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ART. I.-(1.) The Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth.
By Sir FRANCIS PALGRAVE, K.H. 2 Vols. Quarto. London:
Murray. (2.) The History of Normandy and of England. By Sir FRANCIS PALGRAVE, K.H. Vols I., II. 8vo. London: John W. Parker
and Son. What may we know concerning the races in possession of this island--and more especially in the part of it called England, before the Norman Conquest ? And what may we know of the Normans who from that time became so great a power in the land ? These are questions which Sir Francis Palgrave has employed a life in endeavouring to answer. Very honourable to him is the spirit of laborious research which he has brought to these inquiries—and very precious to us are the results. When the history of England shall be written as it ought to be written, the historian will be free to acknowledge his obligation to Sir Francis in some such terms as those employed by Gibbon to express his debt of gratitude to his special guides in relation to Oriental history-D'Herbelot and De Guignes.
But Sir Francis is more eminent as an antiquary than as an historian. His prejudices are impassioned. He is fond of theories, and his theories are sometimes propounded in a manner which tends rather to provoke exception, than at once to win our assent. He is wanting, moreover, both in style and method. His style is always vivacious, and at times graphic; but that is all we can say in its favour. It is irregular and unfinished, often redundant in many ways, and often obscure from brevity. Sir Francis has said much about how history should be written, but he does not always teach by example. Much, too, has he said about the plan on which he has made use of his materials, but the course which he takes is too often, after all, perplexing and
unsatisfactory. The materials themselves, however, are of great value, and the sagacity with which they are estimated and digested adds much to their worth. But it is extraordinary, that in these two bulky volumes on the history of Normandy, we have narratives extending over some sixteen hundred pages without any direct citation of authorities. Each volume, indeed, has an appendix, giving a brief but instructive and interesting account of the sources whence the preceding narrative has been derived. But what the facts are which are attested by one authority, which may chance to be a very good one, and what by another, which may chance to be not so good, are points on which we are left almost wholly in the dark. We hold Sir Francis to be a trustworthy guide, and we can accept his representations substantially as they are made; but history written upon this plan, coming from any quarter less entitled to our confidence, would be all but worthless, We know, from some experience, that the frequent and careful citation of authorities is a very troublesome business. Composition is a pleasant employment, but this hunting up, and noting down, who said this, and who that, is pure drudgery, which every man of genius would fain be free from. Nevertheless, conscientious care in this respect, which is a great feature of difference between history as written by the moderns and history as written by the ancients, is indispensable to the highest order of success in this field. The historian mindful of his duty in this particular challenges scrutiny, and gives you the means of prosecuting it. The effect of such a habit on the historian is to induce caution, and on his readers to inspire confidence.
We regret to find that even in this second volume the narrative does not reach beyond the close of the tenth century. The period of greatest interest to us, that which embraces the lifetime of the Conqueror and of his contemporaries, is still to follow. If another six years is to pass before a third volume makes its appearance, we fear it is only a small portion of the History of Normandy and of England that Sir Francis Palgrave will live to write. We begin to suspect that the genius for compression in writing history is genius of a very rare order. It is clear that it is not possessed by Mr. Macaulay, and quite as little by Mr. Froude. Yet the ancients possessed it, and Hume and Gibbon pre-eminently among the moderns. It is, we think, to be deeply regretted, that so many of our most gifted men in this walk should be doomed to leave the world, not as having written a history, but as having supplied fragments or contributions towards a history. However, better they should so write than not write at all. On this principle we gratefully accept whatever the pen of Sir Francis Palgrave may furnish towards a theme so full
Writings of Sir Francis.
of interest. Our author insists, and not without reason, that the history of England after the Conquest can hardly be intelligible to the man who has not bestowed some attention on the history of Normandy in the times preceding. On this point Sir Francis thus writes :
* English history is the joint graft of Anglo-Saxon history and Norman history. The history of Normandy is as essential a section of English history as the history of Wessex. We must adopt Rollo equally with Cerdic. The Norman dynasty is entirely ours.
I therefore now propose to reach the field of Hastings by setting forth the history of Normandy from the first establishment of the Terra Normanorum as a settlement under the chieftains, who, indifferently denominated marquises or counts, enlarged their dominions, increasing and sustaining their authority, between and in spite of the two rival dynasties of France, the declining dynasty of Charlemagne, and the rising dynasty of the Capets, severally pursuing their course, wary and wise, bold and politic, improving every contingency, and singularly aided by good fortune. When the Capets finally established themselves upon the throne, the dominion founded by the patrician Rollo expanded into the Norman duchy, scarcely inferior in power to the royal crown, to which the wearers of the ducal coronet rendered a nominal homage, whilst they exercised all the power of absolute sovereignty. It was not worth while even for the Conqueror to repudiate a bond unaccompanied by an obligation.'-Vol. i. pp. 91, 92.
