John Toland.

A new edition of Toland's History of the druids : with an Abstract of his life and writings; and a copious appendix, containing notes critical, philological, and explanatory online

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If fatc»faU'n»t, there lixt must be your ttiroue.

OF THE DRUms. 151

chair, was thought to emit a sound under the
rightful candidate (a thing easily manag'd by the
Druids), but to be mute under a man of none or
a bad title, that is, one who was not for the turn
of those priests. Every one has read of Memnon's
vocal statue in Egypt, This fatal stone was su-
perstitiously sent to confirm the Irish colony in
the north of Great Britain, where it continu'd as
the corOnation-seat of the Scottish kings, even
since Christianity; till, in the year 1300, Edward

The Irish pretend to have memoirs concerning it for above 2000
years: nay Ireland itself is sometimes, from this stone, by the
poets call'd Inis-fail. But how soon they begun to use it, or
■whence they had it, lyes altogether in the dark. What's cer-
tain is, that after having long continu'd at Tarab, it was, for the
purpose I have mentioned, sent to Fergus, the first actual king
of Scots ; and that it lay in Argile (the original seat of the Scots
in Britain) till, about the year of Christ 842, that Keneth the 2d,
the SOB of Alpin, having inlarg'd his borders by the conquest of
the Picts, transferr'd this stone, for the same purpose as before,
to Scone. So great respect is still paid by christians to a heathen
prephesy ! not onely false in fact, as I have this moment prov'd j
but evidently illusory and equivocal, it being a thing most diffi-
cult to find any prince ia Europe, who, some way or other, may
not claim kindred of every other princely race about him, and
consequently be of that blood. This is the case of our present
soverain King George, ■who is indeed descended of the Scottish
raccj but yet in propriety of speech is not of the Scottish line;
but the first here of the Brunswick line, as others begun the Brit,
tish, SaxoD, Danish, Saso-Danish, Norman, Sazo-Norman, arid
Scottish lines. Yet this not being the sense in which the Irish
and Scots understand the oralcle, they ought consequently at this
very time to look upon it as false and groundjess.


the First of England brought it from Scone, plac-
ing it under the coronation-chair at Westminster :
and there it still continues, the antientest respect-
ed monument in the world ; for tho' some others
may be more antient as to duration, yet thus super-
stitiously regarded they are not. I had almost
forgot to tell you, that 'tis now by the vulgar call'd
Jacob-stone, as if this had been Jacob's pillow at
Bethel*. Neither shall I be more copious in
treating of another kind of stones, tho' belonging
also to our subject. They are roundish and of
Tast bulk ; but so artificially pitch'd on flat stones,
sometimes more, sometimes fewer in number:
that touching the great stone lightly, it moves, and
seems to totter, to the great amazement of the ig-
norant; but stirs not, at least not sensibly (for
that is the case) when one uses his whole strength.
Of this sort is Maeiv-amber in Cornwall, and ano-
ther in the peak of Derby, whereof Dr. Wood-
ward has given me an account from his own ob-
servation. Some there are in Wales, one that I
have seen in the parish of Clunmanyf, in the north
of Ireland, and the famous rocking stones in Scot-
land ; of all which, and many more, in our history.
Yet I cou'd not excuse it to myself, if I did not
with the soonest, let your lordship into the seci'et
of this reputed magic; which the no less learned
antiquary than able physician, Sir Robert Sib-v

* Gen. 28. 11, 18, 19. f Cluainmaine.


bald, has discover'd in the appendix to his History
of Fife and Kinross. That gentleman speaking
of the rocking-stone near Balvaird (or the bards
town) " I am inform'd," says he, " that this stone
was broken by the usurper (Cromwel's) soldiers;
and it was discover'd then, that its motion was
performed by a yolk extuberant in the middle of
the under-surface of the upper stone, which was
inserted in a cavity in the surface of the lower
stone." To- which let me add, that as the lower
stone was flat, so the upper stone was globular;
and that not onely a just proportion in the mo-
tion, was calculated from the weight of the stone,
and the wideness of the cavity, as well as the oval
figure of the inserted prominence; but that the
vast bulk of the upper stone did absolutely con-
ceal the mechanism of the motion ; and the better
still to impose, there were two or three surround-
ing flat stones, tho' that onely in the middle was
concern'd in the feat. By this pretended miracle
they condemn'd of perjury, or acquitted, as their
interest or their affection led them; and often
brought criminals to confess, what could be no
other way extorted from them. So prevalent i^
the horror of superstition in some cases, Avhich led
many people to fancy (and among them the other-
wise most judicious Strabo) that it might be a
useful cheat to society; not considering, that in
other cases (incomparably more numerous and
important) it is most detrimental, pernicious, and



destructive, being solely useful to the priests that
.have the management of it; while it not onely
disfui-bs or distresses society, but very often con-
founds and finally overturns it, of vt^hich history
abounds with examples,

