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THE conquest and colonization of Britain by the Romans is the beginning of our real history. All before this is obscure and fabulous. Although Milton “determined to bestow the telling over even of these reputed tales,” he avows that, “ of British affairs, from the first peopling of the island to the coming of Julius Caesar, nothing certain, either by tradition, history, or ancient fame, hath hitherto been left us.” In Dr. J. Lappenberg’s “England under the Anglo-Saxon Kings,” translated by Mr. Thorpe, we have the following general remarks on what may be termed our Mythic period:—
For the earliest notice of its existence among nations, Britain is indebted to that spirit of commerce, through which it was itself one day to become so great. More than a thousand years before the birth of our Saviour, Gades and Tartessus had been founded by the Phoenicians, whose fearless traders we behold, in our dim vision of those remote times when tin was brought in less abundance from the ports of Spain, after a tedious coasting voyage of four months, fetching that metal from the islands which Herodotus denominates the Cassiterides, or islands producing tin (karatropos), and which now bear the name of the Scilly Islands. Herodotus was unable to ascertain the position of these islands, nor does he even mention the name of Britain. It is probable that the Phoenicians never sailed thither direct from their own coast, though Midacritus, the individual who is recorded as having first brought tin from the Cassiterides, seems by his name to have been a Phoenician. The earliest mention of the British islands by name is made by Aristotle, who describes them as consisting of Albion and Terne. The Carthaginian Hisinlio, who, between the years 362 and 350 A.C., had been sent by his government on a voyage of discovery, also found the tin islands, which he calls Oestrymnides, near Albion, and two days sail from Terne, in Mount's Bay. His example was some years after followed by a citizen of the celebrated colony of the Phocians, the Massilian Pytheas, to the scanty fragments of whose journal, preserved by Strabo and other ancient authors, we are indebted for the oldest accounts concerning the inhabitants of these islands. The Massilians and Narbonnese traded at in early period, (by land journies to the northern coast of Gaul), with the island Titis, (Wight, or St. Michael's Mount), and with the coasts of Britain. This early commerce was carried on both for the sake of the tin—an article of great importance to the ancients—and of lead; though these navigators extended their commerce to other productions of the country, such as slaves, skins, and a superior breed of hunting dogs, which the Celts made use of in war. British timber was employed by Archimedes for the mast of the largest ship of war which he had B
caused to be built at Syracuse. Gold and silver are said to have been found there; also an inferior sort of pearl, which is still to be met with. This country and its metals soon became an object of scientific enquiry to the Greeks, as is proved by a work upon the subject by Polybius, the loss of which must be painfully felt by every one acquainted with the acuteness and sound judgment of that historian. The Romans first became acquainted with Britain through their thirst after universal dominion. Scipio, to his enquiries concerning it among the merchants of the three most distinguished Celtic cities, Massilia, Narbo, and Corbelo, had received no satisfactory answer; and Publius Crassus is named as the first Roman who visited the Cassiterides; and who observing that the metals were dug from but a little depth, and that his men at peace were voluntarily occupying themselves on the sea, pointed out this course to such as were willing to take it. This was probably the officer of that name, who, by Caesar's command, had achieved the conquest of the Gaulish nations inhabiting along the shores of the British Channel. Through Caesar's conquest of the south of England, and the later sway held over it by the Roman emperors, we are first enabled to form an idea of the country. Well might the goddess of science and of war appear to the Greeks and Romans under one form, (for it was the Macedonian and Roman swords that fixed for antiquity the limits both of the earth and of historic knowledge), though their idea of Britain is, it must be confessed, a very obscure one, and stands much in need of the reflecting light of modern scientific research. To Strabo, as well as to Caesar and Ptolemy, even the figure and relative position of the British Islands were uncertain. According to Strabo, Ireland lies to the north of Britain; while to the last, the northern coasts of Ireland and Scotland appear on the same latitude. These errors must necessarily occasion numberless mistakes with regard to the positions of tribes and territories, when given according to the degrees of longitude and latitude. Our knowledge too with regard to the inhabitants is rendered extremely unsatisfactory by the circumstance, that in the islands and their severa, districts very different degrees of civilization were met with, which have by authors been too generally applied, and in the most opposite senses. The inhabitants of the