« PreviousContinue »
Nennius appeals to the historical monuments of his countrymen, but they appear to have consisted. chiefly, of oral traditions, and he accounts for the absence of written monuments by supposing that the calamities of war and pestilence frustrated the endeavours of the teachers as well as of the transcribers. Isidore, Jerome, Prosper, and Eusebius, and the Roman annals, together with histories of the Scots and Saxons, are epumerated amongst his authorities, a display which would lead us to expect a more ample production than is comprehended in the sixty-five chapters, or rather paragraphs, of which the ' apology' is composed.
In this limited compass, however, Nennius includes the remains of the earliest history and earliest fables, both of the Britons and of the Apglo-Saxons. From the traditions of his own people, Nennius .probably derived the tale of the settlement of England by Brutus and the Trojans, the birth and prophecies of Merlin, and the battles of the mythic Arthur. Instead of the brief notices of the , arrival and victories of the Saxon chiefs, preserved in the chronicle, Nennius affords a romantic narrative of the prowess and wiles
of Hengist, the charms of his daughter, and the weakness of Vortigern. Amongst other events, he relates the slaughter of the Britops' chiefs, when the dread sigņal of bloodshed, Nimed eure Saxes,' was given by the Anglo-Saxon chieftain. This portion seems to indicate an Anglo-Saxon authority, Appended to . the history are some curious Saxon genealogies, interspersed with very brief historical notices. Nennius adapts the British orthography to the Anglo-Saxon names, and his style is extremely barbarous. But the uncouth phraseology of the work adds to its value by proving its antiquity; and without determining the extent of the admixture of fiction, we may confidently receive the rude and romantic compilation as exhibiting the bistory of Britain in the manner in which it was believed by the British countrymen and contemporaries of the author.*
Geoffrey of Monmouth repeats the narrative of Nennius, but with portentous additions. The faint and evanescent outline brightens into a complete picture. Brutus and his honoured successors Lud, Bladud, and Belinus, Leir, and Cassibelan are presented in awful majesty, and Arthur appears as the rival of Alexander, the conqueror of a wider empire than ever was ruled by the Roman eagle.
Geoffrey inscribes his work to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and relates the mode of its compilation. He had oftentimes re
* Nennius will be read to the greatest advantage in the edition published by the · Rev. W. Gunn, (Lond. 1819,) froin a Vatican MS. with copious illustrations from British sources.
flected on the silence observed both by Bede' and Gildas respecting the early and brighter periods of British history. The deeds of the Kings who ruled in Britain before the Saxon invasion, were unrecounted by them, por had they commemorated the exploits of Arthur and his successors, though worthy of immortal praise. Whilst such thoughts yet occupied his mind, he was fortunately enabled to supply the deficiencies. Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, deeply learned in foreign history, offered to him a very ancient chronicle, written in the British language, and including the deeds and annals of the British kings, froni Brutus the grandson of Eneas, to Cadwallader, the son of Cadwallon. Such is Geoffrey's account of his own work, which was assailed on its first publication with the most bitter criticism.-- William of Newburgh points out all the wild impossibilities of Arthur's history, and not contented with exposing the 'figments of the Britons,' he maintains that Geoffrey falsified the falsities of the original, and that the work called the history of the Britons is a tissue of impudent and impertinent' lies.'-In spite, however, of this severe attack, Geoffrey's history succeeded completely.
