The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. VII. (of 12)
by Edmund Burke
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The question is not now, whether the law ought to acknowledge and protect such a state of life as minority, nor whether the continuance which is fixed for that state be not improperly prolonged in the law of England. Neither of these in general are questioned. The only question, is, whether matrimony is to be taken out of the general rule, and whether the minors of both sexes, without the consent of their parents, ought to have a capacity of contracting the matrimonial, whilst they have not the capacity of contracting any other engagement. Now it appears to me very clear that they ought not. It is a great mistake to think that mere animal propagation is the sole end of matrimony. Matrimony is instituted not only for the propagation of men, but for their nutrition, their education, their establishment, and for the answering of all the purposes of a rational and moral being; and it is not the duty of the community to consider alone of how many, but how useful citizens it shall be composed.

It is most certain that men are well qualified for propagation long before they are sufficiently qualified even by bodily strength, much less by mental prudence, and by acquired skill in trades and professions, for the maintenance of a family. Therefore to enable and authorize any man to introduce citizens into the commonwealth, before a rational security can be given that he may provide for them and educate them as citizens ought to be provided for and educated, is totally incongruous with the whole order of society. Nay, it is fundamentally unjust; for a man that breeds a family without competent means of maintenance incumbers other men with his children, and disables them so far from maintaining their own. The improvident marriage of one man becomes a tax upon the orderly and regular marriage of all the rest. Therefore those laws are wisely constituted that give a man the use of all his faculties at one time, that they may be mutually subservient, aiding and assisting to each other: that the time of his completing his bodily strength, the time of mental discretion, the time of his having learned his trade, and the time at which he has the disposition of his fortune, should be likewise the time in which he is permitted to introduce citizens into the state, and to charge the community with their maintenance. To give a man a family during his apprenticeship, whilst his very labor belongs to another,—to give him a family, when you do not give him a fortune to maintain it,—to give him a family before he can contract any one of those engagements without which no business can be carried on, would be to burden the state with families without any security for their maintenance. When parents themselves marry their children, they become in some sort security to prevent the ill consequences. You have this security in parental consent; the state takes its security in the knowledge of human nature. Parents ordinarily consider little the passion of their children and their present gratification. Don't fear the power of a father: it is kind to passion to give it time to cool. But their censures sometimes make me smile,—sometimes, for I am very infirm, make me angry: saepe bilem, saepe jocum movent.

It gives me pain to differ on this occasion from many, if not most, of those whom I honor and esteem. To suffer the grave animadversion and censorial rebuke of the honorable gentleman who made the motion, of him whose good-nature and good sense the House look upon with a particular partiality, whose approbation would have been one of the highest objects of my ambition,—this hurts me. It is said the Marriage Act is aristocratic. I am accused, I am told abroad, of being a man of aristocratic principles. If by aristocracy they mean the peers, I have no vulgar admiration, nor any vulgar antipathy towards them; I hold their order in cold and decent respect. I hold them to be of an absolute necessity in the Constitution; but I think they are only good when kept within their proper bounds. I trust, whenever there has been a dispute between these Houses, the part I have taken has not been equivocal. If by the aristocracy (which, indeed, comes nearer to the point) they mean an adherence to the rich and powerful against the poor and weak, this would, indeed, be a very extraordinary part. I have incurred the odium of gentlemen in this House for not paying sufficient regard to men of ample property. When, indeed, the smallest rights of the poorest people in the kingdom are in question, I would set my face against any act of pride and power countenanced by the highest that are in it; and if it should come to the last extremity, and to a contest of blood,—God forbid! God forbid!—my part is taken: I would take my fate with the poor and low and feeble. But if these people came to turn their liberty into a cloak for maliciousness, and to seek a privilege of exemption, not from power, but from the rules of morality and virtuous discipline, then I would join my hand to make them feel the force which a few united in a good cause have over a multitude of the profligate and ferocious.

I wish the nature of the ground of repeal were considered with a little attention. It is said the act tends to accumulate, to keep up the power of great families, and to add wealth to wealth. It may be that it does so. It is impossible that any principle of law or government useful to the community should be established without an advantage to those who have the greatest stake in the country. Even some vices arise from it. The same laws which secure property encourage avarice; and the fences made about honest acquisition are the strong bars which secure the hoards of the miser. The dignities of magistracy are encouragements to ambition, with all the black train of villanies which attend that wicked passion. But still we must have laws to secure property, and still we must have ranks and distinctions and magistracy in the state, notwithstanding their manifest tendency to encourage avarice and ambition.

By affirming the parental authority throughout the state, parents in high rank will generally aim at, and will sometimes have the means, too, of preserving their minor children from any but wealthy or splendid matches. But this authority preserves from a thousand misfortunes which embitter every part of every man's domestic life, and tear to pieces the dearest lies in human society.

I am no peer, nor like to be,—but am in middle life, in the mass of citizens; yet I should feel for a son who married a prostituted woman, or a daughter who married a dishonorable and prostituted man, as much as any peer in the realm.

You are afraid of the avaricious principle of fathers. But observe that the avaricious principle is here mitigated very considerably. It is avarice by proxy; it is avarice not working by itself or for itself, but through the medium of parental affection, meaning to procure good to its offspring. But the contest is not between love and avarice.

While you would guard against the possible operation of this species of benevolent avarice, the avarice of the father, you let loose another species of avarice,—that of the fortune-hunter, unmitigated, unqualified. To show the motives, who has heard of a man running away with a woman not worth sixpence? Do not call this by the name of the sweet and best passion,—love. It is robbery,—not a jot better than any other.

Would you suffer the sworn enemy of his family, his life, and his honor, possibly the shame and scandal and blot of human society, to debauch from his care and protection the dearest pledge that he has on earth, the sole comfort of his declining years, almost in infantine imbecility,—and with it to carry into the hands of his enemy, and the disgrace of Nature, the dear-earned substance of a careful and laborious life? Think of the daughter of an honest, virtuous parent allied to vice and infamy. Think of the hopeful son tied for life by the meretricious arts of the refuse of mercenary and promiscuous lewdness. Have mercy on the youth of both sexes; protect them from their ignorance and inexperience; protect one part of life by the wisdom of another; protect them by the wisdom of laws and the care of Nature.




FEBRUARY 17, 1772,



If I considered this bill as an attack upon the Church, brought in for the purpose of impoverishing and weakening the clergy, I should be one of the foremost in an early and vigorous opposition to it.

I admit, the same reasons do not press for limiting the claims of the Church that existed for limiting the crown, by that wisest of all laws which, has secured the property, the peace, and the freedom of this country from the most dangerous mode of attack which could be made upon them all.

I am very sensible of the propriety of maintaining that venerable body with decency,—and with more than mere decency. I would maintain it according to the ranks wisely established in it, with that sober and temperate splendor that is suitable to a sacred character invested with high dignity.

There ought to be a symmetry between all the parts and orders of a state. A poor clergy in an opulent nation can have little correspondence with the body it is to instruct, and it is a disgrace to the public sentiments of religion. Such irreligious frugality is even bad economy, as the little that is given is entirely thrown away. Such an impoverished and degraded clergy in quiet tunes could never execute their duty, and in time of disorder would infinitely aggravate the public confusions.

That the property of the Church is a favored and privileged property I readily admit. It is made with great wisdom; since a perpetual body, with a perpetual duty, ought to have a perpetual provision.

The question is not, the property of the Church, or its security. The question is, whether you will render the principle of prescription a principle of the law of this laud, and incorporate it with the whole of your jurisprudence,—whether, having given it first against the laity, then against the crown, you will now extend it to the Church.

The acts which were made, giving limitation against the laity, were not acts against the property of those who might be precluded by limitations. The act of quiet against the crown was not against the interests of the crown, but against a power of vexation.

If the principle of prescription be not a constitution of positive law, but a principle of natural equity, then to hold it out against any man is not doing him injustice.

That tithes are due of common right is readily granted; and if this principle had been kept in its original straitness, it might, indeed, be supposed that to plead an exemption was to plead a long-continued fraud, and that no man could be deceived in such a title,—as the moment he bought land, he must know that he bought land tithed: prescription could not aid him, for prescription can only attach on a supposed bona fide possession. But the fact is, that the principle has been broken in upon.

Here it is necessary to distinguish two sorts of property.

1. Land carries no mark on it to distinguish it as ecclesiastical, as tithes do, which are a charge on land; therefore, though it had been made inalienable, it ought perhaps to be subject to limitation. It might bona fide be held.

But, first, it was not originally inalienable, no, not by the Canon Law, until the restraining act of the 11th [1st?] of Elizabeth. But the great revolution of the dissolution of monasteries, by the 31st Hen., ch. 13, has so mixed and confounded ecclesiastical with lay property, that a man may by every rule of good faith be possessed of it. The statute of Queen Elizabeth, ann. 1, ch. 1, [?] gave away the bishop's lands.

So far as to lands.

As to tithes, they are not things in their own nature subject to be barred by prescription upon the general principle. But tithes and Church lands, by the statutes of Henry VIII. and the 11th [1st?] Eliz., have become objects in commercio: for by coming to the crown they became grantable in that way to the subject, and a great part of the Church lands passed through the crown to the people.