XVII. I come now to the Druids houses, by
which I don t mean their forts or towns, of which
they had many, but not as church-lands ; nor yet
the houses for their schools, situated in the midst
of pleasant groves ; but I mean little, arch'd, round,
stohe buildings, capable only of holding one per-
son, where the retir'd and contemplative Druid
sat, when his oak could not shelter him from the
weather. There's another sol-t of Druids houses
much larger. Of both these sorts remain several
yet intire in the He of Sky, and also in some other
ileS; being by the natives call'd Tighthe Tvan
Druidhneach*, that is, Druids houses. Many of
them are to be seen in Wales, and some in Ire-
land; but different from those lilider-ground-
houses, or artificial caves, which are in all those
places, consisting frequently of several chambers,
and generally opening towards rivers or the sea ;
having beeli, as those of the Germans describ'd
by Tacitus f, magazins against the extreme rigor

* Corruptly Tinan. Druinich.

+ Solent et subterraneos specus aperire, eosque multo insnper
fimoonerant: suffugium hiemi, ac receptaculum frugibus; quia
rigorem frigorura ejusmodi locis molliunt." Et si quando hostis
advenit, aperta populatur : abdila autem et dcfossa aut ignoian.


of winter, or hiding places for men and goo4s in
time of war. The vulgar in the ilands do still
show a great respect for the Druids houses, and
never come to the antient sacrificeing aad fire-hal-
lowing cams, but they walk three tiujes round
them from east to west, according to the course
of the sun. This sanctify'd tour, or round by the
south, is call'd JJfeiseal*; as the unhallow'd con-
trary one by the north, TuaphoU-\. But the Irish
and Albanian Scots do not derive the first (as a
certain friend of mine imagin'd) from Di-sul, which
signifies Su^flay in Armorican British, as Dydh-syl
in Welsh aud De-zil in Cornish do the same; but
fropa Deas'\., the right (understanding hand) and
s^eil, one of th,e an.tieut names of the sun, the right
hand in this round b,eiug ever next the heap. The
j)rotestants in the Hebrides are almost as much
addicted to the Dsisiol, as the papists. Hereby
,it may be seen, how hard it is to eradicate inv.ete-
rate superstition. Tliis custom was us'd three
thousand years ago, and God knows how long be-
fore, by their ancestors .the antient Gauls of the
same religion with them, who turnd round right'
]iand-wi$e, tvhen they worshiped their gods, as Athe-
neus§ informs us out o^ Posidonius, a much elder
writer. Nor is this contradicted, but clearly con-

tur, aut eo ipso fallunt, quod queerenda sunt. De moribtis
German, cap. 3.
* Dextrormm. + Sinistrorsum. * Item Deis,

$ 'OuT«( fltoy; ■^rftjiiintvTif, STi ra Ssjia ^(I'ptfiiim, Lib. 4ii pag. 152.



firmed by Pliny, who says, " that the Gauls, con-
trary to the custom of the Romans*, turned to
the left in their religious ceremonies ;" for as they
begun their worship towardsthe east, so they turn'd
about as our ilanders do now, from east to west ac-
cording to the course of the sun, that is, from the
right to left, as Pliny has observ'd; whereas the
left was among the Romans reputed the right in
augury, and in all devotions answering it. Nor
were their neighbours, the aboriginal Italians
(most of 'em of Gallic descent) strangers to this
custom of worshipping right-hand- wise, which, not
to allege more passages, may be seen by this one
in the CwjTMZeo'f'of Plautus, who was himself one
of them: " when you worship the gods, do it turn-
ing to the right hand;" which answers to turning
from the west to the east. It is perhaps from this
respectful turning from east to west, that we retain
the custom of drinking over the left thumb, or, as
others express it, according to the course of the
sun, the breaking of which order, is reckon'd no
small impropriety, if not a downright indecency, in
Great Britain and Ireland. And no wonder, since
this, if you have faith in Homer, was the custom
of the gods themselves. Vulcan, in the first book

* In adorando dexteram ad osculum referimns, totumque cor-
J)us circumagimus; quod in Isevuin fecisse Galli religiosius cre>
«[unt, ' Hist. Net. lib. 28. cap. 2.