Cassiterides, whose position even Strabo seeks off Gallicia, are described by Pytheas in almost the same words as the Iberians are in other passages. Besides mining of a very simple description, they applied themselves to the rearing of cattle, and exchanged tin, lead, and hides with the traders, against salt, pottery, and brass ware. They appeared rambling about their tin islands with long beards like goats, clad in dark garments reaching to their heels, and leaning upon staves. It is not improbable that these accounts are also applicable to the neighbouring coast of Cornwall, perhaps even to the tribe of the Silures in South Wales; but it is uncertain whether in these mountaineers we are to recognise Iberian settlers, or an original native population identical with that of the rest of South Britain. Navigation along the coasts, though only in small boats of twisted osier covered with leather, had, for a length of time, been very lively. The tin, formed into square blocks, was brought to the Isle of Wight, where it was purchased by merchants and carried over to Gaul, and then, in a journey of about thirty days, conveyed on horses to Marseilles, Narbonne, and the mouths of the Rhone. A commerce of this kind, by exciting individual industry, had long rendered the inhabitants of the southern coast of Britain active, docile, and friendly to strangers; yet was their spirit sunk in a slumber which held them to their native soil, until, through the calamity of a most unjust hostile invasion, from being a country not reckoned among the nations of Europe, the land of British barbarians, known only to a few daring mariners, became a province closely connected with imperial Rome, and at length that state, which, more than any other of the European nations, has impressed the stamp of its character and institutions, not only upon this portion of the globe, but also upon lands and regions not discovered till after a long course of ages. The inhabitants of Britain, with the exception, perhaps, of those above-mentioned as Iberian colonists, belonged to the same great national family which we find in Gaul and in Belgium, and which commonly bears the name of Celts. The supposition of Tacitus of a difference between the northern and the southern race, and that the former, from its strong bodily structure and red hair, was of Germanic origin, is by other accounts shown to be groundless. The language still living, particularly in Wales and Brittany, as well as the Druidic worship, which, though blended with Christianity, survived to a late period in the former country, supplying it, during a thousand years, with energy to withstand the English invaders, form the leading characteristics of this once great race, and which, being its intellectual portion, have been preserved the longest. In treating of the primitive history of the Britons, a writer must use their native traditions with great caution. Like those of the other European nations, they appear only in that Romanized garb which was fashioned in the modern world by the last rays of the setting Roman sun. Though at every step in the region of British tradition, we meet with traces of an eastern origin, yet the tales of the destruction of Troy, and of the flight of Brutus, a great grandson of Æneas, to Britain, are, in the unnatural travestie in which alone they have been transmitted to us, wholly devoid of historic value, and the simple truth seems lost to us beyond recovery. The vain Britons gratified their pride in adorning themselves with the
faded tinsel, and appropriating to themselves the fabulous national tradition of Rome.
But the great masters of the ancient world have marked their traces on our earth in deep lines, not to be obliterated: the written monuments of their rule are still more enduring. Caesar describes the circumstances of his landing; and the very day of that event can be fixed by astronomical computation. The little river which he first crossed still flows beneath the gentle hills where the bold natives confronted his legions; and the topographer of our own times is the best witness to the truth of the historian of nineteen hundred years ago. Dion Cassius has also described the Roman invasion in his history, a translation of which we ex
tract from the splendid volume published by command of her Majesty, entitled “Monumenta Historica Britannica:"—
Cesar, therefore, first of the Romans, then crossed the Rhine, and afterwards passed over into Britain, in the consulship of Pompey and Crassus. This country is distant from the continent of Celtira, where the Morini dwell, at least four hundred and fifty stadia; and it stretches out along the remaining portion of Gaul, and nearly the whole of Iberia, extending upward into the sea. To the earliest of the Greeks and Romans its very existence was not known, but to those of after times, it became matter of dispute whether it were a continent or an island; and much has been written on either side by persons, who, having neither themselves seen nor heard of it from its inhabitants, knew nothing concerning it, but merely conjectured, as prompted by leisure or the love of controversy ; in process of time, however, first under Agricola, the propraetor, and now under the emperor Severus it has been clearly proved to be an island.
