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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 1, Chapter 2 - Journey of the Kymri to Britain


There are three guides which we can summon to our aid when we set out in quest of the cradle of the tribes, races, and nations that people the globe. The first is Philology, or language: the second is Mythology, or worship: and the third is Tradition, or folk-lore. These are three guides that will not lie, and that cannot mislead us.

As regards the first, no great power of reflection is needed to convince us that in the first age men conversed with one another in a common language; in other words, that man started with one speech. Many not that one speech linger somewhere on the earth, slightly changed and modified, it may be, by time and other influences, but still containing the roots and elemental characteristics of those numerous tongues which are diffused over the earth, and of which it is the parent? This is not a supposition, but a fact. Philology holds in its hand the clue by which it can track all the tongues of the world through the perplexed labyrinth of diverse grammars, idioms, and dialects, to the one primeval tongue of the race. And when we permit philology to perform its office, it conducts us to the great central plain of Asia, called Iran. The researches of Max Muller, Sir William Jones, and others, appear to have established the fact, that we find the ancestors of all numerous tongues of the nations, not in the classic languages of Greece and Rome, nor in the more ancient Semitic, but in the speech of the Indo-European races or Aryans. The Sanscrit possesses the root-affinities, and stands in a common relation to all the languages of the East on the one hand, and the West on the other. It presents its proud claim to be the parent of human tongues, and it identifies Iran as the spot whence the human family was spread abroad. "After thousands of years," says Mr. Dasent, "the language and traditions of those who went East, and of those who went West, bear such an affinity to each other, as to have established, beyond discussion or dispute, the fact of their descent from a common stock"

Let us next attend to the evidence, on the point before us, of the second witness, Mythology, or worship. The first form of worship—keeping out of view the one divinely appointed form—was Nature worship. By nature worship we mean the adoration of the Deity through an earthly symbol. The first symbol of the Creator was the sun, and consequently the earliest form of nature worship was sun-worship. Where, and in what region of the earth was the first act of sun-worship performed? All are agreed that this form of worship took its rise in the same region to which philology has already conducted us and identified as the father-land of mankind. On the plains of Shinar rose the great tower or temple of Bel, or the Sun. There was the first outbreak of a worship which quickly spread over the earth, continually multiplying its rites and varying its outward forms, becoming ever the more gorgeous but ever the more gross, but exhibiting in every land, and among all peoples, the same seminal characteristics and root-affinities which were embodied in the first act of sun-adoration on Chaldean plain. Thus a second time we arrive on those great plains on which Ararat looks down.

There is a third witness, and the testimony of this witness is to the same effect with that of the former two. There exists a unique body of literature which is found floating in the languages of both the East and the West. It is mainly popular, consisting of traditions, fables and tales, and is commonly styled folk-lore. These Tales bear the stamp of being the creation of a young race: they are bright with the colours of romance, and they embody, in the guise of allegory and fable, the maxims of an ancient wisdom. Whether it is the Celtic or the Teutonic, the classic or the vernacular tongue, in which we hear these tales rehearsed, they are found to be the same. They have the same groundwork or plot though diffused over the globe. This points to a common origin, and in tracing them up to that origin we pass the tongues of modern Europe, we pass the Latin and Greek tongues, we come to the language spoken by the Aryan races of Asia, and there we find the fountain-head of these unique and world-wide tales. This is another link between the east and West, between the peoples that held the "grey dawn" and those on whom the world’s "eve" is destined to descend. Such is the witness of these three—Philology, Religion, Tradition. They are the footprints which the human family have left on the road by which they have travelled; and followed these traces we are led to Iran, where lived the men who were the first to "till and ear" the soil.

Thirty years ago it would have required some little courage to mention, unless to repudiate, the authority which we are about to cite. At that time it was fashionable to stand in doubt of the early traditions of all nations. The first chroniclers were believed to display a vein for legend acumen of the wise moderns, they were supposed to delight in garnishing their pages with prodigies and marvels, rather than storing them with ascertained facts. But this spirit of historic skepticism has since been markedly rebuked. The graven tablets dug up from the ruins of Nineveh, the treasures exhumed from the mounds of Babylon, and the secrets of a bygone time with which the explorations on the plain of Troy have made us acquainted, have signally attested the veracity of the early writers, and shown us, that instead of indulging a love of fable, they exercised a scrupulous regard to fact, and an abstention from poetic adornment for which the world, in these latter days, had not given them credit. The consequence is that the early historians now speak with a justly enhanced authority. This remark is specially true of the sacred writers, and also, to a large extent, of the secular historians.

