[ocr errors]

tragic events in Old British history, and that, con-

sequently, they are not of that extremely remote

pre-historical period to which many antiquaries

have been and still are fond of attributing them.

Surely it is in history, especially that of our own

country, that one would most reasonably expect

to find the true solution. But instead of looking

there for something simple, and being content

with that, it has been the rage to "pooh-pooh "

our old annals, and invent things, people, notions,

and schemes, for not one of which is there the

slightest foundation, except in the fertile brain of

the inventor. I prefer history with all its possible

errors or colouring.


1. Stonehenge.-The account of this structure,
as given by Geoffrey of Monmouth, is as follows:
In the time of Vortigern, king of Britain, Hen-
gist the Saxon landed with a large army. Vorti-
gern and the nobility resolved to fight and drive
them from their coasts. Hengist, after consider-
ing several stratagems, judged it most feasible to
impose upon the nation by making a show of
He sent ambassadors with certain apolo-
gies and terms, desiring Vortigern to appoint a
time and place for their meeting in order to
adjust matters. Vortigern was much pleased, and
named the first of May, and the place the monas-
tery of Ambrosbury, now Amesbury.
This being
agreed to, Hengist desired his followers to arm
themselves with daggers, and at the conference,
upon a signal given, the Saxons assassinated the
British nobility. Their bodies were interred with
Christian burial at or near Amesbury. Some years
afterwards (about A.D. 470) Aurelius Ambrosius
arriving from Armorica, or Continental Britain,
and being anointed king, destroyed both Vorti-
gern and Hengist, and restored all things, espe-
cially ecclesiastical affairs, to their ancient state.
In the course of his progress to various important
places, he visited Ambrosbury, where the consuls
and princes were buried.

For many years I have taken great interest in
the curious and elaborate efforts that have been
made to explain the origin of megalithic struc-
tures, especially of the two great puzzles, Stone-
henge in Wiltshire, and Carnac on the coast of
Britanny. Having, after much difficulty, found
some rest in the opinions of others about Stone-
henge, but none whatever about Carnac, I now
venture to offer one (not new as to the former,
but quite new as to the latter), which aims at
making the one throw light upon the other by
suggesting a similarity of character and purpose.

The case of these two riddles appears to me to

be the very familiar one of the man who, having

lost a key, goes all over his house, upstairs and

down, and after ransacking every drawer, cupboard,

and closet, likely and unlikely, from garret to

cellar, at length returns to find that it had been

all the time under some papers upon his study

table. In other words, I am inclined to believe

that the explanation of both these mysterious

structures lies, and has been all the while lying,

at home: that, being found on Old British ground,

they are (what they most naturally would be)

Old British-that they are not sepulchres, but

sepulchral monuments set up in memory of great

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Leland also, after some remarks to the same effect, pronounces all other theories that he had seen about Stonehenge to be "somnia et nugæ canoræ," and accepts the historical origin and date as given by Geoffrey. (De Script. Britan. i. 47.) So also does Thos. Warton (Hist. of Eng. Poetry, I. xviii. and 56); and some of our living antiquaries are of the same opinion.

Whereabouts exactly the bodies had been buried does not seem to be of much importance. The whole district was a 66 Campo Santo," as the numerous barrows there testify; and some years ago, in forming a road, fifty skeletons, lying side by side, were found not far from the site of the monastery itself. It is enough that in the centre of a crowd of burials a conspicuous spot was selected.

Nor is it necessary to settle the much-disputed point, whether Stonehenge was made at two periods or all at once. Some of the stones may or may not have been there for some sacred purpose before. If they were, then by the addition of others the group was enlarged. All that is asked is that Stonehenge, as we see it, may be considered to be, what the chronicler says it was, a monument of the massacre.

2. Carnac.-In dealing with this I have no known henchman or armour-bearer to reckon upon, the explanation now to be proposed being (so far at least as I am aware) entirely new.

