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The pretensions of the Welsh people to a direct descent from the first settlers in Britain derives some degree of sanction from the absence of any evidence to the contrary elicited by the recent rigour of ethnological research, and by the development of certain facts and probabilities which tend more or less to give them credence.
The oral traditions and bardic legends of Wales trace the origin of that portion of the people who are free from the alloy of subsequent immigration, to Gomer (the eldest son of Japhet) through the immediate descendants of his first-born son Ashkenaz, who is alleged upon the confusion of tongues to have migrated with his younger brothers, Riphath and Togarmah from the plain of Shinar, where Babel was, in a north-westerly direction to the shores of the Caspian, through Armenia, by the Euphrates into Asia Minor, through Pontus, along the south shore of the Euxine, a sea which for many centuries of the history of the Jews bore his name and proclaimed the origin of those who dwelt around it. They proceeded westward to Bithynia and Mysia, the North Western provinces of Asia Minor, now Anatolia. At an early period, probably within the three or four first centuries after the Deluge, the colony in Bithynia followed the immediate descendants of the younger sons of Gomer. Some crossed the Bosphorus and some the Hellespont or Dardenelles and peopled Thrace, now in Turkey in Europe, and Greece. They spread rapidly round the Euxine and called themselves Cymry, or first race, as being the immediate descendants of the first born in each generation from Noah. They were speedily joined by other tribes of the same stock. They are alleged to have then migrated into the interior of the Western Continent, but to have afterwards disagreed and separated, the younger and more warlike branches expelling the others and spreading northward and eastward, growing into the Scythian and great Gothic hordes of Sarmatia, (a distinct race from the Cimbri) and afterwards overrunning four-fifths of Europe.
For some centuries it is probable that they dwelt and clustered in the countries north of the Euxine. From this hive, offshoots progressively penetrated and peopled the whole territory from the mountains of Carpathia to the Baltic, first known as a nation by the name of the Basternions. The term Scythian, from “Ysgthi," means nothing more than expelled or dispersed persons, and has given rise to the term Goths and been indiscriminately applied to communities in Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor.
The Cimbric descendants of Ashkenaz on the other hand pursued their Divine destination to the west along the banks of the Danube to its source, about 640, B.C. (according to Eliezer Williams) whence they crossed to that of the Rhine and followed its main stream to its mouth. Those who were last on the Euxine were intrenched in the Crimea, which long bore the name of the Cymbric Chersonese. Arrived at the shores of the German Ocean another, but an amicable division took place. A portion settled where they were, colonised Jutland, and spread subsequently eastward along the shore of the Baltic. A second portion descended into Gaul and settled chiefly in the territory of Armorica. The third and probably the smallest portion of the migrating body passed to this country, and were its first inhabitants.
A large portion of this account and many other statements are derived from the earliest legendary annals of the original inhabitation of Britain.
It must be admitted that such traditions are not of that certain character, either as to facts or dates, which belong to the annals of England since the Roman Invasion. They exist almost exclusively in the Welsh Triads and other legendary poems, transmitted by the Druids and Bards of that ancient and interesting people who form the only remnant of the first Britons and who are certainly the likeliest and fittest possessors of their early history. In ancient times they made poetry the vehicle of memory and record. And such were the Triads. The conveniences of such a form for the purposes of oral tradition are evident, for the facts were sufficiently striking for poetical narration without being too numerous for that form of record.
It was thus therefore that the Druids and Bards handed down the principles of history and of science, which the natural hatred of the Christians to their religious institutes in great measure destroyed and removed from the knowledge of later times. Enough however remains in the opinion of skilled Archælogians, to determine some essential circumstances as to the origin and history of the nation, and in some particulars their correctness is borne out by concurrent evidence in other histories. On their authenticity in all the facts they relate, doubts may exist, but there are strong corroborative proofs of their substantial truth. Mr. Davies says
“The Celtic nation, at large, may be regarded as comprising a race of two different characters, through sprung from the same family. The one took peaceable possession of a country : established a national religion, well calculated for securing peace among themselves, but which, till it was gradually changed by political necessities, rendered its votaries incompetent for the defence of their country, or the support of their national independence. The other were a people who had less scruple in their principles, but who having been inured to arms before they approached the west, and confiding in their native prowess, forced their way into many possessions of their unresisting brethren. In the Welsh, the Armoricans, and the Cornish, undisputed votaries of Druidism, we recognise the former, and in the Irish and Highlanders the latter of these two branches."