Translated first into the Norman dialect by Master Wace, and again into English by Layanon, the Brut became equally familiar in the castle and the cloister, in the bower and in the ball,
- the foundation alike of the minstrel's tale and of the national history. When Edward I. asserted his claim as superior lord? of Scotland, the supremacy of the English crown was traced to the first division of the island between the three sons of Brutus, Loerine, Albanact, and Camber. From Locrine the kingdom of Loegria or England was derived, and the provident father having settled the pre-eminence upon the eldest of his progeny, it followed as a necessary conséquence that the vassal states of Scotland and Wales, allotted to the two juniors, Albanact avd Cambet, were to be subject to the supremacy of his representatives. A confirmation of that seigniory was deduced from the prowess of Arthur, who, after chastising the Scottish rebels, bestowed the Kingdom upon Anguseles. And when Arthur held his court at Caerlon and the vassal king attended to grace the festivity, Anguseles performed the grand serjeantcy due for Scotland, by bearing the sword before his sovereign liege Lord. The Scottish ambassadors, without in the slightest degree impugning the credibility of these statements, of which on the contrary they fully admitted the truth, deduced their title from the second settlement of Scotland effected by Gathelos and Erk, the husband and the son of Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt. —And though Arthur did subdue Scotland for a time, was he not slain by Loth, son of the lord of Lothian, in a battle which restored the country
to its pristine liberty ?*Little stress can be laid upon the Scot- tish traditions, though it is probable that the name of Arthur had been long familiar to the inhabitants of Lothian; but the history of Caledonian Britain has been investigated by Sir Walter Scott with such acumen and ability as to render it unnecessary to bestow any further discussion upon that question.
Geoffrey of Monmouth was, as he asserts, merely the translator of a British chronicle. According to the uncivil accusations preferred against hinı both in ancient and modern times, he enlarged and improved the meagre fables of the British bards; and his
assertion is little better than a fiction. A satisfactory investigation of the subject can only be effected by those who are coni versant with the ancient British language. We shall. therefore content ourselves with observing, that the statement made by
Geoffrey does not involve such improbabilities as to raise a vehement suspicion of its fidelity. The non-existence at the present day of the alleged British original does not convince us of the
falsity of the story. We will not contend that the volume in the possession of the archdeacon of Oxford was very ancient or very authentic. No term is applied with greater latitude than that of ancient.' Supposing that in the age of Geoffrey
the manuscript was but two centuries old, this degree of antiquity would probably be sufficient to. induce him to select the epithet which he has employed. The classical genealogy of Brutus may perhaps cause us to suspect that the history has been thus adorned by monkish erudition.--Nemius, it may be answered, attests that the belief of the Trojan origin of the Britons was at Jeast as old the ninth century, and it is difficult to prove that such a belief may not have prevailed amongst the Britons. We are apt to consider this and similar traditions as bearing the impress of the spurious erudition of the dark ages, but perhaps without sufficient reason. If the ancient Teutons traced the wanderings of Ulysses to the borders of the Baltic'; if they boasted of the city which he had founded; if they pointed out the altars which he had raised : it was surely possible that the fame of the Trojan heroes might in like manner have reached the island of Britain, whose shores were so much more accessible to the natives of the south than the inhospitable wilds of the Hercynian forest. The wish to flatter the prejudices of the Romans might even have induced the Britons to favour a legend which proved their relationship to their masters.
Willians of Newburgh's criticism was rendered more venomous by national feeling. The Cambro-Britons maintain that the Saxon' was also incited by personal pique. • It appears,' saith * Fordun, lib. xi. cap.40, 41.
- Dr. Powell, that this William put in for the bishopric of. St.
Asaph upon the death of the said Geoffrey, and being disappointed, fell into a mad humour of decrying the whole principality of Wales, its history, antiquity, and all that belongs to it.'' But without determining how far the disappointed hope of preferment urged his attack upon the British worthies, it appears doubtful :whether he was fully qualified to pronounce his stern anathema. His acquaintance with the work of Gildas was the result of accident, not of research. The book was very rare; the style of the British author was so rude and insipid that few persons cared to keep the composition in their libraries, or to bestow on it the labour of transcription. British antiquities being thus neglected, the English writer could not easily obtain the information which was necessary to enable him to pronounce on the textual authenticity of a British history.
