that the one (aber) rarely, if ever, occurs in Ireland, the other (inver) rarely, if ever, in Wales. Now as Ireland is Gaelic, and Welsh British, the two words may fairly be considered to indicate, where they occur, the presence of these two different tongues respectively.

The distribution of the words in question has long been an instrument of criticism in determining both the ethnological position of the Pict nation, and its territorial extent; and the details are well given in the following table of Mr. Kemble's:

"If we now take a good map of England and Wales and Scotland, we shall find the following data:—

"In Wales:

"Aber-ayon, lat. 51 deg. 37' N., long. 3 deg. 46' W. Aber-afon, lat. 51 deg. 37' N. Abergavenny, lat. 51 deg. 49' N., long. 3 deg. 0' W. Abergwilli, lat. 51 deg. 51' N., long. 4 deg. 16' W. Aberystwith, lat. 52 deg. 24' N., long. 4 deg. 6' W. Aberfraw, lat. 53 deg. 12' N., long. 4 deg. 30' W. Abergee, lat. 53 deg. 17' N., long. 3 deg. 17' W.

"In Scotland:

"Aberlady, lat. 56 deg. 1' N., long. 2 deg. 52' W. Aberdour, lat. 56 deg. 4' N., long. 3 deg. 16' W. Aberfoil, lat. 56 deg. 11' N., long. 4 deg. 24' W. Abernethy, lat. 56 deg. 20' N., long. 3 deg. 20' W. Aberbrothic, lat. 56 deg. 33' N., long. 2 deg. 35' W. Aberfeldy, lat. 56 deg. 37' N., long. 3 deg. 55' W. Abergeldie, lat. 57 deg. 5' N., long. 3 deg. 10' W. Aberchalder, lat. 57 deg. 7' N., long. 4 deg. 44' W. Aberdeen, lat. 57 deg. 8' N., long. 2 deg. 8' W. Aberchirdir, lat. 57 deg. 35' N., long. 2 deg. 34' W. Aberdour, lat. 57 deg. 40' N., long. 2 deg. 16' W. Inverkeithing, lat. 56 deg. 2' N., long. 3 deg. 36' W. Inverary, lat. 56 deg. 15' N., long. 5 deg. 5' W. Inverarity, lat. 56 deg. 36' N., long. 2 deg. 54' W. Inverbervie, lat. 56 deg. 52' N., long. 2 deg. 21' W. Invergeldie, lat. 57 deg. 1' N., long. 3 deg. 12' W. Invernahavan, lat. 57 deg. 2' N., long. 4 deg. 12' W. Invergelder, lat. 57 deg. 4' N., long. 3 deg. 15' W. Invermorison, lat. 57 deg. 14' N., long. 4 deg. 34' W. Inverness, lat. 57 deg. 29' N., long. 4 deg. 11' W. Invernetty, lat. 57 deg. 29' N., long. 1 deg. 51' W. Inveraslie, lat. 57 deg. 59' N., long. 4 deg. 40' W. Inver, lat. 58 deg. 10' N., long. 5 deg. 10' W.

"The line of separation then between the Welsh or Pictish, and the Scotch or Irish, Kelts, if measured by the occurrence of these names, would run obliquely from S.W. to N.E., straight up Loch Fyne, following nearly the boundary between Perthshire and Argyle, trending to the N.E. along the present boundary between Perth and Inverness, Aberdeen and Inverness, Banf and Elgin, till about the mouth of the river Spey. The boundary between the Picts and English may have been much less settled, but it probably ran from Dumbarton, along the upper edge of Renfrewshire, Lanark and Linlithgow till about Abercorn, that is along the line of the Clyde to the Frith of Forth."[8]

It cannot be denied that, in the present state of our knowledge, the inference from the preceding table is that, whether Pict or not, more than two-thirds of Scotland exhibit signs of British rather than Gaelic occupancy.

This is as much as can be said at present: for it must be added that all the previous criticism has proceeded upon the notion that PENN FAHEL, &c., are Pict words. What, however, if they be Pict only in the way that man, woman, &c., are Welsh; i.e., words used by a population within the Pict area, but not actually Pict? The refinement upon the opinion suggested by the present chapter, which arises out of the view, will be noticed after certain other questions have been dealt with.


[7] Mr. Garnett, Philological Transactions, No. II.

[8] Saxons in England.—Vol. ii. pp. 4, 5.



The origin of the Britons has been a question of no great difficulty. They could not well have come from the west, because Britain lies almost on the extremity of the ancient world; so we look towards the continent of Europe, and find, exactly opposite to the Britons, the Gauls, speaking a mutually intelligible language. On this we rest, just pausing for a short time to dispose of one or two refinements on the natural inference.

But if no such language as that of the ancient Gauls, a language closely akin to the British, had been discovered, the ethnologist would have been put to straits; indeed, he would have had to be satisfied with saying that Gaul was the likeliest part of Europe for the Britons to have come from. No more. A strong presumption is all he would have obtained. The similarity, however, of the languages has helped him.

Now the difficulty which has just been noticed as a possible one in the investigation of the origin of the Britons, is a real one in the case of the Gaels. The exact parallel to the Gaelic language cannot be found on any part of the continent. Hence, whilst the British branch of the Keltic is found in both England and Gaul,—on the continent as well as in the Islands,—the Gaelic is limited to the British Isles exclusively. Neither in Gaul itself, nor the parts either north or south of Gaul can any member of the Gaelic branch be found.

Even within the British Islands the Gaelic is limited in its distribution. There is no British in Ireland, and no Gaelic in South Britain. In Scotland both the tongues occur, the Gaelic being spoken north of the British. Now this position of the Gaelic to the west and north of the British increases the difficulty—since it is cut off from all connexion with the continent, and unrepresented by any continental tongue.

The history, then, of the Gaels is that of an isolated branch of the Keltic stock; and it is this isolation which creates the difficulties of their ethnology. No historical records throw any light upon their origin—a statement which the most sanguine investigator must admit. But tradition, perhaps, is less uncommunicative. Many investigators believe this. For my own part I should only be glad to be able to do so. As it is, however, the arguments of the present chapter will proceed as if the whole legendary history of Ireland and Scotland, so far as it relates to the migrations by which the islands were originally peopled by the Gaels, were a blank—the reasons for the scepticism being withheld for the present. But only for the present. In the seventh chapter they will be given as fully as space allows.

The present arguments rest wholly upon a fact of which the importance has more than once been foreshadowed already, and which the reader anticipates. Let us say, for the sake of illustration, that the British and Gaelic differ from each other as the Latin and Greek. The parallel is a rough one, but it will suffice as the basis of some criticism.

Languages thus related cannot be in the relation of mother and daughter, i.e., the one cannot be derived from the other, as the English is from the Anglo-Saxon, or the Italian from the Latin. The true connexion is different. It is that of brother and sister, rather than of parent and child. The actual source is some common mother-tongue; a mother-tongue which may become extinct after the evolution of its progeny. Hence, in the particular case before us, the Gaelic and British must have developed themselves, each independently of the other, out of some common form of speech. And the development must have taken place within the British Islands; the doctrine being that out of a language which at some remote period was neither British nor Gaelic, but which contained the germs of both, the western form of speech took one form, the southern another—the results being in the one case the British, in the other the Gaelic, tongue.

But that common mother-tongue at the remote period in question, the period of the earliest occupancy of Britain, must have been spoken on both sides of the Channel—in Gaul as well as the British Islands. And here (i.e., in Gaul) it may have done one of two things. It may have remained unaltered; or, it may have undergone change. Now in either case it would be different from both the Gaelic and the British. In the former alternative it would have been stereotyped as it were, and so have preserved its original characters, whilst the Gaelic and British had adopted new ones. In the latter it would have altered itself after its own peculiar fashion; and those very peculiarities would have made it other than British as well as other than Gaelic. Yet what is the fact? The ancient language of Gaul, though as unlike the Gaelic as a separate and independent development was likely to make it, was not unlike the British. On the contrary, it was sufficiently like it to be intelligible to a Briton. Now I hold this similarity to be conclusive against the doctrine that the British and Gaelic languages were developed out of some common mother-tongue within the British Islands. Had they been so the dialects of Gaul would have been far more unlike the British than they were.

