THE AGE OF THE GIANTS.
"Eald ents geweorc
Idiu stodon."--The Wanderer. Exeter Book.
"The old works of giants
Stood desolate."--THOMAS WRIGHT.
IN wandering over some of the uncultivated tracts which still maintain their wildness, austerely and sullenly, against the march of cultivation, we are certain of finding rude masses of rock which have some relation to the giants. The giant's hand, or the giant's chair, or, it may be, the giant's punch-bowl, excites your curiosity. What were the mental peculiarities of the people who fixed so permanently those names on fantastic rock-masses? What are the conditions--mental or otherwise--necessary for the preservation of these ideas? are questions which I have often asked myself when wandering amidst the Tors of Dartmoor, and when seated upon the granite masses which spread themselves so strangely, yet so picturesquely, over Cam Brea and other rocky hills' in Cornwall. When questions of this kind are continually recurring, the mind naturally works out some reply, which satisfies at least itself; and it consequently not unfrequently reposes contentedly on a fallacy as baseless as the giant-spectre of the mountain mists. This may possibly be the condition at which I have arrived, and many of my readers may smile at my dreams. It is not in my nature to work without some hypothesis; but I endeavour to hold it as loosely as possible, that it may be yielded up readily the moment a more promising theory is born, whoever may be its parent--wherever its birthplace.
Giants, and every form of giant-idea, belong to the wilds of nature. I have never discovered the slightest indication of the existence of a tradition of giants, of the true legendary type, in a fertile valley or in a well-cultivated plain. Wherever there yet linger the faint shadows of the legendary giant, there the country still retains much of its native wildness, and the inhabitants have, to a great extent, preserved their primitive character In other words, they have nurtured a gloomy imagination, and permitted ignorance to continue its melancholy delusions. The untaught mind, in every age, looks upon the grander phenomena of nature with feelings of terror, and endeavours to explain them by the aid of those errors which have been perpetuated from father to son since the days when the priests of superstition sought to rule the minds of men by exciting their fears.
I shall have to tell, by and by, the story of a so-called giant, who could bestride the lovely river which flows through the luxuriant valley of Tavistock, where, also, the inquiring traveller is shown his grave. The giant's grave in Penrith churchyard is familiar to me; and in or near many a picturesque village, shadowed by noble trees, and surrounded by richly-clothed fields, I can point to mounds, and to stones, which are said to be the resting-places of giants. These, however, will invariably be found to be rude monuments to ordinary men, who were possessed of more wealth, intelligence, courage, or strength than their fellows: men who have been the objects of hero-worship, but whose names have perished amidst the wrecks of time. It may be argued that these village giants are creations of the same character as those of the true legendary type, and that both result from analogous operations in the human mind. It may be so; but how vastly different must have been the constitution of those minds to which we owe the creations of the Titans of our mountains and the large men of our lowlands. Had I the learning necessary for the task of showing that our legendary giant is of Oriental origin, I have not the required leisure to pursue that inquiry to its end; and I leave it to abler men, contenting myself, and, let me hope, satisfying my readers, by studying the subject in its more simple aspects.
I find, over a tract of country extending, from the eastern edge of Dartmoor to the Land's End--and even beyond it, to the Scilly Islands -- curious relics of the giants. This district is in many respects a peculiar one. The physical features of the country are broadly marked; and, even after the civilising influences of centuries, wild nature contests with man, and often maintains her supremacy. On one hand we see industry taking possession of the hills, and holding them firm in its ameliorating grasp; on the other, we find the sterile moor and the rock-spread region still resisting successfully the influences of man and his appliances. When I travel into other parts of the British Isles, and reach a district having the same general features, I usually discover some outstanding memory of the giants, often, it must be admitted, faint and ill-defined. The giant Tarquin, almost forgotten amidst the whir of spindles, "who had his dwelling in a well-fortified castle near Manchester, on the site of what is yet known by the name of Castlefield," and Carados--
"A mighty giant, just pull'd down,
Who lived near Shrewsbury's fair town"--
may be quoted as examples of the fading myths. [a]
I therefore draw the conclusion that those large masses of humanity--of whom Saturn devouring his own children would seem to be the parental type--can exist only in the memories of those races who are born and live amidst the sublime phenomena of nature.
