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THE MIDLAND MAGAZINE,
AN INQUIRY INTO
THE ORIGIN, HISTORY, MANNERS, AND CUSTOMS
OF THE ANCIENT BRITONS.
BY THOMAS RAGG.
ONE of the latest English historians, whose writings are considered an authority, (I mean Keightley) says of the ancient Britons, “ The indigenous inhabitants of the British Isles were beyond doubt a portion of the Celtic race, whose seats on the main land extended eastwards to the Rhine, and southwards far into Spain. The manners, customs, and institutions of the whole race were the same, only varying according to their geographical position; the rudeness and barbarism declining as they came near more civilized countries.” Again, “ The institutions of the Celtic tribes offered a striking resemblance to those of the East;—the same degrading thraldom of the inferior people, the same exaltation of the sacerdotal order, as in Egypt and India; even the employment of chariots in war was common to both regions. Hence many have derived the Celtic religion and institutions immediately from Asia ; but this is a theory of which there is no need, and for which no satisfactory evidence has been offered.”
It may be considered bold in me to question what is here so positively laid down ; but, notwithstanding most modern historians have taken the same view, I think their opinions have been generally formed without taking the trouble to investigate what they have pronounced upon. The religious customs of the ancient Britons furnish to me conclusive evidence of their eastern origin, for they bore the strictest resemblance to the Canaanitish and other Hammonian sacerdotal systems, and differed materially from the rude superstitions of the various races of the sons of Japhet, which were but dark and corrupted versions of the patriarchal traditions.
Indeed, in the passage I have quoted from Keightley, there is something nearly allied to a contradiction; for he tells us that rudeness and barbarism declined with the near approach to more civilized countries, whereas the philosophical system of Druidism was more perfect in the far isle of the west than in the nations which lay nearer to the Roman Empire. Britain supplied the Continent with priests, and her sacred Isle of Mona (Anglesea) was the sacerdotal college of the western world.
There are few subjects of investigation which should be more interesting to any individual than the early history of his native land. And yet, though this has been generally admitted-and ours offers a powerful stimulant to curiosity, through the darkness which involves it--there are few subjects upon which the intellectual powers of Englishmen are so little occupied, or occupied to so little purpose.
Now, that the records upon which our forefathers rested their faith, and which supplied a Milton and a Shakspeare with subjects for immortal verse, have been flung (perhaps too hastily) to the moles and the bats, we seem to have given up all idea of the usefulness of the inquiry, and to have settled down with the impression that nothing can be known. Our historians, too, as I have already in some degree intimated, more used to matters of detail than to curious investigation-unable, perhaps, to separate the little truth that apparently shone here and there among our traditions, from the mass of error with which they were encompassedhave given them up altogether as fables; and, heedless of both theological and traditionary evidence, have traced us out an origin which our fathers would not own ; or left our early history untouched, and commenced their details with the conquest of the Romans. Because British Druidism had in some measure extended itself over the west of Europe, and a tribe of Belgians had settled in later years on our south-eastern coast, as well as on account of the proximity of our own shores to those of Gaul, modern historians almost universally have considered the aborigines of Britain to be a wandering tribe of Celts or Cimmerians ; albeit by so doing they impugned the truth of records which for ages were considered authentic, and which have latterly been supported by collateral evidences unknown in the Elizabethan era.
The “ Pictorial History of England,” certainly, differs from most others as regards the fact of investigation. Its author has entered into an elaborate and interesting inquiry ; but it has only been directed towards one part of the subject. He has taken it for granted that Britain was peopled direct from either the Celtic or Cimmerian races of the neighbouring continent; though there are reasons for supposition to the contrary, almost, if not quite, as strong as those which induced him to conclude that the aborigines of Ireland came direct from the east, or were a company of Milesians newly arrived from thence. If he had taken more notice of the evidence to be derived from the religion of the early inhabitants of our isle, he might have seen less reason to think them the descendants of Gomer. For, as I have already observed, their system of Druidism, while it bore the closest resemblance to the sacerdotal rites of the Hammonians, differed in all respects from the rude corruptions of early truth almost universally prevalent among the sons of Japhet.
Had not Suetonius Paulinus, like another Cambyses, cut off all communication between the then future and the past, matters so interesting might not have been left to mere probability and conjecture. By his barbarous ravages in the Isle of Mona, when he burned the sacred groves of the Druids, sacrificed them upon their own altars, and cut off both the remnant and the name, he put an end, perhaps, to all certainty as regards the early history of our land. As the literature of the ancient world was destroyed by the Persian conquerer when he swept away the glory of Egypt, so the literature of ancient Britain shared a similar fate from the Roman general. For, as the one was contained in those immense and invaluable libraries which were sacrificed as a burnt offering on the shrine of ferocious ignorance, so the other was vested in oral tradition and carried down from age to age in the songs of the bards ; and those living records, too, of our early history and literature were burned in the flames of their own forests, whose dying embers were extinguished with their blood.
Now, he who would push his investigations to an earlier period than the conquest of Cæsar, bears some resemblance to a wanderer
in the bush of Australia. He is doomed to tread a dark, entangled and uncertain path. And if, sometimes, when comparing incident with incident, record with record, and custom with custom, a gleam of light bursts upon him, and for a moment he fancies he is approaching the termination of his difficult path, he finds he has but opened upon an occasional glade, or at best bas but come to a vista, which will speedily terminate, and leave him enveloped in the thick forest again.
Yet, what has been done with respect to one portion of the world's literature may possibly be done with regard to another. For a long series of ages the ancient history of Egypt was veiled in the thickest darkness. But the mind of a Bryant pierced through the gloom, and, by an a priori glance at the little that remained, came to nearly the same conclusion to which analysis and deduction have brought those more modern searches after truth who have been aided by a knowledge of the hieroglyphic language. And now, thanks to the spirit of inquiry which originated with him, the infidel has been deprived of one of his strong-holds, and those “eternal monuments,” the pyramids of Egypt, have been wrested from his grasp, and, by their painted chambers, added new illustrations to Biblical truth.
In this early part of my first paper, it may be thought needful for me to state why I object to the plausible theories of a Hume and a Goldsmith, a Rapin, a Sharon Turner, and a Keightley. My reasons shall be briefly stated. The first is, that these theories contradict in every way our own national annals, and the annals of other countries ; while they bring nothing to establish themselves but probability and conjecture. My second ground of objection is the well-known fact that Britain was the seat of Druidism, from which it had extended more or less in the time of Cæsar, among the Celtic and Cimmerian natives of Belgium, Gaul, and Spain ; whereas, had Britain been only a colony of wanderers from Gaul, the probability is very much against its being made the seat of philosophical and ecclesiastical learning, an academy for the supply of priests, philosophers, and bards, for the nations on the Continent. This objection, however, gains its chief force from the evidence still existing that Druidism was of eastern origin, and wos more perfect in Britain than in any other nation on that side of Egypt. The striking resemblance between the rites and ceremories of the Druids of Britain, the Magi of Persia, the Chaldeans of Babylonia, the Brahmins of India, and the Priests of Egpyt, bespeaks them of one common origin, and manifests them all to be of date anterior to the time when the Greeks and Romans refined upon the superstitions of their fathers, and produced those “elegant mythologies," which, though far more heterodox than the superstitions in which they originated, have for centuries, nay, throughout the whole Christian era, held so prominent a position in the regions of poetry and fable. The resemblance here alluded to, as well as that between the names of the British gods and those of some of the eastern nations, it is my intention as far as needful for my purpose hereafter, to develope.
The third ground of objection I bring against the theory of modern historians, is that the imperishable monuments, as well as the records, of antiquity, give contrary evidence. The huge circles of stones, found only in Britain and Asia, the enormous cromlechs and ponderous rocking stones in various parts of our isle, the latter so immense as to puzzle the best architect of the present day as to what means could have been used to raise them to their present position, yet so nicely balanced that a child might rock them, bespeak in their founders a knowledge of the arts and sciences, far surpassing what was ever manifested in ancient days by the wild Celtic or Cimmerian race. Finding their counterparts only in the east, they necessarily point the inquiring mind to Phænicia, or some part of Asia Minor, when far advanced in the knowledge of architecture and other arts of life ; or to those lofty spirits of Hammonian race, who raised the standard of rebellion at Babel, and who, expelled from thence by the judgments of God “ over the face of every region," have left us, in various portions of the world, imperishable monuments of their greatness.
Various other and minor reasons for objecting to the theory that the ancient Britons were of Celtic or Cimmerian origin, will appear in the course of my inquiry. One more I may mention here. Modern research has added something to our knowledge, even since Sharon Turner wrote his “History of the Anglo-Saxons." Within the last twelve years there has been found among the sacred writings of the Hindoos, in the ancient language of the Shasters, a particular description of Britain, which is there denominated the “Sacred Isle ;” a description so accurate as regards its situation and form, and the number, position, and magnitude of its rivers, that no doubt whatever exists as to the identity of the island described. This, by demonstrating a very early and intimate intercourse between the early Britons and the east, goes far to prove their eastern origin.