Now these two hordes or bodies, whether Mr. Davies be correct or not in his view of their characters, formed the parent stock of the joint Celtic nation, and the Triads thus record the history of the migration of the German branch who first arrived in this country.
“The first of the three chieftains who established the colony of Britain was Hu, the mighty, who came with the original settlers. They came from the Summer Country which is called Deffrobani, that is where Constinoblys (Constantinople) is at present.”—Triad, 4.
“They came in search of a settlement to be obtained, not by war or contest, but justly and peaceably.”—Triad, 5.
Now the Venerable Bede gives this account:“ The first inhabitants of this land were Britons. They came from Armenia, and first settled in the south of Britain. Then befel it that Picts came from the south, from Scythia, with long ships, not many, and first landed in North Hibernia, and there entreated the Scots that they might there abide. But they would not permit them, for they said that they could not all abide there together. And then the Scots said, “We may nevertheless give you counsel. We know another island eastward of this, where ye may dwell if ye will, and if any one withstand you, we will assist you, so that you may subdue it.' Then went the Picts and subdued this land northwards; the southern parts the Britons had, as we before have said.”
The sameness of the original country traversed, viz., Armenia, and the still more striking similarity of disposition and spirit thus attributed to the first settlers is worthy of note. This characteristic of them seems to have been in some degree preserved among their purest descendants in Wales,
up to this hour, for, whatever may be said of the irritability of Welsh blood, it is remarkable that their wars have been invariably defensive; and their attacks, first on the Saxons, and then on the Marches, in the Middle Ages, were sufficiently provoked by inroads and insults. Their loyalty and quiet sufferance of privations have been nobly tested through many centuries of peacefulness, little acknowledged, and probably overlooked : though the turbulence of their Gaelic cousins in Ireland might have pointed out to us the favourable contrast presented in the conduct of the Welsh.
Though it must be confessed that no name of any town or district, either in Thrace, or its Chersonese, which bears a resemblance to Deffrobani has been noticed by any geographer, yet there is some reason to believe that the reference is just: for there are many vestiges of the passage of this people from the Caspian and Black Seas up to Denmark, whence they appear to have embarked for Britain.
Amongst many striking identities and resemblances of names of places existing at that time on the shores of the Danube and in Wales, up to this hour the lower ground on the banks of a river is called Isder, the very name by which the lower part of the Danube was originally called. Rhabon, Ruabon, Aribantium, Ar-y-bant, and many other like names exist in each country still. Even the Severn itself seems to have once gone by the name of the Danaw or the Danube, and I have somewhere read that the Forest of Dean derives its title from a corruption of the same word. Welsh has also many Greek words, as dwr for vowp water.
The painting of the body and other customs were alike common to the two countries, and so were their forms of faith, one of which the pre-existence of the souls of those who had not become sufficiently perfect for heaven in other bodies-was common to the Thracians and to the ancient Britons.
There is still existing among some of the oldest peasantry in parts of Wales, a faint legend that they are of Trojan descent. There can be no doubt that if the above account of their pilgrimage be true, the ancient emigrants peopled Mysia and therefore Troas, or the Trojan district, which is part of it.
The Welsh children in former times, but as recently as the last generation, were skilled in drawing a kind of labyrinth which is well known to have been always called Caer Troyda, the camp of Troy. Not long since a golden ornament was dug out of a bog in North Wales, which was at once recognised by a lady who had lived in India and travelled much in the East as closely resembling what she had seen there. It was a species of fibula.
The authenticity of the Triads is still further borne out by the fact that they relate the inundation by the sea of a large tract of land on the coast of Carnarvon and Cardiganshire called the Cantref Gwallod.* The evidences of this fact remain to this hour. A huge causeway running out into the sea for nearly twenty miles is still visible in many parts, and trunks of large trees are also embedded under the water, which are also visible at particular states of the tide.
* Is this derived from Gwalior in Bengal?
Aristotle attributes the discovery of Britain to the Phoenicians,* who probably endeavoured to conceal a knowledge of the way to it on account of the great profit they derived from its tin. [Their instruments have been found in the Cornish mines.] This Herodotus confirms.
The Phænicians, it seems, were very jealous of the interference of the Greeks with the tin trade, and this, Mr. Higgins, a recent inquirer, thinks must have been at an early period of Grecian history.
Toland also says that the way to Britain was known to the Phænicians and early Greeks, but that after the destruction of Sidon it was lost to them for ever.
It is perhaps possible that the movement to the shores of the Black Sea took place in consequence of the Argonautic Expedition, whereby the Greeks, 1263, B. C. effected an opening for commerce in that direction. This was seventy years before the Trojan war.
Strabo (born 27, B.C.) and other Greek historians and geographers give us some corroboration of the account in the Triads, and trace the course of the Cimmerians along the Danube, thence to the country between the Rhine and the Elbe, through Saxony and Hanover up to Jutland which long bore the name of the Welsh Chersonese. They appear to have been driven from Thrace, by the incursion of a Scythian horde, about 640 B.C., according to Herodotus, and by Alyastes, King of Lydia, in 617 B.C. according to another historian—and from Jutland, chiefly by the increase of their population and the loss of land by the inundations of the sea which drove them to colonise in Britain, but at what exact period is certainly very doubtful.
The Triads say “that they came over the hazy sea to the Isle of Britain, and thence to Armorica where they remained.” Now the German ocean is well known to be remarkably subject to dense fogs, (such as nearly shipwrecked William III., in 1691); and in Armorica, a part of France, the Welsh or early British language is spoken by the people to this hour. This is a striking proof of the credibility of the Triads.
The Triads go on to say, that on their landing, the colonists found the island uninhabited and took formal possession of it, as of original right. They describe the island as full of bears, wolves, and of two other sorts of animals, which they term Efainc and Ychain Banog, signifying beavers and some kind of buffalo. It was first called Y fel Ynys, or the Honey Island—then Clas Meityn—the Rocky Island—and lastly Britain. Some say, from a chief so called, who first reduced the settlement to a regular form. But, more probably from the tribe called Brython, who subsequently came from Brittany in Gaul.
The colony headed by Hu, settled probably in the eastern part of the country at first, and subsequently travelled inwards. Afterwards, but at what period does not clearly appear, two other bodies of the same original stock of Cimmerians arrived, the one from the banks of the Loire, in Gascony, in the south of France, who were called from it Lloegrians; and, subsequently again another body called Brythons, who came from Brittany, also in France or Gaul as it was formerly called.
* It is asserted by a clever French writer that the country was known to the Phoenicians before the Trojan war, 1150 years B. C., but this would be merely the sea side tin and copper districts in Cornwall and Scilly.
The Lloegrians appear to have settled only temporarily in Britain, to have spoken the Gaelic language, and to have found their way back to France or Ireland. The Brythons remained in England and contributed in all probability to the name of Britain. This tribe appear also to have been called Alban, a word signifying in the British tongue hill tribe. Hence Albion.
They seem to have had a liberal monarchy for their form of government; from the following law as laid down in the Triads.
“Moreover the sovereign power according to the custom of province and nation, rests in the race of the Cymry, as to fealty and common obligation; and in right of this limitation, and of custom of country and province, is the sovereignty over each country held in the isle of Britain. Whence the proverb, “The country' (that is the custom of the country) is more mighty than the lord.”—Triad 2.
We find here the early origin and plantation of the common law, and of popular liberty in this country. A long line of kings now figure in the Triads down to Cassibelaunus.
The only king whom I will mention was Duffwal Moelmud, who must have lived at least 200 years before Christ, and who gave the British people that admirable code of laws lately republished, some of which bear strong resemblance to our present common law, and I have no doubt originated many of its principles centuries before the Romans or their laws were either heard or dreamt of. The fourth triad says, “He drew up in a regular form, laws, ordinances, duties, and privileges of district and family." His laws, extant in the time of Gildas, were translated by him into Latin, as were also those of Marcia, the wife of Cyhylin, (the third from Dyfuwal) and this translation was communicated to Alfred the Great by Asserius, Bishop of St. David's. Alfred, who in life and purposes bore a great resemblance to Dyfuwal, translated these laws from Gildas's Latin into Saxon, and called the code the Merchenlage.-Rom. Hist. Lib. 1. p. 202, of Gale. In this, the Saxon as well as the Welsh historians agree.
We have but faint vestiges of the history of the British from this period to the Roman invasion. The triads of these later times are filled with repeated declarations of the original claim to the island by its possessors.
Pestilence and intestine division are said to have harassed the British shortly before the Roman invasion. Their form of Government appears to have continued to be monarchial from the first to the last, and this single sovereignty clearly extended over the whole island. It was essential that their sovereign should be of the Cambrian race, and but three exceptions occurred.
(To be continued.)