On the rugged mountain, overspread with rocks which appear themselves to be the ruins of some Cyclopean hail, amidst which the tempests play, still harmless in their fury;--here, where the breezes of spring and summer whistle as with some new delight--where the autumnal winds murmur the wildest music, or make the saddest wail; and the winter storms, as if joyous in their strength, shout in voices of thunder from cairn to cairn;--here does the giant dwell! On the beetling cliff, where coming tern-pests delight to send those predicating moanings, which tell of the coming war of winds and waves;--on rocks which have frowned for ages on the angry sea, and in caverns which mock, by repeating, the sounds of air and water--be they joyous as the voice of birds, or wild and solemn as the howl of savages above the dead; -- here does the giant dwell!
In the valley, too, has he sometimes fixed his home; but the giant has usually retired from business when he leaves the hills. Even here we miss not the old associations. Huge boulders are spread on every side; rock-masses are overgrown with furze, ferns, mosses, and heaths; and torrents rush from the hills, bringing, as it were, their native music with them. Wherever, indeed, the giants have made a home, we find a place remarkable for the grand scale on which the works of nature are displayed.
The giants of Danmonium--as that region was once named to which I have confined my inquiries--will be found to be a marked race. They appear to bear about them the characteristics of the giants of the East. They have the peculiarities which may be studied in those true Oriental Titans, Gog and Magog, who still preside so grimly and giantly at our City feasts. They have none of that stony, cold-hearted character which marks the giants of Scandinavia; and although Mr Keightley [b] would connect the mighty Thor with the no less mighty giants of the Arabian stories, I think, it can be shown that all those of the West of England resemble their Northern brethren only in the manner in which the sensual monsters succumb to the slightest exercise of thought.
Mr J. O. HaIliwell appears to have been a little surprised at discovering, during a very short residence in the West of Cornwall, that the Land's End district was "anciently the chosen land of the giants;" that it was "beyond all other the favourite abode and the land of the English giants." Peculiarly fitted for the inquiry as Mr Halliwell is, by his life-long studies, it is to be regretted that he spent so brief a period amidst "what still remains of these memorials of a Titan race." [c]
Who were the giants? Whence came they? [d] I asked myself these questions when, seated in the Giant's Chair, I have looked down upon a wide expanse of" furzy downs," over which were scattered in picturesque confusion vast masses of granite rocks, every one of them standing in monumental grandeur, inscribed by the finger of tradition with memorials of this mighty race. Did Cormelian and Cormoran really build St Michael's Mount? Did Thunderbore walk the land, inspiring terror by his extreme ugliness? Did Bolster persecute the blessed St Agnes, until she was compelled by stratagem to destroy him? Did, indeed, our British Titans play at quoits and marbles with huge rocks? Is it a fact that all the giants died of grief after Corineus overthrew Gog Magog on Plymouth Hoe? Let us, if only for amusement -- and to give to a light work some appearance of Research--examine a few antiquated authorities, who may be said--n their own way.--indirectly to answer those questions.
M. Pezron, D.D., and abbot of La Chamoye wrote a strange book, "The Antiquities of Nations," which in 1706 was "Englished by Mr Jones." [e]
In his Epistle Dedicatory to Charles Lord Halifax, speaking of the "Famous Pezron," Mr Jones asks, "Was there ever any before him that attempted to Trace the Origin of the Celtae, who with Great Probability of Truth, were the same People, and spoke the same Language, as our Ancient Britain's did, and their Descendants continue to do to this Day, so high as Gomer and the Gomarians?"