We in Great Britain likewise possess the records of an ancient time. These writings have been preserved, not in the dust of the earth, like the written cylinders and graven slabs of the Tigris and the Euphrates valley, but in the sacred repositories of the aboriginal race whose origin they profess to record. We refer to the "Welsh Triads." These documents are the traditions received from the first settlers, handed down from father to son, and at last committed to writing by the Druids, the priests of the aborigines. They are arranged in groups, and each group consists of three analogous events; the design of this arrangement obviously being to simplify the narrative and aid the memory. We do not claim for them the authority of history; we use them solely as throwing a side light on the darkness of that remote age, and as confirmatory, or at illustrative, as far as it is not possible to understand them, of the sketch we have ventured to trace of the peopling of Europe, and the first settling of Britain, from the etymological and historic proofs that remain to us.

The fourth Triad says: "There are three pillars of the nation of Britain. The first was Hu the Mighty, who brought the nation of Kymry first to the isle of Britain; and they came from the summer country, which is called Defrobani (the shores of the Bosphorus), and they came over the Hazy Sea to the Isle of Britain, and to Armorica (Gaul) where they settled. The other two pillars of the nation of the Kymri were Prydain and Moelmud, who gave them laws, and established sovereignty among them."

The fifth Traid says: "There were three social tribes of the Isle of Britain. The first was the tribe of the Kymry who came to the Isle of Britain with Hu the Mighty, because he would not possess a country and land by fighting and pursuit, but by justice and tranquillity. The second was the tribe of Lloegrians (the Loire) who came from Gascony; and they were descended from the primitive tribe of the Kymry. The third were the Brython, who came from Armorica, and who were descended from the primitive tribe of the Kymry, and they had all three the same language and speech." This Triad offers a rough sketch of two migrations which are seen moving towards our island, each by a different route. The one comes over the Hazy sea (most probably the German Ocean, 1 and the other from Gaul across the channel. But both are sprung of the same stock, the Kymri, the descendants of Gomer that first peopled Europe.

The Triads go on to speak of two subsequent arrivals of settlers by whom the first great immigration into Britain was followed and supplemented.2 The two later immigrations were doubtless passed on to the remoter, and perhaps as yet, uninhabited districts of our country. The first arrivals, it is natural to suppose, would plant themselves in the fertile and grassy plains of England, and would refuse, not without reason, to surrender to new-comers lands in which they had already established, by cultivation, the right of ownership. These last explorers would have to move onward and seek an settlement in the less hospitable and more mountainous regions of Scotland. Those whom we now see arriving in our island, and retiring to the straths and slopes of the Grampians, are probably the ancestors of the men who came afterwards to bear the name of Caledonians.

At what period the sons of Gomer—for their migration only does it concern us to trace—took their departure from their original seats in the East, no history informs us. It is natural to suppose that before his death Noah gave to his sons no uncertain intimation of how he meant the earth to be parted amongst them, and the quarter of the globe in which they were to seek their several dwellings. As the great Patriarch of mankind he possessed the princedom of the world. This vast sovereignty he could not transmit entire. Like some great monarchs who have lived since this day, he must needs distribute his power among his successors; and in this he acted, we cannot doubt, in conformity with the intimations which had been made to him of the will of a yet greater monarch than himself. For we are told that "the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance." But rivalships and conflicts would not, unlikely, spring up in connection with the distribution of so splendid a possession. Some might be unwilling to go forth into the unknown regions allotted to them, and instead of a long and doubtful journey, would prefer remaining near their original seat. The fruitful hills and well-watered vales of Armenia, and the broad plains of the Tigris and Euphrates, would not be easily forsaken for a climate less hospitable and an earth less bounteous. Noah would judge it expedient, doubtless, that while he was yet alive the three Septs into which his descendants were parted should begin their journey each in the direction of its allotted possession.