+ Si Deos salutas, dextrovorsum ccnseo. jlct. 1. Seen, 1.

ter. 70.


of the Iliad*, filling a bumper to his mother

To th' other gods, going round from right to left,
Skenk'd Nectar sweet, ■which from full flask he pour'd.

Butmoreof the righthand inthe chapter of ^w^wry,
XVIII. To resume our discourse about the
Druids houses, one of them in the iland of St.
Kilda is very remarkable; and, according to the
tradition of the place, must have belong'd to a
Druidess. But be this as it will, it is all of stone,
without lime, or mortar, or earth to cement it:
'tis also arch'd, and of a conic figure; but open at
the top, and a fire place in the middle of the floor.
It cannot contain above nine persons, to sit easy
by each other: and from this whole description
'tis clear, that the edifice call Arthur's Oven in
Sterlingshire, just of the same form and dimen-
sions, is by no means of Roman original, what-
ever our antiquaries have thoughtlesly fancy'd to
the contrary. Some make it the temple of Ter-
minus, and others a triumphal arch, when they
might as well have fancy'd it to be a hog-trough:
so little is it like any of those arches. As to the
house in St. Kilda, there go off from the side of
the wall three low vaults, separated from each
other by pillars, and capable of containing five
persons a piece. Just such another house in all
respects, but much larger, and grown over with a

J2v«j(«(, y>.mv nuraf tmo Xfnrapoc o-'i/virs-m. — II, 1. vcr, 597.


green sod on the outside, is in Borera, an ile adja-
cent to St. Kilda; and was the habitation of a
Druid, who 'tis probable, was not unacquainted
with his neighboring Druidess. Shetland abounds
with another kind of stone houses, not unfrequent
in Orkney, which they ascribe to the Picts; as
they are apt ail over Scotland to make eyery thing
Pictish, whose origin they do not know. Th£
Belgae or Firboigs share this honour with the
Picts, in Ireland, and King Artliur is reputed the
author of all such fabrics in Wales, except that
those of Angle^sey father 'em on tlie Irish. These
ijjstances I have given yoiir lordship, to convince
you, how imperfect all treatises about the Druids
(hitherto publish'd) must needs be ; since they con-
tain nothing of this kind, tho' ever so esseatial to
the sabject: and that none of tihese nionujiieats,
very freqiuent in France, are there ascrib'd to the
Druids^ their records about suoh things being all
lost; while very many of ours happily reniaiu to
clear them, since the usages were the same in both
countries. Nor are those treatises less defective
in the more instnictive part, concei'ning the Dru-
idicall philosophy and politics, w hereof the mo-
dern French and Brittish writervS, have in reality
known nothiixg furtlier, than the classic authors
(fiu-nish'd 'em ; or if they add any .thing, 'tis abso-
lutely fabulous, ill-invented, and unauthoriz'd.
These subjects I reserve intire for my greater
work. John Aubrey, Esq. a member of the royal


society (with whom I became acquainted at Ox-
foM, when I was a sojourner there; and collect-
ing during my idler hours a vocabulary of Armo-
rican and Irish words, which, in sound and signi-
fication, agree better together than with the Welsh)
was the only person I ever then met, who had a
right notion of the temples of the Druids, or in-
deed any notion that the circles so often raention'd
were such temples at all : wherein he was intirely
confirm'd, by the authorities which I show'd him;
as he supply'd me in return with numerous instan*
ces of such monuments, which he was at great
pains to observe and set down. And tho' he Was
extremely superstitious, or seem'd to be so : yet
he was a very honest man, and most accurate in
his accounts of matters of fact. But the facts he
knew, not the reflections he made, were what I
wanted. Nor Will I deny justice on this occasion,
to a person whom I cited before, and who in many
other respects merits all the regard which the cu-
rious can pay; I mean Sir Robert Sibbald, who,
in his foresaid History of Fife (but Very lately
come to my hands) affirms, that there are several
Druids temples to be seen every where in Scot-
land, particularly in the county he describes.
*' These (says he) are great stones plac'd in a
circle, at some distance from each other, &c."
Mr. Ailbrey show'd me several of Dr. Garden's
letters From that kingdom to the same purpose,
but in whose hands now I know not.


