Folk-Lore/Volume 31/Review/Archaic England

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Archaic England: An Essay in deciphering Prehistory from Megalithic Monuments, Earthworks, Customs, Coins, Place-Names and Faerie Superstitions. By Harold Bailey. London: Chapman & Hall, Ltd., 1919.

The publisher’s puff on the paper wrapper of this volume announces that “This profound and far-reaching contribution to English Archaeology is an application of the jig-saw system to problems of the prehistoric period which under the ordinary methods of specialisation have proved insoluble.” Whatever the meaning of the jig-saw system in this application may be (and it is quoted from the author’s own description of his method in the first sentence of his book) the claim made here is beyond question a very “large order.” On opening the book the prodigality of illustrations, both figures in the text and plates, from all sorts of sources, good, bad, and indifferent, is the most obvious characteristic. But on reading it one finds that the chief weight of its argument, such as it is, is thrown on philological considerations. Of the quality of the author’s philology we may take one or two examples. “I treat John as the same word as Jane or Jean, and it is radically the same word as giant, old English jeyantt, French geante, Cornish geon. Jean is also the same word as chien, a dog, whence cynical. The Gaelic for John is Jain, the Gaelic for Jean or Jane is Sine, with which I equate shine, shone and sheen, all of which have respect to the sun, as also had the Arabic jinne, genii, and Gian Ben Gian, a title of the fabulous world-ruler of the Golden Age.” “The name China, French Chine, is John, and Japan or Yapon, the hand (sic) of the Rising Sun, whose cognisance is the Marguerite or Golden Daisy, whose priests are termed bonzes, and whose national cry is banzai, is radically the same as the British Eubonia or Hobany, La Dame Abonde, the Giver of Abundance.” The derivations of synagogue and demagogue are interesting: “It may reasonably be assumed that synagogues were prayer-meetings in honour primarily of San Agog, St. Michael, or the Leader and Bringer together of all souls.” Of demagogue we are told: “This word meaning popular leader is attributed to demos, people, and agogos, leading, but more seemingly it is Dame Gog or Good Mother Gog.” Discussing the tale of Baucis and Philemon, the author stops to remark: “The name Philemon is seemingly philo, which means love of, and mon, man or men, and at the time this fairy-tale was concocted love of man, or hospitality, would appear to have been the motif of the allegorist."

Gems such as these, and perhaps even more precious, might be produced from every chapter, if not every page. It is true that symbolism, coins, rustic ritual and other things get their turn; but the connecting threads are supplied by philology (dare we call it jig-saw philology?) of the kind I have quoted. The gist of the work, as far as I can make out appears to be summed in a paragraph of the final chapter, thus: “On re-reading my mss. in as far as possible a detached and impartial spirit, there would appear to be much prima facie evidence in favour of the traditional belief that these islands once possessed a very ancient culture, and that the Kimbri, or followers of Brute, were originally pirates or adventurers who reached these shores ‘over the hazy sea from the summer country which is called Deffrobani, that is where Constantinoblys now stands.’” In other words, Britain derived its population and a high civilization in prehistoric times more or less directly from the Ægean: in fact, the Druids came from Crete. This accounts for its religion, megalithic monuments, art, literature, everything. The proof of this, and of many other things which the author takes by the way, is facile where the meaning and derivations of words can be manipulated as freely as in these pages; for, as the author observes, “every ancient term bore many meanings.” Apparently it bore any meaning a reckless and ingenious theoriser might choose to place upon it.

The author’s reading has been wide, and every scrap that can suit his purpose—not only from scientific and first-rate authorities, but also (and without any indication that he is conscious of the difference in value) from writers whose evidence or opinion is of little or no weight, and writers whose point of view has long been passed in the progress of knowledge—is equally pressed into his service. Many of his illustrations and large areas of the text are quite irrelevant, though occasionally the reader who wades through the book is startled by observations surprisingly in harmony with the results of modern research. It is all vitiated, however, by “the jig-saw system,” which cuts its way through relevances and irrelevances, regardless of any consideration of reason or fact. A reference to, and plan of, an alleged prehistoric building discovered by the author’s brother, and still unexcavated, somewhere in this country, inspire no confidence, since all information as to its situation and discovery is carefully withheld. Nor do frequent mis-spellings of the names of writers cited, and such blunders as the reference to Dr. Coneybeare (sic) as a “cleric” betray a very close attention to accuracy in detail. These trifies are of course insignificant in a “profound and far-reaching contribution to English Archaeology.”