I have never visited Carnac, but it is well known that it lies upon the very edge of the wild and stormy coast of Britanny, almost at the farthest point of the western peninsula of France. The country thereabout is bleak and desolate, strewed with thousands of blocks of granite of various sizes (as on Dartmoor, the west coast of Ireland, and other places). All over that part of Britanny are cromlechs, dolmens, menhirs, and other megaliths innumerable. Of the scattered blocks lying about Carnac a vast number have been at some period dragged from their natural sockets on the surface of the ground (many of them requiring only to be moved a very short distance, some perhaps scarcely moved at all), and (whether partially chiselled or not I cannot say) have been simply set up on end in a sort of order. This order was somewhat irregular, but in the main group eleven lines or rows, extending inland (with large interruptions) about eight miles. What the total number of stones so placed on end may originally have been, it is now impossible to say. Some who have carefully examined the place guessed it to have been 10,000 or 12,000: so many have been broken up that it can only be a matter of conjecture. But as to the number of rows or imperfectly parallel lines in which they stood and still stand, all publications hitherto have concurred in reporting it to be eleven.

The whole presented the appearance of an army

on the march, or of some large host in procession. The only tradition on the spot is said to be that the stones were 66 once alive.'

To suppose that each of these stones marks an interment is preposterous; for, besides that the ground is granite rock, not the most convenient for grave-digging, where were the deceased to come from? It is one of the most desolate of districts, "the very last (says Mons. de Cambry) to remind one of civilisation and an enlightened people." There are many chambered tumuli near and about the stones, as there are barrows around Stonehenge. Those, of course, were burial-places, but the stones themselves can only be monumental.

As to its origin and purpose, nothing whatsoever being known, it has presented the finest field for imagination, and imagination certainly has not been idle. Lying, as it does, at so remote a distance, on the very border of the Atlantic, its very existence was for a long time scarcely noticed. The French writers, finding no mention of it either in Roman or other authors, after making the best guesses they could, without satisfying either themselves or any body else, seem to have abandoned it in despair.

One French author, Mons. de Cambry, being struck with the peculiar number of eleven, took refuge in an astronomical explanation, and pronounced it to be a representation of the zodiac; upon which opinion another writer of that country, the Chevalier de Fréminville, makes the following remarks in his Antiquités de la Bretagne, p. 50. After reviewing and dismissing with something like scorn, as wholly untenable, several previous opinions as to its being of Egyptian, Phoenician, or other foreign origin, he says:

"Another author also, the late Mons. de Cambry, published a work upon the monuments of Karnac. He does not, it is true, think proper to attribute them to any foreign people he allows them to be Celtic; but he wants to make out of them a celestial scheme, an astronomical each of the lines of stones represents a sign. But there monument. It is,' says he, a zodiac.' He pretends that is one circumstance which would have embarrassed every body else, viz. that there are twelve signs in the zodiac, whereas there are only eleven lines of stones at Karnac. But Mons. de Cambry cuts the knot of this difficulty in a moment, by pretending, on what authority I know not, that the ancient Gauls reckoned only eleven signs in the zodiac." (Translated from the French.)

I leave Mons. de Cambry and his zodiac in the hands of his "compatriote," merely saying with another French author, Mons. Jéhan, that "I have not much faith in these almanacs of huge stones, so prodigiously costly, and so very inconvenient to carry about." In saying this I do not deny that in the construction of our ancient stone circles there may have been some reference to astronomical principles, as for instance, at Stonehenge, to the rising and setting of the sun at the solstices;

but the solar-system theory has been pressed rather too far.



In England, of course, attempts to solve the riddle of Carnac have not been lacking. One, which has attracted much attention and support, is, that it was a temple in the form of a serpent-a kind of building which (so the propounders of this doctrine told us) "the serpentworshippers, or Ophites,' used to construct, and to which they gave the name of a 'Dracontium.' A great deal of ingenuity and learning has been brought to bear upon this theory. I myself, "faute de mieux," used rather to acquiesce in it, depending wholly and entirely, as I did, upon the deliberate statements of its champions that such structures were made, and that "the ancients gave to them the name of Dracontium." Having never met, in the course of my own limited classical reading, with any thing or name of the kind, and beginning to wonder where any notice of it was to be found, I consulted one of the first Greek scholars of our day. He shook his head, and added that a Greek word with that meaning was to him unknown. I ransacked lexicon after lexicon, but no serpent-temple called by the ancients a Dracontium" was to be found. On further investigation it came to light that the word "Dracontium was actually coined by an ingenious, but rather extravagant, antiquary, Dr. Stukeley, as a name very suitable and convenient for a thing, which thing was also a creation of his own brain. Upon making this discovery I took leave of the Ophites.

That the stones of Carnac could ever have been intended for "a temple" of any kind, or even for an approach to a temple, seems very improbable. There are, it is true, in Egypt, long avenues of obelisks, or sphinxes, but they lead to something to the temple itself, a structure of great size. But there is nothing of that kind at Carnac requiring even a single avenue, much less so many running parallel. Here and there, at the termination of a group, there is a semicircular arrangement of stones, and elsewhere the lines may have led to circles now destroyed. But that such circular or semicircular arrangements were intended for "temples," one can scarcely believe. And how, one may also ask, could a plantation, or several plantations, of stones (for that is what it really is), extending for miles over a rough, rock-strewed, barren country, be possibly available for a "procession" or any other action whatsoever connected with occasional religious rites? In the history of Britanny there is nothing known either of Ophites, or Egyptians, or Phoenicians, or any other foreigners who ever set foot upon the soil, still less occupied it with such permanent interest, as proprietors, as to command the opportunity of constructing so laborious and costly a work. But, leaving everybody to adopt which of

these fancies they please, none of them helps us one bit to solve the mystic number of eleven rows of stones.

The most judicious French writers upon this subject that I have had the opportunity of consulting, without pretending to say who the people were that did construct Carnac, nevertheless express a very strong opinion as to who did not. They protest against any far-fetched outlandish origin. They ignore Ophites, Zodiacites, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and all the rest. Who the great man may have been that issued the mandate "Fiat Carnac !" or who the foreman that received it, stared and shook in his shoes, they do not know-the record is either lost or concealed. But as to the character of the work, they argue in the safest and simplest way:

"If single megaliths were (as the greater part undoubtedly were) set up for sepulchral or monumental purposes, then of the same character also will be an aggregation of megaliths: the event represented by the aggregate stones being proportionally more memorable than that perpetuated by a few or a single one."

This is sensible and cautious language. So far as they can, on a safe principle, the French authors go and no farther. They are stopped by the want of more information, by the apparent silence of the history of their country. That it was made by the people of that country and no other, is their conviction; but neither French nor English, nor any other author (so far as I know), has ever been able to fix upon any particular historical event as likely to be commemorated by the stones of Carnac.

At this point I ask permission to offer an opinion. The very striking peculiarity of the number, eleven, had always riveted my attention; and with the sound French conclusion (just mentioned) to rest upon, I kept a look out for the help of history. In turning over accidentally some years ago the pages of our old acquaintance, Geoffrey of Monmouth, I met with a passage which presented all at once so many curious proprieties-as to period, place (the very coast of Britanny), people, event (a great national disaster), and last, but most remarkable of all (prominently introduced), the myterious number eleven-that I verily thought, here is the key to Carnac !

The event referred to is found not only in British, but in other authors. Premising that slight discrepancies are met with in details-as for instance, that "Maximus" in one is called "Maximianus" in another, and so forth-still, putting the general statement together, it is, upon the whole, this: —

Gratian, joint Emperor of the West, began to reign A.D. 375. He made Magnus Maximus (or Maximianus), a Spaniard by birth, his governor of Insular Britain. Whilst M. Maximus was engaged in reducing Picts and Scots, and otherwise

enlarging the bounds of Insular Britain, Gratian gave great offence to his army and its officers, and especially to M. Maximus, by the promotion of strangers in his service, and by adopting Theodosius the Younger as his colleague in the Roman empire. M. Maximus, considering himself to be well worthy of that honour, determined to obtain the purple. In A.D. 381 he revolted, declared war against Gratian, collected the whole of his forces, drained Insular Britain of its troops, invaded Gaul, and defeated Gratian. Maximus was accompanied by Conan Meriadoc, Prince of South Wales. Instead of sending his army back to Insular Britain, he resolved to establish them as a colony on the western peninsula, between the Seine and the Loire, then called Armorica, now Britanny. In the year (according to Usher) A.D. 383, he settled there 30,000 soldiers and 100,000 emigrants from Insular Britain; and made the Welsh prince, Conan Meriadoc, King of Armorica, giving to it the name of Britannia Parva, or Little Britain.

