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Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize
Harmony the path to fame. Modern Italy exhibits none of the martial spirit, or political wisdom of ancient Rome; but in place of the elevated sentiments and great actions recorded of the former inhabitants of Italy, its children of our days are distinguished, as much as for any thing, by their excellence in music. This species of excellence, being attended with absolute deficiency in the spirit of liberty, of improvement, and the sentiment of national dignity, is considered by the poet as a mark of degeneracy.
Regions Cæsar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway. This passage intimates the establishment of the British empire in America. The empire of the laws, language, and literature of Britain, established in a new world, and under an independent government among the remote descendants of the ancient Britons.
THE DRUIDS. The Druids were priests among the Britons, and were exterminated by the Romans. “The religion of the Britons was one of the most considerable parts of their government; and the Druids, who were the guardians of it, possessed great authority among them. No species of superstition was ever more terrible than theirs ; besides the severe penalties which they were permitted to inflict in this world, they inculcated the doctrine of transmigration of souls, and thus extended their authority as far as the fears of their votaries. They sacrificed human victims, which they burned in large wicker idols, made so capacious as to contain a multitude of persons at once, who were thus consumed together. To these rites, tending to impress ignorance with awe, they added the austerity of their manners, and the simplicity of their lives. They lived in woods, caves, and hollow trees ; acorns and berries constituted their general food, and their usual beverage was water. By these arts they were Tot only respected, but almost adored by the people.”
The sacrifice of human victims implies a horrible religious faith, but it does not appear to be wholly inconsistent with fine qualities of mind and heart. The sacrifice of Jephtha's daughter, mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures, and that of Iphigenia by the Greeks, were induced by false notions of God. To give him the dearest of our possessions, may seem to ignorant men the most acceptable service, and those who were capable of such acts, often entertained sentiments of true devotion and humanity. The Druids worshipped in the open air ; and there still remain in England, circles of stones laid upon the surface of the ground, which, it is supposed, enclosed their sanctuaries. The oak was their favourite tree, and the misletoe, a parasitic plant, or one which grows upon trees, was used in their rites, and respected as a symbol of their faith. Some of the English poets regard the character of the Druids as that of simple-hearted and uncorrupted men, fond of contemplating the works of God.
“In yonder grave a Druid lies,” says the poet Collins, of Thomson, the author of the Seasons-meaning by this expression to suggest the idea of Thomson's well-known character—that of a man who saw in God the parent of good," and who considered the “universal frame” of creation as the dwelling place of infinite loveliness and beneficence.
Mr. Mason, a clergyman of the church of England, and an intimate friend of the poet Gray, wrote a drama called Caractacus. Caractacus was the last of the British princes who resisted the Románs, but in the reign of the Emperor Claudius, he was made their prisoner, and carried to Rome. About the same time the Romans, though they generally permitted all their conquered subjects to enjoy their accustomed religion, abolished the worship of the Druids. The practice of the Druids of offering human sacrifices, made it right that their rites should be annihilated.
In Caractacus, Mr. Mason describes that unfortunate king as taking refuge in the sacred groves of the Druids, and being forced thence by the Roman soldiers. Mona, an island in the Irish sea, was the principal sanctuary of the Druids.
OPENING SCENE OF CARACTACUS.
Enter Vellinus and ELIDURUS.
Aul. Did. Where dwells the seer?
Now sheds a side-long gleam. His brotherhood
Yet up the hill
On the left
Bul. Did. Prince, I did not moor
If here the monarcli rests, Presumptuous chief! thou might’st as well essay. To pluck him from yon stars : Earth's ample range Contains no surer refuge: underneath The soil we tread, a hundred secret paths, Scoop'd through the living rock in winding maze, Lead to as many caverns, dark, and deep : In which the hoary sages act their rites Alysterious, rites of such strange potency,
As, done in open day, would dim the sun,
Vellinus and Elidurus were sons of a British Princess, Cartismandua, who had been subdued by the Romans ; she had delivered her sons to the Romans as hostagesthat is, as security, that she would fulfil her promises of continued submission to the conquerors. The Roman officer to whom the British youths are intrusted, promises them their liberty on condition that they will discover to him the retreat of the Druids; and, corrupted by this tempting offer, they introduce the stranger into their secret haunts, in which Caractacus and his daughter Evelina had taken refuge.
CAPTURE OF CARACTACUS. Aulus Didius bursts into the sanctuary of the Druids,
with Vellinus, Elidurus, and soldiers.
Druid, Evelina, Bard, and Caractacus.
Ye bloody priests,
Druid. Servant of Cæsar, has thine impious tongue
Aul. Did. Bold priest, I scorn thy curses, and thyself. Soldiers, go search the caves, and free the prisoners. Take heed, ye seize Caractacus alive.