Ham must direct his steps toward his sandy continent on the West. Japhet must cross the mountains on the North, and seek a home for his posterity under skies less genial than those of Assyria. Shem must turn his face towards the burning plains of India. To leave their sheltered and now well-cultivated valley for unknown lands whose rugged soils they must begin by subduing, was a prospect far from inviting. The command to go forth seemed a hard one. They would lose the strength which union gives, and be scattered defenseless over the face of the earth. And if we read aright the brief record of Genesis, the mandate of Heaven, delivered to mankind through their common Father, that they should disperse and settle the world, met with an open and organised resistance. They broke out into revolt, and in token thereof built their tower on the plain of Shinar. There is one name that stands out, bold and distinct, in the darkness, that hides all his contemporaries; that even of the leader in this rebellion. Nimrod saw in this strong aversion of the human kind to break up into tribes and disperse abroad, a sentiment on which he might rest his project of a universal monarchy. His plan was to keep the human family in one place, and accordingly he encouraged the rearing of this enormous structure, and he consecrated it to the worship of the Sun, or Bel. This tower on the plain of Shinar was meant to be the great temple of the world, the shrine at which the unbroken family of man should meet and perform their worship, and so realise their unity. The tower was the symbol of a double tyranny, that of political despotism and that of religious superstition. The policy of Nimrod was the same with that of many an autocrat since who has found priestcraft the best ally of ambition, and concluded that the surest way to keep a people under his own yoke was first to bend their necks to that of a false god. It was the policy adopted by Jeroboam in an age long posterior, when he set up his golden calves at Dan and Bethel, that the ten tribes might have no occasion to resort to Jerusalem to worship, and so be seduced back into their allegiance to the House of David.

This bold and impious attempt met with speedy and awful discomfiture. "The Lord came down," says the inspired historian, using a form of speech which is commonly employed to indicate, not indeed a bodily or personal appearance on the scene, but an occurrence so altogether out of the ordinary course; a catastrophe so unlooked for, and so tremendous, that it is felt to be the work of Deity. We can imagine the lightnings and mighty tempests which accompanied the overthrow of this earliest of idolatrous temples, and centre of what was meant to be a world-wide despotism. There was after this no need to repeat the patriarchal command to go forth. Pursued by strange terrors, men were in haste to flee from a region where the Almighty’s authority had been signally defied, and was now as signally vindicated. If Noah outlived this catastrophe, as he had survived on earlier and more awful one, he now beheld the insurrection against his patriarchal government quelled, and his posterity forced to go forth in three great bodies or colonies to seek in the primeval forests and wildernesses of the world each its allotted home. We cannot be very wide of the mark if we fix the epoch of this great exodus at about the three hundredth year after the Flood.

The length of time occupies by the bands of Gomer in their journey from their starting-point to the shores of Britain would depend not so much on the space to be traversed, as on the incidents which might arise to facilitate or retard their journey. They had no pioneers to smooth their way, and they could have no chart to guide them over regions which they themselves were the first to explore. The speed of the single traveller, and even the caravan, is swift and uninterrupted; the movements of a million or two of emigrants war unwieldly and laborous. Their flocks and herds accompany them on their march. They had to cross innumerable rivers, passable only by extemporised bridges, or in canoes scooped hastily out of great oaks felled in the neighbouring forest. They had to traverse swampy plains, hew their was through tangled woods, and struggle through narrow mountain defiles. A march of this sort must necessarily be slow. They made long halts, doubtless, in the more fertile regions that lay on their route. In these spots they would practice a little husbandry, and exchange their nomadic habits for the pursuits of a more settled mode of life; and only, when the place became to narrow for their increasing numbers, would they send forth a new swarm to spy out the wilderness beyond, and find new habitations which would become in turn radiating points whence fresh streams might go forth to people the lands and mountains lying around their track. Their progress would exhibit the reverse picture of that presented by the army whose terrible march an inspired writer had so graphically described. The locust host of the prophet pursued its way, with the invading, but peaceful, millions, whose march we are contemplating. Wherever their footsteps passed the barren earth was turned into a garden. It was beauty, not blackness and burning, which lay behind them, They advanced to make war upon the desert only. The swampy pool and the black wood disappeared as they went on, and behind them on their track lay smiling fields and the habitations of men.

