« PreviousContinue »
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
A DISSERTATION CONCERNING
| THE ERA OF OSSIAN.
T NQUIRIES into the antiquities of nations afford more I pleasure than any real advantage to mankind. The ingenious may form systems of history on probabilities and a few facts; but at a great distance of time, their accounts must be vague and uncertain. The infancy of states and kingdoms is as destitute of great events, as of the means of transmitting them to posterity. The arts of polished life, by which alone facts can be preserved with certainty, are the productions of a well-formed community. It is then historians begin to write, and public transactions to be worthy remembrance. The actions of former times are left in obscurity, or magnified by uncertain traditions. Hence it is that we find so much of the marvellous in the origin of every nation; posterity being always ready to believe any thing, however fabulous, that reflects honour on their ancestors. The Greeks and Romans were remarkable for this weakness. They swallowed the most absurd fables concerning the high antiquities of their respective nations. Good historians, however, rose very early amongst them, and transmitted, with lustre, their great actions to posterity. It is to them that they owe that unrivalled fame they now enjoy, while the great actions of other nations are involved in fables, or lost in obscurity. The Celtic nations afford a striking instance of this kind. They, though once the masters of Europe, from the mouth of the river Oby,a in Russia, to Cape Finisterre, the western point of Gallicia in Spain, are very little mentioned
in history. They trusted their fame to tradition and ! the songs of their bards, which, by the vicissitude of human affairs, are long since lost. Their ancient lan. guage is the only monument that remains of them : and the traces of it being found in places so widely distant from each other, serves only to shew the extent of their ancient power, but throws very little light on their history.
Of all the Celtic nations, that which possessed old Gaul is the most renowned; not perhaps on account of worth superior to the rest, but for their wars with a people who had historians to transmit the fame of their enemies, as well as their own, to posterity. Britain was first peopled by them, according to the testimony of the best authors; its situation in respect to Gaul makes the opinion probable ; but what puts it beyond all dispute, is, that the same customs and language pre. vailed among the inhabitants of both in the days of Jų. lius Cæsarb.
The colony from Gaul possessed themselves, at first, of that part of Britain which was next their own country; and spreading northward, by degrees, as they increased in numbers, peopled the whole island. Some adventurers passing over from those parts of Britain that were within sight of Ireland, were the founders of the Irish nation; which is a more probable story than the idle fables of Mi. lesian and Gallician colonies. Diodorus Siculuse mentions it as a thing well known in his time, that the inhabitants of Ireland were originally Britons; and his testimony is unquestionable, when we consider that, for many ages, the language and customs of both nations were the same.
Tacitus was of opinion that the ancient Caledonians were of German extract. By the language and customs which always prevailed in the north of Scotland, and which are undoubtedly Celtic, one would be tempted to differ in opinion from that celebrated writer. The Germansa, properly so called, were not the same with the ancient Celtæ. The manners and customs of the two nations were similar; but their language different. The Germans are the genuine descendants of the Daæ, a Ces. 1. 5. Tac. Agric. 1. 1. 4. 2. b Cæs. Pomp. MelTacitus. q Diod, şic, 1. s.