The British then, at least, did not acquire its British character in Britain, but on the continent; and it was introduced into England as a language previously formed in Gaul.

For the Gaelic there is no such necessity for a continental origin; indeed at the first view, the probabilities are in favour of its having originated in Britain. It cannot be found on the continent; and, such being the case, its continental origin is hypothetical. One thing, however, is certain, viz., that if the Gaelic were once the only language of the British Isles, the conquests and encroachments of the Britons who displaced it, must have been enormous. In the whole of South Britain it must certainly have been superseded, and in half Scotland as well: whilst, if, before its introduction into Great Britain, it were spoken on any part of the continent, the displacement must have been greater still.

Now, the hypothesis as to the origin of the Gaels may take numerous forms. I indicate the following three.—

1. The first may be called Lhuyd's doctrine, since Humphrey Lhuyd, one of the best of our earlier archaeologists, suggested it. Mr. Garnett has spoken of it with respect; but he evidently hesitates to admit it. And it is only with respect that it should be mentioned; for, it is highly probable. It makes the original population of all the British Isles—England as well as Scotland and Ireland—to have been Gaelic, Gaelic to the exclusion of any Britons whatever. It makes a considerable part of the continent Gaelic as well. In consequence of this, the Britons are a later and intrusive population, a population which effected a great and complete displacement of the earlier Gaels over the whole of South Britain, and the southern part of Scotland. Except that they were a branch of the same stock as the Gaels, their relation to the aborigines was that of the Anglo-Saxons to themselves at a later period. The Gaels first; then the Britons; lastly the Angles. Such is the sequence. The general distribution of these two branches of the Keltic stock leads to Lhuyd's hypothesis; in other words, the presumptions are in its favour. But this is not all. There are certainly some words—the names, of course, of geographical objects—to be found in both England and Gaul, which are better explained by the Gaelic than the British language. The most notable of these is the names of such rivers as the Exe, Axe, and (perhaps) Ouse, which is better illustrated by the Irish term uisge (whiskey, water), than by any Welsh or Armorican one.

2. The second doctrine may be called the Hibernian hypothesis. It allows to the Britons of England, and South Scotland any amount of antiquity, making them aboriginal to Great Britain. The Gaels of the Scottish Highlands it derives from Ireland; a view supported by a passage in Beda.[9] Ireland is thus the earliest insular occupancy of the Gael. But whence came they to Ireland? From some part south and west of the oldest known south-western limits of the Keltic area, from Spain, perhaps; in which case a subsequent displacement of the original Kelts of the continent by the Iberians—the oldest known stock of the Peninsula—must be assumed. But as there must be some assumptions somewhere, the only question is as to its legitimacy.

3. The third hypothesis—the Caledonian—reverses the second, and deduces the Irish Gaels from Scotland, and the Scotch Gaels from some part north of the oldest known Keltic boundary and in the direction of Scandinavia. Like both the others, this involves a subsequent displacement of the mother-stock.


[9] See Chapter viii.



The steady and continuous operation of Roman influences may be said to begin in the reign of Claudius, A.D. 43; the sceptre of Cynobelin having passed into the hands of his sons. Against these, and against the other princes of Britain, such as Caradoc (Caractacus) and Cartismandua, the active commanders Aulus Plautius and Ostorius Scapula are employed. Three lines diverging from the parts about London give us the direction of their conquests. One running along the valley of the Thames takes us to the Dobuni of Gloucestershire, and the Silures of South Wales; both of which are specially enumerated as subdued populations. The other, almost at right angles with the last, gives us the operations against the town of Camelodunum in Essex, the Iceni who afterwards revolted, and the Brigantes of Yorkshire. The third is indicated by Paulinus' campaigns in North Wales, and his bloody deeds in the Isle of Anglesey, a line of conquest which probably arose out of the reduction of the midland counties of Northampton, Leicester, Derby, Stafford, and Shropshire. I do not say that these give us the actual movements of the Roman army. They serve, however, to note the points where the special evidence of Roman occupation is most definite.

In the reign of Vespasian the conquests were not only consolidated but extended. Agricola builds his line of forts from the Forth to the Clyde, and penetrates as far north as the Grampians. Whether the warriors whom he here met under Galgacus were Britons, like those whom he had seen in the south, or Gaels, is a matter which will be considered hereafter; but he fought against them with foreign as well as with Roman soldiers. The German Usipii formed one, if not more, of his cohorts; a circumstance which shews what will be illustrated, with fuller details, in the sequel, viz., that the Roman conquerors of Britain were far from being exclusively Roman. The Usipii, however, are the first non-Roman soldiers mentioned by name. On the west coast of Britain, Agricola had to deal with the pirates from Ireland—undoubted Gaels whatever the warriors of the Grampians may have been.

Roman civilization took root rapidly in Britain, though in a bad form. The early existence of lawyers and money-lenders shew this. During the reign of Domitian the advocates of Britain were known to the satirists of Rome; and, as early as that of Nero, the calling-in of a loan by the philosopher Seneca helped to create the great revolt under Boadicea. But except in respect to the use of the Roman language, it is doubtful whether the culture was much different from that which had developed itself under Cynobelin—a civilization which though being due, in a great degree, to Gaul, was also, more or less indirectly, Roman as well; but, nevertheless, a civilization which was unattended with any loss of nationality.

The rampart from the mouth of the Tyne to the Solway is referred to the reign of Adrian; the conversion of Agricola's line of forts into a continuous wall to that of Aurelius Antoninus. These boundaries give us two areas. North of the Antonine frontier the Roman power was never consolidated, although the eastern half was occasionally traversed by active commanders like the Emperor Severus. It was the county of the Caledonians and Maeatae.

Between the frontier of Agricola and the rampart of Adrian, the occupation was less incomplete. Incomplete, however, it was; even when, in the fourth century, it was made a province by Theodosius, and in honour of the Emperor of Valens, called Valentia. A.D. 211, Severus, after strengthening the Antonine fortifications, dies at York; his reign being an epoch of some importance in the history of Roman Britain. In the first place, it is only up to this reign that our authorities are at all satisfactory. Caesar, Tacitus, and Dio Cassius, have hitherto been our guides. For the next eighty years, however, we shall find no cotemporary historian at all, and when our authorities begin again, the first will be one of the worthless writers of the Panegyrics. In the next place, the great divisions of the Britannic populations have hitherto been but two—the Britons proper and the Caledonians. The next class of writers will complicate the ethnology by speaking of the Picts. The chief change, however, is that in the British population itself. The contest, except on the Welsh and Scotch frontiers, is no longer between the Roman invader and the British native; but between Britain as a Romano-Britannic province, and Rome as the centre and head of the empire: in other words, the quarrels with the mother-country replace the wars against the aborigines. This, however, is part of the civil history of Rome, rather than the natural history of Britain. The contests of Albinus against Severus, and of Proculus and Bonosus against Probus, are the earliest instances of the attempts upon the Imperial Purple from these quarters; attempts which give us the measure of the extent to which the island was Roman rather than Keltic—at least in respect to its political history.

Bonosus, himself, had British blood in his veins although born in Spain, for his mother was a Gaul; but as he is called "Briton in origin," we may infer that his father was from our own island. Probus allowed the Britons the privilege of growing vines and of making wine.

In the last ten years of the third century events thicken. The revolt of Carausius, the assumption of the empire by Allectus, and the adoption of Constantius Chlorus by Diocletian as Caesar, are events of ethnological as well as political influence. This they are, because they indicate either the introduction of foreign elements into Britain, or the infusion of British blood in other quarters. Carausius, for instance, was a Menapian, and he is not likely to have been the only one of his times. The Constantian family, I believe, to have been more British than even the usual opinion makes them.

A little consideration will tell us that the three names of this important pedigree—Constans, Constantius, and Constantinus, have no etymological connexion with the substantive Constantia; in other words, that Constans does not mean the constant Man, just as prudens means the prudent, or sapiens the wise. No such signification will account for the forms in -ius and -inus. To this it may be added that the family was of foreign extraction, as were the families of nearly half the later emperors. The name, I believe, was foreign also. If so, it was most probably Keltic; since con, both as a simple single term, and as an element of compounds is a common Keltic proper name. The only fact against this view is the descent of the first of the three emperors—Constantius. He was not born in either Gaul or Britain. On the contrary, his father was a high official in the Diocese of Illyricum, and his mother, a niece of the Emperor Claudius;[10] circumstances which, at the first view, seem to contradict the inference from the name. They do so, however, in appearance only. The most unlikely man to have been high in office in Illyricum was a native Illyrian; for it was the policy of Rome to put Kelts in the Slavonic, and Slavonians in the Keltic, provinces; just as, at the present moment, Russia places Finn regiments in the Caucasus, and Caucasian in Finland. If this view be correct, a Keltic name is evidence, as far as it goes, of Keltic blood.

In the next generation we have to deal with both historical facts and traditions connected with the pedigree of Constantine the Great. That he was born in Britain, and that his mother was of low origin, are the historical facts; that she was the daughter of King Coel of Colchester is the tradition. The latter is of any amount of worthlessness, and no stress is laid upon it. The former are considered confirmatory of the present view. The chief support, however, lies in the British character of the name.

In the Panegyric of Mamertinus on the Emperor Maximian, one of the Augusti, who shared the imperial power with Diocletian, we have the first mention of the Picts. Worthless as the Panegyrists are when we want specific facts, they have the great merit of being cotemporary to the events they allude to; for allusions of a tantalizing and unsatisfactory character is all we get from them. However, Mamertinus is the first writer who mentions the Picts, and he does it in his notice of the revolt of Carausius.

More important than this is a passage which gives us an army of Frank mercenaries in the City of London, as early as A.D. 290—there or thereabouts. It is a passage of which too little notice has, hitherto, been taken—"By so thorough a consent of the Immortal Gods, O unconquered Caesar, has the extermination of all the enemies, whom you have attacked, and of the Franks more especially, been decreed, that even those of your soldiers, who, having missed their way on a foggy sea, reached the town of London, destroyed promiscuously and throughout the city the whole remains of that mercenary multitude of barbarians, that, after escaping the battle, sacking the town, and, attempting flight, was still left—a deed, whereby your provincials were not only saved, but delighted by the sight of the slaughter."

One German tribe, then at least, has set its foot on the land of Britain as early as the reign of Diocletian; and that as enemies. How far their settlement was permanent, and how far the particular section of them, mentioned by Mamertinus, represented the whole of the invasion, is uncertain. The paramount fact is the existence of hostile Franks in Middlesex nearly 200 years before the epoch of Hengist.

Were there Saxons as well? This is a question for the sequel. At present, I remark, that Mamertinus mentions them by name but without placing them on the soil of Britain. They merely vexed the British Seas.

Were there any other Germans? Aurelius Victor suggests that there were. A.D. 306, Constantius dies at York, and Constantine, his son, "assisted by all who were about, but especially by Eroc, King of the Alemanni, assumes the empire." Now Eroc had accompanied Constantius as an ally (auxilii gratii); so that there were Alemanni in Yorkshire, as well as Franks in Middlesex, with powers, more or less, approaching those of independent populations; at any rate, in a different position from the mere legionary Germans, of whom further notice will soon be taken.

In Julian's reign the Picts, Scots, and Attacotti harass the South Britons. This is on the cotemporary and unexceptionable evidence of Ammianus Marcellinus. And the same cotemporary and unexceptionable evidence adds the Saxons to his list of devastators—"Picti, Saxonesque, et Scoti, et Attacotti Britannos aerumnis vexavere continuis." Mark the word continuis.

The Alemanni of Britain are noticed by the same writer in a passage which must be taken along with the notice of the Alemanni under Eroc. "Valentinian placed Fraomarius as king over the Buccinobantes, a nation of the Alemanni, near Mentz. Soon afterwards, however, an attack upon his people devastated their country (pa- gum, gau). He was then translated to Britain, and placed over the Alemanni, at that time flourishing both in numbers and power, as tribune."

We may now ask what foreign elements were introduced into Britain by the Roman legions; since nothing is more certain than that the Roman armies consisted, but in a small degree, of Romans. The Notitia[11] Utriusque Imperii helps us here; indeed it may be that it supplies us with a complete list of the imperial forces in all their ethnological heterogeneousness. Some of the titles of the regiments and companies (alae, numeri, cohortes) are unexplained: several, however, are taken from the country of the soldiers that composed them.

The list gives us settlers in Britain of Germanic, Gallic, Iberic, Slavonic, Aramaic, and Berber extraction.


Tungricani.—Either soldiers who had distinguished themselves in the parts about Tongres, or true Tungrian Germans, under a Praepositus, and stationed at Dubris (Dover).

Tungri.—True Tungrian Germans. At Borcovicum. A cohort.

Turnacenses.—Either soldiers who had distinguished themselves in the parts about Tournay, or true Tournay Germans, under a Praepositus, and stationed at Lemanus (Lymne).

Batavians.—A cohort stationed at Procolitia.


Nervii.—A numerous cohort under a Prefect at Dictum.

Nervii.—A cohort at Aliona.

Nervii.—A cohort at Virosidum. How far these were Gauls, or, if Gauls, of unmixed blood, is uncertain. During the wars of Caesar, the brave nation of the Nervians was said to have been exterminated. Such was not the case. Portions of it remained. At the same time, the reduction was so great, and the subsequent influx of Germans from the Lower Rhine was so considerable, that the soldiers in question were, probably, as much Roman and German as Gallic.

Morini.—Gauls from the parts about Calais. A cohort, stationed at Glannobanta.

Galli.—A cohort at Vendolana.


Hispani.—A cohort. Stationed at Axellodunum.


Dalmatae.—Cavalry. Stationed at Brannodunum.

Dalmatae.—A cohort, at Praesidum.

Dalmatae.—A cohort, at Magna.

Daci.—A cohort, at Amboglanna.

Thraces.—A cohort, at Gabrosentum.

Thaifal(?)—Cavalry. Perhaps German, but more probably Slavonians, infamous for the turpitude of their habits.




Mauri.—Under a Prefect, at Aballaba.

If we ask what proportion these foreign and miscellaneous elements in the Roman Legions of Britain bore to the true Romans, we wait in vain for an answer. This is because the constitution of the other portions of the army is unknown. Who (for instance) composed the Fortenses, the Stablesiani, the Abulci, and numerous other companies? Perhaps, Romans; in which case the proportion of Syrian, Slavonian, and other non-Roman elements is diminished. Perhaps, Syrians, Slavonians, or Germans; in which case it is increased. That the above-named troops, however, belonged to the ethnological divisions which are denoted by the names, is in the highest degree probable. It is also probable that the list may be increased; thus the Pacenses, the Asti, the Frixagori, and the Lergi, although there are doubts, in every case, about the reading, and still greater about the signification, have reasonably been thought to have been regiments, or companies, named from the localities where they were levied; but, as already stated, these localities are doubtful.

As blood foreign to both the British and Roman was introduced into Britain, so was British blood introduced elsewhere. All the foreign stations of the British troops are not known; but that there was, at least, one in each of the following countries is certain—Illyricum, Egypt, Northern Africa. The history of foreign blood in Britain, and of British blood in foreign countries are counterpart questions.

The lines of Roman road are the best data for ascertaining the parts of our island where the mixture of Roman and foreign blood was greatest: since it is a fair inference that those districts which were the least accessible were the most Keltic. These are North Wales, Cornwall and Devonshire, the Wealds of Sussex and Kent, Lincolnshire, and the district of Craven. On the other hand, the pre-eminently Roman tracts are—

1. The valleys of the Tyne and Solway, or the line of the wall and rampart which divided South Britain from North.

2. The valley of the Ouse, or the parts about York.

3, 4. The valleys of the Thames and Severn.

5. Cheshire and South Lancashire.

6. Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Roman blood, then, in Britain seems to have been inconsiderable, even when we class as Roman everything which was other than British. That the language, however, was chiefly Latin—more or less modified—is what we infer from the analogies of Gaul and Spain. The history, too, of four centuries of civilization and corruption is Roman also. That there was a bodily evacuation of Britain by the Romans, a concealment of treasures, and a migration to Gaul, rests upon no authority earlier than that of the Anglo-Saxon writers, some five centuries later. The country was rather a theatre for usurpers and rebels; none of whom can be shewed to have either left the island, or to have been exterminated by the Anglo-Saxon invasion—an invasion to which, in a future chapter, an earlier date, and a more gradual operation than is usually assigned will be attributed.


[10] Niebuhr's Lectures, p. iii, 312.

[11] Referred to some time between the reigns of Valens and Honorius.



Not one word has hitherto been said about the early traditions of either Briton or Gael. No word, either, about their early records. Nothing about the Triads, Aneurin, Taliessin, Llywarch Hen, and Merlin on the side of the Welsh; nothing about the Milesian and other legends of the Irish. Why this silence? Have the preceding investigations been so superabundantly clear as to lead us to dispense with all rays of light except those of the most unexceptionable kind?

It is an unusual piece of good fortune when this happens anywhere; and assuredly it has not happened on British or Irish ground as yet. Or has the evidence of such early records and traditions been incompatible with the doctrines of the previous chapters, and, on the strength of its inconvenience, been kept back? If so, there has been a foul piece of disingenuousness on the part of the writer. But he does not plead guilty to this. He attaches but little weight to the evidence of the early British records; and the contents of the present chapter are intended to justify his depreciation of them.

The writer who asserts that the oldest work in any language is of such antiquity as to be separated from the next oldest by any very long interval—by an interval which leaves a wide chasm between the first and second specimens of the literature which no fragments and no traces of any lost compositions are found to fill up—makes an assertion which he is bound to support by evidence of the most cogent kind. For it is not always enough to shew that no intrinsic objections lie against the antiquity of the work in question. It may be so short, or so general in respect to its subject as to leave no room for contradictory and impossible sentences or expressions. It is not enough to shew that there were no reasons against such a literature being developed; since it is difficult to say what conditions absolutely forbid the production of a work stamped by no very definite characteristics. Nor yet will it suffice to say that the preservation of such a work is probable. All that can be got from all this is a presumption in its favour. The great fact of a work existing without giving this impulse to the production of others like it, and the fact of the same means of preservation being wholly neglected in other instances, still stand over. They are not conclusive against certain positions; but they are circumstances which must be fairly met; circumstances which if one writer overlook, others will not; circumstances which the critic will insist on; and circumstances which, if the dazzle of a paradox, or the appeal to the innate and universal sympathy for antiquity keep them in the background for a while, will, sooner or later, rise against the author who overlooked them.

Neither are arguments from the antiquity of language conclusive. When two works differ from each other in respect to the signs of antiquity exhibited in their phraseology, the inference that the oldest in point of speech is proportionably old in point of time is not the only one. It is an easy thing to say that in the Latin literature the language of Ennius represents a date a hundred years earlier than that of Cicero, and that of Cicero a date 400 earlier than the time of Boethius, and that when we meet elsewhere compositions which differ from each other as the Latin of Ennius does from that of Boethius, there is 500 years difference between them. It is by no means certain that any two languages alter at the same rate.

But an average may be struck, and it may be said that greater antiquity of expression is prima facie evidence of a greater antiquity of date. It is: but is only so when we are quite sure that the dialects of the two specimens are the same. There are works printed this very year in Iceland which, if their dates were unknown, would pass for being a hundred years older than the Swedish of the eleventh century.

It is only when the supporter of the authenticity of a work of singular and unique antiquity can begin with an epoch of comparatively recent date, and argue backwards through a series of continuous works, each older than the other, to one still older than any, that he can reasonably accuse the critic who demurs to his deductions of captiousness. In this way the antiquity of the oldest Chinese annals is invalidated: in this way the date of the Indian Vedas (1400 B.C.). But the great classical literatures stand the test, and from the present time to Claudian, from Claudian to Ennius, and from Ennius to Archilochus we trace a classical literature with all its works in continuity; each pointing to some one older than itself. Even this forbids an excessive antiquity to Homer.

Again—the likelihood of forgery must be continually kept in mind; so much so, that even in the unexceptionable literature of the classics, if it could be shewn that any age between the present and the eighth century B.C., were an age in which the Greek drama, the Greek epics, the Greek histories, or the Greek orations could be forged, a great deal would be subtracted from the proofs of their antiquity. I do not say that it would set them aside; because everything of this kind is a question of degree; but the argument in their favour would be less exceptionable than it is.

For it cannot be too strongly urged that the preservation of records of high antiquity, in and of itself, is naturally and essentially improbable. More than half of the antiquities of the world have been lost; and this alone gives us the odds against an instance of survivorship. This has been insisted on by more than one archaeologist—more cautious and candid than the majority of his brotherhood. Whoever doubts this should look around him. How few nations have a literature! How thoroughly is the non-development of a permanent literature the exception rather than the rule! And, even when records come into existence, how numerous are the chances against their preservation. Destruction is the common law: continuance a happy rarity. For extraordinary phenomena we must have extraordinary proofs.

From the present time to the eleventh century we may trace the native Welsh literature continuously; but no farther. If any thing be older than the laws of Hoel Dhu, they must be so by four centuries, with nothing in the interval. This is the measure of the value of Welsh evidence to the events of the fifth century. Writers, however, in Latin existed earlier. Still, this is unsufficient to be conclusive to the validity of a fact in the fourth. Such a statement must be tested by its own intrinsic probability. It cannot come before us invested with the dignity of a historically authenticated event. What this is will soon appear.

If this be the spirit in which we must scrutinize documentary evidence, with what eyes must we look upon traditions—traditions wherein the record, instead of being permanently registered, is transmitted from mouth to mouth, from father to son, from the old man to the young, from generation to generation? The mere etymological import of the word will mislead us. It is not enough for a thing to have been handed down from father to son. A relic may be so transmitted; indeed, written papers and printed books are traditions of this kind. Heirlooms of any sort—whether belonging to a nation or an individual—are such traditions as these.

In a true tradition we must consider the form and the origin. A narrative which has taken a definite shape, either as a formula or a poem, can scarcely be called a tradition. It is a specimen of composition handed down by tradition, but not a tradition itself. It is an unwritten record—as much a record in form and nature as a written document, but differing from a written document in the manner of its transmission to posterity. Many a good judge believes that the Homeric poems are older than the art of writing, and, consequently, that they were handed down to posterity orally. Yet no one would say that the Iliad and Odyssey were Greek traditions.

The fact of a narrative having taken a permanent form, inasmuch as that permanent form both facilitates its transmission, and ensures its integrity, distinguishes an unwritten record from a tradition.

A true account of a real event transmitted from father to son in no set form of words, but told in a way that a nursery tale is told to children, or the way in which a piece of evidence is given in a court of justice, constitutes a tradition; for in this form only is it liable to those elements of uncertainty which distinguish tradition from history—elements which we must recognize, if we wish to be precise in our language.

Such is its form, or rather its want of form. But this is not enough. A tradition, to be anything at all, must have a basis in fact, and represent a real action, either accurately described or but moderately misrepresented. I say moderately misrepresented, because the absolute transmission of anything beyond a mere list of names, and dates, without addition, omission, or embellishment, is a practical impossibility. Hence we must allow for some inaccuracy; just as in mechanics we must allow for friction. But, allowing for this, we must still remember that the event and the account of it, are correlative terms. An opinion—an account of an account—only takes the appearance of a tradition. It is a tradition so far as it is handed down to posterity, but it is no tradition with corresponding facts as a basis.

