Slike strani
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER V.

The Early Races. .

THE ROMANISED INHABITANTS-THEIR DEGENERACY-THEIR DIS

APPEARANCE FROM HISTORY-AURELIANUS AMBROSIUS—THE ROMANCES OF KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS-THEIR CONNECTION WITH SCOTLAND INCOMPATIBILITY OF THEIR CHIVALROUS SPIRIT WITH THE CONDITIONS OF THE PERIOD—THE OSSIANIC LITERATURE – - BRITONS OF STRATHCLYDE -THE PICTS — THE GREAT PICTISH QUESTION-ETYMOLOGICAL WAR-SPECIMENS OF THE VICTORIES ON EITHER SIDE-WHAT THEY HAVE GAINEDWHAT IS TAUGHT BY ANCIENT REMAINS - WHAT WE GATHER FROM CLASSIC AUTHORS—WEAKNESS OF THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SOLUTION--THE PAINTED RACES-EARLY INFLUENCE OF TEUTONIC RACES—THE SCOTS-ORIGINALLY A NAME FOR NATIVES OF IRELAND-CAME OVER IN COLONIES NECESSITY FOR REMEMBERING THE EARLY MEANING OF THE WORD, AND THE TIME WHEN IT WAS TRANSFERRED TO SCOTLAND-THEIR HIGHER CIVILISATION AND INFLUENCE OVER OTHER RACES.

LET us now endeavour to trace as closely as the rather chaotic nature of our materials may permit, the origin and condition of the several populations inhabiting Scotland about the time when the Roman provinces in Britain ceased to be governed from the imperial centre. We must here count Valentia, the Roman province between the walls, as bearing a portion in the fate of the English provinces.

What has come down to us of the doings of the Romanised Britons, when left to their own resources, vibrates between two historical phases : the one consistent, but scantily supported by trustworthy authority ; the other palpably steeped in fable.

According to the former, there arose a heroic prince on the Roman model, Aurelianus Ambrosius, who collected and centralised the scattered forces of the various provinces.

He had before him two great achievements. The first was to subdue the tyrant Vortigern. By some this man is treated as the usurper of the British crown; others represent him as a monarch who betrayed his trust by calling in the assistance of two northern chiefs, called Hengest and Horsa, and conniving with them in obtaining that position in the country which became so fatal to the independence of the British people. When Ambrosius had punished Vortigern, he had next to deal with the ferocious strangers.

Here the national hero gains victory after victory, reversing in detail what we know to have been the general tenor of a struggle which ended in the ascendancy of the Saxon. To meet the palpable fact that in spite of these victories the eastern territories became full of Saxons, Ambrosius figures as a magnanimous prince, who endowed his fallen foes with suitable territory, and in pursuance of this spirit he bestowed a portion of Scotland on Octa, the son of Hengest.

The other version of the destiny of the Romanised Britons throws us at once into the glowing romance of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Here all is fairyland, in which the most sagacious critics have been unable to glean a particle of narrative which can be set apart as well-authenticated fact.

The whole cast of the Arthurian story, indeed, independently of its supernatural machinery, confutes itself by its antagonism to the great conditions of contemporary history. It is not the narrative of the decay and gradual extinction of Roman institutions. There is a sudden revolution, in which these are at once expunged as the tokens of a long thraldom, and the original British institutions, unforgotten by centuries of disuse, are triumphantly restored. Druidism comes in with them, but, to obviate all awkward inconsistency with the coexistence of Christianity, it takes the new shape of the Bardic system, and the British Druids are represented by the Welsh bards. But the revolution was less remarkable for the restoration of such elements of long-passed ages, than for its anticipation of the social system which was to prevail in Europe centuries afterwards. Everything about Arthur and his court, whether it profess to be actual history or avow itself to be romance, is made up of that age of chivalry which did not dawn on the rest of Europe for some centuries later. The whole tone of the narratives belongs to the social conditions in which lived Saint Louis, Richard of the Lion-Heart, and Godfrey of Bouillon. The properties, to use a stage expression, are Gothic castles, with their moats and flanking-works, burnished coats of mail and heraldic ensigns; and all these are made to abound at a period when there was not in Britain a castle or a coat of mail, and heraldry had not yet been dreamed of. The Mabinogion, as well as the heavier Armoric romances, deals with a state of society not more unlike anything in the Britain of the fifth century than it is unlike to social life in Finland or Otaheite at

present. And the same spirit of chivalry and romance gives the tone to those noble poems which interpret the spirit of the Arthurian romances to the present generation.

With that chronicle of the time which professes to be history and not romance is mixed up the narrative of the achievements of the prophet Ambrose Merlin. When Vortigern could not build his tower by reason of the sinking of the foundation, and his magicians could not solve the difficulty, he looked out for a man who did not owe his birth to a discoverable human father, as the proper person to be consulted in such an emergency, and thus obtained the services of the invaluable Merlin. The prophet told the builders to dig, and they would find a subterraneous lake; and so it came to pass. He bade them dig farther, and they would come to two stones, each of which when broken would let loose an imprisoned dragon, the one white and the other red ; and so also it came to pass. When the two dragons saw each other face to face, they fell a-fighting, and rehearsed the coming drama of war that was to desolate the land ; for the white dragon represented the Saxons, and the red dragon the British. While the king sat looking upon the contest, Merlin, inspired, poured forth his prophecies in one of the wildest and most picturesque succession of visions that human genius ever invented. When a suitable monument was wanted to commemorate the heroes who had died in the contest with the Saxons, Merlin suggested that the great upright stones called the “ The Giants' Dance,” standing on the Curragh of Kildare, in Ireland, should be brought over to serve that purpose. All efforts to remove these massive memorials were totally ineffective, till Merlin applied to them his supernatural engineering skill; then they were brought over to England, and set up on Salisbury Plain, where they became known by the name of Stonehenge, and may be seen to this day. All this and much more of the same kind is felt to be just as credible as those portions of the Arthurian histories which do not profess to touch the supernatural.

If any reality could be extracted from them, Scotland would have its full share, since much of the narrative comes northward of the present border. Berwick was the joyeuse garde of Sir Lancelot, and Aneurin describes a bloody battle round Edinburgh Castle. Local tradition and the names of places have given what support such agencies can to the Scottish claims on the Arthurian history. So the curious Roman edifice on the bank of the Carron was called Arthur's Oon or Oven ;' and we have Arthur's Seat, Ben-Arthur, Arthurlee, and the like. The sculptured stones in the churchyard of Meigle have come down as a monument to the memory and crimes of his faithless wife.

The great romance of Sir Tristrem has been held by Scott and others to be the work of the Scottish Merlin, Thomas of Ercildoun; and another romance of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot of the Lake, is the work of a Scotsman. These, however, could hardly be held to prove any nationality in the original history, since this kind of romance became general over Europe. There is no reason to believe that it is of ancient origin, or older than the age of that chivalry that pervades it. Something in a contact with the Normans and their chivalry 1 See above, p. 51.

? See above, p. 149.

2

VOL. I.

M

« PrejšnjaNaprej »