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who lived in the fifth century, describes our island thus: Albion insula est hodie Britannia dicta ab albis rupibus, quas mare abluit.
When or how our island received the general appellation of Britannia, is not precisely ascertained. It is however well known, from the concurrent testimony of historians, that the ancient inhabitants, who were considered by Cæsar as the inmost, or most remote from the southern parts, or those who were driven by successive invaders to the strongholds in the north of the island, were known and distinguished by the ancient name of Alpins, or Albions; which true Celtic name of Albion, the Gael of Scotland and Ireland continued to give to the whole island of Great Britain: and that, after the Saxons had defeated the South Britons, the portion which the former possessed of Britain was named by the ancient inhabitants, Sasson, the name England goes by at the present day in the Gaelic language: hence is derived in Gaelic the compound Sassonich, signifying Englishmen, or perhaps, more properly, Anglo-Saxons.
Some writers have, with more ingenuity than sound etymological reasoning, conjectured that, at the period alluded to, the Welsh, from having nobly maintained their independence, were distinguished by the honourable appellation of Ualsh, signifying, in the Celtic language, nobility. The reader conversant in the Gaelic language may, on first consideration
Lecane containing several treatises, histories, and genealogies of Ireland and Scotland, among which there is a commentary on the antiquity of Albany, now called Scotland.
AUTHENTICITY OF OSSIAN'S POEMS.
of the etymon of this appellation, allow the conjecture to have some weight. Uail, in Gaelic, signifies illustrious, or renowned. Uaisle, nobility, gentry, or generosity; from which is derived Uisleacha, to ennoble, &c. But the Scottish historian Buchanan, also Dr. Macpherson, and others, affirm, on more solid grounds, that the initial W or U of the Teutonic language is commonly equivalent to the G of the British, Irish, French, and Italian languages. Thus, the Weales of the Anglo-Saxons is pronounced by the French Galles, as it is by the Irish and ancient Scots Gaulive. Hence the Anglo-Saxons denominated the Britons in the South Weales in their own language, and Gauli, in the monkish Latin of their times, terms literally signifying strangers, or foreigners: and in the German language, the word Walsch still signifies strangers. Gaul, or Gauld, in the Gaelic, has the same signification at this day in the Highlands, and is applied to lowlanders, or strangers. Thus the compound gili-gauld, in Gaelic signifies a lowland, or strange youth. The distinction therefore between Gael and Gauld is obvious to every Gaelic scholar. The first relates to the ancient language and country of the Albions; and the Highlanders of Scotland, in speaking of their own language, call it Gaelic-Albanach, the language of the Gael in the Highlands, in contradistinction to Gaelic-Eirinach, the language of the Gael in Ireland; hence it may be demonstrated, that those congenial dialects may be referred to the same parent-stock, but which of them is now the least corrupted, by the exclusion of exotic words, or terms, must depend on the internal evidence to be
derived from their reciprocal comparisons with the original Celtic roots. The other term, Gauld, or Gaul, is indiscriminately applied to strangers, or foreigners, and in particular to the present division of Caledonia, where the Gaelic language is not spoken, as well as to England and Wales. The Orkney and Shetland isles are also at this day known in Gaelic by the name of Innisgaul, the islands of strangers; having a retrospect probably to the Norwegians and Danes, who had been in possession of those isles for some centuries.
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 Albions, the inhabitants of Gaul distinguished themselves in their language by the name of Celtæ ; 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 Galatæ, or Gauls, has only prevailed of late; they were formerly named Celta, 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 Celta, 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 Cæsar, † has also its origin in the Celtic tongue:
* Pausan. Attic. p. 6. Ed. Sylb.
+ Porphyrius, Tacitus, Mela, Claudian, and others.
Brait, signifies 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 words 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 word having the sound of Yin 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, waves. That Britain was 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 was within sight of Gaul, the inhabitants would 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 with similar expressions, applied to any land viewed over a part of the sea.
Braid-albin, from which a Scotch Earl takes his title, in Gaelic literally signifies top of the high lands, meaning the highest part of Scotland, where
the 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.
SUPPLEMENTAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE
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.