Geoffrey's History may be divided into three distinct portions - the succession of the British kings from Brutus to Vortigernthe wars with the Saxons, and the adventures of Arthur-and the events from the reign of Arthur until the death of Cadwallader, the Saxon Ceadwall, who is claimed by the Britons as a British King.–Geoffrey, 'though guilty of many gross anachronisms, -affords a plausible if not a convincing mode of reconciling the conflicting statements. Ceadwalla, or Cadwallader, the son of Cadwallon, was descended, by the mother's side, from the Kings of Wessex, and he united in himself the rights of two hostile races.* In the Saxon authorities, there is a remarkable obscurity about the early history of Ceadwalla. He acquired his kingdom by force, and the details of his actions seem to be studiously avoided. Nor is the British origin of Ceadwalla disproved by the genealogy given in the Saxon chronicle. The Saxon genealogies are deduced
through males only, omitting any intermediate descent of females; no female name ever appears in them; and, according to their genealogic phraseology, which is expressed only by patronymics, Ceadwalla might be truly called the descendant of Coenbyrht, though two generations of females were interposed.t. Great obscurity prevails respecting the mode and manner of the English conquests of the British territory; and we may suspect that the progress of the Anglo-Saxon dominion was facilitated by alliances with the British sovereigns, for we cannot otherwise explain the
Mater ejus fuerat soror Pendæ, patre tantum : Matre vero diversa ei nobili genere Gewisseorum edita fuerat. Galf. Mon. lib. ix. c. 6.
+ Ceadwalla wæs Coenhyrhting; Coenbyrht Ceadding; Ceada Cubaing; Cuþa : Ceawnling; Ceawlin Cynricing; Cynric Cerdicing.–Sax. Chron. p. 55. Florence omits the genealogy, and calls him, Ceadwalla juvenis strenuissimus de regio genere Gewissoram, following Bede, who employs the same expressions.
appearance of British names in the family of Penda the Mercian sovereign.
It has not been remarked that Geoffrey, besides preserving the British fables, contributes his share of English romance. Nennius relates the loves of Vortigern and the fair deluder: but Geoffrey is the first writer who records the name Ronix; nor is the any other chronicler who notices the well known salutation of the maiden— Liever King Wacht heil,!--the origin of the joy
ous Wassail cup. From whence did Geoffrey derive this incii dent? The tale bears the character of poetry; it might be
suspected that his authority is some Anglo-Saxon ballad. But Nennius, though less diffuse, has equally the outlines of the story.
There is, perhaps, no English author who appears at first with greater claims of authenticity than INGULPHUS, the venerable abbot of Croyland. ! Il avoit tout vu, en bon connoisseur,' say the learned editors of the French historians, et ce qu'il rapporte il l'écrit en homme lettré, judicieur et vrai. He does not veil bimself in the uncertainty of anonymous composition; but, addressing the reader in his proper person, he relates the fortunes of his house, adducing the best authorities. His materials are collected from the monastic archives. And whilst these facts were transmitted to him from his predecessors, he 'indites his own memoirs with every appearance of candour and sincerity. From the foundation of the monastery in 616 to the 34th year of Edgar, he abridges or transcribes the monastic ch nicle which was compiled under the direction and authority of Abbot Turketul-of whom more hereafter-by Brother Sweetman, from the relation of the oldest members of the monastery. Abbot: Egelric the younger, the kinsman
of Turketul, composed the life of that abbot, which constitutes d. the most important episode in the history of the monastery; and - Ingulphus himself continued the work from thence to his own time.
Let us now briefly analyze these component portions; and, ; first, with every possible respect for Brother Sweetman's care and
industry, it must be recollected that he depended principally.upon oral information. Croyland had been entirely subverted by the Danes in the year 870. After profaning the relics and rifling the tombs of saints and kings, the robbers burnt the immense library of sacred volumes; innumerable charters shared the same fate, and the buildings were reduced to a heap of ruins.* Nothing was saved except some articles of value, and the charters of Ěthelbald, and the confirmations by subsequent kings, which the monks bore away with them in their flight. The few members of the monastery, who returned to their old home, constructed an humble
* Ingulph: 22, 23. VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII.