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11.—THE COMING OF THE SAXONS.
BURKE. After having been so long subject to a foreign dominion, there was among the Britons no royal family, no respected order in the state, none of those titles to government confirmed by opinion and long use, more efficacious than the wisest schemes for the settlement of the nation. Mere personal merit was then the only pretence to power. But this circumstance only added to the misfortunes of a people, who had no orderly method of election, and little experience of merit in any of the caudidates. During this anarchy, whilst they suffered the most dreadful calamities from the fury of barbarous nations, which invaded them, they fell into that disregard of religion, and those loose disorderly manners, which are sometimes the consequence of desperate and hardened wretchedness, as well as the common distempers of ease and prosperity.
At length, after frequent elections and deposings, rather wearied out by their own inconstancy than fixed by the merit of their choice, they suffered Vortigern to reign over them. This leader had made some figure in the conduct of their wars and factions. But he was no sooner settled on the throne, than he shewed himself rather like a prince born of an exhausted stock of royalty in the decline of empire, than one of those bold and active spirits, whose manly talents obtain them the first place in their country, and stamp upon it that character of vigour essential to the prosperity of a new common-wealth. However, the mere settlement, in spite of the ill administration of government, procured the Britons some internal repose, and some temporary advantages over their enemies the Picts. But having been long habituated to defeats, neither relying on their king nor on themselves, and fatigued with the obstinate attacks of an enemy, whom they sometimes checked, but could never remove, in one of their national assemblies, it was resolved to call in the mercenary aid of the Saxons, a powerful nation of Germany, which had been long by their piratical incursions terrible not only to them, but to all the adjacent countries. This resolution has been generally condemned. It has been said, that they seem to have through mere cowardice, distrusted a strength not yet worn down, and a fortune sufficiently prosperous. But as it was taken by general counsel and consent, we must believe, that the necessity of such a step was felt, though the event was dubious. The event indeed might be dubious ; in a state radically weak, every measure vigorous enough for its protection must endanger its existence.
There is an unquestioned tradition among the northern nations of Europe, importing that all that part of the world had suffered a great and general revolution by a migration from Asiatick Tartary of a people, whom they call Asers. These every where expelled or subdued the ancient inhabitants of the Celtick and Cimbrick original. The leader of this Asiatick army was called Odin, or Wodin ; first their general, afterwards their tutelar deity. The time of this great change is lost in the imperfection of traditionary history, and the attempts to supply it by fable. It is however certain that the Saxon nation believed themselves the descendants of those conquerors ; and they had as good a title to that descent as any other of the
northern tribes; for they used the same language, which then was, and is still, spoken with small variations of the dialects in all the countries, which extend from the polar circle to the Danube. This people most probably derive their name, as well as their origin, from the Sacæ, a nation of the Asiatick Scythia. At the time of which we write, they had seated themselves in the Cimbrick Chersonesas, or Jutland, in the countries of Holstein and Sleswick, and thence extended along the Elbe and Weser to the coast of the German ocean, as far as the mouths of the Rhine. In that tract they lived in a sort of loose military commonwealth of the ordinary German model under several leaders, the most eminent of whom was Hengist, descended from Odin, the great conductor of the Asiatick colonies. It was to this chief that the Britons applied themselves. They invited him by a promise of ample pay for his troops, a large share of their common plunder, and the isle of Thanet for a settlement.
The army, which came over under Hengist, did not exceed fifteen hundred men. The opinion, which the Britons had entertained of the Saxop prowess, was well founded; for they had the principal share in a decisive victory, which was obtained over the Picts soon after their arrival, a victory, which for ever freed the Britons from all terror of the Picts and Scots, but in the same moment exposed them to an enemy no less dangerous.
Hengist and his Saxons, who had obtained by the free vote of the Britons that introduction into this island they had so long in vain attempted by arms, saw that by being necessary they were superior to their allies. They discovered the character of the king; they were eye witnesses of the internal weakness and distraction of the kingdom. This state of Britain was represented with so much effect to the Saxons in Germany, that another and much greater embarkation followed the first; new bodies daily crowded in. As soon as the Saxons began to be sensible of their strength, they found it their interest to be discontented; they complained of breaches of a contract, which they construed according to their own designs; and then fell rudely upon their unprepared and feeble allies, who, as they had not been able to resist the Picts and Scots, were still less in a condition to oppose that force, by which they had been protected against those enemies, when turned unexpectedly upon themselves. Hengist, with very little opposition, subdued the province of Kent, and there laid the foundation of the first Saxon kingdom. Every battle the Britons fought only prepared them for a new defeat by weakening their strength, and displaying the inferiority of their courage. Vertigern, instead of a steady and regular resistance, opposed a mixture of timid war and unable negotiation. In one of their meetings, wherein the business, according to the German mode, was carried on amidst feasting and riot, Vortigern was struck with the beauty of a Saxon virgin, a kinswoman of Hengist, and entirely under his influence. Having married her, he delivered himself over to her councils.
His people harassed by their enemies, betrayed by their prince, and indignant at the feeble tyranny that oppressed them, deposed him, and set his son Vortimer in his place. But the change of the king proved no remedy for the exhausted state of the nation, and the constitutional infirmity of the government. For even if the Britons could have supported themselves against the superior abilities and efforts of Hengist, it might have added to their honour, but would have contributed little to their safety. The news of his success had roused all Saxony. Five great bodies of that adventurous people, under different and independent commanders, very nearly at the same time broke in upon as many different parts of the island. They camo no longer as pirates, but as invaders. Whilst the Britons contended with one body of their fierce enemies, another gained ground, and filled with slaughter and desolation the whole country from sea to sea. A devouring war, a dreadful famine, a plaguo, the most wasteful of any recorded in our history, united to consummate the ruin of Britain. The ecclesiastical writers of that age, confounded at the view of those complicated calamities, saw nothing but the arm of God stretched out for the punishment of a sinful and disobedient nation. And truly when we set before us in one point of view the condition of almost all the parts, which had lately composed the Western Empire, of Britain, of Gaul, of Italy, of Spain, of Africa, at once overwhelmed by a resistless inundation of most cruel barbarians, whose inhuman method of war macle but a small part of the miseries, with which these nations were afflicted, we are almost driven out of the order of political enquiry : we are in a manner compelled to acknowledge the hand of God in those immense revolutions, by which, at certain periods, he so signally asserts his supreme dominion, and brings about that great system of change, which is, perhaps, as necessary to the moral as it is found to be in the natural world.
But whatever was the condition of the other parts of Europe, it is generally agreed that the state of Britain was the worst of all. Some writers have asserted, that except those who took refuge in the mountains of Wales and in Cornwall, or fled into Armorica, the British race was in a manner destroyed. What is extraordinary we find England in a very tolerable state of population in less than two centuries after the first invasion of the Saxons ; and it is hard to imagine either the transplantation, or the increase, of that single people to have been, in so short a time, sufficient for the settlement of so great an extent of country. Others speak of the Britons not as extirpated, but as reduced to a state of slavery; and here these writers fix the origin of personal and predial servitude in England.
I shall lay fairly before the reader all I have been able tɔ discover concerning the existence or condition of this unhappy people. That they were much more broken and reduced than any other nation, which had fallen under the German power, I think may be inferred from two considerations : first, that in all other parts of Europe the ancient language subsisted after the conquest, and at length incorporated with that of the conquerors ; whereas in England the Saxon language received little or no tincture from the Welsh ; and it seems, even among the lowest people, to have continued a dialect of pure Teutonick to the time in which it was itself blended with the Norman. Secondly, that on the continent the Christian religion, after the northern irruptions, not only remained, but flourished. It was very early and universally adopted by the ruling people. In England it was so entirely extinguished, that, when Augustine undertook his mission, it does not appear that among all the Saxons there was a single person professing Christianity.
The sudden extinction of the ancient religion and language appears sufficient to shew that Britain must have suffered more than any of the neighbouring nations on the continent. But it must not be concealed, that there are likewise proofs that the British race, though much diminished, was not wholly extirpated ; and that those who remained, were not, merely as Britons, reduced to servitude. For they are mentioned as existing in some of the earlier Saxon laws. In these laws they are allowed a compensation on the footing of the meaner kind of English ; and they are even permitted, as well as the English, to emerge out of that low rank into a more liberal condition. This is degradation, but not slavery. The affairs of that whole period are, however, covered with an obscurity not to be dissipated. The Britons had little leisure, or ability, to write a just account of a war, by which they were ruined. And the Anglo-Saxons, who succeeded them, attentive only to arms, were, until their conversion, ignorant of the use of letters.
We add the following extracts from “ THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE,"—A brief record of
events, which existed in the time of King Alfred. It was first printed in 1644 from a MS. in the Cottonian Collection.
A. 449.—This year Martianus and Valentinus succeeded to the empire, and reigned seven years. And in their days Hengest and Horsa, irvited by Wyrtgeoone, king of the Britons, landed in Britain, on the shore which is called Ypwinesfleet; at first in aid of the Britons, but afterwards they fought against them. King Wyrtgeoone gave them land in the south-east of this country, on condition that they should fight against the Picts. Then they fought against the Picts, and had the victory wheresoever they came. They then sent to the Angles ; desired a larger force to be sent, and caused them to be told the worthlessness of the Britons, and the excellencies of the land. Then they soon sent hither a larger force in aid of the others. At that time there came men from three tribes of Germany ; from the Old-Saxons, from the Angles, from the Jutes. From the Jutes came the Kentish men and the men of Wight, that is the tribe which now dwells in Wight, and that race among the West Saxons which is still called the race of Jutes. From the Old-Saxons came the men of Essex and Sussex and Wessex. From Anglia, which has ever since remained waste betwixt the Jutes and Saxons, came the men of East Anglia, Mercia, and all North-humbria. Their leaders were two brothers Hengest and Horsa : they were the sons of Wihtgils ; Wihtgils son of Witta, Witta of Wecta, Wecta of Woden ; from this Woden sprang all our royal families, and those of the South-humbrians also.
A. 455.--This year Hengest and Horsa fought against King Wyrtgeoone at the place which is called Ægelsthress, and his brother Horsa was there slain, and after that Hengest obtained the kingdom, and Æsc his son.
A. 457.—This year Hengest and Æsc his son fought against the Britons at the place which is called Crecganford, and there slew four thousand men ; and the Britons then forsook Kent, and in great terror fled to London.
A. 465.—This year Hengest and Æsc fought against the Welsh near Wippeelsfleet, and there slew twelve Welsh caldormen, and one of their own thanes was slain there, whose name was Wippeel.
A. 473.—This year Hengest and Æsc fought against the Welsh, and took spoils innumerable ; and the Welsh fled from the Angles like fire.
12.-DESTRUCTION OF THE ROMAN CIVILIZATION.
Guizor. M. Guizot, in his History of Civilization in France,' has some general remarks on the consequences that followed the overthrow of the Roman power by barbarian tribes. These apply to the constitution of England as well as to that of France; and we therefore extract the following from Mr. Hazlitt's translation.
It seems to me that people commonly form to themselves a very false idea of tho invasion of the barbarians, and of the extent and rapidity of its effects. You have, in your reading upon this subject, often met with the words inundation, earthquake, conflagration. These are the terms which have been employed to characterize this revolution. I think that they are deceptive, that they in no way represent the manner in which this invasion occurred, nor its immediate results. Exaggeration is natural to human language ; words express the impressions which man receives from facts, rather than the facts themselves ; it is after having passed through the mind of man, and according to the impressions which they have produced thereupon, that facts are described and named. But the impression is
never the complete and faithful image of the fact. In the first place, it is individual, which the fact is not ; great events, the invasion of a foreign people, for instance, are related by those who have been personally affected, as victims, actors, or spectators : they relate the event as they have seen it ; they characterize it according to what they have known or undergone. He who has seen his house or his village burnt, will, perhaps, call the invasion a conflagration : to the thought of another, it will be found arrayed in the form of a deluge or an earthquake. These images are true, but are of a truth which, if I may so express myself, is full of prejudice and egoism ; they reproduce the impressions of some few men; they are not expressions of the fact in its entire extent nor of the manner in which it impressed the whole of the country.
Such, moreover, is the instinctive poetry of the human mind, that it receives from facts an impression which is livelier and greater than are the facts themselves; it is its tendency to extend and ennoble them; they are for it but matter which it fashions and forms, a theme upon which it exercises itself, and from which it draws, or rather over which it spreads beauties and effects which were not really there. Thus, a double and contrary cause fills language with illusion ; under a material point of view, facts are greater than man, and he perceives and describes of them only that which strikes him personally ; under the moral point of view, man is greater than facts ; and, in describing them, he lends them something of his own greatness.
This is what we must never forget in studying history, particularly in reading contemporary documents ; they are at once incomplete and exaggerated; they omit and amplify: we must always distrust the impression conveyed by them, both as too narrow and as too poetical ; we must both add to and take from it. Nowhere does this double error appear more strongly than in the narratives of the Germanic invasion ; the words by which it has been described in no way represent it.
The invasion, or rather, the invasions, were events which were essentially partial, local, and momentary. A band arrived, usually far from numerous ; the most powerful, those who founded kingdoms, as the band of Clovis, scarcely numbered from five thousand to six thousand men ; the entire nation of the Burgundians did not exceed sixty thousand men. It rapidly overran a limited territory ; ravaged a district ; attacked a city, and sometimes retreated, carrying away its booty, and sometimes settled somewhere, always careful not to disperse itself too much We know with what facility and promptitude such events accomplish themselves and disappear. Houses are burnt, fields are devastated, crops carried off, men killed or led away prisoners : all this evil over, at the end of a few days the waves close, the ripple subsides, individual sufferings are forgotten, society returns, at least in appearance, to its former state. This was the condition of things in Gaul during the fourth century.
But we also know that the human society, that society which we call a people, is not a simple juxta-position of isolated and fugitive existence: were it nothing more, the invasions of the barbarians would not have prduced the impression which the documents of the epoch depict; for a long while the number of places and men that suffered therefrom was far inferior to the number of those who escaped. But the social life of each man is not concentrated in the material space which is its theatre, nor in the passing moment; it extends itself to all the relations which he has contracted upon different points of the land ; and not only to those relations which he has contracted, but also to those which he might contract, or can even conceive the possibility of contracting ; it embraces not only the present, but the future ; man lives in a thousand spots which he does not inhabit, in a thousand moments which, as yet, are not; and if this development of his life is cut off from him, if he