Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.

From the notices left us by Baeda in Britain, and by Nithard and others on the continent, of the habits and manners which distinguished those Saxons who remained in the old fatherland, we are able to form some idea of the primitive condition of those other Saxons, English, and Jutes, who afterwards colonized Britain, during the period while they still all lived together in the heather-clad wastes and marshy lowlands of Denmark and Northern Germany.  The early heathen poem of Beowulf also gives us a glimpse of their ideas and their mode of thought.  The known physical characteristics of the race, the nature of the country which they inhabited, the analogy of other Germanic tribes, and the recent discoveries of pre-historic archaeology, all help us to piece out a fairly consistent picture of their appearance, their manner of life, and their rude political institutions.

We must begin by dismissing from our minds all those modern notions which are almost inevitably implied by the use of language directly derived from that of our heathen ancestors, but now mixed up in our conceptions with the most advanced forms of European civilisation.  We must not allow such words as “king” and “English” to mislead us into a species of filial blindness to the real nature of our Teutonic forefathers.  The little community of wild farmers and warriors who lived among the dim woodlands of Sleswick, beside the swampy margin of the North Sea, has grown into the nucleus of a vast empire, only very partially Germanic in blood, and enriched by all the alien culture of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome.  But as it still preserves the identical tongue of its early barbarous days, we are naturally tempted to read our modern acquired feelings into the simple but familiar terms employed by our continental predecessors.  What the early English called a king we should now-a-days call a chief; what they called a meeting of wise men we should now-a-days call a palaver.  In fact, we must recollect that we are dealing with a purely barbaric race—­not savage, indeed, nor without a certain rude culture of its own, the result of long centuries of previous development; yet essentially military and predatory in its habits, and akin in its material civilisation to many races which we now regard as immeasurably our inferiors.  If we wish for a modern equivalent of the primitive Anglo-Saxon level of culture, we may perhaps best find it in the Kurds of the Turkish and Persian frontier, or in the Mahrattas of the wild mountain region of the western Deccan.

The early English in Sleswick and Friesland had partially reached the agricultural stage of civilisation.  They tilled little plots of ground in the forest; but they depended more largely for subsistence upon their cattle, and they were also hunters and trappers in the great belts of woodland or marsh which everywhere surrounded their isolated villages.  They were acquainted with the use of bronze from the first period

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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