Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE LITERATURE OF ENGLAND,

FROM THE TIME OF THE DRUIDS, TO THE PRESENT CENTURY.

No. I.

It is difficult to ascertain the nature and extent of the learning of the Druids, though there is no reason to doubt their having possessed various kinds of literature and philosophy in an eminent degree, considering the period in which they lived. As they studiously concealed their principles and opinions from all the world, but the members of their own society, neither the Greeks nor the Romans could obtain a perfect and certain knowledge of their systems either of religion or philosophy: and on this account we find few remains of them in the works of the ancients. Besides which, they strictly observed the law which forbade them to commit any of doctrines to writing*; and therefore, when the living repositories of these doctrines were destroyed, they were irrecoverably lost, not having been preserved in any written monuments. Some few scattered fragments, however, may still be collected. It appears that physiology or natural philosophy was the favorite study of the Druids, both in Gaul and Britain. Strabo has preserved one of the physiological opinions of the Druids concerning the universe, viz. that it was never entirely to be destroyed or annihilated, but was to undergo a succession of great changes and revolutions, which were to be produced, sometimes by the power and predominancy of water and sometimes by fire.

Astronomy seems to have been one of the chief studies of the Druids, and accordingly Cæsar says, that they had many disquisitions concerning the heavenly bodies and their motions, in which they instructed their disciples; and Mela also observes, that they professed to have great knowledge of the motions of the heavens and of the stars. This last author suggests that they were pretenders to the knowledge of astrology, or the art of discovering future events and the secrets of Providence, from the motions and aspects of the heavenly bodies ; for he expressly says, that they pretended to discover the counsels and designs of the gods. The Druids, besides the inducements which led them, in common with others, to the study of astronomy, namely, in order to enable them to measure time, to mark the duration of the different seasons, and thus to regulate the operations of the husbandman, to direct the course of the mariner, and to subserve many other purposes in civil life; had other motives peculiar to themselves, as they would thus be able to fix the times and regular returns of their religious solemnities, of which they had the sole direction; some of which were annual, others monthly. This kind of knowledge was the more necessary, as these solemnities were attended by persons from very different and distant countries, who were all to meet at one place on the same day, so that they must have had some rule for discovering the annual return of that day.

[blocks in formation]

ܙ ܀

As the Druids applied themselves to the study of philosophy and astronomy, we cannot doubt their having possessed some degree of acquaintance with arithmetic and geometry. In this respect the want of written rules could be no great disadvantage to them, as the precepts of this, as well as of the other sciences, were couched in verse, which would be easily committed to memory and retained. Both Cæsar and Mela plainly intimate that the Druids were conversant in the sublime speculations of geometry.--" in measuring the magnitude of the earth, and even of the world.” They also appear to have been well skilled in geography, in botany, and in medicine.

The noble art of rhetoric, which enabled them to display their wisdom and learning, and which contributed to the support and advancement of their reputation, was diligently studied and taught by the Druids of Britain. Among their deities was one named Ogmius, signifying, in their language, the power of eloquence, who was worshipped by them with great devotion, as the Patron of Orators, and the God of Eloquence. He was painted as an old man, surrounded by a great multitude of people, with slender chains reaching from his tongue to their ears. Lucian, expressing his surprise at this picture, received from a Druid the following explanation of it: “ You will cease to be surprised when I tell you, that we make Hercules (whom we call Ogmius) the God of Eloquence, contrary to the Greeks, who give that honor to Mercury, who is so far inferior to him in strength. We represent him as an old man, because eloquence never shews itself so lively and strong as in the mouths of old people. The relation which the ear has to the tongue, justifies the picture of the old man, who holds so many people fast by the tongue. Neither do we think it any affront to Hercules, to have his tongue bored; since, to tell

you all in one word, it was that which made him succeed in every thing, and that it was by his eloquence that he subdued the hearts of all men*.”

Before the invasion of the Romans, the ancient Britons had among them various schools and seminaries of learning, which were wholly under the direction of the Druids; to whose care the education of youth was altogether committed. These Druidical academies were very much crowded with students, as many of the youths of Gaul came over to finish their education in this island. The students, as well as the teachers, were exempted from military services and from taxes, and enjoyed many other privileges, which much served to increase their number. Their academies were situated in the deepest recesses of woods and forests; partly because such situations were best adapted to study and contemplation; and principally because they were most suitable to that profound secrecy, with which they instructed their pupils, and kept their doctrines from the knowledge of others. In these seminaries, the professors delivered all their lectures to their pupils in verse; and a Druidical course of education, comprehending the whole circle of the sciences that were then taught, is said to have consisted of about twenty thousand verses, and to have

* Lucian in Hercule Gallico.

lasted in some cases twenty years. The scholars were not allowed to commit any of these verses to writing, but were obliged to get them all by heart. When the youth were first admitted into these academies, they were obliged to take an oath of secrecy, in which they solemnly swore that they would never reveal the mysteries which they should there learn.

It is not our intention to detail the causes of the decline and extinction of the Druids; they are faithfully recorded in history, and familiar to the generality of readers. Among those who finally established the dominion of the Romans in Britain, was Julius Agricola, who was advanced to the government A. D. 78. He was considered one of the greatest characters in the history of those times, and was the first of the Roman governors of this island who gave any considerable attention to learning. He attempted to humanize the fierceness of those who acknowledged his power, by introducing the Roman laws, habits, manners, and learning. With this view, he persuaded the youth of Britain to learn the Latin language, and to apply to the study of Roman eloquence. These persuasions were successful; and the British youth being deprived of their former instructors by the destruction and expulsion of the Druids, put themselves under those teachers who were provided for them by the Romans.

Though the names of some learned men who flourished in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries are preserved, they offer little whereby to ascertain the progress of literature during those periods. Upon the invasion of Britain by the Romans, they instructed and improved those whom they had subdued. The Saxons, who are represented as a very cruel nation, acted a very different part, and their destructive progress was marked by darkness and desolation. All the libraries left by the Romans in this island were destroyed by the ravages of war.

Gildas*.-British Literature faintly dawned in the time of Gildas the historian, and he is the only British author of the sixth century whose works are published. He was of such repute among his countrymen, that his works obtained him the title of Gildas the Wise. His chief work is “ Epistola de Excidio Britanniæ et Castigatione Ordinis Ecclesiastici,containing lamentations over the miseries and almost total ruin of his countrymen, and very severe reproofs of the corruption and profligacy of manners, in which all ranks were sharers, and of which he drew a most alarming picture. Gildas wrote several “ letters,” of which there are numerous fragments in an old collection of canons preserved in the manuscripts in the Cottonian Library.

T. H. K.

Gildas, the most ancient British author now extant, was born in the year 520. He followed the profession of the Church, and is supposed to have retired to the Abbey of Bangor, where he died in the year 590.

THE WORLD.

“Quicquid agunt homines.”

When we stand upon the sea shore, we mark the gathering waters rise into a wave; we see it increase in size, and roll with violence towards the shore; of a sudden it sinks, and the particles of which it was composed disperse and form parts of other masses equally short-lived and insubstantial. Just such are the events of human life. A novelty occurs—conversation is engrossed—the newspapers are filled — for a few days you would imagine its duration would be for ever ; but whilst you speak, another shadow has risen in its place, and that which before was the all-important is goneis lost-is forgotten. This brief history comprehends nearly all the occurrences in the world; a new play, a debate, a drawing room, or a sermon ; a birth, or a death. Yes, even a death ; the loss of one with whom we had conversed perhaps only a few days before; one whose voice yet lingers in our ears, whose image has scarcely passed from our eyes-the loss of such an one is for the most part merely the wonder of a moment. We drop a tear in his grave, and then-pass on and forget; or if we do not entirely forget, it is because memory will, in spite of ourselves, retain some scattered fragments of the past. A few weeks since, and Talma was the talk of every society-his birth – his life-his death, were the themes of general conversation-the attraction of every periodical, but now the cloud has passed, and others have succeeded, whose passage attracts the attention of the world. In our last we noticed the death of this celebrated actor, adding what all the world on this side the channel then believed to be the fact, that he was an Englishman, and promising to give some few particulars of his life, but it is not our intention to enter into all the detail which has appeared in the newspapers. He was born, it now appears, in France, in the year 1766, and at an early age brought over to this country, in which he resided for many years ; during his stay, he acquired a perfect knowledge of the English language, and entertained some thoughts of making his appearance at a London theatre; but family affairs caused him to return to Paris, and he there made his first public appearance on the stage, on the 27th of Nov. 1787. On the retirement of Larive, Talma succeeded to the first tragic characters, and used his influence at the theatre and with the public, to introduce upon the stage correctness of costume, and simplicity of diction. He succeeded in the attempt, and has for many years maintained unrivalled possession of the tragic throne. His life was simple and unostentatious; and although caressed and flattered by Buonaparte, he retained throughout life a very modest and commendable deportment. In religion he is said to have been a Protestant, or rather he was not a Catholic. On his death-bed, he refused admittance to the Archbishop of Paris, and a few moments before his dissolution, said, in a low weak voice, “ Voltaire ! Voltaire! like Voltaire !” He died on the 19th of October last, in the 61st year of his age. The circumstances of his death occasioned much scandal amongst the religious part of the community, but his funeral was attended by an immense number of persons. No religious ceremony was performed, but some speeches were made at the grave, with the tenor of which it may not unreasonably be imagined Talma himself would not have been well pleased. Of the circumstances of his death, and the disputed question of his infidelity, there has been much talk ; but after all that can be said, these things are much better left to be settled each man with his own conscience. Whoever endeavours to make proselytes to his own mode of belief, challenges observation and inquiry ; but the man who walks through life entertaining his own peculiar opinions, neither promulgating them, nor seeking to shake the belief of others, ought to be allowed to pass out of life as he pleases. We are too apt to condemn each other's belief, not recollecting that many of the points in dispute between the various religious sects, are in fact matters of human opinion—not revealed by God, but merely the deductions of argument from things which are revealed. Upon such points it is impossible that men can agree; and they who dare to condemn others who cannot believe what their own easy faith gives credit to, know little of the true spirit of Christianity. The Roman Catholic anathematises the Protestant; the Lutheran condemns the Calvinist; all these denounce the Unitarian, and join their voices against the Jew. Can this be right? Is it consistent with the spirit of Christianity, or with the humble teaching of Him whose name Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, and Calvinist all assume? Did he denounce any religion- any mode of worship? No: his " woes” are directed against the evil-doer, against the hypocrite, against the man who pretended to be religious, but in whose heart lurked pride, vain-glory, and a conceit of his own superiority. Would to God that men who profess and call themselves Christians, would follow his example.

Since the death of Talma, the world has been chiefly occupied with the visits of Mr. Canning and Sir Walter Scott to Paris ; the Greek loan; and the opening of the British Parliament. The two former of these events were indeed of little general interest; but they served for materials of conversation, and were therefore nursed into importance by those caterers for public talk, the newspapers. Mr. Canning, it appears, after some punctilious scruples, had the honor of dining with the King of France-wondrous condescension! a man great by birth, permitting a man great by genius, to sit at table with him :-we wonder he was not afraid to put his own insignificance to the test. The Royal Family of France have had some severe lessons, but even experience does not seem to teach them wisdom. The visit of Sir Walter Scott, it is said, was connected with his Life of Napoleon; the Parisians received him with enthu

« PreviousContinue »