It is generally a theory—a theory, perhaps unconsciously formed, but still a theory. Certain phenomena, of which there is no historical explanation, excite the notice of some one less incurious than his fellows, and he attempts to account for them. On the two opposite coasts of a sea—for instance—two populations with the same manners and language, are observed to reside. A migration will account for this; and, consequently, a migration is assumed. The view, being reasonable, is generally adopted; and the fact of a migration having absolutely taken place becomes the current belief. The men who speak of this in the fourth or fifth generation, speak of it as an actual occurrence. So, perhaps, it is. But it is no tradition notwithstanding; since the record cannot be traced up to the event. All that posterity has had handed-down from its ancestors, is an inference; which, even if it be as good as the historical account of an absolute event (as it sometimes is), is anything but a tradition in the strict sense of the term. Of course, the existence of the inference itself can be reduced to a fact, and, as such, produce a tradition. But this is not the tradition which is wanted—not the tradition which gives the fact in question.

These ex post facto traditions may be of any amount of value, or of any degree of worthlessness. They may be inferences of such accuracy and justice as to command the respect of the most critical; or they may involve impossibilities. The extremes are the best; the former for their intrinsic value, the latter from their unlikelihood to mislead. The most dangerous are the intermediate. Possibly, plausible, or, at any rate, without any outward and visible marks of condemnation—

"They lie like truth, and yet most truly lie."

What proportion do these ex post facto traditions bear to the true ones? This is difficult to say. A nickname, a genealogy, a tune may well be transmitted by tradition. So may charms, formulae, proverbs, and poems; yet when we come to proverbs and poems we are on the domain of unwritten literature, a domain which can scarcely be identified with that of tradition. A local legend, when it is not too suspiciously adapted to the features of the place to which it applies, may also be admitted as traditional. These and but little beyond. Men rarely think about transmitting narratives until it is too late for an authentic account.

On the other hand, the very mental activity which employs itself upon the attempt to account for an unexplained phenomenon is a sign of attention; and where there is the attention to speculate, there is likely to be the desire to transmit. If so, it is probable that the proportion of transmitted speculations to true traditions is immeasurably large. But there is an other reason for ignoring the so-called traditions. When there is a tradition, and a true historical record as well, the tradition is superfluous. When a tradition stands alone, there is nothing to confirm it. What can we do then? To assume the fact from the truth of the tradition, and the truth of the tradition from the existence of the fact, is to argue in a circle. Two independent traditions, however, may confirm each other. When this happens the case is improved; but, even then, they may be but similar inferences from the same premises.

If, then, I allow no inference which I feel myself justified in drawing to be disturbed by any so-called tradition; and, if instead of seeing in the accounts of our early writers a narrative transmitted by word of mouth in lieu of a record registered in writing, I deal with such apparent narratives as if they were the inferences of some later chronicler, I must not be accused of undue presumption. The statements will still be treated with respect, the more so, perhaps, because they rest on induction rather than testimony; and, as a general rule, they will be credited with the merit of being founded on just premises, even where those premises do not appear. In other words, every writer will be thought logical until there are reasons for suspecting the contrary. For a true and genuine tradition, however, I have so long sought in vain, that I despair of ever finding one. If found, it would be duly appreciated. On the other hand, by treating their counterfeits as inferences, we improve our position as investigators. A fact we must take as it is told us, and take it without any opportunity of correction—all or none; whereas, an inference can be scrutinized and amended. In the one case we receive instructions from which we are forbidden to deviate; in the other we act as judges, with a power to pronounce decisions. Nor does it unfrequently happen that our position in this respect is better than that of the original writer; since, however, many may be the facts which he may have had for his opinion beyond those which he has transmitted to posterity, there are others of which he must have been ignorant, and with which we are familiar. Changing the expression, where there is anything like an equality of data, the means of using them is in favour of the later inquirer as against the earlier; in which case he understands antiquity better than the ancients—presumptuous as the doctrine may be. With a bona fide piece of testimony, however traditionary, documentary, or cotemporaneous, the case is reversed, and the modern writer must listen to his senior with thankful deference. And this it is that makes the distinction between inference and evidence so important. To mistake the former for the latter is to overvalue antiquity and exclude ourselves from a legitimate and fertile field of research. To confound the latter with the former, is to raise ourselves into criticism when our business is simply to interpret.

Proceeding to details, we find that the Historia Gildae and the Epistola Gildae are the two earliest works upon Anglo-Saxon Britain. For reasons which will soon appear, these works are referred to A.D. 550. The class of facts for which the evidence of a writer of this date is wanted, is that which contains the particulars of the history of Britain during the last days of the Roman, and the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon domination. Amongst these, the more important would be the rebellion of Maximus, the Pict and Scot inroads, the earliest Germanic invasions, and the subordination of the Romans to the Saxons. But all these are deeds of devastation, and, as such, unfavourable to even the existence of the scanty literature necessary to record them. Again, there were two other changes, equally unfavourable to the preservation of records, going on. Pagan or Classical literature was becoming Christian or Medieval, whilst the Latin or Roman style was passing into Byzantine and Greek. Ammianus Marcellinus, the last of the Latin Pagan historians, was cotemporary with the events at the beginning of the period in question. Procopius, one of the last Pagan writers of Byzantium, died about the same time as Gildas.

Hence, the 150 years—from A.D. 400 to 550—for which alone the history of Gildas is wanted, is an era of excessive obscurity. Are the merits of the author proportionate? Is the light he brings commensurate with the darkness? What could he know? What does he tell? He tells so little that the question as to the value of his authorities is reduced to nearly nothing; and, of that little which we learn from his wordy and turgid pages, the smallest fraction only is of any ethnological interest. Indeed, Gildas is most worth notice for what he leaves unsaid. The rebellion of Maximus he mentions; but he is not answerable for the migration from Britain to Brittany, on which (as already stated) so much turns. The Saxons, too, he mentions, and the name of Vortigern—but he is not answerable for the derivation of the name from the word Sahs=dagger. In regard to the important question as to the date of the invasion, and the number of the invaders, he fixes 150 years before his own time, and gives three as the number of their vessels (cyulae). Aurelius Ambrosius and the Pugna Badonica are especially alluded to, the date of the latter event being the date of his own birth. As this is an event which he might have known from his parents, and as the later Roman writers are our authorities until (there or thereabouts) the death of Honorius, it remains to inquire upon what testimonies Gildas gave the few events which he notices between the years 417[12] and 516. Is there anything which by suggesting the existence of native cotemporary documents should induce us to consider his evidence as conclusive? I think not. Such may or may not have existed, the presumption being for or against them, according to the view which the inquirer takes respecting the literary and civilizational influences of the expiring Paganism of the Romans, and the incipient Christianity of the early British Church, combined with the antiquity of the earliest British and Irish records—a wide and complex subject, if treated generally, but if viewed with reference to the specific case before us (the authorities of Gildas), a narrow one.

In the case of Gildas it is perfectly unnecessary to assume anything of the kind. The only material facts which he gives us are the letter to AEtius for assistance, and a notice of the place which Vortigern finds in the downfall of the Romano-British empire. The first of these points to Rome rather than to Britain; the second is from the life of a Gallic missionary—St. Germanus of Auxerre. To this may be added the high probability of Gildas' work having been written in Gaul; a fact which, undoubtedly, subtracts from the little value it might otherwise possess.