Wishing to avoid all mixture with the Gauls, he sent over to Island Britain for wives for his soldiers and emigrants, commissioning Dionoth, Prince of Cornwall, to collect and send out a colony of women. The Prince of Cornwall had a daughter, Ursula, on whom Conan Meriadoc had previously fixed his affections. To accompany her as the future Queen of New Britain, Dionoth contrived to collect (the peculiar number is stated in the chronicle) eleven thousand women of a higher class, and a much larger number of inferior varieties-many willing, many unwilling to go. But, under such patronage as the Princess Ursula for their future queen, they went. As they were steering towards the coast of Britanny (one of the wildest in the world), contrary winds rose and dispersed the whole fleet. The greater part of the ships foundered; but the women that escaped death in the sea fell into the hands of barbarians and infidels, and of Gratian's soldiers, who were on a marauding expedition along the coast. The British ladies, as well as the humbler women, were cruelly abused or made slaves of, but the greater part (so says the history) were murdered.

lead and encourage them. All went away upon their own humble resources, with only humble friends around them, to seek new homes-on the other side of the world.

But put a different case. Suppose some large province at the command of the Queen of England, within a few hours' voyage, and colonists called for; Her Majesty sending out one of her own daughters, engaged to be married, to preside over the new colony as its queen; and every pressing invitation urged upon the aristocracy and gentry to send out young scions of their houses, to take with them all the followers and retainers they could muster. Would not the Thames be filled (as in the older case, the chronicle says it was) with ship-loads of unappropriated fair ones, ready enough to transfer themselves under such high auspices? I think it would; and am encouraged so to think by no less an authority than The Times newspaper, which only a few days ago, speaking of the roving nature of every class of our people, assured us that

"There is not a fire-side in England, Ireland, or Scot-
land, but one at least out of the half-dozen would rather
be anywhere else than there-at San Francisco, the North
Pole, Timbuctoo, or the Sandwich Islands!
is not a household that does not yield at least one willing
recruit to any mode of escape from the Englishman's


So that, in the historical statement of a large female colony to ancient Britanny (with homes and husbands, military and civil, all awaiting them), there is nothing improbable. On the contrary, it seems undeniable that, if Armorica was colonised (as it certainly was) by thousands of men, thousands of women must have followed.

Suppose further: If any fearful catastrophe were to befal my modern emigration, and the young queen, with hundreds or thousands of her friends and followers, to be shipwrecked, or to meet with such cruel usage or fate as awaited the Cornish princess Ursula and hers, surely it would be regarded as a national disaster-not unlikely to be marked by monuments and gravestones, perhaps by some work of large and costly kind, according to the taste and scale of our times. The taste and fashion in old British times (especially in cases of a public character) was to erect huge but simple blocks of stone, of which we have hundreds of examples still existing along the western side of England and Wales. And I am not sure whether these gigantic native masses are not (as monumental stones) much more impressive than the broken columns, weeping willows, tea-urns, and fat cherubim of Kensal Green


Well, now just let us weigh this ancient statement quietly, and judge of its probability (as a whole) by a fair test, our own knowledge of what is actually going on in Island Britain at this very day. What is the number of emigrants leaving the Thames, the Mersey, &c., every week? one single day last week, eight hundred people left the Thames alone, and during that same week seven thousand from Liverpool. How many dur--yea, even than many of the costly barbarisms to ing the same few days sailed from the Clyde, or be met with now and then in our cathedrals. from Cork harbour, &c., I know not. But be the number what it may, there was no English princess, there were no patronesses of minor rank to

Upon reading this event in the old British history, and happening at the moment to recollectfirst, the situation of Carnac upon the very sea

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »