Robert Henry.

The history of Great Britain : from the first invasion of it by the Romans under Julius Cæsar. Written on a new plan (Volume 1) online

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and made them conjecture that her furface was- like that
of our earth, unequal, confiding of feas, values, and
mountains* From thence they came to be generally of

(47V Stanley's Hift. Philofoph. p. 557.

(48) Carte's Hift Eng. v. i. p. 52, 53..

(49) Diod. Sicul. 1. 2. c. 47. p. 1 59. 1. 12. c. 36. p, 501,

(50) Plutarchus de Placit. Philofoph. 1. a. c. 28. Burnet's Ar-
sfeeolog. Philof. p, 207. Dutens Recherchss, &c. c. 12. p. 219.


Chap. 4. L E A R N I N G, &c. 257

opinion that fhe was alfo inhabited (51). As thefe were
in particular the doctrines of Pythagoras, we have not
the leaft reafon to doubt but they were entertained by the
Druids of Gaul and Britain. But the eclipfes of the fun
and moon, as they excited the greateft aftonifhment in
the common people, fo they awakened the moft earneft
attention in the ancient philofophers of all countries.
It was not very difficult to difcover the immediate caufes
of thefe furprifing appearances j and therefore it is pro-
bable that the aftronomers of all countries, after fome
time, found out that thefe extraordinary objurations
of the fun were occafioned by the interpofition of the
moon between the earth and that great fountain of light ;
and thofe of the moon, by the intervention of the earth
between her and the fun. However this might be, it is
certain that they obferved them with the moft anxious
care, and recorded them with the greateft diligence and
fidelity, as the moft remarkable events in the hiftory of
the heavens (52). Thefe mutual obfeurations of the
heavenly bodies were generally believed, for many ages,
to proceed from the extraordinary interpofition of the
Deity, and to be portentous of fome great calamity or
revolutions (53). It was even long before the philofo-
phers themfelves were fully convinced that eclipfes pro-
ceeded from the eftablifhed laws and regular courfe of
nature ; and ftill longer, before they imagined that it
was pofiible to foretell them a confiderable time before
they happened. Thales is univerfally acknowledged to
have been the firft of the Grecian philofophers who at-
tempted to foretell an eclipfe of the fun j and, from the
account which Herodotus gives of that matter, he feems'
rather to have guefled at the year in which it was to
happen, than to have difcovered the precife time of it by
calculation (54). Thales is fuppofed by fome writers to
have formed this conjecture by the help of the Chaldean
cycle, called Saros (55). This cycle confifted of 6585-f
days, or 223 lunations, or 18 years 15 days eight hours 5

(51) Burnet, p. i2o. 198. 226. Dutens, p. 323, &c.

(52) Porphy. apud. Simplic. v. 2.

(53) Plin. Hift. Nat. 1, 2. c. 12. Valer. Maxim, 1. 8. c. H.

(54) Herodot. 1. 1. p. 29.

(55) Flamftead Hift. Cceleft. Brit. 1. 3. p. 7. Letters to Martin
Folk©, Efq; on the Aftronomy of the Ancients, p. 93,

S 2 after


the flare


after which they imagined, from a long feries of obfer-
vations, that the eclipfes of the fun and moon returned
again in the fame order and quantity as before {$&)• It
is poffible that the Druids of Gaul and Britain may have
been acquainted with this or fome fuch cycle, collected
from their own obfervations, or communicated to them
by Pythagoras or fome of his difciples ; and by this means
they may have predicted eclipfes, in a vague and uncer-
tain manner, as modern aftronomers predict the return
of comets.
Their af- _ Though the fun and moon, the illuftrious rulers of the
day and night, were certainly the chief objects both of
the religious worfhip and philofophic enquiries of the
Britifh Druids, yet we have no reafon to imagine that
they wholly neglected and disregarded thofe lefTer lights
which make fo glorious an appearance in the canopy of
Heaven. We are told both by Caviar and Mela, that
they ftudied the frars as well as the fun and moon j and-
that they profeffed to know, and taught their difciples
many things concerning the motions of thefe heavenly
bodies (57). From thefe teftimonies we may conclude
that tht Druids were acquainted with the planets, dif-
tiriguiihed-them from the fixed fears, and carefully ob-
ierved their motions and revolutions. If this difcovery
was the refult of their own obfervations, it would be
gradual, and it would be a long time before theyffound
out all the planets (58). They might perhaps have re-
ceived fome afliftance and information from Pythagoras,
or from fome other quarter. But whether this dif-
covery of the planets was their own, or communicated
to them by others, it is highly probable that they were
acquainted with the precife number of thefe wandering
ftars. Dio Caihus fays, that the cuftom of giving the
name of one of the planets to each of the feven days of
the week, was an invention of the Egyptians, and from
them was gradually communicated to all the other na-
tions of the world ; and that in his time this cuftom was
ih firmly eiiabiiihed, not only among the Romans^ but

(56) Letters to Martift Folkes, Efq: on the Afironomy of the An-
cients, 1. a. p. 13,

{57) Cjefarde Bel. Gal. 1. 6. c. 14* Mela, 1. 3.C, 2>
- ($8] Origin of Laws, &c, v. 1. p. 249,


Chap. 4. L E A R N I N G, &c. 2$c>

among all the reft of mankind, that in every country it
appeared to be a native inftitution {$9)* The know-
ledge of the planets, and perhaps the cuftom of giving
their names to the days of the week, was brought out of
Egypt into Italy by Pythagoras, more than five hun-
dred years before the beginning of the Chriftian *era;
and from thence it could not be very long before it
reached Gaul and Britain. But though we have little
or no reafon to doubt that the Druids knew the number,
and obferved the motion of the planets, yet it may be
questioned whether they had difcovered the times in
which they performed their feveral revolutions. Some of
thefe {tars, as Jupiter and Saturn, take fo great a num-
ber of years m revolving, that it required a very extraor-
dinary degree of patience and attention to diicover the
precife periods of their revolutions. If we could be cer-
tain that the ifland in which the ancients imagined Saturn
lay afleep, was one of the Britifh ifles, as Plutarch inti-
mates it was, we might be inclined to think that the
Britifh Druids were not ignorant of the length of the
period in which the plan-et Saturn performs a revolution.
For that fame author, in another treatife, tells us,
** That the inhabitants of that ifland kept every thirtieth
* year a foiemn feftival in honour of Saturn, when his
w " ftar entered into the fign of Taurus (60)." Every .
reader is at full liberty to judge for himfelf, what degree
of credit is due to fuch teftimonies, which in fome of
their circumftances are evidently fabulous, though in
others they may perhaps be true.

If we could depend upon the above teftimony of Phi- ,ConftclIa-
tarch, we fhould have one poiitive proof that the Druids l j° ns > * nd
of the Britifli ifles were acquainted with the constel-
lations, and even with the ligns of the zodiac ; and that
they meafured the revolutions of the fun and planets, by
obferving the length of time between their departure
from and return to one of thefe figns. But though we
"had no direct evidence of this remaining in hiftory, yet
it is certainly very probable, on feveral accounts. At
firft fight, the fixed liars appear to be fcattered over the

'59) DioCalT. 1. 37 .

(6p) Plutarch, de Defe&u Craculorura, Id. de Facie In Orbe Luna.




The mun-
dane fyf-
tem oi

vault of Heaven in the greateft confufion and diforder.
But upon a more attentive view, we are apt to be ftruck
with the remarkable figures of fome clufters of them, and
to fancy that they referable certain animals, and other
things with which we are well acquainted. As thefe
(tars always prefent the fame figures to our view, by de-
grees they make a deep impreifton on our imaginations,
and the idea of them recurs every time we fee them.
Agreeable to this, we find that the practice of dividing
the fixed ftars into clufters or conftellations, and giving
each of thefe a particular name, was very ancient, in
every country where they applied to the ftudy and con-
templation of the heavenly bodies. A writer of great
erudition hath endeavoured to prove, that feveral of the
conftellations, and even the figns of the zodiac, were
known both in Egypt and Chaldea, above fixteen hun-
dred years before J. C. (61). It appears, from the
writings of Hefiod and Homer, that fome of the con-
ftellations, at leaft, were known to the Greeks in very
ancient times (62). Pythagoras, who flourifhed in
Italy more than five hundred years before the birth of
Chrift, was well acquainted with the conftellations and
the zodiac (63). It feems to be almoft certain, there-
fore, that the Druids of Gaul and Britain had obtained
fome knowledge of thefe inventions, either by their own
obfervations, or from the communications of others.
But it muft be confelfed, that hiftory hath not preferved
any account of the particulars, and extent of their know-
ledge, in this part of aftronomy.

The Druids of Gaul and Britain, as well as the ancient
philofophers of other countries, had a general plan or
•he fyftem of the univerfe, and of the difpofition and ar-
rangement of its various parts, in which they inftructed
their difciples. This is both probable in itfelf, and is
plainly intimated by feveral authors of the greateft au-
thority (64). But we cannot be certain whether this
Druidical fyftem of the world was of their own inven-

(61) Origin of Laws, Arts, and Sciences, v. I. p. 244, 245.
(fz) Letter to Martin Foikes,Efq; on Aftronomy, p. ao, &c.

(63) Ibid. p. 119,

(64) Ccef- de Bel. Gal.l. 6. c. 14. Mela de Situ Orbis, 1. 3. c. 3. Am-
mian Marcellin, 1. 15 , c 9. Cluverius, 1, 1 . c. 38.


Chap ~ 4. L E A R N I N G, &c. 261

tion, or was borrowed from others. If it was borrowed,
it was moft probably from the Pythagoreans, to whom
they were the neareft neighbours, and with whom they
had the greateft intercourfe. The mundane fyftem of
the Pythagoreans is thus delineated, by the learned Mr.
Stanley, from the writings of thefe philofophers:
<c The fun is fettled in the midft of the world, im-
" movable •, the fphere of the fixed ftars in the extre-
" mity or outlide of the world, immoveable alfo ; betwixt
<c thefe are difpofed the planets, and amongft them the
" earth as one of them : the earth moves both about the
" fun and about his proper axis. Its diurnal motion by
« one revolution makes a night and day, its annual mo-
M tion about the fun by one revolution makes a year; fo
" as by reafon of his diurnal motion-to the eaft, the fun
« and other ftars feem to move to the weft ; and by
M reafon of its annual motion through the zodiac ? the
*? earth itfelf is in one fign, and the fun feems to be in
<( the fign oppofite to it. Betwixt the fun and the
<c earth they place Mercury and Venus ; betwixt the
« earth and the fixed ftars, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
" The moon being next the earth, is continually movecj
<c within ; the great orb betwixt Venus and Mars,
*< round about the earth as its centre - 7 its revolution
(f about the earth is completed in a month, about the
* r fun (together with the earth) in a year (65)." A
late learned writer is of opinion, that the above account
of the Pythagorean fyftem cannot be fairly collecl:e4
from the writings of thefe philofophers (66). It would
be very improper to enter into any difcuffion of this
queftion in this place ; efpecially as we cannot be certain
that the Druidical fyftem of the world was the fame with
the Pythagorean.

It hath been imagined, that the Druids had inftru- Aftrono-
ments of fome kind or other, which anfwered the fame JjJ^^.
purpofes with our telefcopes, in making observations on
the heavenly bodies (67). The only foundation of this
very improbable conjecture is an expreffion of Diodorus
Siculus, in his defcription of the famous Hyperborean

(65) Stanley's Hift. of Philofophy, p. 573.

(66) Clarke on Coins, p. 114.

(67) Carte's Hift Eng„ v, j. p. 53.




ifland. They fay further, that the moon is feen from
that iiland, as if fhe was but at a little diftance from the
earth, and having hills or mountains like ours on her
furface (68). But no fuch inference can be reafonably
drawn from this expreffion, which in reality merits little
more regard than what Strabo reports was faid of fome of
the inhabitants of Spain : ** That they heard the hilling
" noife of the Sun every evening when he fell into the
« Weftern Ocean (69),'"

The application of the Druids to the ftudy of philofo-
phy and aftronomy amounts almoft to a demonstration
that they applied alfo to the ftudy of arithmetic and
geometry. For fome knowledge of both thefe fciences
is indifpenfably necefTary to the phyfiologift and aftrono-
mer, as well as of great and daily ufe in the common
affairs of life.
Arithmetic * As foon as the inhabitants of any country are formed
of the - m t c \y[\ fociety, and are poffeffed of property, they
begin to need and to acquire fome ikill in the ufe o£
numbers for the management of their affairs. Even
while they are ftill a nation of fhepherds, and have
no other wealth but their flocks and herds, they learn to.
count the number of their cattle of different kinds, to
d.'ifcoyer in what .proportion they jncreafe or decreafe, to
judge how great a number of one kind of animals is
equivalent to a given number of another kind, and the
like. "W hen fome of the people of this nation begin to
cultivate the earth, and others to engage in commerce,
their affairs become more complicated •, they ftand in
need of, and by degrees obtain, a more extenfive know-
ledge in arithmetical operations. But when a conside-
rable number of the people of this nation 3 like the.
Druids of Britain, have been long employed in phyliolo-
gical and aftronomical refearches, in difcovering the na-
tures and properties of bodies ; the form and magnitude,
of the world ; the order, motions, and revolutions of
tne heavenly orbs ; we may conclude, that they have
made conliderable progrefs in the fcience of numbers,
and the arts of calculation. The truth of thefe obferva-
tions is confirmed by the hiftory of all nations both an-
cient and modern 5 in which we conftantly find that the.

(68) Diod. Sic. !. 2. § 47. (69) Strabo, 1. 2. p. 138.


Chap. 4. LEARNING, &c. 263

fkill of every people in arithmetic was proportioned to
their way of life, and to their progrefs in the other
fciences, and efpecially in aftronomy (70). On this
foundation we may reaibnably prefume, that the Britifh
Druids were no contemptible arithmeticians. If we
were certain that Abaris, the famous Hyperborean philo-
fopher, the friend and fcholar of Pythagoras, was really a
Britifh Druid, as fome have imagined, we mould be able
to produce direct hiftorical evidence of what is here pre-
fumed (71). For Iamblicus, in the life of Pythagoras,
lays, " That he taught Abaris to find out all truth by
M the fcience of arithmetic (72)." It may perhaps be
thought improbable that the Druids had made any confi-
derahle progrefs in arithmetic, as this may feem to be
irnpoffible by the mere ftrength of memory without the
affiftance of figures and of written rules . But it is very
difficult to afcertain what may be done by memory alone,
when it hath been long exercifed in this way. We have
had an example in our own age, of a perfon who could
perform fome q£ the moft tedious and difficult operations
in arithmetic, by the mere ftrength of his memory (73).
The want of written rules could be no great difadvan-
tage to the Druids, as the precepts of this, as well as of
the other fciences, were couched in verfe, which would
be eafily got by heart and long remembered. Though
the Druids were unacquainted with the Arabic charac-
ters which are now in ufe, we have no reafon to fuppofe
that they were deftitute of marks or characters of fome
other kind, which, in fome meafure, anfwered the fame
purpofes, both in making and recording their calculati-
ons. In particular, we have reafon to think that they
made ufe of the letters of the Greek alphabet for both
thefe purpofes. This feems to be plainly intimated by
Csefar in the following expreffion concerning the Pruids
of Gaul : " In almoif. all other public tranfactions, and
" private accounts or computations, they make ufe of
" the Greek letters (74)." This is further confirm-
ed by what the fame author fays of the Helvetii ; a
people of the fame origin, language, and manners with "

(70J Origin cf Laws, Arts, and Sciences, v. I. p. ail, 212, 213.

(71) Carte's Hift. Eng.p. 52. 68.

{72) Iamfelic. vita Pythag. c. 19.

(73) Jedediah Buxton. (74) C»far de Bel. Gal 2 !. 6. c, 14.

j the


the Gauls and Britons. " Tables were found in the
" camp of the Helvetii written in Greek letters, con-
* c taining an account of all the men capable of bearing
" arms, who had left their native country, and alfo
" feparate accounts of the boys, old men, and wo-
" men (75)."
Geometry When the people of any country come to be engaged
of the in agriculture, architecture, commerce, and the ftudy

Druid?. £ tke f c i enceS) they have daily occafion to meafure fome
things, as well as to number others. This obliges them
to ftudy the fcience o£ menfuration, in which they will
by degrees obtain, partly from the information of others,
and partly from their own invention, that knowledge
which is neceffary to their exigencies. From iience we
may very reafonably conclude, that fome of the Britons,
and particularly the Druids, had made connderable pro-
grefs in geometry, or the fcience of menfuration, as well
as in arithmetic, before they were fubdued by the Ro-
mans. This conclusion is confirmed by the bed hiftori-
cal evidence ; that the Druids were all acquainted with
that part of this fcience which is properly called geometry,
or the meafuring of land. (( When any difputes arife
<c (fays Csefar) about their inheritances, or any contro-
« verfies about the limits of their fields, they are en-
" tirely referred to the decision of their Druids (76)."
Now, we muft be convinced that it was impcffible for
the Druids to determine thefe difputes about inheritances
without the knowledge of geometry, when we confider
that it was the law and cuitom of the ancient Britons to
divide the effete of every father equally among all his
Ions. In order to do this, it was neceffary for thefe
judges to be able to divide an effete into four, five, fix,
or more equal parts, according to the number of fons in
a family. Nay, both Caefar and Mela plainly intimate
that the Druids were converfant in the moft fublime ipe-
culations of geometry ; " in meafuring the magnitude of
" the earth, and even of the world ( 77 ).'*
Ofoeraphy ^ e ^ ave reaion to believe that the Britons, efpecially
of the the Britiih Druids, were very well acquainted with the

Druids. geography at leaft of their own ifland. Mankind, even

(75> Caefar de Eel. Gal. 1. 7. (76) Ibid. I. 5. c. 13.

(77) Cseiar de Bel. Gal. 1, 6. c, 13, MelaJ. 3. c. a.