The next is an author of a very different calibre, the venerable Beda; concerning whom we must remember that he stands in contrast to Gildas from being Anglo-Saxon rather than British. Now, his history is Ecclesiastical and not Civil; so that ethnological questions make no part of his inquiries, and, as far as they are treated at all, they are treated incidentally. Whatever may have been the records of the Romano-British Church, or the compositions of Romano-British writers, they form no part of the materials of Beda. The most he says that, from writings and traditions along with the information derived from the monks of the Abbey of Lestingham, he wrote that part of his work which gives an account of the Christianity of the kingdom of Mercia. For the other parts of the kingdom he chiefly applied to the Bishop of the Diocese; to Albinus for the antiquities of Kent and Essex; and to Daniel for those of Wessex, the Isle of Wight, and Sussex. For Lincolnshire he had viva voce information from Cynebert, and the monks of the Abbey of Partney; and for Northumberland he made his inquiries himself. Now as Christianity was first introduced into Anglo-Saxon England by Augustine, A.D. 597, the era of the Germanic invasions lies beyond the evidence of either Beda or his authorities. Gildas, and the sources of Gildas he knew; but of access to native records of the fifth century—the century for which they are most wanted—or of the existence of such, no trace occurs in the Historia Ecclesiastica, except in the two doubtful cases which will appear in the sequel.[13]

In Nennius, more than in any other writer, do we find it necessary to assume the existence of any previous historians, upon whose authority the facts of the times between the cessation of the Roman supremacy, and the consolidation of the Anglo-Saxon power may be received; and in Nennius we must, for many reasons, admit it. In the first place, he mentions more than one circumstance which he could not well have got from any other source; in the next, the preface says that what has been done has been done "partim majorum traditionibus; partem scriptis; partim etiam monumentis veterum Britanniae incolarum; partim et de annalibus Romanorum. Insuper et de chronicis sanctorum Patrum, Ysidori, scilicet Hieronymi, Prosperi, Eusebii, necnon et de historiis Scotorum Saxonumque, inimicorum licet, non ut volui, sed ut potui, meorum obtemperans jussionibus seniorum, unam hanc historiunculam undecunque collectam balbutiendo coacervari." But, it should be added that the authenticity of the preface is doubtful.

Nennius, then, most introduces the question as to the value of the narratives of the events of the fifth century. I cannot but put it exceedingly low. Of any historian, properly so called, there is not a trace. Neither is there of regular annals, a point which will soon be considered more fully. Nor yet of any of even the humbler forms of narrative poetry; though this is a point upon which I speak with hesitation. I base my opinion, however, upon the notices of the two chief epochs—that of Vortigern and that of King Arthur. The first is from the life of St. Germanus, the second is an unadorned enumeration of three campaigns, with as little of the appearance of being derived from a poetic source as is possible.

Several genealogies occur in Nennius; and it often happens that genealogies are useful elements of criticism. British ethnology, however, is not the department in which their value is most conspicuous.

How far were the traditions of Nennius of any worth? The following is a specimen of them. "The Britons were named after Brutus; Brutus was the son of Hisicion, Hisicion of Alanus, Alanus of Rea Silvia, Rea Silvia of Numa, Numa of Pamphilus, Pamphilus of Ascanius, Ascanius of AEneas, AEneas of Anchises, Anchises of Tros, Tros of Dardanus, the son of Flire, the son of Javan, the son of Japhet. This Japhet had seven sons; the first Gomer, from whom came the Gauls; the second Magog, from whom came the Scythians and Goths; the third Aialan, from whom came the Medes; the fourth Javan, whence the Greeks; the fifth Tubal, whence the Hebrews; the sixth Mesech, whence the Cappadocians; the seventh Troias, whence the Thracians. These are the sons of Japhet, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech. I will now return to the point whence I departed.

"The first man of the race of Japhet came to Europe, Alanus by name, with his three sons. Their names were Ysicion, Armenon, and Neguo. Ysicion had four sons, their names were Frank, Roman, Alemann, and Briton, from whom Britain was first inhabited. But Armenon had five sons. These are Goth, Walagoth, Cebid, Burgundian, Longobard. Neguo had four sons, Wandal, Saxon, Bogar, Turk. From Hisicio the first-born of Alan, arose four natives, the Franks, the Latins, the Alemanns, and the Britons. From Armenon, the second son of Alan, came the Goths, the Vandals, the Cebidi, and the Longobards. From Neguo, the third, the Bogars, Vandals, Saxons, and Tarinci. But these nations were subdivided over all Europe. Alanius, however, as they say, was the son of Sethevir, the son of Ogomnum, the son of Thois, the son of Boib, the son of Simeon, the son of Mair, the son of Ethac, the son of Luothar, the son of Ecthel, the son of Oothz, the son of Aborth, the son of Ra, the son of Esra, the son of Israu, the son of Barth, the son of Jonas, the son of Jabath, the son of Japhet, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methusalem, the son of Enoch, the son of Jareth, the son of Malalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of the living God."

Surely this is but a piece of book-learning spoilt in the application. Yet what says the author?

"This genealogy I found in the traditions of the ancients, who were the inhabitants of Britain in the earliest times."—Historia Britonum, cap. xiii.

The next two works are chronicles, so-called; one British and one Anglo-Saxon; the Annales Cambriae and the Saxon Chronicle.

The notices of the Annales Cambriae are remarkably brief and scanty. It has scarcely one for every second year, and what it has is short and unimportant.

It begins with A.D. 447, and ends with the Norman Conquest. It is closely confined to the events of Wales.

The date and authorship are uncertain. Of the three MSS. which supply the text, one is said to be as old as A.D. 954.

When the entries began to be cotemporary with the events registered is uncertain; indeed, there is no proof that they are so anywhere. On the other hand, they cannot be earlier than A.D. 521, since the event registered there is the birth of St. Columba. Now the entry of the birth of an illustrious personage is not likely to be a cotemporaneous entry; since his greatness has yet to be achieved, and it is only the spirit of prophecy and anticipation that such a record would be made at the time he merely came into the world.

The year 522, then, is the earliest possible cotemporary entry, and this is, most likely, much too early.

But the work has not the appearance of being a register of cotemporaneous events at all. In such a composition the idlest chronicler would find something to say under each year, and notices of either local events, or the great events of general interest, could scarcely fail to be entered. No one, however, will say that such a series of entries as the following from A.D. 501 to A.D. 601, can ever have constituted cotemporary history.

LVII. Annus. Episcopus Ebur pausat in Christo, anno cccl. aetatis suae.

LVIII. Annus.

LXXI. Annus.

LXXII. Annus. Bellum Badonis in quo Arthur portavit crucem Domini nostri Jesu Christi tribus diebus et tribus noctibus in humeros suos, et Brittones victores fuerunt.

LXXIII. Annus.

LXXVI. Annus.

LXXVII. Annus. Sanctus Columcille nascitur. Quies Sanctae Brigidae.


XCII. Annus.

XCIII. Annus. Gueith Camlann, in qua Arthur et Medraut corruere; et mortalitas in Brittannia et Hibernia fuit.

XCIV. Annus.

XCIX. Annus.

C. Annus. Dormitatio Ciarani.

CI. Annus.

CII. Annus.

CIII. Annus. Mortalitas magna, in qua pausat Mailcun rex Genedotae.

CIV. Annus.

CXIII. Annus.

CXIV. Annus. Gabran filius Dungart moritur.

CXV. Annus.

CXVII. Annus.

CXVIII. Annus. Columcille in Brittania exiit.

CXIX. Annus.

CXX. Annus.

CXXI. Annus. [Navigatio Gildae in Hibernia.]

CXXII. Annus.

CXXIV. Annus.

CXXV. Annus. [Synodus Victoriae apud Britones congregatur.]

CXXVI. Annus Gildas obiit.

CXXVII. Annus.


CXXIX. Bellum Armterid. [Inter filios Elifer et Guendoleu, filium Keidiau, in quo bello Guendoleu cecidet; Merlinus insanus effectus est.]

CXXX. Annus. Brendan Byror dormitatio.

CXXXI. Annus.

CXXXV. Annus.

CXXXVI. Annus. Guurci et Peretur [filii Elifer] moritur.


CXXXIX. Annus.

CXL. Annus. Bellum contra Euboniam, et dispositio Danielis Banchorum.

CXLI. Annus.

CXLIV. Annus.

CXLV. Annus. Conversio Constantini ad Dominum.

CXLVI. Annus.

CXLIX. Annus.

CL. Annus. [Edilbertus in Anglia rexit.]

CLI. Annus. Columcille moritur. Dunaut rex moritur. Agustinus Mellitus Anglos ad Christum convertit.

CLII. Annus.

CLVI. Annus.

CLVII. Annus. Synodus Urbis Legion. Gregorius obiit in Christo. David Episcopus Moni judeorum.

The notices between the brackets are not found in the Harleian MS.—one of three.

The years are counted from the commencement of the Annals, which, from circumstances independent of the text, is fixed A.D. 444. Hence, lvii and clvii, coincide with A.D. 501, and A.D. 601, respectively. It is not until the last quarter of the tenth century that the entries notably improve in fulness and frequency; during which period the table was probably composed,—the earlier dates being put down not because they were of either local or general importance, but because they were known to the writer. Such, at least, is the inference from the style. Lives of Saints may have furnished them all. They agree more or less with the Irish Annals, and, probably, are to a great extent taken from the same sources.

The Annales Cambrenses contain few or no facts directly bearing upon the ethnology of Great Britain, except so far as the existence of a literary composition, of a given antiquity, is the measure of the civilization of the country to which it belongs.

One of its entries, however, has an indirect bearing. The value of Gildas depends upon the time at which he wrote. We have already seen that a small piece of autobiography in his history tells us that he was born in the year of the Bellum Badonicum. Now the date of this is got from the Annales Cambrenses, A.D. 516. There is no reason to believe it other than accurate.

It were well if such a composition as the Annales Cambriae were called (what it really is) a list of dates; since the word chronicle has a dangerous tendency to engender a very uncritical laxity of thought. It continually gets mistaken for a register; yet the two sorts of composition are wholly different. That the habit of making cotemporaneous entries of events as they happen, just as incumbents of parishes, each in his order of succession, enter the births, deaths, and marriages of their parishioners, should exist in such institutions as religious monasteries or civil guild-halls, is by no means unlikely. But, then, on the other hand, there is an equal likelihood of nothing of the sort being attempted. Hence, when a work reaches posterity in the shape of a chronicle or annals, its antiquity and value must be judged on its own merits, rather than according to any preconceived opinions.

In mechanics nothing is stronger than its weakest part, and it would be well if a similar apothegm could be extended to the criticism of such compositions as the Annales Cambriae, and the Saxon Chronicle. It would be well if we could say that in chronological tables nothing was earlier than the latest entry. In common histories we do this. The common historian is always supposed to have composed his work subsequent to the date of the latest event contained in it—a few exceptions only being made for those authors whose works treat of cotemporary actions. So it is with the annalist whose Annals, more ambitious in form than the bare chronicle, emulate, like those of the great Roman historian, the style of history. But it is not so when the notices pass a certain limit, and become short and scanty. They then suggest a comparison with the parish register, or the Olympic records, and change their character altogether. No longer mere chronological works, emanating from the pen of a single author, and referrible to some single generation, subsequent, in general, to a majority of the events set down in them, they are the productions of a series of writers, each of whom is a registrar of cotemporary events. By this an undue value attaches itself to works which have nothing in common with the register but the form.

Now, if genuine traditions are scarce, real registers are scarcer. In both cases, however, the false wears the garb of the true, and, in both cases, writers shew an equal repugnance to scrutiny. This is to be regretted; since with nine out of ten of the chronicles that have come down to us, it is far more certain that their latest facts are earlier in date than the author who records them, than that the earliest possible author can have been cotemporary with the first recorded events. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may illustrate this. It ends in the reign of Stephen; yet the writer of even the last page may have been anything but a cotemporary with the events it embodies. It begins with the invasion of Julius Caesar. A cotemporary entry—the essential element of registration—is out of the question here.

The general rule with compositions of the kind in question is, that they fall into two parts, the first of which cannot be of equal antiquity with the events recorded, the second of which may be; and we are only too fortunate when satisfactory proofs of cotemporary composition enable us to convert the possible into the probable, the probable into the certain—the may into the must. Even when this is the case, the proportions of the cotemporary to the non-cotemporary statements are generally uncertain—a question of more or less, that must be settled by the examination of the particular composition under consideration.

Whatever may be the other merits of the Annales Cambriae, it has no claim to the title of a register during the sixth century—and, a fortiori none during the fifth.

Neither has the Saxon Chronicle. We infer this from the extent to which it follows Beda. We infer it, too, still more certainly from the following passage—a passage which, if made in the year under which it is found, would be no record but a prophecy.

A.D. 595.—"This year AEthelbriht succeeded to the kingdom of the Kentish men, and held it fifty-three years. In his days the Holy Pope Gregory sent us baptism. That was in the two-and-thirtieth year of his reign; and Columba, a mass-priest, came to the Picts and converted them to the faith of Christ. They are dwellers by the northern mountains. And their king gave him the island which is called Hi. Therein are fine hides of land, as men say. There Columba built a monastery, and he was abbot there thirty-two years, and there he died when he was seventy-seven years old. His successors still have the place. The Southern Picts had been baptized long before; Bishop Ninias, who had been instructed at Rome, had preached baptism to them, whose church and monastery is at Hwithern, hallowed in the name of St. Martin; there he resteth with many holy men. Now, in Hi there must ever be an abbot and not a bishop; and all the Scottish bishops ought to be subject to him, because Columba was an abbot, not a bishop."

Similar notices, impossible, without a vast amount of gratuitous assumption, to be considered cotemporaneous, are of frequent occurrence until long after the consolidation of the Anglo-Saxon power in England; but as the events of the fifth and sixth centuries are the only events of ethnological importance, the notice of them is limited.

The Welsh poems attributed to the bards of the sixth and seventh centuries, contain no facts that will make part of any of our reasonings in the sequel. Their existence is, of course, a measure of the intellectual calibre of the time (whatever that may be) to which they refer. But this is not before us now.

In respect to the value of the Irish annals, the civil historian has a far longer list of problems than the ethnologist; since the latter wants their testimony upon a few points only, e.g., 1. The origin of the proper Irish themselves; 2. the affinities of the Picts; 3. the migration (real or supposed) of the Scots. These, at least, are the chief points. Others, of course, such as the details concerning the Danes, can be found; but the ones in question are the chief.

In respect to the first, whoever reads Dr. Prichard's[14] account of the contents of the earliest chronicles, consisting, amongst other matters, of an antediluvian Caesar; a landing of Partholanus with his wife Ealga, on the coast of Connemara, twelve years after the Deluge, and on the 14th of May; the colony of the Neimhidh, descendants of Gog and Magog; the Fir-Bolg from the Thrace; the Tuatha de Danann from Athens; and, above all, the famous Milesians, amongst whom was Nial, the intimate of Moses and Aaron, and the husband of Scota the daughter of Pharaoh, will soon satisfy himself that, with the exception of a little weight which may possibly be due to the prominence which the Spanish Peninsula takes in the several legends, the whole mass is so utterly barren in historical results, that criticism would be misplaced.

But the Pict and Scot questions are in a different predicament. Like the Roman and Anglo-Saxon conquests of Britain, the events connected with them may have occurred within the Historical period—provided only that that period begin early enough.

How far this may be the case with the Irish annals is a reasonable question.

That any existing series of Irish annals anterior to the time of the earliest extant annalist, Tigernach, who lived in the eleventh century, is cotemporary with the events which it records, so as to partake of the nature of a register, is what no one has asserted; and hence their credit rests upon that of such earlier records as may be supposed to have served as their basis.

These may be poems, genealogies, or chronicles; all of which may be admitted to have existed. How long? In a more or less imperfect form from the introduction of Christianity. Is this the extreme limit in the way of antiquity? Probably; perhaps certainly. Out of all the numerous pieces of verse quoted by the annalists, one only carries us back to a Pagan period, and even this is referred to a year subsequent to the introduction of Christianity. An extract from the annals of the Four Masters is as follows, A.D. 458, twenty-seven years after the first arrival of St. Patrick "after Laogar, the son of Nial of the Nine Hostages, had reigned in Ireland thirty years, he was killed in the country of Caissi (?) between Eri and Albyn, i.e., the two hills in the country of the Faolain, and the Sun and Wind killed him, for he violated them; whence the poet sings—

"Laogar M'Nial died in Caissi the green land, The elements of divine things, by the oath which he violated, inflicted the doom of death on the king."

The genealogies are generally contained in the poems.

As to annals partaking of the nature of registers the language of the extant compositions is unfavourable. They are mentioned, of course; but it is always some one's collection of something before his time—never the original cotemporary documents. Now the compiler is Cormac McArthur, now St. Patrick. The manner of their mention in the Four Masters is as follows:—

"A.D. 266 was the fortieth year of Cormac McArthur McConn over the kingdom of Ireland, until he died at Clete, after a salmon-bone had stuck in his throat, from old prophecies which Malgon the Druid had made against him, after Cormac turned against the Druids on account of his manner of adoring God without them. For that reason the Devil (Diabul) tempted him (Malgenn) through the instigation, until he caused his death. It was Cormac who composed the precepts to be observed by kings, the manners, tribute, and ordinations of kings. He was a wise man in laws, and in things chronological and historical, for it was he who invented the laws of the judgments, and the right principles in all bargains, also the tributes, so that there was a law which bound all men even unto the present time. This Cormac McArthur was he who collected the Chronicle of Ireland into one place, Tara, until he formed from them the Chronicles of Ireland in one book, which was called (afterwards) the Psalter of Tara. In that book were the events and synchronisms of the kings of Ireland with the kings and emperors of the world, and of the kings of the provinces with the kings of Ireland."

A work of this kind, possible enough in Alexandria, is surely in need of very definite and unexceptionable testimony to make it credible as a piece of Irish history. The truly historical fact contained in the extract is the existence of a book, at the time of the Four Masters, with a Christian title, and Pagan contents.

To assume anything beyond the existence of early biographies of the early propagators of Irish Christianity is unnecessary. These had an undoubted existence; sometimes in prose, sometimes in verse; and it is these that the annalists themselves chiefly refer to; the character of whose notices may be collected from the following extracts relating to the first arrival of St. Patrick.

"A.D. 430.—The second year of Laogar. In this year Pope Celestine first sent Palladius, the bishop, to Ireland, to preach the faith to the Irish, and there came with him twelve companions. Nathe, the son of Garchon, opposed him. Going onwards, however, he baptized many in Ireland; and three churches, built of wood, were built by him, the White Church, the House of the Romans, and Domnach Arta (Dominica Alta). In the White Church he left his books, and a desk with the relics of Paul, Peter, and many other martyrs. He left, too, in the churches after him these four, Augustinus, Benedictus, Silvester, and Solonius, whilst Palladius was returning to Rome, because he found not the honour due to him, when disease seized him in the country of the Picts (Cruithnech), and he died there."—Annals of the Four Masters.


"A.D. 431. The fourth year of Laogar. Patrick came to Ireland this year, and imparted baptism and blessing to the Irish, men, women, sons, and daughters, except those who were unwilling to receive baptism or faith from him, as his life relates (ut narrat ejus vita). The church of Antrim was founded by Patrick, after its donation from Felim the son of Laogar, the son of Nial, to him, to Loman, and to Fortchern. Flann of the monastery has sung—

"Patrick, abbot of all Ireland, McCalphrain, McFotaide, McDeisse, the withholder of testimony to falsehood, McCormac Mor, McLeibriuth, McOta, McOrric the Good, McMaurice, McLeo of the church, McMaximus the Mournful, McEncret, the Noble, the Illustrious, McPhilist the Best of All, McFeren the Blameless, McBritain the Famous by Sea, whence the Britons strong by sea, Cochnias his mother the Noble, Nemthor his city, the Warlike; In Momonia his portion is not denied, which he acquired at the prayers of Patrick."

In the Books of the Schools on Divine Things the rest of this poem is to be found, i.e., De Mirabilibus Familiae Patricii Orationum.

The value due to a series of Lives of Saints may be allowed to the Irish Annals subsequent to A.D. 430; and isolated events, without much reference to their importance, is what we get from them. As soon as Christianity introduces the use of letters, we see our way to the preservation of the records, and the dawning of history begins.

If the annals of the Christian period rest almost wholly on Christian records, what can be the authority of the still earlier histories? Separate substantive proof of the existence of early historians, or early poets there is none. We only assume it from the events narrated. We also assume the event from the narrative; and, so doing, argue in a circle. The fact from the statement, and the statement from the fact. Such is too often the case.

An additional century of antiquity may be gained by admitting the existence of an imperfect Christianity in Ireland anterior to the time of St. Patrick—though the evidence to it is questionable. The annals anterior to A.D. 340 will still stand over. They fall into two divisions; the impossible, or self-confuting, and the possible. The latter extend over seven centuries from about B.C. 308 to A.D. 430. The former go back to the Creation, and are given up as untrustworthy by the native annalists themselves.

The early annals of the class in question which give us possible events, if they existed at all, must have been in Irish. They must also have been more or less known to King Cormac McArthur. They imply, too, the use of an alphabet. St. Patrick, too, must have known them; as is implied by the following extract:—

[Sidenote: A.D. 438.]

"The tenth year of Laogar. The history and laws of Ireland purified and written out from old collections, and from the old books of Ireland which were brought together to one place at the asking of St. Patrick. These are the nine wise authors who did this. Laogar, King of Ireland, Corcc, and Daire, three kings; Patrick, Benin, Benignus (Benin), and Carnech, three Saints; Ros, Dubthach, and Fergus, three historians, as the old distich—

"Laogar, Corccus, Daire the Hard, Patrick, Benignus, Carnech the Mild, Ros, Dubthach, Fergus, a thing known, Are the nine Authors of the Great History."

The Welsh antiquarian may, perhaps, observe that this likeness to the Triads is suspicious, a view to which he may find plenty of confirmation elsewhere.

Neither is it too much to say that such old poems as are quoted in respect to the events of the second and third centuries, are apparently quoted as Virgil's description of Italy under Evander might be quoted by a writer of the Middle Ages.

The events recorded are, as a general rule, probable; but they cannot be considered real until we see our way to the evidence by which they could be transmitted. The probable is as often untrue, as the true is improbable. The question in all these points is one of testimony.

The most satisfactory view of that period of Irish antiquity, which is, at one and the same time, anterior to the introduction of Christianity, and subsequent to the earliest mention of Ireland by Greek, Latin, and British writers, is that the sources of its history were compositions composed out of Ireland, but containing notices of Irish events; in which case the Britons and Romans have written more about Ireland than the Irish themselves. This is an inference partly from the presumptions of the case, and partly from internal evidence.

Prichard, after Sharon Turner, has remarked that the legend of Partholanus is found in Nennius.

The Welsh name Arthur, strange to Ireland, except during the period in question, is prominent in the third century.

The Druidical religion, which on no unequivocal evidence can be shewn to have been Irish, has the same prominence during the same time.

The Fir-Bolg and Attecheith are also prominent at this time, but not later. Now the Belgae and Attacotti might easily be got from British or Roman writers. The soil of Ireland, as soon as its records improve, ceases to supply them.

This is as far as it is necessary to proceed in the criticism of our early authorities of British, Irish, and Saxon origin, since it is not the object of the present writer to throw any unnecessary discredit over them, but only to inquire how far they are entitled to the claim of deciding certain questions finally, and of precluding criticism. It is clear that they are only to be admitted when opposed by a very slight amount of conflicting improbabilities, when speaking to points capable of being known, and when freed from several elements of error and confusion. The practical application of this inference will find place in the eleventh chapter.


[12] This is the year in which Orosius concludes his history. It leaves, as near as may be, a century between the last of the Roman informants and the birth of the earliest British.

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