strength but also skill and experience. The lowest man in the scale of that dawning civilisation could handle the club and the mattock; but, from the first, the trade of seaman or fisherman was an art and mystery. The primitive Briton was, therefore, more secure in his position, as well as more independent, as a seaman, or at least as a riverman, than as a landsman. On the water he escaped having to contend with wild beasts and with much human tyranny. As for the elements, he made it the peculiar business of his life to understand and adopt them. They cannot have been more cruel than the dangers of the shore. And from river, lake, and sea he could be sure of drawing supplies of food without the trouble either of sowing or of reaping.
These considerations must have powerfully influenced the early Britons who found themselves near stream or ocean or mere, for they have profoundly influenced all primitive peoples, and especially those of the old world. They led them, not merely to seek their living on the water, but also to build their habitations on or above the water. In the neolithic period there were lake dwellings in Britain as well as in Switzerland and other parts of Europe; and many of the Irish "crannoges," or artificial islands, which were strongholds of petty chiefs as late as the sixteenth century, were structures dating back to prehistoric times. Soon, of course, as the numbers of those who lived on or by the water increased, the relative security of their calling diminished. Boats began to be stolen, nets to be destroyed, lines to be removed. Still, however, there was the substantial attraction of the never failing harvest of the waters; and still a man enjoyed more liberty afloat than he could hope to enjoy ashore, unless, indeed, he happened to be a very powerful personage.
It is impossible to determine with certainty what was the nature of the earliest British vessels. But it is established by Cæsar that in his time the inhabitants made use, probably in addition to craft of stronger build, of boats very little different from the coracles which may still be occasionally seen on the upper reaches of the Severn, and from the light and unstable skiffs wherein the fishermen of Mayo and Galway venture to sea to this day in almost all weathers. They were, in effect, canoes, framed of light wood so arranged as to support and give strength to a hull of basket-work, and then covered with hides. They may have well existed long before Cæsar's time; and they probably represented the first type
- 'De Bell. Civ.,' i. 54.