XIX. I shall conclude this letter with two ex-
amples of such works, as tho' not (that I can hi-
therto learn) belonging any way to the Druids, yet
they may possibly be of that kind: or be they of
what kind you will, they certainly merit our no-
tice: as, together with those for which we can
truely account, they highly serve to illustrate the
antiquities of our Brittish world. My first example
is in the Main-land of Orkney, describ'd among
the rest of those ilands by Dr. Wallace and Mr.
Brand; where, on the top of a high rocky hill at
the west end of the iland near the village of Skeal,
there is a sort of pavement, consisting of stones
variously figur'd, some like a heart, others like a
crown, others like a leg, some like a weavers
shuttle, others of other forms : and so on for above
a quarter of a mile in length, and from 20 to 30
foot in breadth. In taking up any of these stones,
the figure is as neat on the underside as the upper :
and being as big as the life, all of one color, or a
reddish kind of stone pitch'd in a reddish earth,
and the pavement being so very long; it cannot
possibly be any of the tessellated, or chequer'd.
works of the Romans. " I saw a part of the gar-
den wall of the house of Skeal, says Mr. Brand*,
decorated with these stones : and we intended to
have sent a parcel of them to our friends in the
south, as a rarity ; if they had not been forgot, at
our return from Zet-laud." Dr. Wallace f also

* Pag. 43. + Pag. 55.


says, that many of the stones are taken away by
the neighboring gentry, to set them up like Dutch
tiles in their chimneys: so that, at this rate, in less
than a century, this pavement will in all likelihood
subsist onely in books. All such monuments,
when I go to Scotland, I shall so accurately de-
scribe in every respect, and give such accounts of
them where accountable; that I hope the curious
will have reason to be satisfy 'd, or at least some
abler person be emulous of satisfying the world,
and me among the rest. Wherever I am at a loss, I
shall frankly own it ; and never give my conjectures
for more than what they are, that is, probable
guesses : and certainly nothing can be more amiss
in inquiries of this kind, than to obtrude supposi-
tions for matters of fact. Upon all such occa-
sions, I desire the same liberty with Crassus in
Cicero de Orator e*: that I mat/ deny being able to
do, ivhat Tme sure I cannot; and to confess that I
am ignorant ofivhat I do not know. This I shall
not onely be ever ready to do myself, but to ac-
count it in others a learned ignorance.

XX. But, ray lord, before I take my intended
journey, I desire the favour of having your thoughts
upon my next example. I speak of a couple of
instances, really parallel; brought here together
from parts of the world no less distant in their si-
tuation and climates, than different in their condir

* Mihi liceat negare possej qiod non potero; et fateri n«."
scire, quod nesciam, IM, 2.


tion and manners. Egypt, I mean, and the iles
of Scotland. Yet this they have in common, that
Egypt, once the mother of all arts and sciences, is
now as ignorant of her own monuments, and as fa-
bulous in the accounts of them, as any Highland-
ers can be about theirs. Such changes, however,
are as nothing in the numberless revolutions of
ages. But to our subject. Herodotus says, in
the second book of his history, that near to tke
entry of the magnificent temple of Minerva at Sais
in Egypt (of which he speaks with admii-ation) he
saw an edifice 21 cubits in length, 14 in breadth,
and 8 in heigth, the whole consisting onely of one
stone; and that it was brought thither by sea, fi-om
a place about 20 days sailing from Sais. This is
my first instance. And, parallel to it, all those
who ha^e been in Hoy, one of the Orkneys, do
afiirra (wifliout citing, or many of them knowing
this passage of Herodotus) that there lies on a
barren heath in this iland an oblong stone, in a
valley between two moderate hills, call'd, I sup-
pose, antiphrastically, or by way of contraries, thfe
Itivarfy-stone. It is 36 foot long, 18 foot broad,
and 9 foot high. No other stones are near it.
Tis all hoUow'd within, or (as we may say)
scoop'd by human art and industry, having a
door on the east side 2 foot square, with a stone
of the same dimension lying about two foot from
it, which was intended, on doubt, to close this
entrance. Within there is, at the south end of it.


cut out the fouiB of a bed and pillow, capable to
hold two persons ; as, at the north end, there is
another bed, Dr. Wallace says a couch, both very
neatly done. Above, at an equal distance from
both, is a large round hole, which is suppos'd,
not onely to have been design'd for letting in of
light and air, when the door was shut; but like-
wise for letting out of smoke from the fire, for
"whieh there is a place made in the middle between
the two beds. The marks of the workman's tool
appear every where ; and the tradition of the vul-
gar is, that a giant and his wife had this stone for
their habitation, tho' the door alone destroys this
fancy, which is wholly groundless every way be-
sides. Dr. Wallace thinks it might be the resi-
dence of a hermit, but it appears this hermit did
not design to ly always by himself. Just by it is
a clear and pleasant spring, for the use of the in-
■ habitant. I wish it were in Surrey, that I might
make it a summer study. As to the original de-
sign of this monument, men are by nature curious
enough to know the causes of things, but they are
not patient enough in their search; and so will
rather assign any cause, tho' ever so absurd, than
suspend their judgements, till they discover the
true cause, which yet in this particular I am re-
solv'd to do. /