By passing to the king, tithes became property to a mixed party; by passing from the king, they became absolutely lay property: the partition-wall was broken down, and tithes and Church possession became no longer synonymous terms. No A man, therefore, might become a fair purchaser of tithes, and of exemption from tithes.

By the statute of Elizabeth, the lands took the same course, (I will not inquire by what justice, good policy, and decency,) but they passed into lay lands, became the object of purchases for valuable consideration, and of marriage settlements.

Now, if tithes might come to a layman, land in the hands of a layman might be also tithe-free. So that there was an object which a layman might become seized of equitably and bona fide; there was something on which a prescription might attach, the end of which is, to secure the natural well-meaning ignorance of men, and to secure property by the best of all principles, continuance.

I have therefore shown that a layman may be equitably seized of Church lands,—2. of tithes,—3. of exemption from tithes; and you will not contend that there should be no prescription. Will you say that the alienations made before the 11th of Elizabeth shall not stand good?

I do not mean anything against the Church, her dignities, her honors, her privileges, or her possessions. I should wish even to enlarge them all: not that the Church of England is incompetently endowed. This is to take nothing from her but the power of making herself odious. If she be secure herself, she can have no objection to the security of others. For I hope she is secure from lay-bigotry and anti-priestcraft, for certainly such things there are. I heartily wish to see the Church secure in such possessions as will not only enable her ministers to preach the Gospel with ease, but of such a kind as will enable them to preach it with its full effect, so that the pastor shall not have the inauspicious appearance of a tax-gatherer,—such a maintenance as is compatible with the civil prosperity and improvement of their country.





These hints appear to have been first thoughts, which were probably intended to be amplified and connected, and so worked up into a regular dissertation. No date appears of the time when they were written, but it was probably before the year 1765.



It is generally observed that no species of writing is so difficult as the dramatic. It must, indeed, appear so, were we to consider it upon one side only. It is a dialogue, or species of composition which in itself requires all the mastery of a complete writer with grace and spirit to support. We may add, that it must have a fable, too, which necessarily requires invention, one of the rarest qualities of the human mind. It would surprise us, if we were to examine the thing critically, how few good original stories there are in the world. The most celebrated borrow from each other, and are content with some new turn, some corrective, addition, or embellishment. Many of the most celebrated writers in that way can claim no other merit. I do not think La Fontaine has one original story. And if we pursue him to those who were his originals, the Italian writers of tales and novels, we shall find most even of them drawing from antiquity, or borrowing from the Eastern world, or adopting and decorating the little popular stories they found current and traditionary in their country. Sometimes they laid the foundation of their tale in real fact. Even after all their borrowing from so many funds, they are still far from opulent. How few stories has Boccace which are tolerable, and how much fewer are there which you would desire to read twice! But this general difficulty is greatly increased, when we come to the drama. Here a fable is essential,—a fable which is to be conducted with rapidity, clearness, consistency, and surprise, without any, or certainly with very little, aid from narrative. This is the reason that generally nothing is more dull in telling than the plot of a play. It is seldom or never a good story in itself; and in this particular, some of the greatest writers, both in ancient and modern theatres, have failed in the most miserable manner. It is well a play has still so many requisites to complete it, that, though the writer should not succeed in these particulars, and therefore should be so far from perfection, there are still enough left in which he may please, at less expense of labor to himself, and perhaps, too, with more real advantage to his auditory. It is, indeed, very difficult happily to excite the passions and draw the characters of men; but our nature leads us more directly to such paintings than to the invention of a story. We are imitative animals; and we are more naturally led to imitate the exertions of character and passion than to observe and describe a series of events, and to discover those relations and dependencies in them which will please. Nothing can be more rare than this quality. Herein, as I believe, consists the difference between the inventive and the descriptive genius. By the inventive genius I mean the creator of agreeable facts and incidents; by the descriptive, the delineator of characters, manners, and passions. Imitation calls us to this; we are in some cases almost forced to it, and it is comparatively easy. More observe the characters of men than the order of things: to the one we are formed by Nature, and by that sympathy from which we are so strongly led to take a part in the passions and manners of our fellow-men; the other is, as it were, foreign and extrinsical. Neither, indeed, can anything be done, even in this, without invention; but it is obvious that this invention is of a kind altogether different from the former. However, though the more sublime genius and the greatest art are required for the former, yet the latter, as it is more common and more easy, so it is more useful, and administers more directly to the great business of life.

If the drama requires such a combination of talents, the most common of which is very rarely to be found and difficult to be exerted, it is not surprising, at a time when almost all kinds of poetry are cultivated with little success, to find that we have done no great matters in this. Many causes may be assigned for our present weakness in that oldest and most excellent branch of philosophy, poetical learning, and particularly in what regards the theatre. I shall here only consider what appears to me to be one of these causes: I mean the wrong notion of the art itself, which begins to grow fashionable, especially among people of an elegant turn of mind with a weak understanding; and these are they that form the great body of the idle part of every polite and civilized nation. The prevailing system of that class of mankind is indolence. This gives them an aversion to all strong movements. It infuses a delicacy of sentiment, which, when it is real, and accompanied with a justness of thought, is an amiable quality, and favorable to the fine arts; but when it comes to make the whole of the character, it injures things more excellent than those which it improves, and degenerates into a false refinement, which diffuses a languor and breathes a frivolous air over everything which it can influence....

Having differed in my opinion about dramatic composition, and particularly in regard to comedy, with a gentleman for whose character and talents I have a very high respect, I thought myself obliged, on account of that difference, to a new and more exact examination of the grounds upon which I had formed my opinions. I thought it would be impossible to come to any clear and definite idea on this subject, without remounting to the natural passions or dispositions of men, which first gave rise to this species of writing; for from these alone its nature, its limits, and its true character can be determined.

There are but four general principles which can move men to interest themselves in the characters of others, and they may be classed under the heads of good and ill opinion: on the side of the first may be classed admiration and love, hatred and contempt on the other. And these have accordingly divided poetry into two very different kinds,—the panegyrical, and the satirical; under one of which heads all genuine poetry falls (for I do not reckon the didactic as poetry, in the strictness of speech).

Without question, the subject of all poetry was originally direct and personal. Fictitious character is a refinement, and comparatively modern; for abstraction is in its nature slow, and always follows the progress of philosophy. Men had always friends and enemies before they knew the exact nature of vice and virtue; they naturally, and with their best powers of eloquence, whether in prose or verse, magnified and set off the one, vilified and traduced the other.

The first species of composition in either way was probably some general, indefinite topic of praise or blame, expressed in a song or hymn, which is the most common and simple kind of panegyric and satire. But as nothing tended to set their hero or subject in a more forcible light than some story to their advantage or prejudice, they soon introduced a narrative, and thus improved the composition into a greater variety of pleasure to the hearer, and to a more forcible instrument of honor or disgrace to the subject.

It is natural with men, when they relate any action with any degree of warmth, to represent the parties to it talking as the occasion requires; and this produces that mixed species of poetry, composed of narrative and dialogue, which is very universal in all languages, and of which Homer is the noblest example in any. This mixed kind of poetry seems also to be most perfect, as it takes in a variety of situations, circumstances, reflections, and descriptions, which must be rejected on a more limited plan.

It must be equally obvious, that men, in relating a story in a forcible manner, do very frequently mimic the looks, gesture, and voice of the person concerned, and for the time, as it were, put themselves into his place. This gave the hint to the drama, or acting; and observing the powerful effect of this in public exhibitions....

But the drama, the most artificial and complicated of all the poetical machines, was not yet brought to perfection; and like those animals which change their state, some parts of the old narrative still adhered. It still had a chorus, it still had a prologue to explain the design; and the perfect drama, an automaton supported and moved without any foreign help, was formed late and gradually. Nay, there are still several parts of the world in which it is not, and probably never may be, formed. The Chinese drama.

The drama, being at length formed, naturally adhered to the first division of poetry, the satirical and panegyrical, which made tragedy and comedy.

Men, in praising, naturally applaud the dead. Tragedy celebrated the dead.

Great men are never sufficiently shown but in struggles. Tragedy turned, therefore, on melancholy and affecting subjects,—a sort of threnodia,—its passions, therefore, admiration, terror, and pity.

Comedy was satirical. Satire is best on the living.

It was soon found that the best way to depress an hated character was to turn it into ridicule; and therefore the greater vices, which in the beginning were lashed, gave place to the contemptible. Its passion, therefore, became ridicule.

Every writing must have its characteristic passion. What is that of comedy, if not ridicule?

Comedy, therefore, is a satirical poem, representing an action carried on by dialogue, to excite laughter by describing ludicrous characters. See Aristotle.

Therefore, to preserve this definition, the ridicule must be either in the action or characters, or both.

An action may be ludicrous, independent of the characters, by the ludicrous situations and accidents which may happen to the characters.

But the action is not so important as the characters. We see this every day upon the stage.

What are the characters fit for comedy?

It appears that no part of human life which may be subject to ridicule is exempted from comedy; for wherever men run into the absurd, whether high or low, they may be the subject of satire, and consequently of comedy. Indeed, some characters, as kings, are exempted through decency; others might be too insignificant. Some are of opinion that persons in better life are so polished that their tone characters and the real bent of their humor cannot appear. For my own part, I cannot give entire credit to this remark. For, in the first place, I believe that good-breeding is not so universal or strong in any part of life as to overrule the real characters and strong passions of such men as would be proper objects of the drama. Secondly, it is not the ordinary, commonplace discourse of assemblies that is to be represented in comedy. The parties are to be put in situations in which their passions are roused, and their real characters called forth; and if their situations are judiciously adapted to the characters, there is no doubt but they will appear in all their force, choose what situation of life you please. Let the politest man alive game, and feel at loss; let this be his character; and his politeness will never hide it, nay, it will put it forward with greater violence, and make a more forcible contrast.[3]

But genteel comedy puts these characters, not in their passionate, but in their genteel light; makes elegant cold conversation, and virtuous personages.[4] Such sort of pictures disagreeable.

Virtue and politeness not proper for comedy; for they have too much or no movement.

They are not good in tragedy, much less here.

The greater virtues, fortitude, justice, and the like, too serious and sublime.

It is not every story, every character, every incident, but those only which answer their end.—Painting of artificial things not good; a thing being useful does not therefore make it most pleasing in picture.—Natural manners, good and bad.—Sentiment. In common affairs and common life, virtuous sentiments are not even the character of virtuous men; we cannot bear these sentiments, but when they are pressed out, as it were, by great exigencies, and a certain contention which is above the general style of comedy....

The first character of propriety the Lawsuit possesses in an eminent degree. The plot of the play is an iniquitous suit; there can be no fitter persons to be concerned in the active part of it than low, necessitous lawyers of bad character, and profligates of desperate fortune. On the other hand, in the passive part, if an honest and virtuous man had been made the object of their designs, or a weak man of good intentions, every successful step they should take against him ought rather to fill the audience with horror than pleasure and mirth; and if in the conclusion their plots should be baffled, even this would come too late to prevent that ill impression. But in the Lawsuit this is admirably avoided: for the character chosen is a rich, avaricious usurer: the pecuniary distresses of such a person can never be looked upon with horror; and if he should be even handled unjustly, we always wait his delivery with patience.

Now with regard to the display of the character, which is the essential part of the plot, nothing can be more finely imagined than to draw a miser in law. If you draw him inclined to love and marriage, you depart from the height of his character in some measure, as Moliere has done. Expenses of this kind he may easily avoid. If you draw him in law, to advance brings expense, to draw back brings expense; and the character is tortured and brought out at every moment.

A sort of notion has prevailed that a comedy might subsist without humor. It is an idle disquisition, whether a story in private life, represented in dialogues, may not be carried on with some degree of merit without humor. It may unquestionably; but what shines chiefly in comedy, the painting the manners of life, must be in a great measure wanting. A character which has nothing extravagant, wrong, or singular in it can affect but very little: and this is what makes Aristotle draw the great line of distinction between tragedy and comedy. [Greek: En aute de te diaphora kai e tragodia], &c. Arist. Poet. Ch. II.

* * * * *

There is not a more absurd mistake than that whatever may not unnaturally happen in an action is of course to be admitted into every painting of it. In Nature, the great and the little, the serious and the ludicrous, things the most disproportionate the one to the other, are frequently huddled together in much confusion, And what then? It is the business of Art first to choose some determinate end and purpose, and then to select those parts of Nature, and those only, which conduce to that end, avoiding with most religious exactness the intermixture of anything which would contradict it. Else the whole idea of propriety, that is, the only distinction between the just and chimerical in the arts, would be utterly lost. An hero eats, drinks, and sleeps, like other men; but to introduce such scenes on the stage, because they are natural, would be ridiculous. And why? Because they have nothing to do with the end for which the play is written. The design of a piece might be utterly destroyed by the most natural incidents in the world. Boileau has somewhere criticized with what surely is a very just severity on Ariosto, for introducing a ludicrous tale from his host to one of the principal persons of his poem, though the story has great merit in its way. Indeed, that famous piece is so monstrous and extravagant in all its parts that one is not particularly shocked with this indecorum. But, as Boileau has observed, if Virgil had introduced AEneas listening to a bawdy story from his host, what an episode had this formed in that divine poem! Suppose, instead of AEneas, he had represented the impious Mezentius as entertaining himself in that manner; such a thing would not have been without probability, but it would have clashed with the very first principles of taste, and, I would say, of common sense.

I have heard of a celebrated picture of the Last Supper,—and if I do not mistake, it is said to be the work of some of the Flemish masters: in this picture all the personages are drawn in a manner suitable to the solemnity of the occasion; but the painter has filled the void under the table with a dog gnawing bones. Who does not see the possibility of such an incident, and, at the same time, the absurdity of introducing it on such an occasion! Innumerable such cases might be stated. It is not the incompatibility or agreeableness of incidents, characters, or sentiments with the probable in fact, but with propriety in design, that admits or excludes them from a place in any composition. We may as well urge that stones, sand, clay, and metals lie in a certain manner in the earth, as a reason for building with these materials and in that manner, as for writing according to the accidental disposition of characters in Nature. I have, I am afraid, been longer than it might seem necessary in refuting such a notion; but such authority can only be opposed by a good deal of reason. We are not to forget that a play is, or ought to be, a very short composition; that, if one passion or disposition is to be wrought up with tolerable success, I believe it is as much as can in any reason be expected. If there be scenes of distress and scenes of humor, they must either be in a double or single plot. If there be a double plot, there are in fact two. If they be in checkered scenes of serious and comic, you are obliged continually to break both the thread of the story and the continuity of the passion,—if in the same scene, as Mrs. V. seems to recommend, it is needless to observe how absurd the mixture must be, and how little adapted to answer the genuine end of any passion. It is odd to observe the progress of bad taste: for this mixed passion being universally proscribed in the regions of tragedy, it has taken refuge and shelter in comedy, where it seems firmly established, though no reason can be assigned why we may not laugh in the one as well as weep in the other. The true reason of this mixture is to be sought for in the manners which are prevalent amongst a people. It has become very fashionable to affect delicacy, tenderness of heart, and fine feeling, and to shun all imputation of rusticity. Much mirth is very foreign to this character; they have introduced, therefore, a sort of neutral writing.

Now as to characters, they have dealt in them as in the passions. There are none but lords and footmen. One objection to characters in high life is, that almost all wants, and a thousand happy circumstances arising from them, being removed from it, their whole mode of life is too artificial, and not so fit for painting; and the contrary opinion has arisen from a mistake, that whatever has merit in the reality necessarily must have it in the representation. I have observed that persons, and especially women, in lower life, and of no breeding, are fond of such representations. It seems like introducing them into good company, and the honor compensates the dulness of the entertainment.

Fashionable manners being fluctuating is another reason for not choosing them.—Sensible comedy,—talking sense a dull thing—....


[3] Sic in MS.

[4] Sic in MS.










In order to obtain a clear notion of the state of Europe before the universal prevalence of the Roman power, the whole region is to be divided into two principal parts, which we shall call Northern and Southern Europe. The northern part is everywhere separated from the southern by immense and continued chains of mountains. From Greece it is divided by Mount Haemus; from Spain by the Pyrenees; from Italy by the Alps. This division is not made by an arbitrary or casual distribution of countries. The limits are marked out by Nature, and in these early ages were yet further distinguished by a considerable difference in the manners and usages of the nations they divided.

If we turn our eyes to the northward of these boundaries, a vast mass of solid continent lies before us, stretched out from the remotest shore of Tartary quite to the Atlantic Ocean. A line drawn through this extent, from east to west, would pass over the greatest body of unbroken land that is anywhere known upon the globe. This tract, in a course of some degrees to the northward, is not interrupted by any sea; neither are the mountains so disposed as to form any considerable obstacle to hostile incursions. Originally it was all inhabited but by one sort of people, known by one common denomination of Scythians. As the several tribes of this comprehensive name lay in many parts greatly exposed, and as by their situation and customs they were much inclined to attack, and by both ill qualified for defence, throughout the whole of that immense region there was for many ages a perpetual flux and reflux of barbarous nations. None of their commonwealths continued long enough established on any particular spot to settle and to subside into a regular order, one tribe continually overpowering or thrusting out another. But as these were only the mixtures of Scythians with Scythians, the triumphs of barbarians over barbarians, there were revolutions in empire, but none in manners. The Northern Europe, until some parts of it were subdued by the progress of the Roman arms, remained almost equally covered with all the ruggedness of primitive barbarism.

The southern part was differently circumstanced. Divided, as we have said, from the northern by great mountains, it is further divided within itself by considerable seas. Spain, Greece, and Italy are peninsulas. By these advantages of situation the inhabitants were preserved from those great and sudden revolutions to which the Northern world had been always liable; and being confined within a space comparatively narrow, they were restrained from wandering into a pastoral and unsettled life. It was upon one side only that they could be invaded by land. Whoever made an attempt on any other part must necessarily have arrived in ships of some magnitude, and must therefore have in a degree been cultivated, if not by the liberal, at least by the mechanic arts. In fact, the principal colonies-which we find these countries to have received were sent from Phoenicia, or the Lesser Asia, or Egypt, the great fountains of the ancient civility and learning. And they became more or less, earlier or later, polished, as they were situated nearer to or further from these celebrated sources. Though I am satisfied, from a comparison of the Celtic tongues with the Greek and Roman, that the original inhabitants of Italy and Greece were of the same race with the people of Northern Europe, yet it is certain they profited so much by their guarded situation, by the mildness of their climate favorable to humanity, and by the foreign infusions, that they came greatly to excel the Northern nations in every respect, and particularly in the art and discipline of war. For, not being so strong in their bodies, partly from the temperature of their climate, partly from a degree of softness induced by a more cultivated life, they applied themselves to remove the few inconveniences of a settled society by the advantages which it affords in art, disposition, and obedience; and as they consisted of many small states, their people were well exercised in arms, and sharpened against each other by continual war.