But before attempting to reach the field of Hastings thus through Rollo and his Northmen, our author had reached the same spot in his Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth through Cerdic and his Saxons. We purpose in this article to follow him along both these lines, in the hope of seeing what there was in the antecedents of that memorable struggle tending to give it the place it holds in our English history. In so doing we shall not lose sight of the narratives furnished by Sir Francis, though our material will be derived largely from other and independent sources.
The questions of chief interest to us in regard to the state of Britain before the Conquest are--what were the races then in possession of this island-how were they distributed—and what was their position generally in regard to civilization ? Similar questions remain to be asked concerning Normandy, when the Duke of Normandy becomes King of England.
The stranger who stands for the first time on Dover cliff feels that before him is the passage which must have been made by some of the earlier settlers in Britain. The white coast of Gaul stretches along in the distance as in ancient time, and the track of those early voyagers seems to be still visible on those blue
waters. Along that shore the vast armament commanded by Cæsar still floats. But many centuries must then have passed since the first rude wicker-boat grazed its oxhide covering upon that beach and landed the first man. Hundreds of winters must then have intervened since the first attempt was made to penetrate our primeval forests, and to compass our stagnant marshes. Very far back even then must the day have been when the eye of man —that half-naked and wondering new-comer-fell for the first time on the flowing of the Thames and the Humber, the Severn and the Mersey. But man comes in his time. The Great One, who dwells alike in solitude and in the crowded place, is no longer to be the only worker in this hitherto unknown land. The time will come when the banks of the Thames will be no longer a wilderness, and when along the sides of the Mersey the sounds heard will be other than those of untamed animals in search of prey.
How soon change by the hand of man began to make its appearance in Britain, is beyond our knowledge. We do know, however, that the merchants of Phænicia were the people to open the first communication between this island and distant nations. It is commerce that gives us a place for the first time in history. The kind of enterprise which was to become the source of our greatness called us from obscurity. The greatness of the Phænician power dates from a thousand years before the age of Augustus. During those centuries the ships of Phænicia visited every shore of the known world, and often penetrated into the unknown. It was in those remote times that her navigators first made their way to Cape Finisterre, and then learnt to strike across the open sea to Britain. In those adventures the Cynosure, the last light in the Little Bear, was their chosen pole-star. Xenophon's description of a Phænician vessel warrants the conclusion that the Greeks never equalled the Phænicians as seamen.
Still, our own earliest notice of Britain comes not from the Phænicians, but from the Father of History. Herodotus regrets that he could not speak with certainty about the extremities of Europe towards the West, and adds, 'nor am I acquainted with the islands Cassiterides, from which tin is brought.'* But though the historian could not attempt a description of the islands so named, it is clear that their existence, and their existence as islands from which tin was obtained, were facts well known. The name Cassiterides would have been without meaning to Greek or Gaul. It is a Phænician or Asiatic term, denoting a place where tin, or some alloy of that nature, was found. We shall not stay
• Hist., lib. iii. 115.
to examine the evidence furnished on this point by Aristotle, * Polybius,t Festus Avienus, I Diodorus Siculus, § and Strabo.|| All these writers must have derived their information, directly or indirectly, either from the Phænicians or the Carthaginians. Their testimony, moreover, is restricted to the Britons on the coast of Cornwall and in the Scilly Islands. It is to Roman writers, beginning with Cæsar, that we are indebted for our earliest knowledge of Britain beyond that district.
From Cæsar, and from writers subsequent to him, we learn that at the commencement of our era Britain was more or less peopled over its whole surface. The Celts of Gaul are described by these writers as divided into a multitude of nations. Tacitus reckons them as sixty-four ;| Appian raises the number to four hundred.** Judging from the number of clans which have divided the Highlands of Scotland between themselves, even down to very recent times, it is easy to suppose that the nations, and still more the tribes, of Celtic Gaul were very numerous. We know that this distinction between nation and tribe obtained in Britain. The people of Kent, in the time of Cæsar, bore the common name of Cantii; but that general designation comprehended four tribes, each governed by its own prince or chieftain.tt
Of the nations in possession of Britain north of the Clyde and the Forth eighteen centuries since, history makes distinct mention of twenty-five. Concerning the number of tribes included in these nations our information is imperfect. Some of these communities, as will be supposed, were much more numerous than others, and covered a larger territory. It is manifest, also, that even among those rude confederations something like a balance-of-power theory was in operation. The weak found comparative safety in being allied with the strong, though the smaller communities were thus made to become parties to the rivalries which separated the greater. In those days there were greater states and less in Britain, as there have always been greater and less in Europe. The Silures, for example, the subjects of Caractacus, who are said to have had their origin and centre in the neighbourhood of the Wye, included the Ordovices and the Dimetæ of North Wales among their allies, and could call their warriors together over the whole length of territory between the Usk, on the borders of Glamorganshire in the south, and the Dee of Cheshire in the north, and over the breadth between the Malvern Hills and the Wrekin in the east, and St. George's Channel in the west. The Brigantines were a still more powerful De Mundo, $ 3. + Hist., iii. 57. I Heeren's Ancient Nations, i. 166—172.
& Lib. v. 21, 22. || Lib. iii. 239.