To this island, then, Caesar, at the time when the other Gauls were tranquil, and he had subjugated the Morini, vehemently desired to pass over. And he completed the passage with his infantry just as he wished, though he landed not at the spot he should have done; for the Britons, having already heard of his approach, had
possessed themselves of all the landing-places facing the continent. Sailing, therefore, round a certain promontory, he reached its farther side; and then, having defeated those who attacked him while disembarking on the shallows, he effected his landing before further succours could arrive; and afterwards repulsed the enemy when assailing him. Few, however, of the barbarians fell; for, being mounted on chariots and on horses, they easily escaped from the Romans, whose cavalry had not yet joined them; nevertheless, greatly alarmed at what they had heard from the continent concerning them, and at their boldness in crossing the sea at all, and their success in effecting a landing in their country, they send to Caesar certain of the Morini, who were in amity with them, suing for peace, and on Lis demanding hostages they consented at the time to give them. But the Romans meanwhile having suffered severely through a storm which had shattered their ships already arrived, as well as those which were on their passage, the Britons changed their purpose ; and although they did not openly attack them, for the camp was strongly defended, yet intercepting such as had been sent out, as though into a friendly country for provisions, they killed them, with the exception of a few, whom Caesar speedily surrounded; and after this they attempted the camp itself, but without effect, and were repelled with loss; they would not come to terms, however, until they had been repeatedly worsted. Caesar, in truth, had no intention to grant them peace; but as the winter was approaching, and he had not sufficient forces present to carry on the war during its continuance; moreover, as the fleet he expected had failed to reach its port, and the Gauls, in consequence of his absence, had become tumultuous, he reluctantly entered into treaty with them ; demanding still more hostages, though he received but a small number. He then sailed back to the continent, and quieted the commotions there; having gained no advantage to himself or to the state from Britain, except the glory of having conducted an expedition against it. Of this, indeed, he spoke in very lofty terms himself, and the Romans at home entertained a wonderful high opinion. For seeing that places before unknown were now made manifest, and a region hitherto unheard off, now rendered accessible to them ; they indulged the hope of success, as if it were already a reality, and looking upon whatever they expected to achieve as now in their possession, they gave way to joy: and on this account they decreed a festival of twenty days continuance. Such were the transactions at Rome in its seven hundredth year. But in Gaul, under the consulship of the before mentioned Lucius Domitius and Appius Claudius, among other preparations Caesar built ships of an intermediate size, between his own swift sailing vessels and those of burthen which he had there obtained, that they might be as buoyant as possible, and yet resist the waves; and although left on the strand, should receive no injury therefrom. As soon, therefore, as the season admitted of sailing, he again passed over into Britain; alledging as a pretext that the Britons had not sent him all the hostages which they had promised, for as he had at that time departed without accomplishing his purpose they thought he would never attempt them again, but his real motive was a vehement desire of possessing the island; so that had not this happened, he would easily have found some other pretext. He landed at the same place as before, no one daring to resist him, both on account of the multitude of his ships, and because they reached the shore on many points at once; and immediately he fortified his naval station. From these causes, therefore, the barbarians were unable to obstruct his landing, and becoming more terrified than formerly, inasmuch as he had arrived with a more numerous army, they conveyed their substance of greatest value into such neighbouring thickets as were most difficult of access; and having placed them in safety, for they cut do "n the surrounding trees, and piled others in layers upon them so as in some degree to resemble a wall, they then infested the foraging parties of the Romans. Being worsted, moreover, in a certain battle in the open country, they enticed the Romans, in the pursuit, to their fastness, and thence in turn killed many of them. And after this a tempest having again shattered the enemies ships, the Britons summoned their allies, and made an attack even upon the Roman station; having given the command to Cassivelaunus, the chief potentate of the island. The Romans, then, coming into conflict with them, were at first thrown into disorder by the shock of their chariots; but afterwards opening their ranks and letting them pass through, and aiming obliquely at the assailing enemy, they retrieved the fight. For a time both parties maintained their position ; but afterwards the barbarians, although they were victorious over the infantry, yet being worsted by the cavalry, retreated to the Thames; and defending its passage with stakes, as well above as beneath the water, here they took their station. But when Caesar, by a vigorous attack, compelled them to quit their stockade, and next drove them by siege from their fortress; while such of them as assailed the naval station were routed by his other troops, they became terrified, and obtained peace on sending hostages, and being constrained to pay a yearly tribute. - Thus Caesar departed wholly from the island, leaving therein no portion of his army; thinking that it would be dangerous for it to winter in a hostile country and inexpedient for himself to be longer absent from Gaul.
OxE of the authors of “Guesses at Truth" says, “Seeing that the history of the world is one of God's own great poems, how can any man aspire to do more than recite a few brief passages from it? This is what man's poems are, the best of them. * * * * This, too, is what man's histories would be, could other men write history in the same vivid, speaking characters, in which Shakspere has placed so many of our kings in imperishable individuality before us? Only look at his King John : look at any historian's. Which gives you the liveliest, faithfullest representation of that prince, and of his age? the poet? or the historians?" This passage will explain why, in the Dramatic Scenes which these volumes will occasionally present, we shall avoid any comparison with what is called the truth of history. But we shall not touch any scenes which are absolute violations of received historical facts. We shall endeavour to confine our selections to such scenes as convey, with whatever differences of power, something of “the true knowledge to be learnt, whether from Poetry or from History —the knowledge of real importance to man for the study of his own nature—the knowledge of the principles and the passions by which men in various ages have been agitated and swayed, and by which events have been brought about." The first drama that carries us into a period not very remote from the Roman invasion is the “Cymbeline" of Shakspere. It was not the purpose of the poet to make Cymbeline a History. The historical portion is subservient to the main action of the piece—the fortunes of Imogen and Posthumus. But there is enough of that historical portion to enable us to commence our scenes with a brief selection from our highest and most splendid historical teacher. In “Cymbeline" we have the ancient Britons presented to us under a rich colouring, whose tints belong to the truth of high art. Shakspere threw the scene with marvellous judgment into the obscure period of British history, when there was enough of fact to give precision to his painting, and enough of fable to cast over it,that twilight hue which all poets love. In these scenes we are thrown back into the half-fabulous history of our own country, and see all objects under the dim light of uncertain events and manners. We have civilisation