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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how truely, thinks was deriv'd from these very
ravens*. If Strabo had said, that the divination
itself "was superstitious and vain, or that it was
ridiculous to ima^in the ravens cou'd discern the
cake of the guilty from that of the innocent (tho
they might greedily eat one of them when hungry,
and wantonly sport with the other when their bel-
lies were full) no man of judgement, wou'd contra
diet him. As for ravens having some white in
their wings, it contains nothing fabulous, I myself
having seen such, and no ornithologists omitting
them. I will own, indeed, that so uncommon a
thing as white in the wing of a raven, and for a
couple of them to hold a place so cunningly to
themselves,*was enough to work upon the super-
stitious fancies of ignorant people, who laid such
stress above all nations upon augury; so that in
this whole story of the two ravens, nothing appears
to me either fabulous or wonderful. Nay, 1 am
persuaded Artemidorus was in the right, there
being examples at this time of ravens thus securing
a place to themselves ; and the first I shall give is,
for ought any body knows, the very place hinted
by Artemidorus. Dr. Martin, in his Description
of the lies of Scotland, discoursing of Bernera
(which is five miles in circumference, and lyes
about two leagues to the south of Harries) "in

* la Anaotatione nd hunc S'raboais locam.


this iland," says he*, " there's a couple of ravens,
■which beat away all ravenous fowls; and when
their young are able to fly abroad, they beat them
also out of the iland, but not without many blows
and a great noise." In this iland, moreover, to
3-emark a farther agreement with Artemidorus,
there's a fresh-water lake call'd Loch-bruist, where
many land and sea-fowl build. He tells usf else-
where of another such couple, which are of the
same inhospitable, or rather cautious and frugal
disposition, in a little iland near North-Uist; and
Ktill of such another couple ij:, in all respects, upon
the ile of Troda near Sky. But as eagles were no
less birds of augury, than ravens, the doctor, in
his account of a little iland near the greater one
of Lewis §, says, that he saw a couji!e of eagles
there; which, as the natives assur'd him, wou'd
never suffer any other of their kind to continue in
the iland : driving away their own young ones, as
soon as they are able to fly. The natives told him
further, that those eagles are so careful of the
place of their abode, that they never kill'd any
sheep or lamb in the iland; tho' the bones of
lambs, fawns, and wild-fowl, are frequently found
in and about their nests: so that they make theii*
puichase in the opposite ilands, the nearest of
which is a league distant. There's such another
oMple of eag'ios, and as tender of injuring their
native country, on the north end of St. Kilda||,

*IVge47. +Pi<ge60. J Page 166. § Page 26. || Page 29?.


which Hands may be view'd ia the map of Scot-
land. I must observe on this occasion, that there's
no part of our education so difficult to be eradi-
cated as superstition; which is industriously iu-
still'd into men from their cradles by their uuises,
l)y their parents, by the very servants, by all that
converse with them, by their tutors and school-
masters, by the poets, orators, and historians which
they read : but more particularly by the priests,
who in most parts of the world are hir'd to keep
the people in error, being commonly back'd by the
example and authority of the magistrate. Augury
was formerly one of the most universal supersti-
tions, equally practis'd by the Greecs and the bar-
barians ; certain priests in all nations, pretending,
tho' by very contrary rites and observations, to
interpret the language, the flight, and feeding of
birds: as Eneas thus addresses Helen the priest
of Apollo *,

Trojugena, interpres Divum, qui numlna Phoebi,
Qui tripodas, Clarii l^uros, qui sidera sentis,
Et Tolucrum lingaas, et pra«petis omina pennae,
Fare age.

