« AnteriorContinuar »
which it is very exhilarating to behold.
We have all heard, at least, of the speculations to which the examination of certain cromlechs, or ancient burying-places, has given rise. These have been classed as belonging to three ages, or three peoples, from the nature of the implements discovered in them-the Stone, the Bronze, and the Iron age. These graves, these tumuli, or cromlechs, have been investigated with peculiar care, it seems, in Denmark; and Professor Worsae and other learned men have come to the conclusion that the stone graves--those in which only flint axes, flint arrow-heads, and the like, have been found-belonged to a prehistoric people. From want of a better name, Mr Sullivan calls them the "Stone people.' In our own island, burial-places, he remarks, similar to those of the Stone age of Denmark, have been discovered, "if not numerous, at least widely spread." But while making this admission, Mr Sullivan will not allow that the "Stone people" came into England earlier than the Celts. He has a theory that they were a Tartar tribe, who came over in company with the Celts; which theory he demonstrates in the following ingenious manner :
"Are we now to conclude that the people of the Stone age of Denmark found their way hither, and explored the seas and channels of which the Romans showed so much fear, in canoes made by the process of hollowing single logs with fire and flint? Much more probable is it that they only reached these islands in company with the Celts, after having obtained metal weapons, and having learned the construction of some better kind of boat."-P. 16.
Thus our Stone people do not come over till they have "obtained metal weapons" "-till they have ceased to be Stone people! This is a somewhat Hibernian method of accounting for their arrival in this island. Mr Sullivan is quite at liberty to speculate as he pleases upon these unknown and pre-historic people if pre-historic they are; he has as much right to bring them from Tartary as from any other part of the world; but even an ethnologist can
not be permitted, first of all, to describe them by the one peculiarity that they have only stone weapons, and then, in order to account for their appearance in these islands, instruct them in the use of iron. And why should Mr Sullivan conclude that boats made of the bark of trees, or the skins of wild animals, stretched upon stout wicker-work, should be incapable of a voyage across the Straits? Unless the books which we read at school taught us wrong, or travellers' stories are all untrue, both the savages of olden time, and savages that now exist in remote parts of the world, have performed voyages quite as long, and quite as dangerous, in boats that were constructed of these materials.
We leave Mr Sullivan in undisturbed possession of whatever evidence he can find in that " strong phonetic_tinge" which it seems the modern Irish has in common with the Tartar languages. We are utterly incapable of forming any judgment on this matter. But it may be worth while to inquire what, in such a case as this, can be meant when we say that there is no trace of any language older than Celtic to be found in Britain." The earliest language that is extant cannot surrender up to us its etymologies (if such exist) from a language that, in its separate form, has become entirely unknown. No Greek scholar could detect a derivation from the Sanscrit, if Sanscrit had never been heard of. The hypothesis is that the language of these Stone people has become extinct; that, as a separate and peculiar mode of human speech, not a word of it remains.
Whether this hypothesis is correct, or whether this Stone people ever existed on these islands as a separate people, we do not pretend to decide; but adopting this hypothesis, it must follow that the most learned etymologist could not possibly detect what impression such a language had made upon the Celtic. How could he say that the "Stone idiom" had, or had not, left traces of itself in the Celtic names of things and places, whilst he knows not a syllable of that Stone idiom?
The other instance in which Mr Sullivan volunteers an explanation or theory of his own, is equally curious. In some of our Cumberland hills, traces of the plough are detected, and that on elevated positions where there has been no cultivation of the soil within the memory of man. It is not, of course, the furrows themselves which the plough leaves, that have resisted for centuries the action of winds and waters and the melting snow, but the undulating ridges into which ploughed land is thrown for the sake of drainage. This artificial undulation of the surface may remain visible, it seems, through many generations of mankind. The country people have, or had, the notion that during the interdict laid by the Pope on King John, all enclosed fields were forbidden to be cultivated, and thus recourse was had to land that had not hitherto been broken up. People better skilled in history have attributed the tillage of these unproductive spots to those periods when the Border strife raged with so much animosity as to render the cultivation of the valley altogether useless. For the Scot was not always content with carrying off his neighbour's cattle when the Border war was at its height, he destroyed whatever he could not appropriate; and doubtless the measure that he dealt was dealt to him again. It is supposed that at some period of this terrible insecurity, an attempt had been made to grow corn, or other produce, on land that lay remote from the usual inroads of the enemy. For our own parts, we are inclined to look no further back than to some period when the lord of the manor, or the
great proprietor of the district, whatever his legal title might be, kept a less watchful eye over his land than he, or his steward, is accustomed to do at the present time. Let land lie open to the first comer, and it will not be long before some one attempts its cultivation. It is true that, if the soil is very poor, he will repent his experiment, and retreat from his sterile acquisition. Neither is there anything here to prove to us that the experiment was successful, or was repeated.