XXI. Now, my lord, imagine what you please
about the religious or civil use of this stone, my
difficulty to your lordship is, how they were able



to accomplish this piece of architecture, among
the rest that I have mention'd, in those remote,
barren, and uncultivated ilands? And how such
prodigious obelises cou'd be erected there, no less
than in the other parts of Britain, and in Ireland?
for which we have scarce any sufficient machines,
in this time of learning and politeness. These mo-
numents of every kind, especially the forts and
the obelises, induc'd Hector Boethiue to tell strange
stories of the Egyptians having been there in the
reign of Mainus king of Scotland: nor do they a
little confirm the notion, which some both of the
Irish and Albanian Scots have about their Egyp-
tian, instead of a Scythian, (or as I shall evince) a
Celtic original ; tho' I assign more immediately a
Brittish for the Irish, and an Irish extraction for
the Scots. Nor is there any thing more ridicu-
lous than what they relate of their Egyptian stock,
except what the Britons fable about their Trojan
ancestors. Yet a reason there i.«, why they harp
so much upon Egyptians and Spaniards: but al-
together misunderstood or unobserved by writers.
But, not to forget our monuments, you will not say
(what, tho' possible, appears improbable) that, ac-
cording to the ceasless vicissitude of things, there
was a time, when the inhabitants of these ilands
were as learned and knowing, as the present Egyp-
tians and the Highlanders are ignorant. But say
what you will, it cannot fail diliusing light on the
subject; and to improve, if not intiiely to satisfy,


the inquirer. The He of Man, as 1 said above,
does no less abound in these monuments of all
sorts, than any Of the places we have nam'd; and
therefore sure to be visited, and all its ancient re-
mains to be examin'd, by,

Mv Lord,

Your Lordship's most oblig'd.

And very humble Servant.

July 1, 1718.







I. Jl TAKE the liberty, my lord, to treble you a
third time with the company of the Druids; who,
like other priests, resort always to the place where
the best intertainment is to be found : and yet I
must needs own, it derogates much from the me-
rit of their visit; that, in the quality of philoso-
phers they know not where to find a heartier wel-
com than in your lordship's study, Tho' I have
very particularly explain'd the plan of my History
efthe Druids, in the two last letters I did myself
the honor to send you on this subject, yet the
work being considerably large, and containing
great variety of matter, I have still something to
impart, in order to give the clearer idea of my de-
sign. And it is, that, besides the citations of au - ~
thors, indispensably requisite in proving matters
of fact newly advanc'd, or in deciding of antient
doubts and controveries (not to speak of such as


come in by way of ornament, or that a writer mo-
destly prefers to his own expressions) I have som-
times occasion to touch upon passages, which,
tho' I cou'd easily abridge, or needed but barely
hint with relation to the purpose for which I pro-
duce them ; yet being in themselves either very
curious and instructive, or lying in books that
come into few people's hands, I chuse to give
them in my history intire. This method I have
learnt from my best masters among the antients,
who practis'd it with much success; tho', like
them, I use it very sparingly. One or two instan-
ces you'll not be sorry to see. The explication I
have given, in the 11th section of my first letter, of
Ogmius, the antient Gallic name of Hercules, I
am no less certain you do not forget, than that you
remember I promis'd to take an opportunity of
sending you the whole piece; which I have thus
translated from the original Greec, with the ut-
tiiost accuracy. "The Gauls," says Lucian*, " call
Hercules in their country language Ogmius. But
they represent the picture of this God in a very
unusual manner. With them he is a decrepit old
man, bald before, his beard extremely gray, as are
the few other hairs he has remaining. His skin
is wrinkl'd, sunburnt, and of such a swarthy hue
as that of old mariners: so that you wou'd take

* Tflv *HpaxXea ci KEAroi OTMION ov^y-aTsvj-i ipvyn Tu e7r[;^fufi«, et qux seqiiun*
tur in Heicule GaZ(ico; Grieca etcnim loiigiora sunt, qu^ai ut USc eom-
Kiviiv iuseri possiiit.


him to be Charon, or some lapetus from the ne-
thermost hell, or any thing rather than Hercules.
But the' he be such thus far, yet he has withall
the habit of Hercules ; being clad in the skin of a
lion, holding a club in his right hand, a quiver

Online LibraryJohn TolandA new edition of Toland's History of the druids : with an Abstract of his life and writings; and a copious appendix, containing notes critical, philological, and explanatory → online text (page 10 of 31)