Such was the situation of Greece and Italy from a very remote period. The Gauls and other Northern nations, envious of their wealth, and despising the effeminacy of their manners, often invaded them with, numerous, though ill-formed armies. But their greatest and most frequent attempts were against Italy, their connection with which country alone we shall here consider. In the course of these wars, the superiority of the Roman discipline over the Gallic ferocity was at length demonstrated. The Gauls, notwithstanding the numbers with which their irruptions were made, and the impetuous courage by which that nation was distinguished, had no permanent success. They were altogether unskilful either in improving their victories or repairing their defeats. But the Romans, being governed by a most wise order of men, perfected by a traditionary experience in the policy of conquest, drew some advantage from every turn of fortune, and, victorious or vanquished, persisted in one uniform and comprehensive plan of breaking to pieces everything which endangered their safety or obstructed their greatness. For, after having more than once expelled the Northern invaders out of Italy, they pursued them over the Alps; and carrying the war into the country of their enemy, under several able generals, and at last under Caius Caesar, they reduced all the Gauls from the Mediterranean Sea to the Rhine and the Ocean. During the progress of this decisive war, some of the maritime nations of Gaul had recourse for assistance to the neighboring island of Britain. Prom thence they received considerable succors; by which means this island first came to be known with any exactness by the Romans, and first drew upon it the attention of that victorious people.

Though Caesar had reduced Gaul, he perceived clearly that a great deal was still wanting to make his conquest secure and lasting. That extensive country, inhabited by a multitude of populous and fierce nations, had been rather overrun than conquered. The Gauls were not yet broken to the yoke, which they bore with murmuring and discontent. The ruins of their own strength were still considerable; and they had hopes that the Germans, famous for their invincible courage and their ardent love of liberty, would be at hand powerfully to second any endeavors for the recovery of their freedom; they trusted that the Britons, of their own blood, allied in manners and religion, and whose help they had lately experienced, would not then be wanting to the same cause. Caesar was not ignorant of these dispositions. He therefore judged, that, if he could confine the attention of the Germans and Britons to their own defence, so that the Gauls, on which side soever they turned, should meet nothing but the Roman arms, they must soon be deprived of all hope, and compelled to seek their safety in an entire submission.

These were the public reasons which made the invasion of Britain and Germany an undertaking, at that particular time, not unworthy a wise and able general. But these enterprises, though reasonable in themselves, were only subservient to purposes of more importance, and which he had more at heart. Whatever measures he thought proper to pursue on the side of Germany, or on that of Britain, it was towards Rome that he always looked, and to the furtherance of his interest there that all his motions were really directed. That republic had receded from many of those maxims by which her freedom had been hitherto preserved under the weight of so vast an empire. Rome now contained many citizens of immense wealth, eloquence, and ability. Particular men were more considered than the republic; and the fortune and genius of the Roman people, which formerly had been thought equal to everything, came now to be less relied upon than the abilities of a few popular men. The war with the Gauls, as the old and most dangerous enemy of Rome, was of the last importance; and Caesar had the address to obtain the conduct of it for a term of years, contrary to one of the most established principles of their government. But this war was finished before that term was expired, and before the designs which he entertained against the liberty of his country were fully ripened. It was therefore necessary to find some pretext for keeping his army on foot; it was necessary to employ them in some enterprise that might at once raise his character, keep his interest alive at Rome, endear him to his troops, and by that means weaken the ties which held them to their country.

From this motive, colored by reasons plausible and fit to be avowed, he resolved in one and the same year, and even when that was almost expired, upon two expeditions, the objects of which lay at a great distance from each other, and were as yet untouched by the Roman arms. And first he resolved to pass the Rhine, and penetrate into Germany.

Caesar spent but twenty-eight days in his German expedition. In ten he built his admirable bridge across the Rhine; in eighteen he performed all he proposed by entering that country. When the Germans saw the barrier of their river so easily overcome, and Nature herself, as it were, submitted to the yoke, they were struck with astonishment, and never after ventured to oppose the Romans in the field. The most obnoxious of the German countries were ravaged, the strong awed, the weak taken into protection. Thus an alliance being formed, always the first step of the Roman policy, and not only a pretence, but a means, being thereby acquired of entering the country upon any future occasion, he marched back through Gaul to execute a design of much the same nature and extent in Britain.

[Sidenote: B.C. 55.]

The inhabitants of that island, who were divided into a great number of petty nations, under a very coarse and disorderly frame of government, did not find it easy to plan any effectual measures for their defence. In order, however, to gain time in this exigency, they sent ambassadors to Caesar with terms of submission. Caesar could not colorably reject their offers. But as their submission rather clashed than coincided with his real designs, he still persisted in his resolution of passing over into Britain; and accordingly embarked with the infantry of two legions at the port of Itium.[5] His landing was obstinately disputed by the natives, and brought on a very hot and doubtful engagement. But the superior dispositions of so accomplished a commander, the resources of the Roman discipline, and the effect of the military engines on the unpractised minds of a barbarous people prevailed at length over the best resistance which could be made by rude numbers and mere bravery. The place where the Romans first entered this island was somewhere near Deal, and the time fifty-five years before the birth of Christ.

The Britons, who defended their country with so much resolution in the engagement, immediately after it lost all their spirit. They had laid no regular plan, for their defence. Upon their first failure they seamed to have no resources left. On the slightest loss they betook themselves to treaty and submission; upon the least appearance in their favor they were as ready to resume their arms, without any regard to their former engagements: a conduct which demonstrates that our British ancestors had no regular polity with a standing coercive power. The ambassadors which they sent to Caesar laid all the blame of a war carried on by great armies upon the rashness of their young men, and they declared that the ruling people had no share in these hostilities. This is exactly the excuse which the savages of America, who have no regular government, make at this day upon the like occasions; but it would be a strange apology from one of the modern states of Europe that had employed armies against another. Caesar reprimanded them for the inconstancy of their behavior, and ordered them to bring hostages to secure their fidelity, together with provisions for his army. But whilst the Britons were engaged in the treaty, and on that account had free access to the Roman camp, they easily observed that the army of the invaders was neither numerous nor well provided; and having about the same time received intelligence that the Roman fleet had suffered in a storm, they again changed their measures, and came to a resolution of renewing the war. Some prosperous actions against the Roman foraging parties inspired them with great confidence. They were betrayed by their success into a general action in the open field. Here the disciplined troops obtained an easy and complete victory; and the Britons were taught the error of their conduct at the expense of a terrible slaughter.

Twice defeated, they had recourse once more to submission. Caesar, who found the winter approaching, provisions scarce, and his fleet not fit to contend with that rough and tempestuous sea in a winter voyage, hearkened to their proposals, exacting double the number of the former hostages. He then set sail with his whole army.

In this first expedition into Britain, Caesar did not make, nor indeed could he expect, any considerable advantage. He acquired a knowledge of the sea-coast, and of the country contiguous to it; and he became acquainted with the force, the manner of fighting, and the military character of the people. To compass these purposes he did not think a part of the summer ill-bestowed. But early in the next he prepared to make a more effective use of the experience he had gained. He embarked again at the same port, but with a more numerous army. The Britons, on their part, had prepared more regularly for their defence in this than the former year. Several of those states which were nearest and most exposed to the danger had, during Caesar's absence, combined for their common safety, and chosen Cassibelan, a chief of power and reputation, for the leader of their union. They seemed resolved to dispute the landing of the Romans with their former intrepidity. But when they beheld the sea covered, as far as the eye could reach, with the multitude of the enemy's ships, (for they were eight hundred sail,) they despaired of defending the coast, they retired into the woods' and fastnesses, and Caesar landed his army without opposition.

The Britons now saw the necessity of altering their former method of war. They no longer, therefore, opposed the Romans in the open field; they formed frequent ambuscades; they divided themselves into light flying parties, and continually harassed the enemy on his march. This plan, though in their circumstances the most judicious, was attended with no great success. Caesar forced some of their strongest intrenchments, and then carried the war directly into the territories of Cassibelan.

The only fordable passage which he could find over the Thames was defended by a row of palisadoes which lined the opposite bank; another row of sharpened stakes stood under water along the middle of the stream. Some remains of these works long subsisted, and were to be discerned in the river[6] down almost to the present times. The Britons had made the best of the situation; but the Romans plunged into the water, tore away the stakes and palisadoes, and obtained a complete victory. The capital, or rather chief fastness, of Cassibelan was then taken, with a number of cattle, the wealth of this barbarous city. After these misfortunes the Britons were no longer in a condition to act with effect. Their ill-success in the field soon dissolved the ill-cemented union of their councils. They split into factions, and some of them chose the common enemy for their protector, insomuch that, after some feeble and desultory efforts, most of the tribes to the southward of the Thames submitted themselves to the conqueror. Cassibelan, worsted in so many encounters, and deserted by his allies, was driven at length to sue for peace. A tribute was imposed; and as the summer began to wear away, Caesar, having finished the war to his satisfaction, embarked for Gaul.

The whole of Caesar's conduct in these two campaigns sufficiently demonstrates that he had no intention of making an absolute conquest of any part of Britain. Is it to be believed, that, if he had formed such a design, he would have left Britain without an army, without a legion, without a single cohort, to secure his conquest, and that he should sit down contented with an empty glory and the tribute of an indigent people, without any proper means of securing a continuance of that small acquisition? This is not credible. But his conduct here, as well as in Germany, discovers his purpose in both expeditions: for by them he confirmed the Roman dominion in Gaul, he gained time to mature his designs, and he afforded his party in Rome an opportunity of promoting his interest and exaggerating his exploits, which they did in such a manner as to draw from the Senate a decree for a very remarkable acknowledgment of his services in a supplication or thanksgiving of twenty days. This attempt, not being pursued, stands single, and has little or no connection with the subsequent events.

Therefore I shall in this place, where the narrative will be the least broken, insert from the best authorities which are left, and the best conjectures which in so obscure a matter I am able to form, some account of the first peopling of this island, the manners of its inhabitants, their art of war, their religious and civil discipline. These are matters not only worthy of attention as containing a very remarkable piece of antiquity, but as not wholly unnecessary towards comprehending the great change made in all these points, when the Roman conquest came afterwards to be completed.


[5] Some think this port to be Witsand, others Boulogne.

[6] Coway Stakes, near Kingston-on-Thames.



That Britain was first peopled from Gaul we are assured by the best proofs,—proximity of situation, and resemblance in language and manners. Of the time in which this event happened we must be contented to remain in ignorance, for we have no monuments. But we may conclude that it was a very ancient settlement, since the Carthaginians found this island inhabited when they traded hither for tin,—as the Phoenicians, whose tracks they followed in this commerce, are said to have done long before them. It is true, that, when we consider the short interval between the universal deluge and that period, and compare it with the first settlement of men at such a distance from this corner of the world, it may seem not easy to reconcile such a claim to antiquity with the only authentic account we have of the origin and progress of mankind,—especially as in those early ages the whole face of Nature was extremely rude and uncultivated, when the links of commerce, even in the countries first settled, were few and weak, navigation imperfect, geography unknown, and the hardships of travelling excessive. But the spirit of migration, of which we have now only some faint ideas, was then strong and universal, and it fully compensated all these disadvantages. Many writers, indeed, imagine that these migrations, so common in the primitive times, were caused by the prodigious increase of people beyond what their several territories could maintain. But this opinion, far from being supported, is rather contradicted by the general appearance of things in that early time, when in every country vast tracts of land were suffered to lie almost useless in morasses and forests. Nor is it, indeed, more countenanced by the ancient modes of life, no way favorable to population. I apprehend that these first settled countries, so far from being overstocked with inhabitants, were rather thinly peopled, and that the same causes which occasioned that thinness occasioned also those frequent migrations which make so large a part of the first history of almost all nations. For in these ages men subsisted chiefly by pasturage or hunting. These are occupations which spread the people without multiplying them in proportion; they teach them an extensive knowledge of the country; they carry them frequently and far from their homes, and weaken those ties which might attach them to any particular habitation.

It was in a great degree from this manner of life that mankind became scattered in the earliest times over the whole globe. But their peaceful occupations did not contribute so much to that end as their wars, which were not the less frequent and violent because the people were few, and the interests for which they contended of but small importance. Ancient history has furnished us with many instances of whole nations, expelled by invasion, falling in upon others, which they have entirely overwhelmed,—more irresistible in their defeat and ruin than in their fullest prosperity. The rights of war were then exercised with great inhumanity. A cruel death, or a servitude scarcely less cruel, was the certain fate of all conquered people; the terror of which hurried men from habitations to which they were but little attached, to seek security and repose under any climate that, however in other respects undesirable, might afford them refuge from the fury of their enemies. Thus the bleak and barren regions of the North, not being peopled by choice, were peopled as early, in all probability, as many of the milder and more inviting climates of the Southern world; and thus, by a wonderful disposition of the Divine Providence, a life of hunting, which does not contribute to increase, and war, which is the great instrument in the destruction of men, were the two principal causes of their being spread so early and so universally over the whole earth. From what is very commonly known of the state of North America, it need not be said how often and to what distance several of the nations on that continent are used to migrate, who, though thinly scattered, occupy an immense extent of country. Nor are the causes of it less obvious,—their hunting life, and their inhuman wars.

Such migrations, sometimes by choice, more frequently from necessity, were common in the ancient world. Frequent necessities introduced a fashion which subsisted after the original causes. For how could it happen, but from some universally established public prejudice, which always overrules and stifles the private sense of men, that a whole nation should deliberately think it a wise measure to quit their country in a body, that they might obtain in a foreign land a settlement which must wholly depend upon the chance of war? Yet this resolution was taken and actually pursued by the entire nation of the Helvetii, as it is minutely related by Caesar. The method of reasoning which led them to it must appear to us at this day utterly inconceivable. They were far from being compelled to this extraordinary migration by any want of subsistence at home; for it appears that they raised, without difficulty, as much corn in one year as supported them for two; they could not complain of the barrenness of such a soil.

This spirit of migration, which grew out of the ancient manners and necessities, and sometimes operated like a blind instinct, such as actuates birds of passage, is very sufficient to account for the early habitation of the remotest parts of the earth, and in some sort also justifies that claim which has been so fondly made by almost all nations to great antiquity.

Gaul, from whence Britain was originally peopled, consisted of three nations: the Belgae, towards the north; the Celtae, in the middle countries; and the Aquitani, to the south. Britain appears to have received its people only from the two former. From the Celtae were derived the most ancient tribes of the Britons, of which the most considerable were called Brigantes. The Belgae, who did not even settle in Gaul until after Britain had been peopled by colonies from the former, forcibly drove the Brigantes into the inland countries, and possessed the greatest part of the coast, especially to the south and west. These latter, as they entered the island in a more improved age, brought with them the knowledge and practice of agriculture, which, however, only prevailed in their own countries. The Brigantes still continued their ancient way of life by pasturage and hunting. In this respect alone they differed: so that what we shall say, in treating of their manners, is equally applicable to both. And though the Britons were further divided into an innumerable multitude of lesser tribes and nations, yet all being the branches of these two stocks, it is not to our purpose to consider them more minutely.

Britain was in the time of Julius Caesar what it is at this day, in climate and natural advantages, temperate and reasonably fertile. But destitute of all those improvements which in a succession of ages it has received from ingenuity, from commerce, from riches and luxury, it then wore a very rough and savage appearance. The country, forest or marsh; the habitations, cottages; the cities, hiding-places in woods; the people naked, or only covered with skins; their sole employment, pasturage and hunting. They painted their bodies for ornament or terror, by a custom general amongst all savage nations, who, being passionately fond of show and finery, and having no object but their naked bodies on which to exercise this disposition, have in all times painted or cut their skins, according to their ideas of ornament. They shaved the beard on the chin; that on the upper lip was suffered to remain, and grow to an extraordinary length, to favor the martial appearance, in which they placed their glory. They were in their natural temper not unlike the Gauls, impatient, fiery, inconstant, ostentatious, boastful, fond of novelty,—and like all barbarians, fierce, treacherous, and cruel. Their arms were short javelins, small shields of a slight texture, and great cutting swords with a blunt point, after the Gaulish fashion.

Their chiefs went to battle in chariots, not unartfully contrived nor unskilfully managed. I cannot help thinking it something extraordinary, and not easily to be accounted for, that the Britons should have been so expert in the fabric of those chariots, when they seem utterly ignorant in all other mechanic arts: but thus it is delivered to us. They had also horse, though of no great reputation, in their armies. Their foot was without heavy armor; it was no firm body, nor instructed to preserve their ranks, to make their evolutions, or to obey their commanders; but in tolerating hardships, in dexterity of forming ambuscades, (the art military of savages,) they are said to have excelled. A natural ferocity and an impetuous onset stood them in the place of discipline.

It is very difficult, at this distance of time, and with so little information, to discern clearly what sort of civil government prevailed among the ancient Britons. In all very uncultivated countries, as society is not close nor intricate, nor property very valuable, liberty subsists with few restraints. The natural equality of mankind appears and is asserted, and therefore there are but obscure lines of any form of government. In every society of this sort the natural connections are the same as in others, though the political ties are weak. Among such barbarians, therefore, though there is little authority in the magistrate, there is often great power lodged, or rather left, in the father: for, as among the Gauls, so among the Britons, he had the power of life and death in his own family, over his children and his servants.

