«* National Library of Scotland ■■jin B000157358*. V POEMS OF OSSIAN, IN THE ORIGINAL GAELIC, WITH A LITERAL TRANSLATION INTO LATIN, BY THE LATE ...»
It may deserve notice, that in the same manner as the Highlanders of Scotland appropriate to themselves, in the Gaelic language, the name of Gael, or Alhions, the inhabitants of Gaul distinguished themselves in their language by the name of Celtce;
which name must, when used with precision, have been meant to describe the entire people, or stock, of whom those Gauls constituted a part. An ancient writer,* in speaking of the Celts of his own time, observes that “ the custom of calling them Galatce, or Gauls, has only prevailed of late ; they were formerly named Celtic, both by themselves and by others.” Hence it appears, that the Gauls of the Continent, in their own language, distinguished themselves by the name of Celtas, while other nations called them by the name of Gauls.
The name of Britain, given to our island by many Greek and Latin authors after the invasion of Julius
Cffisar,f has also its origin in the Celtic tongue:
* Pausan. Attic, p. 6. Ed. Sylb.
f Porphyrius, Tacitus, Mela, Claudian, and others.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 385 Brait, signilies extensive, and in, an island, or land.
Mr. Clark, however, in his Caledonian Bards (Note p. 54), gives a very ingenious definition of the word, in his translation, from the Gaelic of the following Avoids in the ancient poem of Morduth ; “ The high hills of Albion rose on the top of the waves," the original of which stands “ Dheirich Albin air braithtonn” The Dh in the first Avord having the sound of Y in English; and, in the middle of the last word, the th being, according to the genius of the Celtic language, quiescent, the sentence is pronounced thus —“ Yeirich Albin air braitoin Brai, signifying invariably top, and toin, Avaves. That Britain Avas first peopled from the opposite coast of Gaul is a rational hypothesis; and accordingly has been adopted by the most eminent historians: that, as Britain Avas Avithin sight of Gaul, the inhabitants Avould bestow on it some name, before they crossed the channel, is a supposition not altogether improbable. The Celtic language contains no names that are not significant of the external appearance of the objects on which they are bestowed. Ingenuity could certainly suggest no term more significant of the appearance of Britain from France, viewing it over the convexity which the globe forms in the breadth of some parts of the channel, than the land on the top of the waves.
The ancient poems in the Highlands are, at this day, replete Avith similar expressions, applied to any land viewed over a part of the sea.
Braid-albin, from Avhich a Scotch Earl takes his title, in Gaelic literally signifies top of the high lands, meaning the highest part of Scotland, Avhere
386 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEthe loftiest peak, or top, is called Drum-albin, i. e.
the back of the high lands of Scotland ; and not without cause, as described by Buchannan, for from that back rivers run down into both seas, some into the north or German Ocean, others into the SW. or Deucaledonian Sea.
It must after all, however, be confessed, that the best evidence to be obtained in the pursuit of inquiries into the origin of words, in the languages of so remote a period, cannot be conclusive; because, like all sublunary matter, every dialect must have suffered by the ravages of time and intercourse of the inhabitants with other nations. But it must at the same time be allowed, that a people secluded from strangers, unsubdued by invaders, isolated as it were so long from the civilized world, strangers to commerce and arts, surrounded by mountains, seas, lakes, woods, and sterile heaths, would be less liable than others differently circumstanced to have their colloquial or written language, affected by fluctuations in its roots or structure. These are the physical causes, why the Gaelic language has retained so much of its primitive energy and simplicity, and why its radicals tend in so great a degree to illustrate the terms and compound words of the Oriental and other languages, and of which several examples shall be given in the course of the present investigation.
Independent of the chain of internal evidence already noticed * of the Gaelic having been a written language, from very remote periods, surely some * See Note E to Cesarotti’s Dissertation.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 387 weight is due to the concurrent testimony of ancient as well as modern historians, and to these the reader's attention shall now be directed.
That the Gauls and Albions, or Britons, were originally one people, and the language of the druids of Gaul and of those of Britain was of the same parent or Celtic stock, is not to be questioned. We have given from Ccesar, some account of the education of their disciples by the druids of Britain. That celebrated authorfurther informs us, that thedruidical system was believed to have originated in Britain, and to have been thence transferred into Gaul; and that in his day, such of the Gauls as wished to make greater proficiency, passed over to study in Britain.
The stores of private knowledge, with which the memories of their students may be said to have been loaded, are also mentioned ; and the reasons why “ they do not hold it lawful to commit those subjects to writing, though in almost all their other public transactions and private business they use the Greek characters”* Caesar adds, “ they are employed in discussions on the stars and their motion, on the magnitude and subdivisions of the earth, on natural philosophy, and on the power and dominion of the immortal gods; their knowledge in which sciences they communicate to their youth, or disciples.’’f * Neque fas esse existimant ea literis mandare; quum fn reliquis ferk rebus publicis, privatisque rationibus, Grfficis literis utantur.
f Multa prasterea de sideribus atque eorum motu, de mundi ac terrarum magnitudine, de rerum natuia, de deorum immortalium vi ac potestate disputant; et juventuti transdunt. Ctes. Com. Lib. vi. c. 13.
388 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEHere then, in as far as Cassar can be relied upon, it is fully established, that in Britain, during his age, the art of writing was so generally known, as to be used in even the common transactions of life ; and, lest this should surprise his reader, he shews to what length the knowledge of the druids of Britain had in other respects extended.
That the still more ancient druids had a knowledge of letters, and used symbols in writing, is proved by the most eminent antiquaries; and the following testimony, as given by Bucher, carries their knowledge of that art to the remotest period of history, viz. “ that the druidical characters were not only considered elegant and similar to the Greek, but, on the authority of Xenophon and Archilochus, that those characters which Cadmus introduced into Greece bore a greater resemblance to the Gaulish than to either the Punic or Phoenician letters.”* Indeed Cadmus's characters are ascertained to be similar to the druidical and bardic letters of Celtic origin, by the best of all possible evidence, a comparison of the several specimens exhibited by Monsieur de Gebelin in his Monde Primitif, and by Mr.
Astle in his Origin and Progress of Writing. Mr.
Davies, in his learned and ingenious work f lately published, observes “ that the similarity of the two * Non destint qui priscos druidorum characteras et elegantes et Greeds similes fuisse credunt. Xenophonte siquidem et Archilocho testibus, literamin figurae, quas in Greeciam e Phoenicia Cadmus intulit, Galaticis quam Punicis sive Phoeniciis similiores extitere. Bucher, p. 183.
f Celtic Researches, p. 243.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’s POEMS. 389 series is a good argument of their common origin;
but it furnishes no clue for the discovery of their first proprietors. Did the Celtae borrow letters from Greece, or Greece from the Celtae ? The invention of letters,” Mr. Davies adds, “ is concealed in the darkness of time; I therefore think it most reasonable to suppose, that both nations derived them from a common ancestor.” The ancient druidical or bardic alphabet had only sixteen powers, and each letter conveyed the name of a tree or plant.
Mr. Davies* has given much luminous information respecting the analogy between the system of druidical symbols, considered as a method of writing, and the similar practice of other nations from the remotest periods.
It may therefore suffice, in this place, to have touched upon the prominent points, which prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that the ancient druids of Britain and Gaul had a written langugfe of OO the Celtic stock ; and to suppose, that the British or Scottish bards, their disciples and successors, were ignorant of the art of writing, or that the science became extinct on the destruction of the druidical order, is just as improbable as to conceive that the art of printing will now be ever lost. But that, in point of fact, the bards were acquainted with writing is proved by evidence of the most irrefragable nature.
The several monasteries that existed in Scotland, more especially in the Western Isles, at very remote periods, such as Iona (now generally known by the * Celtic Researches, Sect. 8.
390 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THEname of Icolmkill), Ovansa, Ardchatton, Uist, Rowdle, Melrose, Sfc. cultivated letters in the Celtic or Gaelic language, which, though now spoken partially in remote corners of Great Britain and Ireland,* was the vernacular tongue of the greater part of Scotland from time immemorial to the ■ eleventh or twelfth century.
In those monasteries, not only the Gaelic, but the Latin language was cultivated; and we have instances, to be hereafter noticed, of both Gaelic and Latin treatises written by the abbots and monks at very remote periods, after the introduction of Christianity into Ireland and the Isles of Scotland.
This need not surprise us, when we are told on good authority by Mr. Warton,f that “ the Latin language was familiar to the Gauls, when conquered by the Franks, for they were a province of the Roman Empire until the year 485. It was the language of their religious offices, their laws, and public transactions. The Franks, who conquered the Gauls at the period just mentioned, still continued this usage, imagining there was a superior dignity in the language of imperial Rome, although this incorporation of the Franks with the Gauls greatly corrupted the Latinity of the latter, and had given it a strong tincture of barbarity before the reign of Charlemagne.” The monk Adamnanus, as already observed in note N. to Cesarotti’s Dissertation, wrote the history of St. Columba, the founder of Iona, and the lives of some other monks of the sixth century,
• Beds Eccles. Hist. Nicolson’s Scottish Historical Library.
f Warton’s History of English Poetry, dissertation ii.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN’S POEMS. 391 which is said by Tnues, in his Critical Essay, to have been first written in Gaelic.* Iona and all the other monasteries were pillaged, anno 1296, by Edward L; “ who,” as remarked by Hume, “ gave orders to destroy the records, and all those monuments of antiquity which might preserve the memory of the independence of the kingdom, and refute the English claims of superiority.” In 1304, the same monarch abrogated all the Scottish laws and customs, and ordered such records or histories, as had escaped his former search, to be burnt or otherwise destroyed.
That the monastery of Iona, or Icohnkill, was, until so pillaged and destroyed, possessed of a valuable library of ancient and numerous MSS. appears from Boethius,| who informs us, that King Eugene VII. about the beginning of the eighth century, ordered all records and books relative to the history of Scotland to be deposited at Icolmkill, where he caused the old building, which contained the library, (then much decayed) to be pulled down, and a new splendid building to be erected for this sole use and purpose. Boethius, in the same work, also mentions, that Fergus II. who assisted Alaric the Goth, in the sacking of Rome, anno 410, brought away, as part of the plunder, a chest of MSS. which he presented to the monastery of Iona;! and Mr. Pennant, in his * An Account of the Life, Miracles, and Writings of St. Columba has been lately published by an eminent Gaelic scholar, the Rev. Dr.
Smith of Campbeltown, author of Gaelic Antiquities, &c.
f Boethius, Hist, of Scotland, lib. x. fol. 180.
I Boethius, lib. vii. The author was born at Dundee, in the shire
392 SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THETour through Scotland, observes, that a small par* cel of those books, were, in the year 1525, brought to Aberdeen, and great pains taken to unfold them, but, through age and the tenderness of the parchment, little could be read : from what, however, the learned were able to discover, one of the books appeared, by the style, to be an unpublished book of Sallust. Hence it appears that learning flourished in the monasteries of the Western Islands of Scotland, at a time when by far the greater part of Europe was wrapt in the dark cloud of Gothic ignorance and barbarism.
Mr. Pennant further obesrves, that the records of the island, all written on parchment, and probably other more antique and valuable remains, were destroyed by that worse than Gothic synod, which, at the Reformation, declared war against all science.