Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and sky, in storm and in sunshine. There are traces of this feeling in the Ossianic poems. Selma and Seláma are said to mean a place with a pleasant or wide prospect. “Darthula beheld thee from the top of her mossy tower : from the tower of Seláma, where her fathers dwelt." Gael and Cymri thus came to love the great hills, which to them were a dwelling, a refuge, and a defence. Stern nature was their daily companion and friend, might and mass of mountain their natural protection. Storm and mist came between them and Roman and Saxon foe. Even their burying-places were chosen on high spots :

“ The grave of the three serene persons on an elevated hill,

In the valley of Gwynn Gwynionawg,

Mor, and Meilyr, and Madawg.” 1 In death they wished to be laid where the spirit, as in life, would be gratified by the wide expanse of plain and hill, where it had felt the fullest consciousness of natural life, the perfect sense of what had been strongest in defence and grandest in the world around it. It was the same in the Lowlands of Scotland as in the windy headlands of the south of England. Molfra in Cornwall overlooks Mount's Bay; the cairn on Penmaenmaur looks out on the wide sea; and the strange weird stones of Kits Cotty House on the uplands of Kent command extensive views of the surrounding wold. This sympathy with the outlook into the infinity of the earth and heavens was shared in, if not by the Saxon, at least by the romantic and impassioned Scandinavian. For where the hill above Broadford in Skye overlooks the sea, there the princess of the Norsemen, ere she died, besought and

1 Verses of the Graves.

obtained a sublime resting-place; and beneath her in the summer sun gleams the sea, and in winter storm it chafes and roars." The hearts of these people came nearer to the soul of nature in its fulness and its power than any experience of man for many hundreds of years that followed their passing away from the earth. The Cymri had thus no name of fear for dark hill or stern glen. It was reserved for the dull Saxon, when he succeeded them, to speak of one of the grandest of our burns as the Ugly (fearsome) rain. They gave us as names of hills and places most musical and loving words—words which, if read even in the order of locality, run in something like rhythmic cadence, as

Garlavin, Cardon, Cardrona, Caerlee,
Penvenna, Penvalla, Trahenna, Traquair.

It was this musical sense, and the spirit that lay at the heart of it, which gave us in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, in Wales and in the kingdom of Strathclyde, the poems of Taliessin “the bright-browed,” of Aneurin, of Myrdin or Merlin, and of Llywarch Hen—poems which embody a feeling for the nature around us, whether gentle or grand, as loving, as free, and as pure as has been reached even in our nineteenth-century literature, and characterised by what has been well called “the magic of nature," a charm quite peculiar to Celtic poetry.

1 So Beowulf desired to be buried under "a mighty mound on the head. land over the sea, towering aloft on Hrouesness.”Deeds of Beowulf, xxxviii.

113

CHAPTER V.

THE SEMI-HISTORIC PERIOD-ARTHUR AND THE

ARTHURIAN LEGENDS.

In the summer of 78 A.D. Julius Agricola arrived in Britain. He found the northern boundary of the Roman province advanced to the Solway on the north-west, and the Firth of Forth on the north-east. Next year, 79 A.D., Agricola added to the province the Selgovæ of Dumfries and the Novantæ of Kirkcudbright and Wigton, tribes of the Brigantes. In 80 A.D. he crossed the watershed of the Clyde, entered the country of the Damnonii, pressed northwards, and somewhere beyond the Tay fought the battle of “Mons Grampius." It was now the Romans first came into contact with the new nation of the Caledonii, the large-limbed and red-haired race, whom they defeated but never subdued. They had the primitive habits which Cæsar found among the indigenous Brigantes; they were great stainers of their bodies with woad—the cerulean woad—and they fought in chariots. The “ Caledonii,” or “Caledonii Britanni,” occupied a line of country that stretched from Loch Long to the Beauly Firth. We now meet with the local names of the

VOL. I.

H

“ Caledonia Sylva," the “Caledonius Oceanus," and the

Promontorium Caledoniæ.” This race Mr Skene regards as Gaelic—as at first named Caledonii, then Caledonii and Meatæ, then Ducaledones and Vecturiones, and finally, the Picts, famous in Scottish history. They were an insuperable barrier to the advance of the Roman province to the north. At its best time its only secure boundary was the Northern Wall of Lollius Urbicus or Antonine, between the Forth and the Clyde. Within the Walls of Hadrian and Antonine the Romans were able to restrain the restless tribes of the northern Britons, and to consolidate them into a portion of the province of Valentia. Roman manners and culture seem to have made some way among the native tribes.

There was intercourse with Rome, and there arose families claiming Roman descent. With the departure of the Romans from the north of the island in 410, after an occupation of nearly four hundred years, the course of British history was changed. For some time after the date of this event the Cymri of the Lowlands were not apparently united under one sovereign or head. They appear to have been divided into a series of independent principalities, ruled by reguli, or princelings, until Rydderch Hael, the Prince of Lanark, gained the sovereignty of the district in 573, and constituted the kingdom of Strathclyde.

But before the time of Rydderch Hael, and the consolidation of the Cymri into one kingdom that stretched from the Firth of Clyde to Carlisle and the Derwent, we have one or two most interesting and suggestive historical notices. These relate mainly to the work and exploits of the British Guledig, Arthur, and to the part which he

played in Cymric history during the first half of the sixth century. The whole question as to the historic reality of Arthur, and his connection with the Cymri of the north, is no doubt involved in great difficulty. But a careful examination of the available authorities may perhaps lead us to some solid ground of fact, and to some new light on this period of our history. The first point is the question as to the documentary sources for statements about Arthur and his actions in this early part of the sixth century. There seem to be at least three distinct sources, which are quite capable of vindication as, to a great extent, the genuine record of facts. There is, first, the series of Bardic remains, contained in what are known as the Four Ancient Books of Wales; there is, secondly, the Historia of Gildas ; and thirdly, the Historia Britonum of Nennius. Mr W. F. Skene, in his admirable edition of those remains, gives an account of them which may be summed up as follows: The Four Ancient Books of Wales are from ancient MSS.

- viz., The Black Book of Caermarthen, The Book of Aneurin, The Book of Taliessin, and The Red Book of Hergest. These MSS. lay in Welsh monasteries until the time of Henry VIII. They are partly historic, partly mythological and prophetic. The poems contained in them are attributed, by tradition, by MS. title, or by rubric, to four bards — Myrdin (or Merlin), Aneurin, Taliessin, and Llywarch Hen. These bards are supposed to have lived in the sixth century.

If this be so, they must have been contemporary with the British Arthur, who died in 537. At the same time, it is very probable that their remains, as we now find them, were not re

« AnteriorContinuar »