But among freemen and heads of families, causes of all sorts seem to have been decided by the Druids: they summoned and dissolved all the public assemblies; they alone had the power of capital punishments, and indeed seem to have had the sole execution and interpretation of whatever laws subsisted among this people. In this respect the Celtic nations did not greatly differ from others, except that we view them in an earlier stage of society. Justice was in all countries originally administered by the priesthood: nor, indeed, could laws in their first feeble state have either authority or sanction, so as to compel men to relinquish their natural independence, had they not appeared to come down to them enforced by beings of more than human power. The first openings of civility have been everywhere made by religion. Amongst the Romans, the custody and interpretation of the laws continued solely in the college of the pontiffs for above a century.[7]

The time in which the Druid priesthood was instituted is unknown. It probably rose, like other institutions of that kind, from low and obscure beginnings, and acquired from time, and the labors of able men, a form by which it extended itself so far, and attained at length so mighty an influence over the minds of a fierce and otherwise ungovernable people. Of the place where it arose there is somewhat less doubt: Caesar mentions it as the common opinion that this institution began in Britain, that there it always remained in the highest perfection, and that from thence it diffused itself into Gaul. I own I find it not easy to assign any tolerable cause why an order of so much authority and a discipline so exact should have passed from the more barbarous people to the more civilized, from the younger to the older, from the colony to the mother country: but it is not wonderful that the early extinction of this order, and that general contempt in which the Romans held all the barbarous nations, should have left these matters obscure and full of difficulty.

The Druids were kept entirely distinct from the body of the people; and they were exempted from all the inferior and burdensome offices of society, that they might be at leisure to attend the important duties of their own charge. They were chosen out of the best families, and from the young men of the most promising talents: a regulation which placed and preserved them in a respectable light with the world. None were admitted into this order but after a long and laborious novitiate, which made the character venerable in their own eyes by the time and difficulty of attaining it. They were much devoted to solitude, and thereby acquired that abstracted and thoughtful air which is so imposing upon the vulgar; and when they appeared in public, it was seldom, and only on some great occasion,—in the sacrifices of the gods, or on the seat of judgment. They prescribed medicine; they formed the youth; they paid the last honors to the dead; they foretold events; they exercised themselves in magic. They were at once the priests, lawgivers, and physicians of their nation, and consequently concentred in themselves all that respect that men have diffusively for those who heal their diseases, protect their property, or reconcile them to the Divinity. What contributed not a little to the stability and power of this order was the extent of its foundation, and the regularity and proportion of its structure. It took in both sexes; and the female Druids were in no less esteem for their knowledge and sanctity than the males. It was divided into several subordinate ranks and classes; and they all depended upon a chief or Arch-Druid, who was elected to his place with great authority and preeminence for life. They were further armed with a power of interdicting from their sacrifices, or excommunicating, any obnoxious persons. This interdiction, so similar to that used by the ancient Athenians, and to that since practised among Christians, was followed by an exclusion from all the benefits of civil community; and it was accordingly the most dreaded of all punishments. This ample authority was in general usefully exerted; by the interposition of the Druids differences were composed, and wars ended; and the minds of the fierce Northern people, being reconciled to each other under the influence of religion, united with signal effect against their common enemies.

There was a class of the Druids whom they called Bards, who delivered in songs (their only history) the exploits of their heroes, and who composed those verses which contained the secrets of Druidical discipline, their principles of natural and moral philosophy, their astronomy, and the mystical rites of their religion. These verses in all probability bore a near resemblance to the Golden Verses of Pythagoras,—to those of Phocylides, Orpheus, and other remnants of the most ancient Greek poets. The Druids, even in Gaul, where they were not altogether ignorant of the use of letters, in order to preserve their knowledge in greater respect, committed none of their precepts to writing. The proficiency of their pupils was estimated principally by the number of technical verses which they retained in their memory: a circumstance that shows this discipline rather calculated to preserve with accuracy a few plain maxims of traditionary science than to improve and extend it. And this is not the sole circumstance which leads us to believe that among them learning had advanced no further than its infancy.

The scholars of the Druids, like those of Pythagoras, were carefully enjoined a long and religious silence: for, if barbarians come to acquire any knowledge, it is rather by instruction than, examination; they must therefore be silent. Pythagoras, in the rude times of Greece, required silence in his disciples; but Socrates, in the meridian of the Athenian refinement, spoke less than his scholars: everything was disputed in the Academy.

The Druids are said to be very expert in astronomy, in geography, and in all parts of mathematical knowledge; and authors speak in a very exaggerated strain of their excellence in these, and in many other sciences. Some elemental knowledge I suppose they had; but I can scarcely be persuaded that their learning was either deep or extensive. In all countries where Druidism was professed, the youth, were generally instructed by that order; and yet was there little either in the manners of the people, in their way of life, or their works of art, that demonstrates profound science or particularly mathematical skill. Britain, where their discipline was in its highest perfection, and which was therefore resorted to by the people of Gaul as an oracle in Druidical questions, was more barbarous in all other respects than Gaul itself, or than any other country then known in Europe. Those piles of rude magnificence, Stonehenge and Abury, are in vain produced in proof of their mathematical abilities. These vast structures have nothing which can be admired, but the greatness of the work; and they are not the only instances of the great things which the mere labor of many hands united, and persevering in their purpose, may accomplish with very little help from mechanics. This may be evinced by the immense buildings and the low state of the sciences among the original Peruvians.

The Druids were eminent above all the philosophic lawgivers of antiquity for their care in impressing the doctrine of the soul's immortality on the minds of their people, as an operative and leading principle. This doctrine was inculcated on the scheme of Transmigration, which some imagine them to have derived from Pythagoras. But it is by no means necessary to resort to any particular teacher for an opinion which owes its birth to the weak struggles of unenlightened reason, and to mistakes natural to the human mind. The idea of the soul's immortality is indeed ancient, universal, and in a manner inherent in our nature; but it is not easy for a rude people to conceive any other mode of existence than one similar to what they had experienced in life, nor any other world as the scene of such an existence but this we inhabit, beyond the bounds of which the mind extends itself with great difficulty. Admiration, indeed, was able to exalt to heaven a few selected heroes: it did not seem absurd that those who in their mortal state had distinguished themselves as superior and overruling spirits should after death ascend to that sphere which influences and governs everything below, or that the proper abode of beings at once so illustrious and permanent should be in that part of Nature in which they had always observed the greatest splendor and the least mutation. But on ordinary occasions it was natural some should imagine that the dead retired into a remote country, separated from the living by seas or mountains. It was natural that some should follow their imagination with a simplicity still purer, and pursue the souls of men no further than the sepulchres in which their bodies had been deposited;[8] whilst others of deeper penetration, observing that bodies worn out by age or destroyed by accident still afforded the materials for generating new ones, concluded likewise that a soul being dislodged did not wholly perish, but was destined, by a similar revolution in Nature, to act again, and to animate some other body. This last principle gave rise to the doctrine of Transmigration: but we must not presume of course, that, where it prevailed, it necessarily excluded the other opinions; for it is not remote from the usual procedure of the human mind, blending in obscure matters imagination and reasoning together, to unite ideas the most inconsistent. When Homer represents the ghosts of his heroes appearing at the sacrifices of Ulysses, he supposes them endued with life, sensation, and a capacity of moving; but he has joined to these powers of living existence uncomeliness, want of strength, want of distinction, the characteristics of a dead carcass. This is what the mind is apt to do: it is very apt to confound the ideas of the surviving soul and the dead body. The vulgar have always and still do confound these very irreconcilable ideas. They lay the scene of apparitions in churchyards; they habit the ghost in a shroud; and it appears in all the ghastly paleness of a corpse. A contradiction of this kind has given rise to a doubt whether the Druids did in reality hold the doctrine of Transmigration. There is positive testimony that they did hold it; there is also testimony as positive that they buried or burned with the dead utensils, arms, slaves, and whatever might be judged useful to them, as if they were to be removed into a separate state. They might have held both these opinions; and we ought not to be surprised to find error inconsistent.

The objects of the Druid worship were many. In this respect they did not differ from other heathens: but it must be owned that in general their ideas of divine matters were more exalted than those of the Greeks and Romans, and that they did not fall into an idolatry so coarse and vulgar. That their gods should be represented under a human form they thought derogatory to beings uncreated and imperishable. To confine what can endure no limits within walls and roofs they judged absurd and impious. In these particulars there was something refined and suitable enough to a just idea of the Divinity. But the rest was not equal. Some notions they had, like the greatest part of mankind, of a Being eternal and infinite; but they also, like the greatest part of mankind, paid their worship to inferior objects, from the nature of ignorance and superstition always tending downwards.

The first and chief objects of their worship were the elements,—and of the elements, fire, as the most pure, active, penetrating, and what gives life and energy to all the rest. Among fires, the preference was given to the sun, as the most glorious visible being, and the fountain of all life. Next they venerated the moon and the planets. After fire, water was held in reverence. This, when pure, and ritually prepared, was supposed to wash away all sins, and to qualify the priest to approach the altar of the gods with more acceptable prayers: washing with water being a type natural enough of inward cleansing and purity of mind. They also worshipped fountains and lakes and rivers.

Oaks were regarded by this sect with a particular veneration, as, by their greatness, their shade, their stability, and duration, not ill representing the perfections of the Deity. From the great reverence in which they held this tree, it is thought their name of Druids is derived: the word Deru, in the Celtic language, signifying an oak. But their reverence was not wholly confined to this tree. All forests were held sacred; and many particular plants were respected, as endued with a particular holiness. No plant was more revered than the mistletoe, especially if it grew on the oak,—not only because it is rarely found upon that tree, but because the oak was among the Druids peculiarly sacred. Towards the end of the year they searched for this plant, and when it was found great rejoicing ensued; it was approached with, reverence; it was cut with a golden hook; it was not suffered to fall to the ground, but received with great care and solemnity upon a white garment.