This authority, with a great display of learning, proves that Gomer, the eldest son of Japhet, was the chief of the Gomarians, and that these Gomarians afterwards were called Galatians, or Gauls. We further learn from him that a section of the Gomarians were called Sacae, and that the Sacae went into Phrygia, and afterwards assumed the name of TITANS. This race, "and especially the Princes that commanded them, exceeded all others in Bulk and Strength of Body; and hence it is that they have been looked upon to be terrible people, and, as it were, Giants. The Scripture itself, the Rule of Truth, even gives such an Idea as this, of those famous and potent men, who, according to it, ruled over all the Earth. Judith, speaking of them in her fine Song, called them Giants the sons of the Titans. [f] And the Prophet Isaiah informs us, also, that these Giants were anciently Masters of the World."
This mighty race dwelt in mountains, woods, and rough and inaccessible places, and "they lay in the Hollows of Valleys, and the like Places of Shelter and retirement, because they had no Houses in those Times." The learned abbot proceeds, exerting all his powers to prove that the Titans were the true Celtae--that a people of Greece were the descendants of the Titans--that Gomerwas "the true stock of the Gauls "--and that Magog, his brother, "is also looked upon to be the Origin of the Scythians, or People of Great Tartary." [g]
To seize on another authority, who appears to connect the Oriental with the British cromlech, and through those the people whose remains they cover, we will quote Dr E. D. Clarke, who describes [h] a Cyclopean structure visited by him near Kiel, consisting of three upright stones, supporting horizontally an enormous slab of granite. After mentioning several cromlechs of a similar character, and other "stupendous vestiges of Cyclopean architecture," he says--" There is nothing Gothic about them--nothing denoting the Cimbri or the Franks, or the old Saxons -- but rather the ancient Gaulish, the ancient British, and the ancient irish; and if this be admitted, they were Titan-Celts:
the GIANTS of the sacred, and the CYCLOPS of the heathen historians." I am informed that Mr Christy has lately examined several cromlechs in Algeria; beneath each he found a human skeleton.
Such may be presumed to be the sources from which sprang the giants of Cornwall, whose Iabours--of which relics still remain--prove them to have been a race by the side of whom
"In stature the tall Amazon
Had stood a pigmy's height."
Everything they have left us informs us that they were men who
"Would have ta'en
Achilles by the hair, and bent his neck,
Or with a finger stay'd Ixion's wheel." [i]
With these evidences, who then dares say that the Samotheans, who, under the reign of Bardus, people this island, were not subdued by Albion, a giant son of Neptune, "who called the land after his own name, and reigned forty-four years." [j] Let us not forget the evidence also given by Milton in his "Lycidas," when he asks, in his poetic sorrow, if his friend
"Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great Vision of the guarded Mount
Looks towards Namancos and Bayona's hold."
Bellerian was the name formerly given to the promontory of the Land's End. It was the home of a mighty giant, after whom, in all probability, the headland was called. [k]
Tradition throws a faint light back into those remote ages, and informs us that Cyclopean walls, vast earthworks, and strangely-piled masses of rock, which still remain, imperishable monuments of animal power, in various parts of the ancient Danmonium, were the works of the giants. With the true history of Jack the Giant-Killer--of him of the Bean-Stalk--and some others, we are all acquainted. We listened to those histories ere yet the dark seed of that troublesome weed--doubt--had germinated. They were poured forth from loving lips into believing ears; and often in the sleep of innocency have we buried our heads in the maternal bosom to hide the horrid visage of some Cormoran Blunderbore, or Thunderbore, and escape the giant's toils. By this process the stories were imprinted on memory's tablets with an indelible ink, and for long years, the spunge and water--which is employed by the pioneers in the great March of Intellect--has been used almost in vain. Notwithstanding the influences which have been brought to bear, with no kindly spirit, upon the old-world tales, we have still lingering, though in ruins, the evidences by which they were supported. Mr Thomas Wright, in his "Memoir on the Local Legends of Shropshire," quotes from (and translates his quotation) an Anglo-Saxon poem, which bears the title of "The Ruin," in the "Exeter Book .
"Wondrous is this waIl.stone,
The fates have broken it,
Have burst the burgh.place;
The work of giants is perishing."
From the Land's End [l] to the eastern edge of Dartmoor, the perishing works of the giants--wondrous wall-stones--are yet to be found. In many instances the only records by which we can mark the homes of the giants are the names which yet cling to the rocks on the hills where they dwelt. The Giant's Cradle, on Trecrobben Hill, reminds us of the great man's infancy, as does also the Giant's Spoon, which is near it. The giant of Trecrobben was, beyond question, a temperate one, as the Giant's Well, without the walls of his castle, incontestibly proves. But what shall we say of his neighbour, who dwelt at Beersheba, where the Giant's Bowl is still suggestive of imbibitions deep. The monumental mass of granite on Dartmoor, known as Bowerman's Nose, may. hand down to us the resting-place and name of a giant whose nose was the index of his vice; though Carrington, in his poem. of " Dartmoor," supposes these rocks to be
"A granite god,--
To whom, in days long flown, the suppliant knee
In trembling homage bow'd."
Let those, however, who are curious in this problem visit the granite idol; when, ' as Carrington assures us, he will find that. the inhabitants of
"The hamlets near
Have legends rude connected with the spot
(Wild swept by every wind), on which he. stands,
The Giant of the Moor."
Of the last resting-places of the giants there are many. Mardon; on Dartmoor, has a Giant's Grave, [m] and from that rude region, travelling westward, we find these graves--proving the mortality of even this Titan race--rising on many a moor and mountain, until, crossing the sea, we see numerous giants' graves in the Scilly Islands; as though they had been the favourite resting-places of the descendants of those who dreamed of yet more western lands, beneath the setting sun, which were, even to them, "the Islands of the Blest." [n]
There is scarcely a pile of rocks around our western shore upon which the giants have not left their impress. At Tol-Pedden-Penwith we have the Giant's Chair; at Cam Boscawen we see the Giant's Pulpit. If we advance nearer to the towns, even the small mass of rocks behind Street-an-Noan, near Penzance, called Tolcarne, has the mark of the Giant's Foot. The priests, however, in the season of their rule, strove to obliterate the memories of those great pagans. They converted the footprint at Tolcarne -- and similar indentations elsewhere--into the mark of the devil's hoof, when he stamped in rage at the escape of a sinner, who threw himself from the rock, strong in faith, into the arms of the Church. In more recent times, this footmark has been attributed to the devil jumping with joy, as he flew off, from this spot, with some unfortunate miller, who had lost his soul by mixing china clay with his flour. The metamorphosis of ancient giants into modern devils is a curious feature in our inquiry. At Lemorna we have the Giant's Cave. On Gulval Cairn we find also the giant's mark, which the magic of Sir H. Davy's science could not dispel. [o] On Carn Brea are no end of evidences of these Titans--the Giant's Hand rivalling in size any of the monstrous monuments of the Egyptian gods. Thus, in nearly every part of the country where granite rocks prevail, the monuments of the giants may be found~ Why do the giants show such a preference for granite? At Looe, indeed, the Giant's Hedge is a vast earthwork; but this is an exception, [p] unless the Bolster in St Agnes is a giant's work. In pursuing the dim lights which yet remain to guide us to the history of the giants, we must not forget the record of the Fatal Wrestling on Plymouth Hoe,
[a] See "Popular Traditions of Lancashire," by J. Roby, Esq., MR S.L. Bohn, I843
[b] Tales and Popular Fictions; their Resemblance and Transmission from Country to Country. By Thomas Keightley. 1834.
[c] Rambles in Western Cornwall by the Footsteps of the Giants, with Notes on the Celtic Remains of the Land's End District, and the Islands of Scilly. By J. O. Halliwell, F.R.S. 1861.
