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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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characters were invented several centuries aftpr St, Patrick had
introduced the Roman alphabet. This concession would be
equally fatal to them, foi; it would then follow, that St. Patricjc
was not the father of Irish letters, otherwise it would have been
totally unnecessary for the Irish to frame an alphabet to them-
selves several centuri.es after his arrival. The truth is, that the
Jrish had an alphabet before the arrival of St. Patrick, qnd that,
prior to that iera, the orthography of their language was fixed ;
and though St. Patrick and the christian clergy wrote the Irish
language in Rom^n characters, still they found it i6:ipossible to
add one letter more to the Irish alphabet than it originally f>os.
sessed. The genius and orthography of the language rendered
it impracticable. If any reinforcement from the Roman alpha,
bet was necessary, it was most particularly the letters v and ^,
yet these were never introduced.. That the Irisli alphabet has
liad its gradations from rudeness to perfection, is no more than



394 NOTES.

has happened to that of all other languages. Sacli manuscripts
as were written when these letters wert in a very rude and ill
defined state, would become occult, and hardly intelligible, when
the alphabet had assumed, in a long series of ages, a better de.
fined and more polished form. This circumstance has giTen rise
to the groundless conjectures about magical and hieroglfphical
letters, &c. and has led even some of the Irish historians astray.
The unintelligibility of a manuscript (if it is occasioned by the
rudeness of the characters in which it is written) has always been
considered as a genuine mark of rfs antiquity ; yet the prepos.
terous Pinkarton makes it a proof of modernism ; and, rather
than allow that this obscurity has been superinduced on these
manuscripts by the innovation of letters and of language, in a
long lapse of ages, forges an occult alphabet for them in the
eleventh century. But so far was the Roman alphabet from
being generally prevalent in Ireland in the time of St. Patrick,
that its use in that kingdom was partial and limited, even as lata
as the beginning of the seventeenth century. King James the
First having subjugated Ireland, wished to disseminate the gos.
pel among the Irijh, and for this pious purpose caused two edi-
tions of the Eibla and New Testament ia be printed in 1602.
Both editions were printed in the Irish (Celtic) language, bnt
one was printed in the Roman, and the other in the Irish cha-
racters. Had the Irish alphabet been superseded by the Roman
one, or rather had not a considerable part of the Irish nation still
retained their primitive mode of writing, this last edition was
totally unnecessary and gratuiloas. Oa the other hand, had
these Irish letters been hieroglyphical, mystical, or nninteliigi.
ble, as has been groondlessly asserted, would King James have
been guilty of such an act of stupidity, as to make use of them
for the propagation of the gospel. He certainly did not mean to
insult the Irish with a book which was unintelligible.

The Greeks and Romans inform us that they derived their
letters from the Phoenicians, and we give them implicit credit.
The Irish ascribe theirs to the same source, yet they have been
laughed to scorn. It is extremoly hard thus inipticitly to cretfit



NOTES. 395

the assertions of Greece and Rome, and to treat with contempt
the claim of the Celts, who are by far the most ancient race of
the three. The pretensions of the Celts, the aborigines of Eu«
rope, and the precursors of the Greeks and Romans, are modest
ill the extreme, in as much as they go no higher than those of
Greece and Rome, nations only of yesterday, when compared
to the antiquity of the Celts, If there is any absurdity at all in
the case, it rests exclusively with the modern and upstart Greeks
and Romans, in carrying their pretensions as high as the Celts.
I am, however, far from disputing the authenticity of the Greek
and Roman claims. All I mean is to shew that there is nothing
immodest, extravagant, or absurd, in the Irish claim; and I do
not hesitate to maintain, that if there is any priority in the case^
the Celts, by far the most ancient race, are (caeteris partibus)
clearly entitled to it,-

But if we surrender the Phoepician origin of the Irish alpha,
het, we involve ourselves in a still greater difficulty. Let iis,
however, probe the matter to the bottom, and look for its origin
in some other direction. Here we have not many choices, but
must ascribe it to the Goths, to the Romans, or to the Greeks.
The Goths (on the evidence of their devoted advocate Pinkarton)
were unacquainted with letters till the ninth century, and con.
sequently it could not be derived from this quarter. St. Patrick
and hfs successors, notwithstanding all their influence, were
never. able to introduce the Reman alphabet into general use in
Ireland ; on the contrary, the Irish alphabet kept distinct and
aloof, without altering its form, or borrowing a single letter;
and after an arduous struggle, yard arm and yard arm (if I may
use a na>utical phrase) for twelve centuries, survived till the se-
venteenth century, and might have survived to the present day,
had not James the First introduced English laws, English forms
of government, and English schools, with strict injunctions that
the Vernacular (Irish) language should neither be spoken nnr
taught in these seminaries. The Irish alphabet was not, there,
fore, borrowed from the Romans. The Greek alphabet has un.
dergone three gradations : it first consisted of the sixteen letters



396 NOTES.

of Cadransj to these Palamedes added four, about the time of
the Trojan war. Simonides, at an after period, added four
more, making in all twenty-four. If we deriye the Irish from
tJie Greek alphabet, we must select the tera when these alpha-
bets approximate nearest both as to number and identity of let.
lers. This sera is prior to the siege of Troy, when the alphabets
of Pheenicia, of Greece, and of Ireland, (with the exception of
the letter F, the origin of which is uncertain, and which might
still be spared without any material injury to the Celtic Ian.
gnage) absolutely coincided both in number and identity of let.
ters. It is, indeed, worthy of remark, that the Irish have added
only one letter (F) to the alphabet of Cadmus, whilst the Greeks
have added eight, and the Romans nine. Though there are in-
stances of a nation enlarging its alphabet, there is not one (as
far as I know) of curtailing or abridging it. Had the Celts bor^
rowed their alphabet posterior to the siege of Troy, when the
Greek alphabet (which, no doubt, kept pace with the Phcenician
one) was increased to twenty letters, they must have borrowed
the same number; and if after the time of Simonides, they must
have borrowed twenty.four letters. It is, therefore, no vain
boast, when the Irish ascribe their alphabet to the Phcenicians ;
for there is, in fact, no alphabet in the world, which, at the pre.
sent day, bears the same intrinsic, unequivocal, and characteris.
tic marks of identity, with that of Cadmus. Nor is there any
well founded reason to conclude that the Celts borrowed this
alphabet through the medium of the Greeks. They were them.
selves an Asiatic colony, who long preceded the Greeks, and
might have brought this alphabet along with them to Enrope.
We find them, at the first dawn of history, situated to the west
of Greece, and along the shores of the Mediterranean, whence
their intercourse with the Phoenicians was frequent and easy.
But as I have no certain data whereby to fix this point, J shall
content myself with having clearly established that the Irish
alphabet is of Phoenician origin— that it (S older than the siege of
Troy— and (hat the Celts have cousequently had th« use of letters
at least 3000 years.



NOTES. 397



Antiquity of the Irish Manuscripts.

Ireland, and its early history, have been long viewed through
a dark cloud of prejudice. It is the most remote, and probably
the last inhabited of all the Celtid districts. In Italy, in Spain,
in Germany, in Gaul, not a siriglei Celtic manuscript has been
preserved. In WaleS, and the Highlands of Scotland, we have
a few, but Ireland itself boasts of an infinitely greater number
than all the other Celtic liatians taken together. Ireland, at
first sight, protnises least, whilst its pretensions are apparently
extravagant and unbounded. This seeming incongruity has in.
duced the bulk of mankind, without enquiry or consideration,
to pronounce its manuscripts mere modern forgeries, and its his.;
tory utterly fabulous and absurd. Singularly, however, as Ire-
land is in these respects circumstanced, it is not witho|it a paraU
lei. Judea, a century prior to the christian sera, was known to
the Greeks and Romans hardly otherwise than by name. Taci.
tus, who Wrote about the beginning of the second century, gives
us an account of the Jews totally false and ridiculous. Justin,
who wrote a century and a half later, is equally false and fabu.^
lous. It was Christianity alone (the best boon of heaven to
mankind) which made their history and antiquities to be inves-
tigated and respected. Hid Ethnicism still prevailed in the
\Vorld, the history of the Jews (though the most ancient, as well
as the only authentic onij) would, without doubt, have been, at
the present day, treated with more contempt and ridicule than
even that of Ireland.

That there is no nation in the world which makes high preten-
sions to antiquity, without being in some measure entitled to it,
may safely be granted. This we know to be the case with the
Jews, the Chaldeahs, the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Greeks,
and the Romans, .&c. The ■ Celts (of whom the Irish are a

3 E



398 NOTES.

branch) were, in fact, the Aborigines of Europe. They long
preceded the Greeks, Romans, and all other Europ»>an nations.
The antiquity of the Irish is, therefore, no vain dream. But
the true point of astonishment is, by what means the Irish pre.
served their history and records, when those of all the other
Celtic nations were lost. This point is the object of the present
enquiry ; and I shall disf nss it with all possible brevity and im.
partiality.

That the Celts had the use of letters at a very remote period,
I have already clearly established. In Caesar's time, the chief
aGademy or school of the Pruids had been so long established in
Britain, thatDriiidism was supposed to have been invented there,
and thence transferred into Oanl. Fiokarton lays hold of tbis
passage, and (vol. 1. page 405.) asserts that the Phceoicians,
who traded t9 Cornwall for tin, taught the inhabitants Oruidism.
Were ve to graet this position, it would completely invalidate
the very system, which ie has so strenuously labourfd to rear.
Druidism, as defined ^y C^sar, (otoprebeoded all that vras great
and respectable m pbilosopby. The Fhceeicians preceded the
Greeks themselves in the u^e of letti^r;, aad at least equalled '
them in all the arts and i^ciences. If the Phceniciaqs taught the
Weigh l3ruiUis«», it must of necessity follow, that the first Druids
were Phoenician Philosophers or Missionaries, who would iofaJ*
libly bring the literature, the art» and the sciences of Phceoicia,
aloog with theoi, aod communicate them to their disciples.
Hence a direct ctUtQQel wonld have been opeoed for pouring the
whole literature aod arts of Phoenicia into Britaio. Yet this
same visionary theorist, who obtrudes oo the C«Its a Phecoiciau
religion, denies theijj a PbwBiclan alphabet. Indeed it is no less
extraordinary than true, that there is hardly one argument ad.
duccd b> this gentleman against the Celts, which does Qot ope.
rate directly in their favour.

When Cssar tells us tiiat Druidism was invented in Britain
he expresses himself with diffidence, and only says, it is suppos.
ed, (existimatur.) The truth is, that the C.r8*ks aid Roauns
early unsheathed the sword a^aiast mankiad, and each in thsir



NOTES. 399

turn aspifed t» unWersal dominion. TI18 Goths ot Germans, a

Persian race, fetohiog the Ctrcait of the Caa[)iaa Se4, poured ia

upon the Cells in Germany, from the north, with relf ntless bar.

barity. OwiSg to these and other causes, the Continent of Eu.

rope wa» almost »ne scene of tiirbulenee, rapine, and bloodshed.

The peealiar studies of the Druids required solitude and ri'tire.

ment. This was only to be found in Britain, where they fixed

(heir chief establishment, and tbkher (as Caesar informs us) re.

sorted from the Coiitinent all such as wished to study Druidism

to perfection^ The date of this Drtiidicai e»tabiishmeHt in Bfi.

tain cannot be ascertainedy but we may safely fix it fife celitariei

before the tiilie of Caesar. A shorter period would be wholly

instrfficient to iAak6 the Druids in Gaul fotget the origin of the

ickstitution, and resign the presedency to those in Britaio. The

same wary prudence and sound policy which pointed out Bfi.

tain, as the place of g,t6Aie3t security for the chief estal^lrsbment

of the Diiuids, would also point it out as the safest asylum for

their records aind manusci;ipts ; ^d hence the most importaot

lOiinuscrrfyts af Gaul would be deposited in Britain.

. Ireland was occupied by the same Celtic race which inhabited

Britain and Gaid^ and bad un(2.aef9lionably the same civil and

religious' institutions. ToUnd well remarks, thali DFu4dism Was

oaly coes:teiided with the Ceikic dialects. In Cesar's time, as

we have already seen, the British Druids were the teachers of

theGauls} and it would be a:bsurd to suppose that the Irish,

with whom the intercourse was equally easy, did not participate

the Same advantage. UnfoHunately the Roman page throws no

light on the early history of IrelaOd, el'se we might p>robably find,

that, even in Caesar's time, the Druids of Ireland were nothing

inferior to titose of Britain. Indeed,, at thi« very period, the

DrUids of Britain might regard Ireland as their last asylum.

In Caesar's time, the Druids were subjected to no p<oscrip.

tio'H nor persecution. From bis- whole account it appears that

thRyhad the use of Ie1ter9,-^tbat they were at least pairtiaHy ac.

