Page images

thinned many districts, and threatened more, you voluntarily stept forth, with the benevolent resolution to procure that relief which the circumftances of the country and the people required. The Public have caught the generous flame, and, from prefent appearances, there is every reafon to believe, that the year M DCC LXXXVI will form an æra in the British annals.

I have the honour to be,

My Lords and Gentlemen,

With the greatest respect,

Your most devoted,

Humble fervant,










WHEN the

HEN the Romans carried their arms into Britain,* the whole island was poffeffed by three nations, fprung originally, though at very different periods, from the Celtæ or the Gaël of the continent. These were the Caledonians, the Cimbri, and the Belgæ. Though defcended from the fame fource, their feparation into different channels was very remote. The Gaël,

• Introduction to the Hiftory of Great Britain and Ireland, by James Macpherson, Esq.

Critical Differtations on the Origin, Antiquities, Language, Government, &c. of the ancient Caledonians, their Potterity the Picts, and the British and Irish Scots, by John Macpher fon, D. D. Minifter of Slate, in the Isle of Sky.

Gaël, who poffeffed the northern Britain, by the name of Caledonia, having passed from the continent before the arts of civil life had. made any confiderable progrefs among them, retained the pure but unimproved language of their ancestors, together with their rude fimplicity of manners.

The Cimbri and Belge, falling under the power of the Romans, foon after they were mentioned by hiftorians, were lost in the general name of Britons.

In proportion as we travel northward in ancient Britain, the darknefs which involves the antiquities of its inhabitants, thickens beforeus. The Cimbri and Belge, after they were comprehended within the pale of the Roman dominions, were feen diftinctly; but the more ancient inhabitants of the island, the Gaël, appeared only tranfiently, when, in an hoftile manner, they advanced to the frontiers. of the province. The arms of the empire penetrated, at different periods, into the heart of the country beyond the Scottish firths; but as thefe expeditions were not attended with abfolute conqueft, and a consequent fettlement of colonies, the Romans made little inquiry concerning the origin


[ocr errors]

and history of the natives of the northern divifion of Britain.

Julius Agricola, who, for the first time, displayed the Roman Eagle beyond the firths, was not more fuccefsful in the field than he was happy in an hiftorian to tranfmit his actions with luftre to posterity.--But even the distinct and intelligent Tacitus gives but a very imperfect idea of thofe enemies, by the defeat of whom his father-inlaw acquired fo much reputation. We learn from him indeed, that the Caledonians were the most ancient inhabitants of Britain; that they were brave and numerous; that, though overcome in the field by the discipline of the Roman legions, they were far from being reduced into any fubjection which could dedeferve the name of conqueft.

After Agricola was removed from the goyernment of Britain, the writers of the empire for fome years loft fight of the Caledonians. The incurfions of thofe Barbarians into the province, forced both Adrian and Antoninus Pius to conftruct walls, at an immense labour and expence, to exclude their ravages. In the reign of Commodus, neither walls, nor the military abilities and conduct of Marcellus,

Marcellus, could prevent them from laying waste the northern divifion of the Roman Britain, till Severus, about the beginning of the third century, carried the war into their country with a numerous army. This is the fum of what the Romans have related concerning the Caledonians for near two centuries after they were first mentioned: to their origin and internal hiftory the writers of Rome were equally ftrangers.


This defect in foreign writers, with regard to the ancient inhabitants of North Britain, is not supplied by any authentic monuments of their own. The Caledonians were not more destitute of the means of preferving their history in the intermediate century between Agricola and Severus, than their pofterity were for a confiderable time after the Romans had relinquished the dominion of Britain. The climate and foil of Caledonia were far from being favourable to internal civilization; and a ferocity of manners, arifing from an uninterrupted series of hoftilities, effectually prevented the introduction of the arts of civil life from abroad.

But when the Scots look back with regret that want of letters which has involved


« PreviousContinue »