In ancient times, and in all countries, the profession of physic was annexed to the priesthood. Men imagined that all their diseases were inflicted by the immediate displeasure of the Deity, and therefore concluded that the remedy would most probably proceed from those who were particularly employed in his service. Whatever, for the same reason, was found of efficacy to avert or cure distempers was considered as partaking somewhat of the Divinity. Medicine was always joined with magic: no remedy was administered without mysterious ceremony and incantation. The use of plants and herbs, both in medicinal and magical practices, was early and general. The mistletoe, pointed out by its very peculiar appearance and manner of growth, must have struck powerfully on the imaginations of a superstitious people. Its virtues may have been soon discovered. It has been fully proved, against the opinion of Celsus, that internal remedies were of very early use.[9] Yet if it had not, the practice of the present savage nations supports the probability of that opinion. By some modern authors the mistletoe is said to be of signal service in the cure of certain convulsive distempers, which, by their suddenness, their violence, and their unaccountable symptoms, have been ever considered as supernatural. The epilepsy was by the Romans for that reason called morbus sacer; and all other nations have regarded it in the same light. The Druids also looked upon vervain, and some other plants, as holy, and probably for a similar reason.

The other objects of the Druid worship were chiefly serpents, in the animal world, and rude heaps of stone, or great pillars without polish or sculpture, in the inanimate. The serpent, by his dangerous qualities, is not ill adapted to inspire terror,—by his annual renewals, to raise admiration,—by his make, easily susceptible of many figures, to serve for a variety of symbols,—and by all, to be an object of religious observance: accordingly, no object of idolatry has been more universal.[10] And this is so natural, that serpent-veneration seems to be rising again, even in the bosom of Mahometanism.[11]

The great stones, it has been supposed, were originally monuments of illustrious men, or the memorials of considerable actions,—or they were landmarks for deciding the bounds of fixed property. In time the memory of the persons or facts which these stones were erected to perpetuate wore away; but the reverence which custom, and probably certain periodical ceremonies, had preserved for those places was not so soon obliterated. The monuments themselves then came to be venerated,—and not the less because the reason for venerating them was no longer known. The landmark was in those times held sacred on account of its great uses, and easily passed into an object of worship. Hence the god Terminus amongst the Romans. This religious observance towards rude stones is one of the most ancient and universal of all customs. Traces of it are to be found in almost all, and especially in these Northern nations; and to this day, in Lapland, where heathenism is not yet entirely extirpated, their chief divinity, which they call Storjunkare, is nothing more than a rude stone.[12]

Some writers among the moderns, because the Druids ordinarily made no use of images in their worship, have given into an opinion that their religion was founded on the unity of the Godhead. But this is no just consequence. The spirituality of the idea, admitting their idea to have been spiritual, does not infer the unity of the object. All the ancient authors who speak of this order agree, that, besides those great and more distinguishing objects of their worship already mentioned they had gods answerable to those adored by the Romans. And we know that the Northern nations, who overran the Roman Empire, had in fact a great plurality of gods, whose attributes, though not their names, bore a close analogy to the idols of the Southern world.

The Druids performed the highest act of religion by sacrifice, agreeably to the custom of all other nations. They not only offered up beasts, but even human victims: a barbarity almost universal in the heathen world, but exercised more uniformly, and with circumstances of peculiar cruelty, amongst those nations where the religion of the Druids prevailed. They held that the life of a man was the only atonement for the life of a man. They frequently inclosed a number of wretches, some captives, some criminals, and, when these were wanting, even innocent victims, in a gigantic statue of wicker-work, to which they set fire, and invoked their deities amidst the horrid cries and shrieks of the sufferers, and the shouts of those who assisted at this tremendous rite.

There were none among the ancients more eminent for all the arts of divination than the Druids. Many of the superstitious practices in use to this day among the country people for discovering their future fortune seem to be remains of Druidism. Futurity is the great concern of mankind. Whilst the wise and learned look back upon experience and history, and reason from things past about events to come, it is natural for the rude and ignorant, who have the same desires without the same reasonable means of satisfaction, to inquire into the secrets of futurity, and to govern their conduct by omens, dreams, and prodigies. The Druids, as well as the Etruscan and Roman priesthood, attended with diligence the flight of birds, the pecking of chickens, and the entrails of their animal sacrifices. It was obvious that no contemptible prognostics of the weather were to be taken from certain motions and appearances in birds and beasts.[13] A people who lived mostly in the open air must have been well skilled in these observations. And as changes in the weather influenced much the fortune of their huntings or their harvests, which were all their fortunes, it was easy to apply the same prognostics to every event by a transition very natural and common; and thus probably arose the science of auspices, which formerly guided the deliberations of councils and the motions of armies, though now they only serve, and scarcely serve, to amuse the vulgar.

The Druid temple is represented to have been nothing more than a consecrated wood. The ancients speak of no other. But monuments remain which show that the Druids were not in this respect wholly confined to groves. They had also a species of building which in all probability was destined to religious use. This sort of structure was, indeed, without walls or roof. It was a colonnade, generally circular, of huge, rude stones, sometimes single, sometimes double, sometimes with, often without, an architrave. These open temples were not in all respects peculiar to the Northern nations. Those of the Greeks, which were dedicated to the celestial gods, ought in strictness to have had no roof, and were thence called hypaethra.[14]

Many of these monuments remain in the British islands, curious for their antiquity, or astonishing for the greatness of the work: enormous masses of rock, so poised as to be set in motion with the slightest touch, yet not to be pushed from their place by a very great power; vast altars, peculiar and mystical in their structure, thrones, basins, heaps or cairns; and a variety of other works, displaying a wild industry, and a strange mixture of ingenuity and rudeness. But they are all worthy of attention,—not only as such monuments often clear up the darkness and supply the defects of history, but as they lay open a noble field of speculation for those who study the changes which have happened in the manners, opinions, and sciences of men, and who think them as worthy of regard as the fortune of wars and the revolutions of kingdoms.

The short account which I have here given does not contain the whole of what is handed down to us by ancient writers, or discovered by modern research, concerning this remarkable order. But I have selected those which appear to me the most striking features, and such as throw the strongest light on the genius and true character of the Druidical institution. In some respects it was undoubtedly very singular; it stood out more from the body of the people than the priesthood of other nations; and their knowledge and policy appeared the more striking by being contrasted with the great simplicity and rudeness of the people over whom they presided. But, notwithstanding some peculiar appearances and practices, it is impossible not to perceive a great conformity between this and the ancient orders which have been established for the purposes of religion in almost all countries. For, to say nothing of the resemblance which many have traced between this and the Jewish priesthood, the Persian Magi, and the Indian Brahmans, it did not so greatly differ from the Roman priesthood, either in the original objects or in the general mode of worship, or in the constitution of their hierarchy. In the original institution neither of these nations had the use of images; the rules of the Salian as well as Druid discipline were delivered in verse; both orders were under an elective head; and both were for a long time the lawyers of their country. So that, when the order of Druids was suppressed by the Emperors, it was rather from a dread of an influence incompatible with the Roman government than from any dislike of their religious opinions.


[7] Digest. Lib. I. Tit. ii. De Origine et Progressu Juris, Sec. 6.

[8] Cic. Tusc. Quest. Lib. I

[9] See this point in the Divine Legation of Moses.

[10] [Greek: Para panti nomizominon par' humin theon ophis sumbolon mega kai mysterion anagraphetai.]—Justin Martyr, in Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae.

[11] Norden's Travels.

[12] Scheffer's Lapland, p. 92, the translation.

[13] Cic. de Divinatione, Lib. I.

[14] Decor.... perficitur statione,.... cum Jovi Fulguri, et Coelo, et Soli, et Lunae aedificia sub divo hypaethraque constituentur. Horum enim deorum et species et effectus in aperto mundo atque lucenti praesentes videmus.—Vitruv. de Architect. p. 6. de Laet. Antwerp.



The death of Caesar, and the civil wars which ensued, afforded foreign nations some respite from the Roman ambition. Augustus, having restored peace to mankind, seems to have made it a settled maxim of his reign not to extend the Empire. He found himself at the head of a new monarchy; and he was more solicitous to confirm it by the institutions of sound policy than to extend the bounds of its dominion. In consequence of this plan Britain was neglected.

Tiberius came a regular successor to an established government. But his politics were dictated rather by his character than his situation. He was a lawful prince, and he acted on the maxims of an usurper. Having made it a rule never to remove far from the capital, and jealous of every reputation which seemed too great for the measure of a subject, he neither undertook any enterprise of moment in his own person nor cared to commit the conduct of it to another. There was little in a British triumph that could affect a temper like that of Tiberius.

His successor, Caligula, was not influenced by this, nor indeed by any regular system; for, having undertaken an expedition to Britain without any determinate view, he abandoned it on the point of execution without reason. And adding ridicule to his disgrace, his soldiers returned to Rome loaded with shells. These spoils he displayed as the ornaments of a triumph which he celebrated over the Ocean,—if in all these particulars we may trust to the historians of that time, who relate things almost incredible of the folly of their masters and the patience of the Roman people.

