RELATION OF THE DIFFERENT RACES OF MEN IN BRITAIN
TO THE GEOLOGY OF THE COUNTRY.
I SHALL now give a brief account of the influence of the geology upon the human inhabitants of
different parts of our Island.
Great Britain is inhabited by several peoples, more or less intermingled with one another. It
requires but a cursory examination to see that the more mountainous and barren districts, as a
whole, are inhabited by two Celtic populations, very distinct from each other, and yet akin. The
lowland parts are chiefly occupied by the descendants of Teutonic and Scandinavian races, now
intimately intermixed, in some degree with the earlier Celtic inhabitants, who themselves on
their coming undoubtedly mingled with yet earlier tribes.
It will be remembered that both in England and on the Continent of Europe, remains of man (his
bones and weapons) have been found in caves and river gravels, associated with bones of the
Mammoth, Rhinoceros, Reindeer, and other mammaha, some of which are now extinct. That
these early people, who at least date back to the Glacial epoch, were savage
hunters, often living in caves, when they could find such ready-made accommodation, there can
be but little doubt; but to what type of mankind they. belonged, or whether they are represented
by any unmixed modern
[580 The Silures.]
type, no man knows. Possibly
the cave men of Dordogne in France, who carved daggers out of Reindeer horns,
and cut the figure of the Mammoth on his own tusk, may now be represented
in Europe by the Laplanders (Mongolian), gradually driven north by the encroachment
of later and more powerful nations. Or they may have been dark-complexioned,
black-haired and blackeyed Melanochroi, of whom the Basques of Spain are
the least obliterated representatives, and traces of whom, according to Professor
Huxley, are still among us in the black-haired portion of our Celtic population,
and in the swarthy sons of Italy and Spain.1
'Early Greek writers,' says Mr. William F. Skene in his 'History of Celtic Scotland' (1876),
'seem to have had a persuasion that the portion of the inhabitants of Britain who were more
particularly connected with the working of tin, possessed peculiarities which distinguished
them from the rest.' These people—the Silures—inhabited the Cassiterides, now called the Scilly
Islands, and as quoted from Diodorus, were 'singularly fond of strangers, and, from their
intercourse with foreign merchants, civilised in their habits.' This intercourse arose from
traffic in tin. In' Critiques and Addresses '(1873), Professor Huxley states that, 'Eighteen
hundred years ago the population of Britain comprised people of two types of complexion—the
one fair and the other dark. The dark people resembled the Aquitani and the iberians, the fair
people were like the Belgic Gauls,' and the Silures who had 'curly hair and dark complexions,'
within historical times 'were predominant in certain parts of the west of the southern half of
Britain, while the fair stock appears
1 Journal of the Ethnological Society,' vol. ii. 1871, pp.
[The Iberians. 581]
to have furnished the chief elements of the population elsewhere.'
Mr. Skene is of opinion that 'an examination of the ancient sepulchral remains in Britain gives
us reason to suppose, that a people possessing certain physical characteristics (those of the
Silures), had once spread over the whole of both the British Isles.' Quoting from Professor
Dawkins' 'Cave Hunting,' that author states, on the authority of Dr. Thurnham, that in the 'long
harrows and chambered-gallery graves of our island' the 'crania belong, with scarcely an
exception,' to 'the Dolichocephali or long-skulls' of the neolithic age, as shown by 'the
invariable absence of bronze and the frequent presence of polished stone implements.' 'In the
round barrows, on the other hand, in which bronze articles are found, they belong mainly to the
Brachycephali or broad-skulls.' These belonged to Celtic people.
On the evidence of skulls and flint implements, it has been reasonably surmised that an Iberian
population once spread over the whole of Britain and Ireland. But from the dawn of definite
European history, the dark populations of Iberian type have constantly been losing ground in the
world. In Spain their language remains, but their blood is now far from pure, but in Britain if
any trace of their ancient tongue is left, it has been so largely overlapped and worn away by
succeeding waves of Celtic invasion, that probably its existence is scarcely recognisable, though
the influence of their blood is perpetuated in the black hair and dark eyes of many of the
inhabitants of Wales, both South and North.