quainted with the-Greek and Roman languages, — that they were

numerous and dispersed over the whole extent of Gaul, — that

T 1? '>

«J «. 4il



400 NOTES,

they were profound philosophers, and the supreme judges in all
causes, civil or religious. It is equally clear, from the testimony
of the same author, that the Druids of Gaul had, from time im-
memorial, been the pupils of those in Britain. Hence we may
reasonably infer, that the Druids in Britain were as numerous
as those in Gaul, and as widely dispersed. From their monu-
ments still remaining in England, Scotland, and Ireland, this
can be clearly demonstrated to be the case. Indeed, if there
were any doubt of these monuments being Druidical, it is com.
pletely done away by their being in all respects the very same as
those found in Gaul and Anglesey, countries confessedly Draid.
ical. Exclusive of this identity, we have many of these monu-
ments in England, Scotland, and Ireland, still denominated the
Towns of the Druids — the Stones of the Druids — the Graves of
the Druids — the Houses of the Druids, ifc. There is hardly a
district of six miles square, in Great Britain or Ireland, which
cannot boast of one or more of these antiquities. Some of these
Druid's Houses (Tighte nan Druineach) are even found in Ar-
gyleshire, a clear proof that the Druids were not confined to
Wales, as Pinkarton foolishly imagines, but spread over the
whole extent of Britain. Were we to take Caesar's words lite-
lally, and suppose that Druidism was invented in Britain, the
Druids would certainly disseminate this religion over Britain,
and provide it with Druids, before they would think of sending
Missionaries to convert Gaul, In whatever country Druidism
prevailed, the Druids behoved to be very numerous. They were
philosophers, ministers of religion, public teachers, civil judge-,
historians and physicians. Every inhabited district had its
share of them. On the testimony of Cajsar, Britain bed an im.
mense multitude of inhabitants— rAominuffi «it infinita nmllitudo.
Indeed, so completely were the Druids scattered over the whole
extent of Britain and Ireland, that, even in the most remote and
solitary corners, as well as in the most desert and insignificant
islands, their monuments are every where to be found. We
ipuy therefore safely conclude, (with Mr. Toland) that thp



NOTES. 401

liruids were planted in Britain and Ireland, as thick as the pre-
sent establishedclergy, and in some instances much thicker.

The unbounded influence of the Druids over all ranks, and
their interference in civil affairs, in process of time led to their
ruin. Caesar, who had trampled the liberties of his country
under foot, and might dread its resentment, treated foreign na.
tions with great lenity. He seems to have treated the Druids
in Gaul with much respect, and we are certain that Divitiacus,
their Archdruid, was his principal friend and favourite. From
the same motives of policy, he treated Hyrcanus, the high priest
of the Jews, with equal attention and respect. But succeeding
emperors, particularly Tiberius and Claudius, passed the most
cruel and exterminating decrees against the whole order of the
Druids. Pliny {see Note 12.) says, that in the reign of Tibe,
rius, Druidism was totally extirpated. Yet it is very extraor.
dinary, that, except a Druid slain by the Emperor Claudius (see
IVote 12), there is not another instance on record of the mas-
sacre or death of a single Druid, throughout Ihe whole extent of
Gaul. In Great Britain we have only one solitary instance to
the same effect mentioned by Tacitus (see Note 49. p. 308.) whea
the Romans under Suetonius, towards the middle of the first cen.
tury, roasted the Druids of Anglesey alive. After this period no
Roman author makeS/mention of the Druids, either in Gaul, or
onthe Urrafirma of Great Britain. Pinkarton, and some others,
have beeq kind enough to collect all the Druids of Britain on the
Isle of Anglesey, that the Romans might extirpate them at one
blow. Weak and credulous mortals ! More than three centuries
after this massacre, Ammianus Marcellinus found Druids in the
Isle of Mann; and fron) this position of the rear^ it is not diffi-
cult to ascertain where the main liody had taken shelter. That
Anglesey had its proportion of Druids, cannot be disputed ; but
it is not the murder of perhaps a dozen or two in this island, and
of one solitary individual in Gaul, which will account for all the
Druids in Gaul and Britain, who, including their subordinate
gradations, could not, on the most moderate <:alcu1ationj amount
to less than (wenly thousand. In more modern times, an hun.



402 NOTES.

dreet Ollamks (gradaate bards) hare struck up their harps at
once, in tile hall of a single chieftain, f hope I Deed not inform
the reader that the Bards were the second order of the Druids.

We have already seen that theDrUids, before there was eithftr
edict or decree of the Roman senate against them, had fixed their
chief college or academy in Britain, On the first appearance of
Roman invasion, the same wary policy wonld dictate the neces-
sity of ^aasferring it to Ireland, the only asylum then left. Bat
on the passing of the relentless laws for their utter cxlirpalion,
they had not only to provide for the safety of their chief esta.
blishffient and principal records, but even for that of the whole
order. That the Roman decrees were enforced with the utmosi
rigour, is safficiently evinced, from the Emperor CfsudioS' having
so far forgot bis dignity as to become the esecutioder of one of
these Druids, and from the Romans sparing thv bulk of the in.
habitants of Anglesey (presidium impoikwit victis), whil»t they
actually and literally roasted the Druids aiire, igni iuo in«ol~
vunt. Two such terrible esampled were safiicient to alarm the
Druids in Gaul and Britain; and so readily did tbey take the
alarm, and so carefuUy did they keep oat of the way, that there
is not another instance of the marder of a Druid on record.