Mr Sullivan adopts none of these suppositions. He has a theory that the first settlers chose the tops of the hills in preference to the valleys, which were then covered with trees. The high ground was more healthy, and needed no clearance. It lay open already to the sunshine; they perched like so many winged creatures at once upon the pleasant, and, we hope, fruitful summits.
"These first settlers (the first instalment of Hiberno-Celts), the pioneers of British civilisation, were partly a pastoral people, and partly subsisted on hunting and fishing. In them we see a tendency to avoid the valleys, and, for permanent residences, to seek the highest ground, suited to their occupations. The reasons are obvious: the valleys lential marshes; the high grounds were were impenetrable thickets and pestihealthier, and less obstructed by forest. Those traces of the plough that have been observed on the hills and commons, uncultivated even at the present day, belong to this early period, and show that agriculture had made progress on the lands of the first colonists. But the phenomenon has remained a puzzle to the latest times; and on it has been founded the popular story that it was laid as a penance on King John's subjects, during the interdict, to till no enclosed fields, or lands ordinarily cultivated, for the space of a year and a day."
Of the two explanations we should certainly prefer the popular story about the Pope's interdict to the hypothesis of Mr Sullivan, which requires us to believe that these traces of the plough were left by a people who had not learnt to clear the woods and make use of the richer soil of the valley.
But we will not enter further into
any of these ethnological" puzzles." Let us see what Mr Sullivan has to tell us of the existing people of Cumberland, or of such traditions, customs, or superstitions, as have till lately lingered amongst them. We have a variety of topics to choose from. Here are chapters on Fireworship, chapters on Fairies, on Witchcraft, on Sacred Wells, Giants, and the like. As being the subject most venerable for its antiquity, we will turn to the chapter on Fireworship.
The Beltein or Beltane, a festival in which a sacred fire was lit, with many various ceremonials, has been longer preserved in Scotland and Ireland than in any parts of England. But there are parts of Cumberland where the fires lit on the eve of St John still remind the antiquary of the old Druidical worship. The Beltein, we used to be told, signifies the fire of Baal. But another derivation of the word has taken the field, for which Mr Sullivan contends very warmly. He traces the word to the Danes or Scandinavians, who coined it partly from their own dialect, and partly from the Hiberno-Celtic. Baal is Danish for a pile of wood, and teine is Hiberno-Celtic, for fire. Beltein is, therefore, simply a fire made with a pile of wood.
"The Scandinavians," says Mr Sullias they settled in England and Ireland, freely adopted the national rites and customs. Having been indoctrinated with the fire-worship of the Celts, they continued it under the name of the Baaltine or Beltain, a compound formed from both languages."
The Scandinavians, it appears, adopted the rite and half the word for it, from the Celts, showing their independence and originality by supplying the other half. In a note, our etymologist adds :
"As there are yet many persons who cling to the imaginative derivation from the god Baal or Bel of the East, it may be as well to add a word or two, with the hope of converting those benighted idolaters. Baal belongs to the Syro-Phenicians, whose primitive religion was a simple starworship. Being pressed southwards by the Arians (Indo-Europeans), these people entered Egypt. That they freely adopted tenets and deities from both
Persians and Egyptians, is evident, but there is no trace of any reciprocation. The contact of the Syro-Phenicians and Persians took place in Torvastrian times, long before which the Celts had their worship of the sun. Why then adopt
this word in connection with their ancient worship? Can we suppose the Phenicians brought the name to Cornwall? The supposed Baal worship is unknown in Cornwall, and the Beltain is confined to districts known to have been partly colonised by Scandinavians. The word Baal, erroneously supposed to mean the sun, is always to be interpreted Dominus. Then the Egyptian Seb, &c."