At what time the first appearance of a Celtic people in Britain took place no one knows, but
[582 Welsh and Gaelic.]
may be, it is certain that before the landing of Julius Caesar, more than 1,900 years ago, both
sides of the English Channel were inhabited by people speaking a Celtic tongue, mingled, in the
south-east of England, with fair-haired and blue-eyed Belgæ, who in time had been absorbed
among the Celtic population, and spoke their language. The modern descendants of these people
are the Welsh (Cymry) and Cornish men; but I consider that at that period distinct tribes of
Celts, the Gael, inhabited the greater part of what is now termed Scotland, the Isle of Man, and
Ireland, and at least all the western, and part of the southern, coasts of Wales.
Analyses of modern Welsh and Gaelic prove that these Celtic branches, now so distinct, yet
sprung from the same original stock. Nevertheless, I believe that the Gael, as a people, are more
ancient in our islands than the Cymry; and I think there is strong presumptive evidence that the
ancestors of the Pictish Gael (who, however, afterwards became so largely intermixed with
Scandinavian blood) once spread, not only much further south than the borders of the Highlands,
but that before the Roman invasion they occupied the Lowlands of Great Britain generally,
excepting what are now the more southern countries, where the Cymry had obtained a firm
footing, and were steadily pressing northward and westward.
From intimate personal knowledge of Wales, its topography and people, I for long held the
opinion that the Gwyddel (Irish Gael) were the earliest Celtic inhabitants of Wales. This is not
the popular view., and it was with much satisfaction that I lately found, that twelve years before
the first edition of this book was published, the subject had been ably discussed by the
[Welsh and Gaelic. 583]
Basil Jones (now Bishop of St. Davids) in his celebrated essay entitled 'Vestiges
of the Gael in Gwynnedd.' As late as the sixth century we find great part
of the western coast of Wales and all Anglesea inhabited by the Gwyddel.
From Caernarvonshire to Pembrokeshire and Glamorganshire, the word Gwyddel
forms a frequent part of compound names of places, such as Llan-y-Gwyddel
(Holyhead), Trwyn-y-Gwyddel, the extreme promontory of Lleyn in the north
horn of Cardigan Bay, Murian-'r-Gwyddel, ancient fortifications near Harlech,
and many others. The special frequency of such names near the coast seems
to point to the circumstance, that the fortified positions there formed the
last refuges of the retiring Gael against the onward march of the encroaching
Cymry. One of these, Cytiau-'r-Gwyddelod (the Irishmen's cots), is a skilfully
fortified position on Holyhead mountain, where tradition tells of a battle,
in which the Gwyddel were utterly defeated by Caswallawn Law Hir, late in
the sixth century. Subsequent piratical invasions of Wales by the Irish are
recorded, whIch even come down to Norman times, but without permanent results.1
There is a little feeble evidence that Christianity had obtained a slight footing in Britain early
in the third century, and it is certain that early in the fourth century it began to be largely
established, and although 'when the Roman left us, and their law relaxed its hold upon us,' in the
year 409, England, overwhelmed by successive hosts 'of heathen swarming o'er the northern
sea,' again became pagan, this forcible
Skene in his 'Four Ancient Books of Wales,' and in 'Celtic Scotland,' has
treated this subject with his usual skill and vigour. He dissents from the
opinion of the Bishop of St.. David's respecting the priority of the Gwyddel
[584 Welsh and Gaelic.]
conversion did not extend to the inhabitants of the mountains of Wales, where the early Church still
continued to flourish among the Gwyddel. This throws an interesting light on the circumstance
that so many of the churches in the western part of the mainland of Wales and in Anglesea were
dedicated to Gaelic saints, where the Gwyddel still ruled the land. The names, also, of many of the
rivers in England and even in Wales have a Gaelic and not a Welsh origin, complete or in
combination. Thus, all the rivers called Ouse,Usk, Esk (Uisge), the Don, and others, derive
their names from the Gaelic.