Chap. 4. LEARNING, &c. 26s

in the moft rude and imperfect ftate of fociety, gradu-
ally acquire a knowledge of the country in which they
dwell, of the diftance and relative Situations of its moun-
tains, woods, rivers, and other remarkable places, by
purfuing their game and tending their flocks. But when
they are formed into regular ftates and kingdoms, their
knowledge of their country becomes more exact and par-
ticular, by the difpofitions which are neceffary in fettling
the boundaries of thefe fever al ftates. Sovereigns are at
great pains to gain an exact knowledge of the Situation
and extent of their own dominions, and of thofe of their
neighbours. When wars arife, and armies are marched,
by the allies of both contending parties, from all the
different, and moft diftant corners of a country, the
geography of the whole, and of every part of it, be-
comes more and more known. When merchants carry
the fuperfluities of one part to fupply the wants of ano-
ther, they acquire a ftill more exact, acquaintance with
the situations and diftances of places. But befides all
thefe, the Britifh Druids had peculiar opportunities of
obtaining a perfect knowledge of the geography of their
country. They were a very numerous body of men,
who had focieties fettled in all parts of Britain and the
furrounding ifles, maintaining a conftant correfpondence
with each other, and with their common head, the
Archdruid. By collecting and comparing the accounts
of thefe different focieties, a complete fyftem of Britifh
geography would eaftly be formed. For it is certainly
not to be imagined, that an order of men who were en-
gaged in deep refearches into the form and magnitude of
the univerfe, would neglect to enquire into the form
and dimenfions of their own hland. We have indeed
no reafon to fuppofe, that the geographical knowledge of
the Britifh Druids was confined to this ifland. It is
more probable, that it extended much farther, though
we cannot now difcover how far it did extend.

The inhabitants of all countries, when they are once Mechanics
formed into regular focieties, foon begin to employ their ° f th *
reafon in contriving means to aflift their natural weak-
nefs, and enable them to execute defigns which they
could not accomplifh by mere bodily ftrength. This is
evidently one of the valuable purpofes for which reafon
was beftowed on men, and in this they have been more



or lefs fuccefsful according to the exigencies of their va-:
rious ways of life, the degrees of their natural ingenuity,
and of their acquired knowledge. As long indeed as
the people of any country live wholly by hunting and
pafturage, their natural ftrength and fwiftnefs may be
nearly fuffrcient to anfwer all their purpofes ; but when
they engage in agriculture, architecture, navigation,
and other arts, they foon find that the utmoft exertion
of their bodily ftrength is often infufficient to accomplifh
their deligns. This obliges them to exercife their rear
fbn in finding out the means of furmounting thefe diffi-
culties, and executing the works in which they are en-
gaged. In this mankind have been remarkably fuccefs-
ful ; and, by the difcovery and application of the me-
chanical powers, as they are called, they have been
enabled to execute many great and ufeful works, which
were naturally impoffible to fuch feeble creatures, without
the afiiftance of thefe powers. As feveral of the Britifh
nations were not unacquainted with agriculture, architec-
ture, navigation, and other arts, when they were invad-
ed by the Romans, we may conclude, that thefe nations
were not altogether ftrangers to the nature and application
\ of at lead fome of the mechanical powers. Nay, there
$re ftill many monuments remaining in Britain and the
adjacent iiles, which cannot fo reafonably be afcribed to
any as to the ancient Britons, and which give us caufe to
think, that they had made great progrefs in this ufeful
part of learning, and could apply the mechanical powers,
fo as to produce very aftoniihing effects. As thefe mo-
numents appear to have been defigned for religious pur-
pofes, we may be certain that they were erected under
the direction of the Druids, How many obeliiks or pil-
lars, of one rough, unpolifhed ftone each, are ftill to be
feen in Britain and its ifles P Some of thefe pillars are
both very thick and lofty, erected on the fummits of
barrows and of mountains ; and fome of them (as at
Stonehenge) have ponderous blocks of ftone raifed aloft,
and retting or* the tops of the upright pillars ( 7 S ) . We
can hardly fuppofe that it was poilible to cut thefe prodi- .
gious maffes of ftone (fome of them above forty tons in
weight) without wedges, or to raife them out of
the quarry without levers. But it certainly required

(7S} Dr. Borlafe's Antiq. Cornwall, 3, c. 2.
■ ' ftill

Chap. 4. LEARNING, &c. 267

{till greater knowledge of the mechanic: 1 powers, and
of the methods of applying them, to tranfport thofe
huge ftones from the quarry to the places of their defti-
nation ; to erect the perpendicular pillars, and to elevate
the impofts to the tops of thefe pillars. If that prodigi-
ous ftone in the parifh of Conftantine, Cornwal, was
really removed by art from its original place, and fixed

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