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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 19
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    PART II.


    THE earliest inhabitants of Britain are supposed to have been a
    branch of that great family known in history by the designation of
    Celts. Cambria, which is a frequent name for Wales, is thought to be
    derived from Cymri, the name which the Welsh traditions apply to an
    immigrant people who entered the island from the adjacent continent.
    This name is thought to be identical with those of Cimmerians and
    Cimbri, under which the Greek and Roman historians describe a
    barbarous people, who spread themselves from the north of the Euxine
    over the whole of Northwestern Europe.
    The origin of the names Wales and Welsh has been much canvassed.
    Some writers make them a derivation from Gael or Gaul, which names are
    said to signify "woodlanders"; others observe that Walsh, in the
    Northern languages, signifies a stranger, and that the aboriginal
    Britons were so called by those who at a later era invaded the
    island and possessed the greater part of it, the Saxons and Angles.
    The Romans held Britain from the invasion of Julius Caesar till
    their voluntary withdrawal from the island, A.D. 420,- that is,
    about five hundred years. In that time there must have been a wide
    diffusion of their arts and institutions among the natives. The
    remains of roads, cities, and fortifications show that they did much
    to develop and improve the country, while those of their villas and
    castles prove that many of the settlers possessed wealth and taste for
    the ornamental arts. Yet the Roman sway was sustained chiefly by
    force, and never extended over the entire island. The northern
    portion, now Scotland, remained independent, and the western
    portion, constituting Wales and Cornwall, was only nominally
    Neither did the later invading hordes succeed in subduing the
    remoter sections of the island. For ages after the arrival of the
    Saxons under Hengist and Horsa, A.D. 449, the whole western coast of
    Britain was possessed by the aboriginal inhabitants, engaged in
    constant warfare with the invaders.
    It has, therefore, been a favorite boast of the people of Wales
    and Cornwall, that the original British stock flourishes in its
    unmixed purity only among them. We see this notion flashing out in
    poetry occasionally, as when Gray, in "The Bard," prophetically
    describing Queen Elizabeth, who was of the Tudor, a Welsh race, says:

    "Her eye proclaims her of the Briton line";

    and, contrasting the princes of the Tudor with those of the Norman
    race, he exclaims:

    "All hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia's issue, hail!"


    The Welsh language is one of the oldest in Europe. It possesses
    poems the origin of which is referred with probability to the sixth
    century. The language of some of these is so antiquated, that the best
    scholars differ about the interpretation of many passages; but,
    generally speaking, the body of poetry which the Welsh possess, from
    the year 1000 downwards, is intelligible to those who are acquainted
    with the modern language.
    Till within the last half-century these compositions remained buried
    in the libraries of colleges or of individuals, and so difficult of
    access that no successful attempt was made to give them to the
    world. This reproach was removed, after ineffectual appeals to the
    patriotism of the gentry of Wales, by Owen Jones, a furrier of London,
    who at his own expense collected and published the chief productions
    of Welsh literature, under the title of the Myvyrian Archaeology of
    Wales. In this task he was assisted by Dr. Owen and other Welsh
    After the cessation of Jones's exertions, the old apathy returned,
    and continued till within a few years. Dr. Owen exerted himself to
    obtain support for the publication of the Mabinogeon, or Prose Tales
    of the Welsh, but died without accomplishing his purpose, which has
    since been carried into execution by Lady Charlotte Guest. The legends
    which fill the remainder of this volume are taken from this work, of
    which we have already spoken more fully in the introductory chapter to
    the First Part.


    The authors to whom the oldest Welsh poems are attributed are
    Aneurin, who is supposed to have lived A.D. 500 and 550, and Taliesin,
    Llywarch Hen (Llywarch the Aged), and Myrddin or Merlin, who were a
    few years later. The authenticity of the poems which bear their
    names has been assailed, and it is still an open question how many and
    which of them are authentic, though it is hardly to be doubted that
    some are so. The poem of Aneurin, entitled the "Gododin," bears very
    strong marks of authenticity. Aneurin was one of the Northern
    Britons of Strath-Clyde, who have left to that part of the district
    they inhabited the name of Cumberland, or Land of the Cymri. In this
    poem he laments the defeat of his countrymen by the Saxons at the
    battle of Cattraeth, in consequence of having partaken too freely of
    the mead before joining in combat. The bard himself and two of his
    fellow-warriors were all who escaped from the field. A portion of this
    poem has been translated by Gray, of which the following is an

    "To Cattraeth's vale, in glittering row,
    Twice two hundred warriors go;
    Every warrior's manly neck
    Chains of regal honor deck,
    Wreathed in many a golden link;
    From the golden cup they drink
    Nectar that the bees produce,
    Or the grape's exalted juice.
    Flushed with mirth and hope they burn,
    But none to Cattraeth's vale return,
    Save Aeron brave, and Conan strong,
    Bursting through the bloody throng,
    And I, the meanest of them all,
    That live to weep, and sing their fall."

    The works of Taliesin are of much more questionable authenticity.
    There is a story of the adventures of Taliesin so strongly marked with
    mythical traits as to cast suspicion on the writings attributed to
    him. This story will be found in the subsequent pages.


    The Triads are a peculiar species of poetical composition, of
    which the Welsh bards have left numerous examples. They are
    enumerations of a triad of persons, or events, or observations, strung
    together in one short sentence. This form of composition, originally
    invented, in all likelihood, to assist the memory, has been raised
    by the Welsh to a degree of elegance of which it hardly at first sight
    appears susceptible. The Triads are of all ages, some of them probably
    as old as anything in the language. Short as they are individually,
    the collection in the Myvyrian Archaeology occupies more than one
    hundred and seventy pages of double columns. We will give some
    specimens, beginning with personal triads, and giving the first
    place to one of King Arthur's own composition:-

    "I have three heroes in battle;
    Mael the tall, and Llyr, with his army,
    And Caradoc, the pillar of Wales."

    "The three principal bards of the island of Britain:-
    Merlin Ambrose
    Merlin the son of Morfyn, called also Merlin the Wild,
    And Taliesin, the chief of the bards."

    "The three golden-tongued knights of the Court of Arthur:-
    Gawain, son of Gwyar,
    Drydvas, son of Tryphin,
    And Eliwood, son of Madag, ap Uther."

    "The three honorable feasts of the island of Britain:-
    The feast of Caswallaun, after repelling Julius Caesar from this
    The feast of Aurelius Ambrosius, after he had conquered the
    And the feast of King Arthur, at Caerleon upon Usk."

    "Guenever, the daughter of Laodegan the giant,
    Bad when little, worse when great."

    Next follow some moral triads:-

    "Hast thou heard what Dremhidydd sung,
    An ancient watchman on the castle walls?
    A refusal is better than a promise unperformed."

    "Hast thou heard what Llenleawg sung,
    The noble chief wearing the golden torques?
    The grave is better than a life of want."

    "Hast thou heard what Garselit sung,
    The Irishman whom it is safe to follow?
    Sin is bad, if long pursued."

    "Hast thou heard what Avaon sung,
    The son of Taliesin, of the recording verse?
    The cheek will not conceal the anguish of the heart."

    "Didst thou hear what Llywarch sung,
    The intrepid and brave old man?
    Greet kindly, though there be no acquaintance."

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