[d] That these Titans lived down to historic times is suggested by the following:-- "Guy, Earl of Warwick, fought at the request of Athelstan a combat with Colbrand, a Danish giant, and slew him"--Gilbert, quoting Carew, who again quotes Walter of Exeter. Vol. iv., p. 111
[e] The Antiquities of Nations: more particularly of the Celtae or Gaul,, taken to be originally the same People as our Ancient Britain's.
[f] Judith xvi, 7: "Neither the sons of the Titans smite him, nor high giants set upon him."
[g] Those who are curious in this matter may examine also, "Gomer; or, A Brief Analysis of the Language and Knowledge of the Ancient Cymry. By John Williams, A M., Oxen., Archdeacon of Cardigan."
[h] Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa, vol. ix., p. 59
[i] Hyperion. By John Keats
[j] The History of Britain. By John Milton, Second edition, 1678.
[k] Keightley, who of all men should have traced this Bellerus to his home, in his "Life of Milton" confuses St Michael's Mount and the Land's End, and "conceives the giant Bellerus to have been an invention of Milton's." The evidence of the "History of Britain" shows with how much diligence the legendary lore which existed in 1678 had been sought out by the poet; and his grand epic proves with how much reverence Milton studied our own mythology. I could lead the reader to twenty places around the Land's End which were not discovered even by Mr J. O. Halliwell when rambling "in Western Cornwall by the Footsteps of the Giants," upon which Bellerus, although he has not left his name, has left a long-enduring record. See Appendix A.
[l] "Not far from the land's ende there is a little village called Trebegean--in English, The towne of the Giant's Grave,--near whereunto, and within memory (as I have been informed), certain workmen, searching for Tynne, discovered a long square vault, which contained the bones of an excessive bigge carkas, and verified this Ethnology of the name."--Carew's Survey of Cornwall
[m] See Shorts's Collection, p. 28.
[n] Mr Augustus Smith, in the Reports of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, has described one of the graves opened by him during a visit paid by the Cambrian Archeological Society to the Scilly Isles.
Hugh Miller, in his "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," tells us a story of the giants of Cromarty, which shows us that they were intimately related to the giants of Cornwall. Moreover, from him we learn something of the parentage of our giants, for we presume the Scottish myth may be applied with equal truth to the Titans of the south "Diocletian, king of Syria, say the historians, had thirty-three daughters, who, like the daughters of Danaus, killed their husbands on their wedding-night. The king, their father, in abhorrence of their crime, crowded them all into a ship, which he abandoned to the mercy of the waves, and which was drifted by tides and winds, until it arrived on the coast of Britain, then an uninhabited island. There they lived solitary, subsisting on roots and berries, the natural produce of the soil, until an order of demons, becoming enamoured of them, took them for their wives, and a tribe of giants, who must be regarded as the true aborigines of the country, if indeed the demons have not a prior claim, were the fruits of those marriages. Less fortunate, however, than even their prototypes, the Cyclops, the whole tribe was extirpated a few years after by Brutus, the parricide, who, with a valour to which mere bulk could render no effectual resistance, overthrew Gog, Magog, and Termagol, and a whole host of others with names equally terrible." The Cromarty legends give accounts of a ponderous stone flung from the point of a spindle across Dornoch Firth; and of another yet larger, still to be seen, a few miles from Dingwall, which was thrown equally far, and which bears the impress of the giant's finger and thumb. Also, they tell us of the cailiiach-nore, or great woman, who "front a pannier filled with earth and stones, which she carried on her back, formed almost all the hills of Ross-shire" The Sutars, as the promontories Cromarty are named, served as the work-stools of two giants, who were shoemakers, or soutars, and hence, says Hugh Miller, "in process of time the name soutar was transferred by a common metonytny from the craftsmen to their stools, the two promontories, and by this name they have ever since been distinguished."
[o] Sir H. Davy, when a youth, would frequently steal to Gulval Cairn, and in its solitude pursue his studies.
[p] See Davies Gilbert's History, vol. iv., p. 29.