« PreviousContinue »
in the Druidic rites,' whilst ancient British poems, when the bards were not, obediently to the impulse of lyre and mead, extolling the deeds of the warrior on the battle field, often took feminine beauty and virtue for their theme. It was after the
"dismal roaring, fierce and deep gloom of battle; Like mist poured on the valley, when storms invade the silent sunshine",
that in the "hall of shells" memories of the slain mingled with thoughts of the living; and when the victors, as the flare of the torchlight or the gleam of the burning oak fell upon the torque of gold,' the bossed shield and bloodstained spear, upon the marine "conch",3 or upon the metal rim of the bugle-hirlas, as the foaming mead went round-listened to the song of the bard as it directed their thoughts to a hard-earned reunion around the common hearth, albeit there was many a bereaved "spouse" who sat "in the hall of sorrow", apart from the festive throng.
In the story of Orla the hero exclaims, as he falls mortally wounded in battle: "I am the son of Lochlin, and strong is my arm in war. My spouse is weeping at home, but Orla will never return."4 And so with Degrena (in Gaelic, "Sunbeam"), the lovely spouse of the fallen Crugal, to whom she had been married only a little time before the battle: "Sad is the spouse of Crugal, for she is a stranger in the hall of her sorrow.' In fact, though Ossian's beautiful poem Fingal be, as Sharon Turner deems it, "an obvious gratification of national vanity", and was composed when Druidism only lingered in the Cimmerian gloom which immediately preceded the
1 See Borlase's Antiq. of Cornwall, p. 86. Of the three classes of Druidesses, the first vowed perpetual virginity; the second were married, but permitted only once a year to visit their husbands; whilst the third class were not parted from their husbands.
2 They wore solid charms of pure and beaten gold about their necks. (See Diod. Sic., book v, c. ii.)
3 The spiral marine shell-the conch, identified with Triton, was used anciently by the people who inhabited the sea-coast, as a drinking vessel. Hence in Ossian occur the expressions "Chief of shells", "Hall of shells".
4 Fingal, book v.
6 Vindication, p. 153.
5 Fingal, book ii.
dawn of Christianity, yet it breathes a spirit of chivalry towards the fair' strangely inconsistent with Cæsar's aspersion-an aspersion which cannot be permitted to leave its stigma upon the fair Evir-Allin, whose beauty tunes the warrior-poet's lyre:
"I was not so dark and sightless
A thousand heroes she refused her hand;
The sworded warriors were set aside,
Fair in her eye was Ossian."
And this refinement of sentiment occurs throughout the poems of Ossian-but not only in Ossian. In The Gododin of Aneurin, the earliest and not unwarranted "temperance sermon" in Britain, on an occasion when the disastrous defeat of the Britons at the Battle of Cattraeth was owing to their excessive indulgence in
"The pale mead [which] had been their drink
the praises are sung of the daughter of Eudar,
"The tall; graceful her motion;
Purple her robes, and splendid;
The slender fair one bore the praise for chastity."3
1 The Welsh poetry has frequent instances of descriptive adjectives being used to express noun substantives. Thus the bards sometimes put meinir for a charming woman. The word literally means anything slender and lively. (See Turner's Vindication, p. 47.) 2 Fingal, canto iv, lines 15-22.
"There is no success to the progeny of an unchaste person,' occurs in the Odes of the Month as one of the maxims which were commonly repeated before Aneurin lived, probably about A.D. 500. (See Wm. Probert, The Gododin, p. 11.)_Of the restraint which encompassed the young Briton Cæsar says: "Hoc ali staturam, ali vires, nervosque confirmari putant. Intra annum vero vicesimum feminæ notitiam habuisse in turpissimis habent rebus." (Cæsar, Lib. vi, c. xxi.) Of the ancient Germans Tacitus says, "Sera juvenis Venus." The ancient British custom of presenting the cowyll, which was said by their laws to be that which a woman about to be married gets for her virginity, shows that chastity was a qualification looked for by the bridegroom; and that law which allowed a husband corporally to chastise his erring wife manifests that continency was esteemed a virtue by the Britons. The jealousy which is inherent in the descendants of the ancient Britons seems very averse to a system of matrimonial clubs. (Meyrick's Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Isles, p. 3.)
The position of womankind, even amongst savages, is not so abject in relation to marriage as has often been supposed, for they can attract the men whom they prefer, and can sometimes, either before or after marriage, reject those whom they dislike, and numerous instances might be cited of the voice or choice which they have in respect to the man with whom they are to be united.1 It were, however, superfluous to claim for the social status of the Celtic women that it was superior to that of mere savages, especially as, with one exception, and that the one under notice, the accounts of the ancients contain nothing derogatory to the morals of the ancient Britons. For the inhumanity of their human sacrifices, a custom traces of which are found among all Indo-European races,2 and which was not to them "inhuman" in the sense in which it appears to us, i.e., in that it was the costliest sacrifice which could be made, and therefore the most acceptable to Bel, can hardly count in a consideration of their private morals.1
It is around the statement in Cæsar's Commentaries that the controversy concerning the subject under notice principally centres. We are told that among the ancient Britons, "by tens and twelves husbands possessed their wives in common, and especially brothers with brothers, and parents with children."5 Did Cæsar mean by this. as Sammes in his Britannia says, that there was but one wife to ten husbands? Such a contingency is extremely improbable, seeing in the first place that polyandry was unknown to the Aryan races, and is never dissociated
1 See Darwin on The Manner and Action of Sexual Relations", The Descent of Man, vol. ii, p. 408.
2 See V. Hehn's Wanderings of Plants and Animals, p. 414, note 8 to p. 32, where the subject is treated exhaustively.
3 When a great Scythian or Tatar emperor died, a single war-horse slain to accompany him into the next world was not sufficient. He must have a whole bodyguard of mounted youths. These must be slain for his service; nay, according to Herodotus, to accompany a king of the Scythians (the Scolotai in Southern Russia) they ordinarily strangled one of his concubines, his cup-bearer (or adjutant?), and a stud of horses. Cruel as we may deem these acts, they were not malignant, and did not imply peculiar atrocity in the agents. (See Ancient Sacrifice, by F. W. Newman, p. 4.)
4 Geo. Smith, History of Religion of Ancient Britain, ed. 1865, p. 66. 5 Lib. v, c. xiv. 6 P. 119.
among barbarous tribes from infanticide, of the systematic practice of which-although "exposure" was not unknown-the contemporary and later classic authors make mention. Or was it intended that, although each man had a wife, yet there was an entire absence of conjugal ties-in other words, that the Britons practised an organised promiscuity?-the possibility of which, in the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary, cannot for one moment be admitted. Dr. Jevons, writing in the Journal of Philology, observes, in allusion to both Cæsar's statement and a similarly interpretable passage in Polybius, that both authors were probably confirmed in error by the fact that among the Spartans, as amongst many other Aryan peoples, a husband, in default of sons, called in his brother or other near kinsman "to raise up seed unto him", a practice which had its origin not in polyandry, but in the paramount necessity, according to Aryan ideas, of providing sons to offer the usual sacra to the House Spirit. Of this opinion is also Sir William Betham in The Gael and Cymbri. The wives, he says, were not in common during the lives of the husbands, but a woman was given, on the death of her husband, to his brother," that he might raise up seed to his deceased brother"; for "the children were", says Cæsar, “counted his to whom the mother was first given in marriage."
"It is unnecessary to point out the Phoenician origin of this custom. Holy Writ supplies it. What has generally”, continues this eminent antiquary, "been considered as a proof of the profligate manners of the ancient Britons is nothing more than an adherence to the ancient customs of their ancestors, before they left the East, and has nothing in it to shock the most moral mind. Cæsar knew the fact imperfectly, and gave it as he understood it, erroneously." But apart from this, and trustworthy as Cæsar may be when what he says is the result of personal observation,
1 It is well established that the Aryan races had passed through the promiscuity stage, a stage which Dr. Mackennan shows every race to have passed through, and had established the institution of marriage before they left their original home in Central Asia. See "The Picts", by Alexander Bain, Celtic Review, July 1887.
2 See "Kin and Custom", by J. B. Jevons, Journal of Philology,
3 P. 159.
such evidence as we have of the social state of the Britons tends powerfully to engender doubt as to the truth of the statement in question, and to induce a belief that a solution of its meaning can be sought only in the ancient house community, which is believed to have been common to all the Indo-European peoples,' in which the house-father ruled autocratically, like the Greek oixodeσπóTns, the Roman paterfamilias, the ghrapati of the Hindus, or the nmano-paiti of the Iranians, over what is known to Hindu lawyers as the "joint undivided family”—joint, that is to say, "in food, worship, and estate"; whilst it was a collection of such families, descended from one common ancestor, that made up the Aryan village community. And here it may be observed that Professor Rhys, in his Celtic Britain, insists that so far is promiscuity from having been the custom of the Celts of Britain, it is not certain that it can have been to any great extent that of any Aryan people whatever."
Among the many reasons for which it is difficult to conclude that our remote ancestors were accessories to the practice in question, is that of the readiness with which they embraced the teaching of Christianity, and with it its precepts with regard to monogamy; for we know that polygamy or other forms of marriage which in our view are deemed irregular, are with savage tribes often found to be difficulties of an insuperable character in the way of their acceptance of dogmatic Christianity. Then
1 See Dr. Schrader's Prehist. Antiq. of the Aryan Peoples.
2 So described by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (see Moore's Indian Appeal, vol. ii, p. 75). Such a house-community as this consists, according to Krauss' description (Sitte und Brauch bei den Südslaven, p. 64, ff.), of a body of about sixty or seventy members who are blood relations to the second or third degree, "of course only on the male side". At their head is a house-administrator (usually domacin), who is indeed paid the greatest respect, but who is not to be regarded as the master and owner of the family property, like the Roman paterfamilias. The family property is rather the joint property of all the male adult members of the household. (See Schrader's Prehist. Antiq. of the Aryan Peoples, trans. by Jevons, ed. 1890, pp. 393-4.)
3 The tribal origin of village societies is indicated by Bede's use of the word "Maegth", or "Kindred", to signify a province or region, and by the patronymic form of place-names. (See Elton's Origins of Eng. Hist., p. 404, note.)
4 Celtic Britain, ed. 1882, p. 55,