From the time of this massacre in Angtesey, there is uo more
mention of Drttids in Rrttain, tilt AmmranusMarceilhros (about
the year 368) found them in the Isle of Man&. The description
which he gives of them (see Htste ^0) is animated And sublime.
This is an incontestiffle proof that the Druids were not sxtirpat.
ed by the Roittans, but that they fted every where from their re.
lentless! pcrsecuttofr. The world, at this' time, afforded the
Druids but few places of shelter, Th« Romans were, a* this
period, (368) masters of atl Gavl, a Coaslderable part of Ger-
many, and nearly the whole of Britain. Even Anglesey, more
than three centories prior to this period, coutd not afford tbera
shelter against the Romans. The Druids in Gaul would natu-
rally, on the first appearance of danger, take shelter among the
DiuiJs in Britain, with whom they were well acquainted, atid
under whose caxe they had completed their studies. When th«



NOTES. 403

Roman power reached them in Britalo, they had no alternative
but Ireland, and the islands of Scotland. When no Roman
found a eiogle Druid on the continent of Britain, and Ammianus
found the rear of them in the Isle of Mann, there cannot remain
a doubt that the main body had proceeded to Ireland, though a
fiew individuals might perhaps straggle over the Hebrides, or
shelter themselves in the most inaccessible parts /of Wales and
the Highlands of Scotland, By this event Ireland became pos.
sessed of the literati, the traditions, the history, the literature,
and the records, of all the Celtic nations. Ireland was the tie
plus ultra of Celtic migration. Here Druidism found its last
asylum, and here it made Us last agonizing effort, and expired.

It has been most unfortunate for the history of Ireland, that

its early historians bad not the candour to acknowledge the vast

acquisition of records vrhich they gained on the expulision of the

Druids from Gaul and Britain. It would^have prevented much

confusion, and afforded a handle to develops such parts of their

history as appear so hyperbolical as to baffle the most extravagant

pitch of human credulity. But the truth is, that the Irish, avail.

iog themselves of these records, to which they had no earthly

claim, apprctpriated them to themselves, and framed a history

from that oC all the other Celts ; and it is unquestionably the

appUcatioo of all the events vrbich befell all the Celtic tribes

(siace their first raigratiou from Asia) to the solitary and detach.^

^'island. of Ireland, which makes its. history appear so utterly

ridiselous and absurd. The Irish historians say that the Firbolg

{Viri Belgi&y arrived in Ireland 1500 years before the christianr

jjra-^the Tvatftde Dnnan (Damnii of North Britain) 1250,

and the Milesitms 1000. Now as all these nations unquestion.

«bly k^pt some accounts of their origin, as well as the Iiisfa, the

9q]f error which the Irish historians seem to have committed, is

substituting the date of their first migration from their respect.

ing countries, for thait of their first arrival in Ireland. Rectified

iQ this (sanoer, the iiccount is not only modest, but highly pic.

bftble. The story of Partholmiis, Nemedius, Simon JBreac, &e.

£sc. though nqt applicable to the Irish, may. yet apply to some



404 NOTES;

others of (he Celtic nations. Were these manuscripts published
with a literal translation, the other Celtic nations might yet
claim their own, and the history of Ireland would be reduced
within proper bounds. But till this is done, it is impossible for
me, or any one'else, to decide on the merits,or fix the absolute
antiquity of these manuscripts^ All that can be done is, to ar-
gue the matter on general principles.

Of all the Celtic nations, the Scots are most interested in the
publication of these manuscripts. Their history, as well as
their identity, is intervohed with that of Ireland. Pinkarton
lias strained every nerve to prove that Ireland was Scotland up
to the eleventh century. Goodal, («cc his Introduction to For*
dun) has been equally strenuous in maintaining that the north of
Scotland was Ireland. Strabo places Ireland due north of Bri-
tain, which corresponds very well to the north of Scotland.
Tacitus (Fit. Agric. 9Up. 8.) calls that part of Scotland situated
north of the rivers Clyde and Forth, quasi aliam insidam — ^i. e.



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 28 of 31)