All this looks very formidable; but if the Celts brought their religion with them into Britain, and if that religion derived its origin from some great monarchy or people in the East, it is not improbable that this word Baal came from the same source. That the Druidical religion originated in Britain, is a mere conjecture, which Cæsar reports, and which, we apprehend, no scholar of the present day adopts. The word Baal, whose first meaning was the sun, came to be notwithstanding all that Mr Sullivan synonymous with Lord or God; and has so distinctly laid down as to the religious culture of the Syro-Phenicians, we are persuaded that if he chose to give us the benefit of his ingenuity, he could find some road for the passage of this word into the Celtic language.
"Several Cumbrian hills," Mr Sullivan "received their names proceeds to say, from the sacrifices of the Beltain, of which they were the sites. Of these the highest is Hill Bell, the hill of the baal, or Beltain, in Westmoreland; Bell Hill, near Drigg, in Cumberland, confirms this etymology of the name. Besides these we have Bells and Green Bells, in Westmoreland, and Cat Bells, Derwentwater.
"Fire-worship, or a commemoration thereof, can be traced to a late period at the four great festivals of the seasons. On the establishment of Christianity in Ireland, the care of the sacred fire was intrusted to St Bridget and her society of nuns, and the eve of the first of February still witnesses a rude custom in connection therewith. Candlemas-day doubtless originated as an adaptation of the worship of this season, as did the Firebrand Sunday of Burgundy, and the more general observance of St Blaze's day!"
What a brilliant personification is this of St Blaze! We have a St Sunday presiding over a noble crag in Ullswater, but he must hide his head in the presence of this glorious St Blaze.
"The Midsummer rejoicings are most generally known under the name of bonefires, being so called from the custom of burning bones on that night. In all the country parts of England the Midsummer fires were continued to a late period, together with sports, which were kept up, in some places, till midnight, in others till cock-crow.
"According to the general opinion of the old writers, the bone-fires were intended to drive away dragons and evil spirits by their offensive smell. Stow thinks that a great fire purges 'the infection of the air;' but another author declares that 'dragons hate nothyng more than the stenche of brennynge bones.""
They had a more delicate nostril than we gave them credit for. But, for all this, we have our doubts both about the dragons and the bones,
"The old Midsummer custom of the bone-fire is still observed at Melmerby, perhaps the only place in these counties at which this remnant of fire-worship now lingers. Until within two or three years since, old Midsummer-eve was kept as the annual village festival. It was a holiday for a considerable extent of the fell-sides, and used to be attended by a great concourse of people. Preparations on a most extensive scale were made, partly for the accommodation of the general public, but still more for the private entertainment of friends. For several days previous to the feast, the village ovens were in continual daily and nightly requisition. But this reunion of friends, which was however already declining, has been quite discontinued since
the establishment of certain cattle-fairs in the spring and autumn; and for these times the annual visits are now reserved."
We see here, on a small scale, how it is that our social wants and pleasures keep up many a ceremony whose original meaning is lost or become indifferent. People must have times and places for general concourse. When the cattle-fair supplied this want, farewell for ever to the fires of Old Midsummer Eve.
"The superstition of the need-fire is the only other remains of fire-worship in
these counties. It was once an annual observance, and is still occasionally employed in the dales and some other loca lities (according to the import of the name cattle-fire, nöd Danish for cattle), as a charm for various diseases to which cattle are liable. All the fires in the village are first carefully put out, a deputation going round to each house to see that not a spark remains. Two pieces of wood are then ignited by friction, and within the influence of the fire thus kindled the cattle are brought. The scene is one of dire bellowing and conis especially fusion, but the owner anxious that his animals should get plenty of the reek.' The charm being ended in one village, the fire may be transferred to the next, and thus propagated as far as it is required. Martineau (Lake Guide) remarks the continuance of this custom, and relates the story of a certain farmer, who, when all his cattle had been passed through the fire, subjected an ailing wife to the influence of the same potent charm."
Whence came our Fairies? From the East or from the North? were they Peris, or Devs, or of Gothic extraction? were they Pagan deities lingering in the fields they loved till a Christian era dwarfed them to the pigmies they became? Whence was even the word derived? "By some etymologists," says Sir Walter Scott,
of that learned class who not only know whence words come, but also whither they are going, the term Fairy, or Faërie, is derived from Fae, which, again, is derived from nympha." Mr Sullivan leans to that view of their origin which is still current in Ireland. "When the rebellion of the angels," he tells us 'brought about their expulsion from heaven, the archangel Michael, who was placed at the gate, after some time made intercession with these words, O Lord, the heavens are emptying!' The wrath of the Almighty ceased, and all were suffered to remain in the state of the moment until the consummation of the world. At that precise time many of the fallen angels were already in the bottomless abyss, but some were still in the air, others on the earth, others in the sea." And thus air, earth, and sea, became peopled with spirits.
But from whatever quarter they came, we know that they are now gone. We know this in Cumber
land not only negatively, because no fairies are now seen, but positively, because their departure has been witnessed.
"An inhabitant of Martindale, Jack Wilson by name, was one evening crossing Sandwick Rigg on his return home, when he suddenly perceived before him in the glimpses of the moon, a large company of fairies, intensely engaged in their favourite diversions. He drew near unobserved, and presently descried a stee (ladder) reaching from amongst them up into a cloud. But no sooner was the presence of mortal discovered, than all made a busy retreat up the stee. Jack rushed forward, doubtless firmly determined to follow them into fairyland, but arrived too late. They had effected their retreat, and quickly drawing up the stee, they shut the cloud, and disappeared. And, in the concluding words of Jack's story, which afterwards became proverbial in that neighbourhood, 'yance gane, ae gane, and niver saw mair o' them.' The grandson of the man who thus strangely witnessed the last apparition of the fairies, himself an old man, was appealed to not long ago on the truth of this tradition. Having listened to the account of it already printed, he declared it was a' true, however, for he heard his grandfather tell it many a time.""
We the more readily quote this story, because it bears all the marks of a genuine delusion, or trick of the imagination. We have no doubt that Jack Wilson really saw, or thought he saw, what he described. The mist, and the moonlight, and the beer working in his brain, as well as the reports of fairies, and some biblical recollections of Jacob's ladder, account very satisfactorily for his vision, and he just tells us so much as he saw. The stee was drawn up, and there an end of it. Our Cumberland peasantry are not an inventive or imaginative race. They just have an honest delusion occasionally, or they repeat some absurd tradition, but they do not consciously set their ingenuity or imagination to work to contrive legends or conjure up spirits. Mr Crofton Croker would have found amongst them very scanty materials on which to exercise his pleasant powers of narrative.
We have an instance of this stolidity of the Cumberland peasant in the name given to the famous Druid
ical circle near Penrith. It is called Long Meg and her Daughters. But ask for any legend or history of this strange and uncouth Niobe in stone, and you will find none whatever. The Cumberland imagination got so far as to see a rude similitude between these upright stones and a tall woman and her daughters. Such rude similitude forced itself on the sluggish imagination, but prompted no legend or fable to account for the strange apparition of a mother and daughters transformed to stone in that desolate spot. If an Irishman had gone so far as to give this name to the stones, he must have gone farther still; he would have coined halfa-dozen histories to account for the terrible transmutation.
The late Professor Wilson, in one of his admirable criticisms on Shakespeare, has remarked on the perplexity into which the reader is thrown when he attempts to form to himself any image of the fairies of Midsummer Night's Dream. He is required at one time to think of them as of the stature of men and women; at another time as being no larger than insects. They make love to menthey hide in the blossom of a cowslip. But this perplexity accompanies us also throughout the traditions and popular stories which Shakespeare adopted. He took them as he found them. Perhaps he perceived that it would be utterly impossible to reconcile their incongruities without forming a new mythology, which would no longer have the sanction of popular credulity. We hear of the fairies dancing in the shape of most diminutive creatures by moonlight on the grass, and the next moment these delicate elves have large changeling babies to dispose of, which they surreptitiously place in some honest country woman's cradle. The only hypothesis that can extricate us from the difficulty is, that these ethereal spirits had no fixed definite form, but were capable of assuming what shape they pleased. And this we are expressly told in the veritable ballad of The Young Tamlane, which may be read in Scott's Border Minstrelsy, was the peculiar privilege of the race of fairies. One of them tells us :