Forty years sufficed to carry the Goths from the banks of the Danube to the shores of the Atlantic. But their steps were quickened by their love of war and their thirst for plunder. No such incentives animated the emigrant horde whose march we are tracing, or urged on their advance. Their movement would bear not a little resemblance to what we see in America and Australia at this day, where there is a gradual by continuous outflow from the centres of population into the wilderness beyond, and the zone of the desolation and silence is constantly receding before the face of man. Hundreds of years—we know not how many—would these early intruders into the silent wastes of the northern hemisphere occupy as they journeyed slowly onward and gave the first touch of cultivation to what is now, and has long been, the scene of fair kingdoms and flourishing cities.3

The men whom we now see stepping upon our shores are shepherds and hunters. They had learned something in their long journey, but they had forgotten more. That journey had not been conducive to their advance in knowledge, nor to their refinement in manners. The epithet "barbarian" was doubtless more applicable to them on their arrival at their new homes than when they took their departure from their original abodes. Whatever skill in husbandry and the arts they possessed in their native seats, would be diminished, if not well nigh lost in its transmission through successive generations in the course of their wandering and unsettled life. Their daily combats with the ruggedness of the earth, with the storms of the sky, or with the beast of prey, would brace their bodies and discipline their courage, but it would at the same time tend to roughen their manners, and impart a tinge of ferocity to their tempers and dispositions.

Counteractive influences, such as the modern emigrant from the old centres of civilization carries with him into the wilds of the southern or western world, they had none. We are accustomed to invest the shepherd’s life with the hues of poetry, and we people Arcadia with the virtues of simplicity and innocence, but when from this imaginary world we turn to the contemplation of real life we are rudely awakened from our dream. We are shocked to find brutality and cruelty where we had pictured to ourselves gentleness and love. It is the pasture grounds of Europe that have sent forth its fiercest warriors. Its nomadic tribes have been its most ruthless desolators. In proof of our assertion we might appeal to the portrait which Herodotus draws of the Scythians of his day; or to the ravaging hordes which issued from the banks of the Borysthenes, or of the Volga; or to the sanguinary halberdiers which in later times so often descended from the mountains of the Swiss to spread battle and carnage over the Austrian and Italian plains. The influences which moulded these dwellers amid sheep-cots into warriors and plunderers would operate, though with greatly modified force, on the army of nomads which we see pursuing their way, century after century, down the great slope which conducts from the highlands of Armenia, and the ranges of the Caucasus, to the shores of the North Sea. They could hardly avoid catching the colour of the savage scenes amid which their track lay. There are souls to which the gloom of the far-extending forest, the grandeur of the soaring peak, and the darkness of the tempest impart a sentiment of elevation and refinement; but as regards the generality of mankind they are but little moved by the grandest of nature’s scenes, and are apt to become stern and hard as the rocks amid which they dwell.

The tendency of these injurious influences on the host whose movement we are tracing would be aggravated by other circumstances inseparable from their condition. They could carry with them no magazine of corn. Their daily food would be the flesh of their slaughtered herds, or of the animals caught in the chase. This is a species of diet, as physicians tell us, which is by no means fitted to cool the blood or allay the passions, but rather to inflame the irritability of both. Besides, this host was subjected to a natural process of weeding, in virtue of which only the hardiest and the most daring were sent onward. The less adventurous would remain behind at each halt to be transformed into tillers of the soil, or dressers of the vineyard, and this process of selection, repeated time after time, would result at last in the creation of a race singularly robust in body and equally indomitable in spirit. And such, doubtless, were the physical and mental characteristics of that band of immigrants that ultimately stepped upon our shore. They were not like the Scythians of Herodotus, or the Goths of the Roman invasion, or the treacherous and cruel Arab of our own day. They were men occupied in the first great humanizing mission of subduing and cultivating the earth. Battle they had not seen all the way, if we except the contests they had to wage with the forces of nature. Blood they had not shed, save that of bullock or of beast of prey. But if their long journey had schooled them in the peaceable virtues of patience and endurance, it had engendered not less a keen relish for their wild freedom, and stalwart in frame and strong of heart, they were able and ready to defend the independence which had been theirs ever since the day that they rallied beneath the standard of their great progenitor, and contemning the double yoke of despotism and sun-worship which Nimrod had attempted to impose upon them, turned their faces toward the free lands of the North.4


Footnotes

1. Claudian calls the ocean opposite the Rhine the Cimbric.

2. The Duan, says Pinkerton, puts the Cumri as first possessors of Alban, and then the Picts, II. p. 234.

3. "No savages have yet been discovered," says Pinkerton (vol II.chap. I), "over the whole globe, who had no navigation. From the North Pole to the South Pole, where there were men, there were canoes."