Again, it is a characteristic of rivers often to retain the names given them by an early race long
after that. race has been expelled, and thus the Gaelic Uisge (water) has not in all cases been
replaced by the archaic Welsh word Gwy. This old Welsh word we constantly find in a corrupt
form, as in the Wye, the Medway, the Tawe, the Towey, and the Teifi, the Dyfi or Dovey, and the
Dove; or the water of the rivers is expressed in another form by the later dwfr or dwr, as in
Stour, Aberdour, &c. In both languages river (Afon or Avon) is the same.
In his chapter on the Ethnology of Scotland,1 Mr. Skene remarks that 'Uisge in Gaelic, and Wysg
in Welsh, furnish the Esks, Usks, and Ouses, which we find here and there;' but it seems to me
that these names, common both in England and Scotland, have, as now pronounced, more of a
Gaelic than a Welsh twang, and afford a hint of the early occupation of England and Wales by the
Gael. In Anglesea, by the side of Afon Alaw, the river of the water-lilies, there is a farm called
Tyddyn Wysgi—the farm by the water
'Celtic Scotland,' vol. i. p. 215.
[Welsh and Gaelic. 585]
the final word being the precise equivalent in sound to the Gaelic Uisge, though it cannot be
denied that it may come directly from the Welsh Wysg, which also is an old word for water.
Again, in Wales, on Cader Idris, there still remains the name of a lake, Llyn Cyri (pronounced
Curry), a word unintelligible to the Welsh (as Arran is to the Gael), but easily explained by the
Gaelic word Coire, a cauldron, or Corrie, a word applied to those great cliffy semi-circular
hollows or cirques in the mountains, in which tarns so often lie. Other places called Cyri, of
like form, are also found in Merionethshire.
If, then, the earlier inhabitants of Britain were Gaelic, they were driven westward into Wales,
and northward into the mountains of Scotland, by the superior power of another and later Celtic
population that found its way to our shores, and pushed onwards, occupying the more fertile
districts of England and the south of Scotland, and possibly even creeping round the eastern
coasts north of the Tay, and occupying the lowlands of Caithness. The Gael, including the Picts,
would not willingly have confined themselves to the barren mountains if they could have
retained a position on more fertile lands. One proof of this as regards Wales is, that as late as
the early part of the sixth century all that part of the country west of a line roughly drawn
from Conway to Swansea was inhabited by an Erse-speaking people, the Gwyddel1 of the
Welsh,2 who were slowly retiring before the advancing
Cymry, and their last unabsorbed relics expelled from the coast finally sought refuge with their
Gwyddel literally means dwellers in the Forest, Forestieri, Waldmen, Welsh.
2 See 'The Four Ancient Books of Wales,' Skene, vol. i., p. 43.
[586 Welsh and Gaelic.]
people in Ireland. In the same century, according to Mr. Skene, 'from the Dee and the Humber to
the Firths of Forth and Clyde, we find the country almost entirely possessed by a Cymric
population,' and though it may be presumptuous to differ from an authority so distinguished, I
do not stand alone in the opinion that the. Cymry spread still further north, and pressed upon
the Gael, at all events on the west of Scotland, as far as the verge of the mountains of the
It is remarkable that a number of the names of places in the centre and south of Scotland are not
Gaelic, but have been given by the later conquering race, and can be translated by anyone who
has even a superficial knowledge of Welsh, and it is certain that, from the Lowlands of Scotland
all through the midland and southern parts of Britain, the country was inhabited in later Celtic
times by the same folk that now people Cornwall and Wales. The names of scores of places now
unintelligible to the vulgar, prove it. Thus there are all the Coombs (Cwm) of Devon,
Somersetshire, and even the south-east of England; Dover, so named from the river Douver
(dwfr, water), still correctly pronounced by the French; and at Bath, by the Avon, we have
'Dolly (dolau) meadows'; near Birmingham, the 'Lickey hills' (llechau); near Macclesfield, the
rocky ridge called 'the Cerridge' (cerrig) ; and in the hills of Derbyshire 'Bull gap,' the Welsh
bwlch, translated, just as in another instance dolau is repeated in the English word meadows.
Again, in Scotland we have the islands of the Clyde called the Cumbraes (Cymry), Aran, Welsh
for a peaked hill, Aberdour (the mouth of the water), Lanark (Llanerch, an open place in a
forest, or clearing), Blantyre (Blaentir,
[Welsh and Gaelic. 587]
a promontory or projecting land), Pennycuik (Peny-gwig, the head of the thicket), and
many other corrupted Welsh names. The wide area over which this language was spoken is
indeed proved by the ancient Welsh literature, for the old heroic poem of the Gododin was
composed by Aneurin, a native of the ancient kingdom of Strath Clwyd, which stretched through
the west country beyond Dumbarton over Cumberland as far south as Chester.1 In Mr. Skene's
opinion, it records a battle, fought on the shore of the Firth of Forth some time between A.D.
586 and 603,2 while others, and I incline to this view, suppose the battle to have taken place at
or near Catterick in Yorkshire.
However this may be, it is certain that the British Celts, when the Romans invaded our country,
overspread the whole of Great Britain south of the Firths of Forth and Clyde. By-and-by they
mixed with their conquerors, but the Romans, as far as blood is concerned, seem to have played
an unimportant part in our country. They may have, intermarried to some extent with the
natives, but they occupied our country very much in the manner that we now occupy India.
Coming as military colonists, they went away as soon as their time of service was up, and
finally abandoned the country altogether.
Partly before, but chiefly after, the retirement of the Romans, invasions took place by the
1 See 'Freeman's History of the Norman Conquest,' vol. i. p. 35.
2 In the learned work by Mr.
Skene, the author with great force and probability shows good reason, not only for the actual
existence of Arthur, but he even traces his march through the country and shows where his
battles were fought, ending with the crowning victory at Badon or Bouden Hill, in
[588 Angles and Distribution of Races.]
people from the shores of the Baltic near the mouth of the Elbe (Angles), and Scandinavia; and,
in the long run, they permanently occupied the greater part of the land. Then the native tribes,
absorbed, slain, or dispossessed of their territories, and slowly driven westwards, retreated to
join their countrymen into the distant and mountainous parts of the country, where the relics of
this old Celtic people are still extant in Devon and in Cornwall, while among the mountains of
Wales the same Celtic element yet forms a distinct and peculiar people. There, till after the
Norman conquest, they still held out against the invader, and maintained their independence in a
region barren in the high ground, but traversed by many a broad and pleasant valley. Living, as
the relics of the old Britons are apt to do, so much in memories of the past, the slowly dying
language, and even the antique cadences of their regretful music, speak of a people whose
distinctive characters are gradually waning and merging into a newer phase of intellectual life.
It appears then that the oldest tribes now inhabiting our country, both in Scotland and in the
south, are to be found among those most ancient of our geological formations, the Silurian rocks,
which, by old palæozoic disturbance, form the less accessible mountain lands; while the lower
and more fertile hills, the plains and tablelands, and Scotland south of the Grampians, are
chiefly inhabited by the descendants of the heathen, who made good their places by the sword
after the departure of the Romans.
On the east of Scotland, also, along the coasts of the Moray Firth, in Caithness, and in the Orkney
and Shetland Islands, the people are of Scandinavian origin and speak Scotch, thus standing out
in marked contrast
[Angles and Distribution of Races. 589]
with the Gaelic clans, who possess the wilder and higher grounds in the interior and western
districts. There is here a curious relation of the human population to the geological character of
the country. The Scandinavian element is strongly developed along the maritime tracts, which,
being chiefly composed of Old Red Sandstone, stretch away in long and fertile lowlands; while the
Celts are pretty closely restricted to the higher and bleaker regions where the barren gneissic
and schistose rocks prevail.