But the Roman people, however degenerate, still retained much of their martial spirit; and as the Emperors held their power almost entirely by the affection of the soldiery, they found themselves often obliged to such enterprises as might prove them no improper heads of a military constitution. An expedition to Britain was well adapted to answer all the purposes of this ostentatious policy. The country was remote and little known, so that every exploit there, as if achieved in another world, appeared at Rome with double pomp and lustre; whilst the sea, which divided Britain from the continent, prevented a failure in that island from being followed by any consequences alarming to the body of the Empire. A pretext was not wanting to this war. The maritime Britons, while the terror of the Roman arms remained fresh, upon their minds, continued regularly to pay the tribute imposed by Caesar. But the generation which experienced that war having passed away, that which succeeded felt the burden, but knew from rumor only the superiority which had imposed it; and being very ignorant, as of all things else, so of the true extent of the Roman power, they were not afraid to provoke it by discontinuing the payment of the tribute.

[Sidenote: A.D. 43]

This gave occasion to the Emperor Claudius, ninety-seven years after the first expedition of Caesar, to invade Britain in person, and with a great army. But he, having rather surveyed than conducted the war, left in a short time the management of it to his legate, Plautius, who subdued without much difficulty those countries which lay to the southward of the Thames, the best cultivated and most accessible parts of the island. But the inhabitants of the rough inland countries, the people called Cattivellauni, made a more strenuous opposition. They were under the command of Caractacus, a chief of great and just renown amongst all the British nations. This leader wisely adjusted his conduct of the war to the circumstances of his savage subjects and his rude country. Plautius obtained no decisive advantages over him. He opposed Ostorius Scapula, who succeeded that general, with the same bravery, but with unequal success; for he was, after various turns of fortune, obliged to abandon his dominions, which Ostorius at length subdued and disarmed.

This bulwark of the British freedom being overturned, Ostorius was not afraid to enlarge his plan. Not content with disarming the enemies of Rome, he proceeded to the same extremities with those nations who had been always quiet, and who, under the name of an alliance, lay ripening for subjection. This fierce people, who looked upon their arms as their only valuable possessions, refused to submit to terms as severe as the most absolute conquest could impose. They unanimously entered into a league against the Romans. But their confederacy was either not sufficiently strong or fortunate to resist so able a commander, and only afforded him an opportunity, from a more comprehensive victory, to extend the Roman province a considerable way to the northern and western parts of the island. The frontiers of this acquisition, which extended along the rivers Severn and Nen, he secured by a chain of forts and stations; the inland parts he quieted by the settlement of colonies of his veteran troops at Maldon and Verulam: and such was the beginning of those establishments which afterwards became so numerous in Britain. This commander was the first who traced in this island a plan of settlement and civil policy to concur with his military operations. For, after he had settled these colonies, considering with what difficulty any and especially an uncivilized people are broke into submission to a foreign government, he imposed it on some of the most powerful of the British nations in a more indirect manner. He placed them under kings of their own race; and whilst he paid this compliment to their pride, he secured their obedience by the interested fidelity of a prince who knew, that, as he owed the beginning, so he depended for the duration of his authority wholly upon their favor. Such was the dignity and extent of the Roman policy, that they could number even royalty itself amongst their instruments of servitude.

Ostorius did not confine himself within the boundaries of these rivers. He observed that the Silures, inhabitants of South Wales, one of the most martial tribes in Britain, were yet unhurt and almost untouched by the war. He could expect to make no progress to the northward, whilst an enemy of such importance hung upon his rear,—especially as they were now commanded by Caractacus, who preserved the spirit of a prince, though he had lost his dominions, and fled from nation to nation, wherever he could find a banner erected against the Romans. His character obtained him reception and command.

[Sidenote: A.D. 51]

Though the Silures, thus headed, did everything that became their martial reputation, both in the choice and defence of their posts, the Romans, by their discipline and the weight and excellence of their arms, prevailed over the naked bravery of this gallant people, and defeated them in a great battle. Caractacus was soon after betrayed into their hands, and conveyed to Rome. The merit of the prisoner was the sole ornament of a triumph celebrated over an indigent people headed by a gallant chief. The Romans crowded eagerly to behold the man who, with inferior forces, and in an obscure corner of the world, had so many years stood up against the weight of their empire.

As the arts of adulation improved in proportion as the real grandeur of Rome declined, this advantage was compared to the greatest conquests in the most flourishing times of the Republic: and so far as regarded the personal merit of Caractacus, it could not be too highly rated. Being brought before the emperor, he behaved with such manly fortitude, and spoke of his former actions and his present condition with so much plain sense and unaffected dignity, that he moved the compassion of the emperor, who remitted much of that severity which the Romans formerly exercised upon their captives. Rome was now a monarchy, and that fierce republican spirit was abated which had neither feeling nor respect for the character of unfortunate sovereigns.

The Silures were not reduced by the loss of Caractacus, and the great defeat they had suffered. They resisted every measure of force or artifice that could be employed against them, with the most generous obstinacy: a resolution in which they were confirmed by some imprudent words of the legate, threatening to extirpate, or, what appeared to them scarcely less dreadful, to transplant their nation. Their natural bravery thus hardened into despair, and inhabiting a country very difficult of access, they presented an impenetrable barrier to the progress of that commander; insomuch that, wasted with continual cares, and with the mortification to find the end of his affairs so little answerable to the splendor of their beginning, Ostorius died of grief, and left all things in confusion.

The legates who succeeded to his charge did little more for about sixty years than secure the frontiers of the Roman province. But in the beginning of Nero's reign the command in Britain was devolved on Suetonius Paulinus, a soldier of merit and experience, who, when he came to view the theatre of his future operations, and had well considered the nature of the country, discerned evidently that the war must of necessity be protracted to a great length, if he should be obliged to penetrate into every fastness to which the enemy retired, and to combat their flying parties one by one. He therefore resolved to make such a blow at the head as must of course disable all the inferior members.

The island then called Mona, now Anglesey, at that time was the principal residence of the Druids. Here their councils were held, and their commands from hence were dispersed among all the British nations. Paulinus proposed, in reducing this their favorite and sacred seat, to destroy, or at least greatly to weaken, the body of the Druids, and thereby to extinguish the great actuating principle of all the Celtic people, and that which was alone capable of communicating order and energy to their operations.

Whilst the Roman troops were passing that strait which divides this island from the continent of Britain, they halted on a sudden,—not checked by the resistance of the enemy, but suspended by a spectacle of an unusual and altogether surprising nature. On every side of the British army were seen bands of Druids in their most sacred habits surrounding the troops, lifting their hands to heaven, devoting to death their enemies, and animating their disciples to religious frenzy by the uncouth ceremonies of a savage ritual, and the horrid mysteries of a superstition familiar with blood. The female Druids also moved about in a troubled order, their hair dishevelled, their garments torn, torches in their hands, and, with an horror increased by the perverted softness of their sex, howled out the same curses and incantations with greater clamor.[15] Astonished at this sight, the Romans for some time neither advanced nor returned the darts of the enemy. But at length, rousing from their trance, and animating each other with the shame of yielding to the impotence of female and fanatical fury, they found the resistance by no means proportioned to the horror and solemnity of the preparations. These overstrained efforts had, as frequently happens, exhausted the spirits of the men, and stifled that ardor they were intended to kindle. The Britons were defeated; and Paulinus, pretending to detest the barbarity of their superstition, in reality from the cruelty of his own nature, and that he might cut off the occasion of future disturbances, exercised the most unjustifiable severities on this unfortunate people. He burned the Druids in their own fires; and that no retreat might be afforded to that order, their consecrated woods were everywhere destroyed. Whilst he was occupied in this service, a general rebellion broke out, which his severity to the Druids served rather to inflame than allay.

From the manners of the republic a custom had been ingrafted into the monarchy of Rome altogether unsuitable to that mode of government. In the time of the Commonwealth, those who lived in a dependent and cliental relation on the great men used frequently to show marks of their acknowledgment by considerable bequests at their death. But when all the scattered powers of that state became united in the emperor, these legacies followed the general current, and flowed in upon the common patron. In the will of every considerable person he inherited with the children and relations, and such devises formed no inconsiderable part of his revenue: a monstrous practice, which let an absolute sovereign into all the private concerns of his subjects, and which, by giving the prince a prospect of one day sharing in all the great estates, whenever he was urged by avarice or necessity, naturally pointed out a resource by an anticipation always in his power. This practice extended into the provinces. A king of the Iceni[16] had devised a considerable part of his substance to the emperor. But the Roman procurator, not satisfied with entering into his master's portion, seized upon the rest,—and pursuing his injustice to the most horrible outrages, publicly scourged Boadicea, queen to the deceased prince, and violated his daughters. These cruelties, aggravated by the shame and scorn that attended them,—the general severity of the government,—the taxes, (new to a barbarous people,) laid on without discretion, extorted without mercy, and, even when respited, made utterly ruinous by exorbitant usury,—the farther mischiefs they had to dread, when more completely reduced,—all these, with, the absence of the legate and the army on a remote expedition, provoked all the tribes of the Britons, provincials, allies, enemies, to a general insurrection. The command of this confederacy was conferred on Boadicea, as the first in rank, and resentment of injuries. They began by cutting off a Roman legion; then they fell upon the colonies of Camelodunum and Verulam, and with a barbarous fury butchered the Romans and their adherents to the number of seventy thousand.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse