« PreviousContinue »
not deem it lawful to commit things pertaining to religious worship to writing, “ though, generally, in other cases, both in “ their public and private accounts, they “ used Greek letters." From his saying generally, it is natural to suppose, that these people had an alphabet somewhat, if not wholly, different from the Greek. The Rev. Mr. Davies thinks, that the first received was imported by the Pelasgi, a colony that came into Europe, from Asia Minor, in the time of those post Diluvian patriarchs, among whom the earth was first divided. He, who would be farther informed on this subject, may consult that ingenious author,* where he makes it appear, that the western Celtæ had an alphabet similar to the ancient Greek, which, nevertheless, was not recently borrowed from that people, but sprung from an origin, though remote, common to both nations. O'Halloran makes Phænius, the founder of the Milesian race, the inventor of letters. Cadmus imported them into
Greece. Greece. It is remarkable, the Irish alphabet has a great similarity to the Greek ; and this, like the former, originally consisted only of sixteen letters.
* Sect. 6.
Mr. Astle, who has discussed the subject of ancient letters with consummate ability, says,* “ Plato somewhere men“ tions Hyperborean letters.” Now, under this name, the older Greeks understood the Druidical order, especially that of these islands.
That the Celtic letters were not derived from Greece, appears from Strabo, who, speaking of the Turditani, a colony of that people in Spain, says, “ They were the “ wisest among the Iberians, for they have " letters, written histories, and poems, and “ laws in verse, as they assert, six thousand “ years old.”
.* This account, though evidently exaggerated, shews the great number of years
in Page 46.
those men were in possession of letters, the knowledge of which was so remote as to be lost in antiquity. Assertions, nearly as extravagant, are made by those of our own writers, who pretend, that learning was cultivated in these islands two thousand years before the Christian æra; -and that Saron, the son of Magnus, who governed those realms about that period, to restrain the fierceness of his subjects, founded public schools. Cambden and Lewis * are of opinion, that from this prince the town of Sarum, or Salisbury, took its name +.
I am of opinion, however, that the sciences could have made no great progress till the arrival of the Phoenicians. How early, and to what degree they advanced, even then, cannot be well ascertained. Caius informs us, that king Cuhclyn, who reigned above three hundred years before Christ, was well versed in music, and knew several foreign languages. Some instances are given by other authors, of the early
* See Lewis's Hist. of Brit. p. 56. * See the Bardic Museum of Jones.
knowledge of these people : but to whatever height it might have attained, the invasion of the Romans, and afterwards the more destructive conquests of the Saxons and Danes, quite obliterated every vestige of former improvements. The old British inhabitants driven, by their ferocious enemies, into the mountains of Wales, or western parts of Scotland, literature did not revive among them till the fifth century. From that period till the twelfth, Welsh harmony and poetry gained the utmost zenith of their perfection. The laws of king Howell, in favour of the bards, shew in what high estimation that order of men were held. There was scarce a subject they left unsung. Jones, in his Bardic Museum, tells us, there are still poenis of theirs extant on theology, ethics, war, peace, beauty, love, happiness, mirth, sorrow, satire, music, harmony, poetry, geography, history, navigation, nature, art, rural sports, games, mechanics, Philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, magic, prophesy. And he farther adds, that several of their songs breathe the high spirit of
lyric enthusiasm, and in his opinion, are more interesting than any others, because each of them records or refers to some particular event, and also conveys to us the genuine taste, customs, and manners, of the people, as well as historical facts. They were the impulse of nature, composed at the very time when each circumstance happened; and sung, or repeated by the bards, on the various occasions they refer to.
But when the victorious arms of Edward the first united Wales to the crown of England, to secure his dominion, that cruel prince put all the bards to death. As the massacre was general, many of their works, as well as those of their predecessors, perished with them. However, the genius of the nation could not be destroyed, and those who loved poetry, continued to exercise their talents in odes and elegies ; a species of composition with which the Welsh language abounds. Jones, in his Bardic Museum, has given some spe: cimens. It is to be hoped, others, following his example, will continue the re