A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring. — Alexander Pope

Story of the English - Helene Guerber




The Britons

The Gaels and Celts were followed by a third tribe of their own race, called the Britons, from whom the country took the name of Britain. They, too, came from the mainland, and, being more civilized than the Celts, drove them away from the coast into the interior. The Celts, in their turn, drove the Gaels still farther away, and forced them to go and live in the mountains of Scotland and Wales, where it was cold and foggy, but where there was plenty of game.

The Britons, however, had just the same religion as the Celts, and so they brought over more Druids, of their own tribe, who finally settled in the island of Anglesey. Here they founded a school, where they would keep a pupil at his studies for twenty years, making him learn by heart all they knew. Besides the Druids, there were teachers, or prophets, and a class of men called bards, who went about from place to place, singing the great deeds of heroes, which they or the Druids had woven into songs.

The Britons were braver and stronger than the Celts, and had better weapons. Their main pleasure was to terrify their enemies. To do this, they used to utter fearful cries, and brandish their spears. Each spear was provided with a noisy rattle, which made a great din when shaken or flung. It was fastened to the warrior's wrist by a long strap; and after a Briton had flung his spear at an enemy he would jerk it back by this strap.

As the Britons wore big moustaches, and painted their bodies blue, you can readily imagine how strange they looked, and how they must have frightened their enemies. They were fierce and quarrelsome, and rode small horses, which they had trained to fight too. These shaggy little ponies used to dash into the very midst of the fray, and stand still while their riders dismounted; but as soon as they felt their masters on their backs once more, they would rush off, knocking the enemies over and trampling them under foot. After the Britons had settled in England, they learned to make rude war chariots, to which they harnessed these intelligent little horses, which they guided by signs. To make more havoc, the Britons fastened scythes to their chariot wheels, and, driving rapidly into the very midst of the enemy, mowed their foes down like ripe grain.

Now, although the Gaels, Celts, and Britons were so rude at this time, there were other nations in Europe who had progressed faster, and had already reached a high degree of civilization. Towards the south, along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, there were many prosperous cities. Most of these had been founded by the Phoenicians, who, as they owned but a little strip of land on the coast of Asia, turned to the sea and became great navigators. Already, one thousand years before Christ, the Phoenicians had coasted all around the Mediterranean Sea, and we are told that they even ventured out into the Atlantic Ocean, through the Strait of Gibraltar. They soon began to carry goods from one place to another, and thus became great traders.

Men in those days were always fighting, so they wanted armour and weapons; and as copper is not quite hard enough for this purpose, they needed something to mix with it so as to harden it. The Phoenicians knew that tin was just what was needed; and as they could not find enough of this metal near home to supply the demand, they sailed off in search of tin mines elsewhere. They soon found some in Spain, and got tin from the natives in exchange for cloth and trinkets; then, when they reached home, they sold this tin at such profit that they soon became very rich. But since the tin mines in Spain could not furnish as much metal as the Phoenicians wanted, they soon sailed all around Spain, and along the coast of France, in search of more. Here some merchants told them that they could find all the tin they wanted in Britain; so the Phoenicians, if old stories be true, crossed the Channel and landed in England. There the Phoenicians found mines so rich that they are still worked to-day, nearly three thousand years after they were first discovered.

As the Phoenicians made large profits by their tin trade, they were very careful not to tell any one where the mines were situated; and whenever any one inquired where they got their metal, they would always answer, "From the Cassiterides," or Tin Islands.

Many years later, the Romans, who were great fighters, and needed a great deal of tin for the manufacture of their weapons, were very anxious to find these islands; so they fitted out a vessel and sent it away with orders to watch and follow a Phoenician ship, and not to give up the pursuit until the Tin Islands had been reached.

The Roman captain was a bold and clever man, so he managed to sail after the Phoenicians for a long while unseen; but finally the Phoenician captain discovered that he was followed, and that the long-guarded secret was likely to become known to his foes. Rather than let them find it out, he resolved to sacrifice his boat and crew.

So he changed his course a little, and lured the Roman vessel on into shallow waters, until it came on a sunken reef and was dashed to pieces. The Phoenician vessel could not escape the same fate, but the captain and his crew managed to cling to the spars until they were washed ashore or rescued. The men on the Roman vessel, how ever, all perished; and it was not till two hundred years later, and in a different way, that the Romans found out where the Tin Islands were situated.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
"Remember"
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee