THE PROVINCIAL HISTORY OF ENG-LAND. III.—THE WEST COUNTRY :-UNDER THE
THE expeditions of Julius Cmsar to Britain are a blank as far as the history of the West Country is concerned, for his marches did not extend further westward than West Surrey and perhaps the eastern borders of Berkshire. He makes, however, a statement which has some bearing on the question of the race by whom Britain was originally peopled. He says that "the interior [or as one reading has it, "the lower "] part was inhabited, they say it is handed down in tradition, by those who are natives of the island ; the sea-coast part by those who with the motive of plunder and waging war passed over out of the Belgm, all of whom are called by nearly the names of the States from which they were derived when they came thither, and waging war, remained there, and began to cultivate the lands." The Belgic population of the continent extended between the Seine and the Rhine, and it has been maintained on the authority of another passage in Ctesar that they were Germans. South of these, as far as the Garonne, the population was undoubtedly Keith, and it is in this latter district that Armorica or Brittany is situated, the native language of which is so clearly allied to the ancient Cornish, and to a con- siderable extent to the Welsh. The statement of Cmsar leaves it open whether the sea-coast settlers, whom he describes as Belgic, extended to the extreme west of Britain ; the presumption, both from the limits of his means of information and from the geogra- phical position, is that his statement refers to the south-eastern parts alone. None, however, of the tribes who are mentioned by him as inhabiting Britain, bear any resemblance in name to the tribes in Gaul within the Belgic frontier. On the
other hand, we meet with the Cenimagni (placed by geo-
graphers to the north of the Stour, in Suffolk), who approach in name very. closely to a tribe in Gaul, the Cenoman- i, inhabit-
ing the present Maine, which is in the purely Keltic terri- tory. Thus the tradition reported by Cmsar is unsupported, if not contradicted, by his own narrative, and as far as he is concerned we have no evidence, but rather the contrary, of the sea coasts of Britain being inhabited by an intrusive Belgic population. It is not improbable, however, that the tradition as reported to him was based on the fact of there having actually been a second immigra- tion from Gaul, displacing to some extent the first. It is not till a hundred and seventy years later that we obtain from Ptolemy the geographer the names of two tribes then said to inhabit Britain—the Atrebates and the Belga3, who belong to the Belgic district in Gaul ; and of these the Atrebates were not on the coast, but in Berkshire and Wilts. The British Beige seem to be assigned by Ptolemy to East Somerset, Wilts, the west of Hants, and perhaps East Dorset, and they may form a connect- ing link between the Atrebates and the sea, though the non-Belgic tribe of the Rhegni intervene. It is curious, however, that Kent and the eastern counties, which lay much nearer the Belgic district in Gaul, should bear no trace of it in their names. Indeed, among the other tribes in Britain mentioned by Ptolemy, we find the Parisii on the coast immediately north of the Humber, whose name identifies them with the Parish i of Gaul, on the south or non- Belgic side of the Seine. The two other Belgic names mentioned by Ptolemy are in Ireland, the Menapii and the Chauoi, in the parts about Dublin, and contiguous to one another there, as in Belgic Gaul. We cannot then account for the appearance of Belgic names in Britain in the time of Ptolemy by any such theory of immigration as that suggested to Cassar. Who the Belga3 of Gaul were is rather doubtful. On the whole we are inclined to believe that they were a collection of tribes originally purely Keltic, but affected to some extent by an intrusion on their northern territories of some tribes from the other or Germanic side of the Rhine, though whether they were Germans who so intruded., or Keith driven before the Germans, it is impossible to say. The names, however, in the Belgic district appear to be Keltic, and it is evident from Cmsar's account that he did not find German the language then, at any rate of those whom he was induced to be- lieve to have been Belgic immigrants.
However all this may be (the statement as to the sea-coast inhabitants of Britain being disposed of), there is no evidence earlier than the modern and worthless one of Richard of Ciren- cester for placing any of the Belgic immigration within the area of the West Country, and we may fairly say that the inhabitants of that province during the British historic period were pure ICelts.
The name given to the extreme south-western population of Britain by Ptolemy is the Dam-tom; and he places to their immediate east the DIIROMIGES, the inhabitants of Dorset. We have no definite account by him of the inhabitants of West Somerset, and they have been supposed to be included by him in the Belga), but the presumption from his text seems rather to be that they formed part of the Damnonian area. Of the civilization to which they may have attained and of their habits of life during the period before the Roman Conquest, we have no further accounts than those which are contained in the allusions to the early tin trade already quoted. The 13ritons are described in a general way as tall and corpulent, but ungainly, much surpassing in stature their Gallic neighbours ; and this picture so far resembles that of the modern inhabitants of the West Country, that we are told of the latter that they are "a broad-shouldered race, above the average in stature, West-Country regiments covering a greater space of ground than those of other counties." They must have differed from both the Britons of the south-east and those of the interior described and contrasted by Ctesar. In their stage of civilization no doubt they resembled rather the former than the latter—their intercourse with foreigners would secure that—but the tin trade and the peculiar kind of influences from without con- nected with it must have made a considerable difference in their modes of life and feelings from those of their more eastern brethren. They were to a certain extent no doubt a pastoral and agricultural people, and not dependent entirely on the fruits of the chase, but they must have been (on account of the roughness of the country) less agricultural than the inhabitants of Kent, and probably greater hunters. The British breed of dogs is especially noticed by Caw. Of their religion we have no reliable account. In addition to the allusion to the "wide houses of Demeter," already quoted, we have a passage in another early writer which seems to attribute to them Bacchic orgies such as prevailed in Samothrace. Such and similar Eastern rites would certainly Thus it was that in the long interval between the commence- influences and the long preservation of British independence ment of the tin trade and the conquest of the West Country by against Saxon invasion. However, the Romans, though they did the Romans, the inhabitants of that district were left at liberty not thoroughly Romanize the West Country, laid a firm grasp to imbibe gradually and voluntarily, if not unconsciously, their upon it and on its natural wealth. Ptolemy supplies us with the foreign acquisitions of civilization. That the whole of Britain names of five Roman stations within its area, and from other made immense progress between the time of Cmsar and that of sources the number may be increased. There are clear traces of the Emperor Claudius the different accounts of the habits of the extensive Roman mining operations. Roadways, forming part of people given by the great General and the historian Tacitus suffi- the great system with which the Romans interlaced every part of the ciently attest. They had evidently never broken off the intercourse Empire, pierced the West Country to its furthest extremity, and with the Roman world commenced through Cmsar's expeditions, the line of these roads throughout Britain, as has been observed, and there seems to be some evidence that Roman civilization had was not entirely dependent on military or administrative eonsidera- crept in gradually, and superseded to a great extent the ruder tions, but was in close connection with the mineral wealth of the usages of the natives before the arms of Rome imposed on them a country, traversing all the great mining districts. Tracks no necessary assimilation. The Kelts have always been an imitative doubt of earlier British origin seem already to have existed, by race, and have seldom resisted foreign influences, except when con- which the miners brought down the fruits of their labour from fleeted with the idea of compulsion or mastership. The West- Cornwall and the Dartmoor district to the marts of commerce on Country people would have had peculiar advantages in this respect, the coast or at the heads of the estuaries ; and there is even some and would have profited by them much more than they probably evidence of similar roadways of British origin having preceded, did, but for the difficult country they inhabited. It is still a matter and perhaps been the foundation of, the great Roman highways of dispute whether there are not clear traces of British roads con- which opened up a communication between the extreme parts of fleeting Exeter and other centres of British national life and corn- the island. A Roman road from the east passed from Durno- merce with the remotest parts of the island. Be this as it may, varia, the present Dorchester (where are the remains of an it seems probable that to the West Country Britain was indebted amphitheatre, which has perhaps more claim to be called British for her first native coinage. In Ceases time the only metallic than Roman), westward and nearer the coast till it reached a currency consisted of pieces of iron or brass of a certain size and station called Moridunum, the honours of identity with which are weight. But in the interval before the expedition of Claudius a disputed between lioniton and Seaton. It then certainly passed numerous British coinage sprang into existence, as the coins of to Exeter, Isca Damnonioram, as it was then called, the great mart Tasciovanus, Cunobelinus, &c., attest, and these coins we are of Western commerce and the station of a Roman legion ; and the told were rather coarse imitations of Macedonian types, derived numerous Roman antiquities dug up from time to time prove that no doubt from the trading intercourse of the tin districts. In the at this point Roman civilization must have been strongly felt. time of Strabo we learn that British ambassadors had come to seek The road now made a bend southward, round the Dartmoor the friendship of Augustus, and the geographer speaks, perhaps wastes, and crossing the river Dart, where there was a station, with exaggeration, of the whole island as being thus brought into and the rivers Tamar, Fowey, and Pal, at each of which three friendly alliance and connection with Rome. A fragment from the points there were also stations, made its way to the extremity of lost books of Livy seems even to imply a visit from Augustus Cornwall. Again, at "Ad Aguas "—the Udata Therma or Hot himself to these shores. But it was not till the year A.D. 43, Waters of Ptolemy, and the present Wells—a road from Aquas ninety-seven years after Cmsar's departure, that an invading Solis (the Waters of the Sun)—the present Bath—separated into army from Rome again made a campaign in Britain. The first two branches, one of which proceeded to a town called from the campaigns extended as far as the territory of the Dobuni, in river on which it stood Ad Uxelam, now Bridgewater, and thence Gloucestershire ; but daring the next few years the second legion, to Isc,a (Exeter) ; the other led by a town of some importance, under Vespasia.n, succeeded after a severe struggle in taking some Ischalis, now Behester, to Moridunum. We know pretty emu- thirty British strongholds, and in making a conquest of the rately what a Roman city or town was like, and we also know country westward as far as the Isle of Wight, and probably to that the provincial stations were modelled as far as possible on the Exeter. Not only have a very large number of coins of Claudius same plan. The Romans indeed seem to have had much of the ten- been found in that city, but it was afterwards, in the time of dency to administrative organization on a fixed model which distin- Ptolemy, the fixed station of the second or Augustan Legion, and guishes the present French, but their faults as colonizers lay in oppo- nothing is more likely than that this peculiar location was site directions. The French fail through an inability to manipulate determined by its having been the original conqueror of the place. the natives to their preconceived patterns, the Romans succeeded in When and how the Roman conquest of the West Country was this respect only too well. They succeeded in absorbing the national completed and consolidated we do not know, but we next find it, life of the conquered populations so completely that it disappeared some twenty years later, forming part of the Roman province of and mused altogether to exert any influence, while in its place only be in strict harmony with the wild and savage character of Britannia Prima, the district south of the Thames and the Severn. the scenery a the West Country at this period. Pliny seems to " Many a fosse and mound,"—to use the words of Dr. Merivale, allude to some such rites among the Britons when he says that at —" many a tumulus of heroes' bones on the hills of Wilts and certain sacrifices the women went about with their bodies painted Dorset, still bear silent testimony to these obscure and nameless like Ethiopians, without clothing. Of the existence of Druidism combats ; and the narrow gorge of the Teigu, deeply scarred within their territories we have no specific notice. They were with alternately round and square entrenchments, was the scene Kelta, and no doubt possessed many of the national characteristics perhaps of the last desperate struggles for the Garden of Britain."
of that remarkable race—their open-hearted hospitality, their light- It has been remarked that in no part of the island are there' hearted but passionate temper, their strong sense of humour, or fewer traces of the Roman period in the antiquarian remains than perhaps we should rather say their natural wit and vivacity, their in the West Country. The natural difficulties of the country, it keen appreciation of the more delicate and assthetic features of nature being still no doubt thickly wooded and almost inaccessible in and life, their verve, somewhat unstable, but always brilliant many places, must have greatly impeded the progress of Roman and admirable, so open to sudden influences both of a higher arta and colonization. There would be little to tempt a Roman and lower character, their want of self-control, and their rooted settler in this wild region beyond the pursuit of commerce iii incapacity of appreciating the idea of tranquil order and impartial connection with the mining districts. We find accordingly justice, and connected with this their impatience of regular and scarcely any remains of Roman villas. The greater part of the impersonal law, and their preference of arbitrary rule when country was no doubt left very much to its old customs and coloured and impressed by personal character and varied in its modes of life, and we know that while the Latin tongue spread application to specific persons ; their devoted, self-sacrificing over the more open country, the West preserved its old lan- enthusiasm, displayed especially in their loyalty and their national guage. Very likely its native princes were still allowed to retain pride, and their utter unconsciousness or disregard of the rights of some semblance of rule under the shadow of the Roman central others, and postponement of coramon-place duties to an exuberant authority. Certainly, if we could resuscitate the life of the generosity ; in short, the characteristics of a too sensitive and West Country during the Roman period, we should obtain a unmuscular organization, a nature overcharged with nervous Keltic rather than a Roman type. Had the case been other- electricity. Although • these Keltic characteristics were subse- wise, the late period and the peculiar circumstances under quently modified in the West Country by other and very different which this part of the island passed under the yoke of elements of race, yet these novel influences were infused gradually the Saxons, might have preserved to us a more perfect pie- and at considerable intervals of time, and its people had a breathing ture than we have any chance of now reconstructing of time at each stage in the formation of their ultimate character to Romanized Britain. But of course the inaccessible character of
assimilate and mature the changes thus effected, the country applies equally to both the weakness of Roman was superinduced the demoralized life of a Roman provincial, stripped in all but name of the free political rights of a citizen, plundered by avaricious officers of the Government, and pampered in all the vices as well as the luxuries of an Empire which had appropriated all the good and evil fruits of the known world. The legions also of Rome were an epitome of the whole Empire, and in the circle around their permanent stations the influences of nearly every known nation must have been felt. The East and the West met in the ranks of the Roman legion, and the Berber found himself in company with the German or the Slav on the banks of the Thames, while the Briton was transported to the remotest eastern frontiers of the Roman world. In some parts of Britain the influence of these legionaries on the population at large must have been considerable, but in the West Country, as we have seen, they would be limited not only by the nature of the country, but also by the absorbing and transcendent influences of a great commercial mart. This last alone would keep up some amount of industrial life, while among the recesses of the deep valleys British life would grow up but little affected by these foreigners at Isca.
Meanwhile Christianity was beginning to extend its conquests throughout the Roman world, and Britain gradually yielded to the new faith, though there seems evidence that the Cluistianitywas still of a very imperfect and doubtful character in many parts, when the tide of Saxon conquest immersed the country once more in Paganism. The West Country seems to have accepted Christianity very slowly, and not till a very late period. Old associations had great weight here, and the new faith would not be the more welcome when it became that of their Imperial masters. At length, how- ever—it is said, through the instrumentality of Irish and Welsh missionaries—the Cornish stronghold of Paganism was stormed, and the West Country, having once adopted Christianity, clung to it tenaciously, though not very enthusiastically. Except in Dorsetshire, as we shall see, the Christian ecclesiastical element was not very prominent in this district, though we know that the elements of religious enthusiasm lay deep in the national character. It is of course not always easy to identify the re- ligious buildings of the early British Church, but Cornwall contains what are believed to be early Church edifices of this period in the " oratories " which are found in that county. It would seem that the early missionaries "generally built for them- selves a cell with a small oratory or church attached, in which the inhabitant of the cell was usually buried." Similar buildings are found in Ireland belonging to the same period (the fifth to the seventh centuries). "In plan they are a simple parallelogram (the breadth about half of the length), ranging from 20 to 35 feet in length, and from 10 to 17 in breadth." In the most per- fect example that remains, "about one-third of the length, the eastern portion is separated by a low stone step. This is the boundary of the chancel. Within this is a stone altar, and there is a stone bench running along the base of the wall on the inside, and the floor sunk two or three steps lower than the ground out- side the edifice. There is a door on the south side and a little loophole about 1 ft. 6 in. by lft. in breadth (and sometimes there is a doorway also) at the north-east angle, where in Irish buildings there is a round tower. The height of the church in question was from 19 ft. to 20 ft. to the apex of the gable, the side walls about 13i ft., this church being 25 ft. in length internally. There is always a wall beside these structures in Cornwall, as in Ireland and in Wales also." If the clergy who officiated in these primitive churches were at all like those described by the British Gildas in the middle of the sixth century, the Christianity of the West Country was not particularly fortunate in its pastors. He describes them as the ministers of Christ in name, not in conduct; as called pastors, but as really wolves ; as unable to correct the vices of their people because they indulge in the same vices themselves. "They are deified," he says, "with simony, are un- chaste, arrogant, and luxurious." "There is, it must be owned," observes Dr. Lingard, "an appearance of bitterness in Gildas' zeal, a tone of exaggeration in his style, which should put us on our guard ; yet no one who reads him can doubt that the picture which he has drawn is in general correct, otherwise he would have defeated his own purpose, which was to hold up his countrymen to themselves, and to shame and scare them by the faithful representation of their own wickedness." It is not improba- ble, however, that the peculiar circumstances of the West Country prevented the demoralization of the clergy as well as of the laity from being as excessive as in other parts of the island which had been more thoroughly reduced to the Provincial type ; and a ruder and simpler life in the inhabitants may there
have been accompanied by a more apostolic character in the ministers of religion. A fiery ordeal at any rate was now preparing for the British Provincials, to which its early Christian Church entirely succumbed except in the still unconquered and inde- pendent district of the West Country, which became the refuge of many a fugitive ecclesiastic as well as many an undaunted patriot.