Now to comprehend what deep root superstition
takes, and how the sap keeps alive in the stump,
ready to sprout forth again, after the t»unk and
branches have for many ages been cut off; I beg

* Vlrg. Aen. lib. 3.


your patience to hear the following story, espe-
cially since we are upon the subject of ravens.
When I was in Dublin in the year 1697, I walk'd
out one day to the village of Finglass, and over-
took upon the way two gentlemen of the old Irish
stock, with whom I had contracted some acquain-
tance at the coflfee-house. They told rae they
were going a good way further, about a business
of some importance; and not many minutes after
one of 'em cry'd out with joy to the other, see cou-
sin, by heaven matters will go well: pointing at
the same instant to a raven feeding and hopping
hard by, which had a white feather or two in the
wing that was towards us. The other appear'd
uo less transported, nor would they stir till they
saw what way the raven flew ; which being to the
south of them, and with a great noise, they were
fully confirm'd about the success of their business.
This brought to my remembrance that oblative
augury in Virgil*:

Scarce had he said, when full before his sight
Two dores, descending from their airy flight,

Secure upon the grassy plain alight •

' With watchful sight

Observing still the motions of their flight,

Geminaa cim forte Columbae

Ipsa sub ora riri coelo Tenure volantes,

lilt viridi sedSre solo Testigia pressit,

Obseinins quae signa ferant, quo fendere pergaot.

Jcreid. Kb. 6. ver. 190.


What course they took, what happy signs they shew ;

They fled, aad, flutt'ring by degrees, withdrew &c.

Urydew'i translat.

Nor was I unmindful, you may be sure, of that,
passage in Piautus*,

'Tis not for nought, that the raven Sings now on my left ;
And, croaking, has once scrap'd the earth with his feet.

Upon my putting some questions to those gentle-
men, they said it was certain by the observation
of all ages, that a raven having any white in its
wings, and flying on the right hand of any person,
croaking at the same time, was an infallible pre-
sage of good luck. I us'd a great many arguments
to show them the vanity and unreasonableness of
this piece of superstition, comparing it among
other extravagancies, to the no less absurd one of
dreams; where if one happens by chance to come
to pass, while ten thousand fail, these are forgot
and the other remember'd. But I am persuaded
all I did or cou'd say, even my argument ad ho-
minem, in proving that augury was specially for-
bid by the law of Moses, wou'd have made little
impressibn on them; had it not been that they
miscarry'd in what they went about, as one of
them candidly own'd to me some weeks after-

,* Nod tenter^ est, quod corTos cantat mihi nunc ab laera
Semel radebat pedibus terrain, et voce crocitabat sua.

Aulul. Act, 4. Seen, 3, ver. I.


wards, who cou'd then listen to my reasons, and
seem'd to taste them. Thus far have I been led
"by the ravens of Artemidorus. But I have not
rambl'd yet so far after birds as the old Gauls,
"Avhereof a part (to use the words of Justin after
Trogus*) settl'd in Italy, which took and bunit
the city of Rome; while another part of them pe-
netrated into the Illyric bays, by the slaughter of
the barbarians, and under the guidance of birds,
(for the Gauls excell all others in the skill of au-
gury) settl'd in Pannonia": telling next, how,
after dividing their forces, they invaded Greece,
Macedonia, and most parts of Asia, where they
founded the Gallogrecian tetrarchy. But still
you see they were birds, that guided those fa-
mous expeditions.

V. I have by good authorities shown before,
that the antientest Greec writers had much greater
certainty, and knew many more particulars, con-
cerning the Brittish ilands, even the most remote
and minute, than such as came after them; by rea-
son that the Grecian trade hither, open first by
the Phenicians, had been for a long time interrup.
ted, or rather quite abandon'd. Thus in time the
original relations came to be look'd upon as so
many fables, at which I do not so much wonder

* Ex his portio Id Italia consedit, quite et utImoi Romam cap.
tara incendit; et portio Illyricos sinus, ducibus Avi'bns (nam
Augurandl studio Galli praeter ceteros callent) per s( rages bar.
barorum penetrawt, et ia Pannonia cousedit. Lib, 24. cop. 4.


in any man, as in the most judicious of all geo-
graphers and the most instructive, I mean the
philosopher Strabo. These later Greecs were
implicitly credited and transcrib'd by the Roman
writers, till Britain came to be fully known, hav-
ing rather been shown than conquer'd by Julius
Cesar; and scarce believ'd to be an iland, tho' it
was constantly affirm'd to be so by the most antient
discoveries, till Vespasian's lieutenant, Agricola,
found it beyond all possibility of contradiction to
be an iland*, part of the Roman fleet sailing round
it. But of the remotest ilands there has been no
exact account from that time to this. That of
Donald Monro, in James the Fifth of Scotland's
time, is very imperfect: and tho* in our own time
Doctor Martin, who is a native of one of those
ilands, has travell'd over them all to laudable pur-
pose; yet his descriptions are in many instances
too short, besides that he omits several observa-
tions, ^^'hich his own materials show he ought to
have frequently made. Considering, therefore,
the curious things out of him and others, that may
be agreeably read in my too former letters (toge-
ther with many more accounts of monuments
there, which I have from good hands) I own that
I am passionately desirous to spend one summer
in those ilands, before the History of the Druids

^ Hanc Oram novissimi mans tunc primuin Romana Classis
circumrecta, insulam esse BrltanDiam affirmaTit. Tacit, in Viia
Jgriccqp, 10.



makes its public appearance in the world. But I
return to the antient writers who mention the re-
motest Brittish ilands, of whom Pytheas of Mas-
silia, a Greec colony in Gaule (now Marseilles) is
the very first on record. He liv'd in the time of
Alexander the Great, and publish'd his geographi-
cal work, or rather his voyages, intitul'd the Tour
of the Earth*, before his contemporary Timeus
wrote, or Dicearchus, or Eratosthenes, or Poly-
bius, who follow'd each other, and who in some
things disagree. This Pytheas, and also one
Euthymenes, were sent by the senate of Marseil-
les to make discoveries, the former to the north,
the latter to the south. Euthymenes, sailing
along the coast of Africa, past the line; and Py-
theas, landing in Britain and Ireland, as well as
on the German coast and in Scandinavia, sail'd
beyond Iceland. Both the one and the other
made such discoveries, as long past for fables:
but time, by means of our modern navigation, has
done both of 'em justice. Pytheas, on his part,
was terribly decry'd by Strabo, who without cere-
mony calls him a most lying fellow\ ; tho" he's
since found, and now known by every body, to be
much more in the right than himself. IS'othing
is more exact, than what he has related, or that
is related after him, of the temperature of the Brit-

• rii( wtpioJo;. Scholiast, in Apollonii Argonautica, lib, -4, ad
vers. 761.

t rjyQeaf afff 4'£^5(f«TP; t^nraira'. Lib. 1, jp. 110.


tish climate, of the length of the nights and days,
of the strange birds and monstrous fishes of the
northern ocean: nor is it a small loss, that a trea-
tise he wrote in particular of the ocean has perish'd
with his other works, whereof we have onely a few
fragments. He was the first, for ought appears,
that mention'd Thule, meaning thereby the utmost
inhabited iland beyond Britain, from which he
says it is about six days sail*, and near the frozen
sea, which perfectly agrees to Iceland. But
Strabo denies that there was ever any Thule f,
or that any thing beyond Iceland (which he places
to the north of Great Britain, wheras it is due
west of it) either was or cou'd be inhabited.
" They," says he in his first book J, " who have
*seeu Brittish Ireland, speak nothing about Thule,
but onely that there are several small ilands near

irgof etpnrw ; tyyv^ Jetva; taj TTitnyuia^ flaXorlij^. Libt 1. p. 109.

f Tul in the ancient language signifies naked and bleak, as,
Iceland has neithpr tree nor shrub ; so that TuLi, without any
alteration, is the naked iland, the most proper name for Iceland,
and which foreners must have naturally learnt of the Britons,
.whether Ibernian or Albionian. Tulgachni nocht, Tul is every
naked thing, says O'Clery in his Vocabulary of obselete words.
It was a slender affinity of sound, that made lla (one of the
western Scottish lies) to be taken for Thule; for neither is it the
utmost land of Europe, nor yet of the Brittish ilands themselTe;.
See what I have written in the second book concerning the dis-
putes about Thule.

■ysnis fu^fits wift rm BftToviit>iV. Ibid. pag. 310.


Britain." In tlie second book be says*, " the ut-
most place of navigation in our time, from Gaule
towards the north, is said to be Ireland, which
being situated beyond Britain, is, by reason of the
cold, with difficulty inhabited; so that all beyond
it," continues he *' is reckon 'd uninhabitable." This
of Ireland, namely, that it is the north of Britain,
and scarce habitable for cold, he repeats again in
two or three places; from which he draws this
conclusion, that there is no Thule at all, since no-
thing is habitable beyond Ireland; which, there
fore, according to him, is the most northerly part
of the habitable earth. You see here how much
more in the right Pytheas was, who liv'd in the
time of Alexander, than Strabo who livd in the
time of Augustus and Tiberius; and that it is a
proceeding no less impertinent than unjust, to
have any man contradicted who was upon the
spot, but by such others as were also there, un-
less the things related be manifestly impossible,
or that the relator is no competent judge ; as if a
traveller, who understands no mathematics, should
affirm the Malabrians to be the best mathemati-
cians in the world. But Strabo, who, notwith-
standing all these gross mistakes in the extremi-
ties of Europe, is one of the foremost authors in
my esteem: Slrabo, I say, a little lower in the

• "O ie yi am mj KtXT«»t itfo; apKrcv, irXouc trj^tim; \iytTcu irofa tkc tut, > irj
T'.n jEjunt, sireitEiva fssv u^av tut BfSTanit>i{, aSxiiij it tut 4u;jos- mmu^ojt; mj-j t«
iiTEXFt^s y<ij.iii^iif aeutira. Id, lib. S, fug. 124,


same book, as doubting whether he was in the
rig'ht, and pretending it was no great matter shou'd
he be in the wrong, affii-ms that at least it is not
known whether there be any habitable place be-
yond Ireland (which he still places to the north
of Britain), *' nor is it of any importance to the
prince*," says he, " to have an exact notice of such
regions or their inhabitants, especially shou'd
they life in such Hands, which cannot contribute
any thing to our damage or profit (meaning the
Romans) there being no intercourse between us."
This reflection might perhaps be true with respect
to the emperor and the empire; yet it is a very
lame reason for a geographer, who is accurately
to describe all places, let them have relation to
his prince or not. But the truth of it is, he wou'd
not believe the antient Greec and Massilian sail-
ors, neither had he any better information him*
self, wherby to supply or ta correct them.

VI. As for Ireland, it was very well known to
the more antient geographers, as I show'd before ;
it being directly in the way of the Phenicians (Avho
are said by Aristotle f to have discover 'd it) when
they sail'd for Britain. Lying therefore so con-

jl^jjttC Hat Tou? eixowTrt? : xat /AaTn^A ei vtiTavs otxeitTotavra^f Oi /w-jitc ?,u7reiv fAU'ro
•f^tf^etv «]^(K ^uwjvTa fMi^eVf ha td wtenvffKcvtvi. Ibid. pag. 176.

+ Ey th fla^ays'D, to c|» 'HfOuMmi ^nxm, <^acrni vjm yiaf^^nimtamrnnnn
epnjUHn, e^ova-an v>.nn re'tranrosa'Trtij ttat 'jrorafxavo' irhairovr, xar rote" Koittoiit Kae-
woiir 9auji*ariB, aTtexovran, ievheionxn efiefxn; ct quae seqnuntnr illic itliqna,
lliberois imprimis convenientia. De MiraMl. tlusmltat.


veniently for the Phenicians, Grecians, Spaniards,
and Gauls, it was always a place of great trade:
and for this reason Tacitus * says (agreeable to
the Irish annals) " that its ports were better known
for trade, and more frequented by merchants,
than those of Britain. Neither is Pytheas's ac-
count of the frozen sea, any more than that of
Thule, a fable. Whoever was in Greenland, knows
it to be literally true. It is, therefore, in the an-
tient Greec and Roman books, call'd the icy, the
slowf, the congeal'd, the dead sea; as I have read
that it is in some Arabic books very properly
written, the dark sea and the sea of pitch. In the
oldest Irish books 'tis call'd by words ;]: that import
the Joul, and the foggy sea; and likewise Mitir-
chroinn, or the coagulated sea§, from the word
Croinn, which signifies close and thick as well as
round ||. From this original, which Pytheas and
other travellors learnt no doubt from the Britons,
this sea was nam'd Oowmm^: and not (as after-

* Melius aditus portusque, per commercia et negoUatores,
eogniti. Vit. Jgric. cap. 24.

+ Mare glaciale, pigrum, congelatum, roortnuni.

X Muircheachtf Muircheoach.

§ Mare coDCretum.

II Crunn has the same signification in Welsh, and Cronni or
Croinnigh in both the languages signifies to gather, to obstruct,
to heap, and particularly Cronni to thicken or stagnate waters;
so that this derivation of the Cronian, and congeal'd sea, cannot
be reasonably. call'd in question.

*i 'A^^ Hfonn.


wards invented from the mere sound) because
Cronos, or Saturn, was inchanted in Ogygia, an
Hand west of Britain ; which is fabulously reported
by Plutarch* and other writers, who have hitherto
been inconsiderately follow'd by every body. I
wonder they do not affirm after them, since they
may do so with e^ual reason, that some of the
west and north Brittish ilands are possest by he-
roes and departed souls f . The northern sea, even
before one comes to the icy part, and perhaps
most properly, may be term'd slow and dead, by
reason of the Rousts, or meetings of contrary
tides ; whose conflict is sometimes so equal, that
they are a great impediment to the boat or ship's
way: nay somtimes, tho' under sail, they can make
no way at ^l; but are very often impetuously
whirl'd round, and now and then quite swallow'd
up. This kind of ship wrack is no less naturally
than elegantly describ'd by Virgil, when he relates
the fate of Orontes who commanded a ship under
Eneas :

Ipsius ante oculos ingens a verttce pontus
In puppim ferit ; excutitur, pronusque magister
Volritur in caput : ast illam ter fluctus ibidem
Torquet agens circum, et rapidus Torat aequore vortex,

Aen, lib. 1.

* De facie in orbs Lunce: de Defectu Oracular. Videndi
etiam Orpheus in Argonauticis, Plinius, Solinus, Isaacius Tzet.
zes in Lycophronis Alexandrani, &c.

t lidem consulendi, quorum in Annotatione praecedenti men.
tio : nee non in Horatii Epodam 16 commentantes legend!.



I shou'd not forget here, that, upon the discovery
of Thule by Pytheas, one Antonius Diogenes
■ivrote a romance in twenty four books, which he
intitul'd the Incredibilities of Thule; where he laid
his scene, and whereof Photius has given some
account *. I have dwelt the longer upon these
ilands, because they did not onely, like the other
parts of Britain, abouad with Druids, who have
there left various memorials of themselves: but
also because the last footing they had in the
■world was here, which makes it little less than
essential to my subject. Nor was it in the lie of
Md.n alone, that a peculier government was set
up by their procurement or approbation ; as you
have read in my second letter of their disciple, the
admirable legislature Manannan. There was like-
wise another government of their erection, singu-
lar enough, in the Hebudesf; where better provi-
sion was made against the changing of an elective
into a hereditary monarchy, and against all other
exorbitances of the prince, than ever I read in any
author antient cr modern. Solinus, speaking of
these ilands, " there is one king," says he ;]:, " over

* T«» uTre; eiuJint ttTrirow X»y«i »,i. In Bibliotlieca, cod. 166.

+ Another name for the Western lies, cqniTalent to the He.
bridti : if they were not originally the same, having perhaps by
the mistake of transcribers been written for each other ; nothing
being easier, thaa to confound ui with ri, or ri with ui, as an.
tiently written.

+ Rex unus est unirersis : nam quotquot sunt, omnes angusta
iHt«rla?iedi»id«i>tdr. Rex nihil snum habt?t, omnia unirei so-


them all; for they are, as many as be of them, di-
vided onely by narrow channels. This king has
nothing of his own, but shares of every thing that
every man has. He is by certain laws oblig'd to
observe equity: and lest avarice shou'd make him
deviate from the right way, he learns justice from
poverty; as having no manner of property, being
maintained upon the public expence. He has not
as much as a wife of his own, but by certain turns
makes use of any woman towards whom he has
an inclination; whence it happens, that he has
neither the desire nor the hope of any children."
'Tis pity this author has not specify'd those laves,
by which equity was prescrib'd to the Hebudian
monarch, in injoying what was proper for him of
other men's goods : and that he has not told us,
how those vicissitudes were regulated, whereby he
had the temporary use of other men's wives, who
nevertheless -were to father all the children. , As
I show'd this passage one day to a couple of my
friends, one of them readily agreed, that the state
must needs find their account in this constitution-
both as it sav'd the expence of treasure in main-
taining a numerons royal progeny, and as it sav'd
the expence of blood in settling their several claims

rum. Ad aequitatem certis Legibus stringitur; ac, ne aTaritiA.
dirertat a rero, discit paupertate justitiam : utpote cui nihil sit
rei familiaris, verum alitur e publico. Nulla illi datur fcemina
propria; sed per vicissitudines, in quacunque commotus sit, usu.
rariata sinaU unde ci »ec Totum, nee spes, Liberornm. Cap, 22<


or contentions: but had it not been, said he, for
the strict care taken against accumulating riches
or power on the prince, 1 should have naturally
thought, that it was one of those Druidical priests,
who had thus advantageously carv'd for himself.
Hereupon the other reply'd, that he fancy'd such
priests wou'd be contented to have plentiful eat-
ing apd drinking, and variety of women, thus es-
tablish'd by law for them; since it was for no
other end, he conceiv'd, but to obtain these, that
they struggl'd so hard any where for power and
riches. But if this were so, the Druids cou'd be
at no manner of loss about their pleasures; consi-
dering the sway they bore in the civil authority,
and their management of the much more power-
ful engine of superstition: for " without the
Druids, who understand divination and philoso-
phy," says Dion Chrysostom*, "the kings may nei-
ther do nor consult any thing ; so that in reality they
are the Druids who reign, while the kings (tho' they
sit on golden thrones, dwell in spacious palaces,
and feed on costly dishes) are onely their minis-
ters, and the executioners of their sentence."
Judge now what influence those priests had upon
the people, when they might thus control the
prince; and conseqviently, whether they could

* KeXTO* Jt ouf ovpftajous-i Apulia;, niu toutouj Trtfi /uayriiiiiy cvtos xai my a^Xw
re(J)iay, aiy etvEu Tfli? BairtXEyo-jv ou^ey e^HV TTgetTTSiv ouS'g &t)u\£a-Qat; eoyi th fXEv ct^nOsc
fusmvq ttp^siVf Toy? 5¥ ^ttg-iMcti auran u7rep»jT*s k*( hattoYov; yiyvtQaj ttj? yvaj^nf, cy
0povot? ;^py0'fli? HadiijUEVou?, xat oixta? juE^a^a? oiKtvna^, x«tt <iTo>^vrifMti iyoi^9vfAiywt<
De recustttione Magistrat. in Stnatu, pag, 538. Edit, Paris,


possibly want any thing, that brought 'em either
pleasure or power. The kings bore all the envy,
and the Druids possest all the sweets of autho-

VII. But leaving both for a while, I submit to

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 12 of 31)