« VorigeDoorgaan »
apart from any of the tourist circuits, you do not expect to find its brows covered with some triumph of industrial development. The height necessarily ascended before these works can be seen a matter which must have made the raising of them all the more formidable dis--keeps them away from observation. Were they on flat ground, and near watering-places, they would be among the wonders of the world. In the vastness of the mass of collected stones, they are more like the great breakwaters of harbors of refuge than any other works we can name. Even more remarkable than General Roy's Caterthun, appears to us to be the Barmkyn of Echt, a few miles farther north. The etymologist may call Barmkyn a corruption of Barbican if he likes. The lonely hill is so steep and circular that it seems as if it must have been artificially scarped. Scarcely from below can any curve be seen to interrupt the straight line of the ascent, and one is utterly unprepared for the mighty ramparts of stone-five of them--of which the innermost incloses a space of about an acre, quite flat, and seeming to be levelled, as the sides of the hill seem to be scarped, by art.
It may be a question if these stone masses were ever built, either so as to represent external courses, like the Roman wall in Northumberland, or even in the fashion called cyclopean. They bear, in their heaped character, and the regularity of their course, more resemblance to the moraines on the edge of the glacier, than to any other object, natural or artificial, with which we happen to be acquainted. So ancient, indeed, must they be supposed to be, that in the war with the elements all minuter structural characteristics seem to have been lost, and the stones lie, not as they were placed, but virtually in a heap of ruins.
places the facings appeared very perfect, but all dry work. I measured the height of one wall, which was, at the time, nine feet; the thickness, seven feet and a half. Between these walls, in all parts, were innumerable small buildings, mostly circular, and regularly faced within and without, but not posed in any certain order. These had been much higher, as is evident from the fall of stones which lie scattered at their bottoms. Their diameter, in general, is from twelve to eighteen feet; but some were far less, not exceeding five feet. On the small area of the top had been a group of towers or cells, like the former--one in the centre, and five others surrounding it."*
Some of our northern forts have been, however, on a greater scale. Of the White Caterthun in Strathmore, General Roy says, "The most extraordinary thing that occurs in this British fort is the astonishing dimensions of the rampart, composed entirely of large loose stones, being at least twenty-five feet thick at top, and upwards of one hundred at bottom, reckoning quite to the ditch, which seems, indeed, to be greatly filled up by the tumbling down of the stones. The vast labor that it must have cost to amass so incredible a quantity, and carry them to such a height, surpasses all description. A simple earthen breast work surrounds the ditch; and beyond this, at the distance of about fifty yards on the two sides, but seventy on each end, there is another double intrenchment, of the same sort, running round the slope of the hill. The intermediate space probably served as a camp for the troops, which the interior post, from its smallness, could only contain a part of. The entrance into this is by a single gate on the east end; but opposite to it there are two, leading through the outward intrenchment, between which a work projects, no doubt for containing some men posted there, as an additional security to that quarter."t
The author who is found thus to speak of the rude hill-fort was an experienced officer of engineers on service in Scotland. The tone of professional respect with which he treats the effort of the primitive engineer is remarkable; one might suppose him discussing the merits of Sebastopol or Cronstadt. In the unprofessional, such works create, perhaps, all the more astonishment from their unexpected magnitude; for when you are desired to ascend a desolate, uninteresting-looking sec ondary hill, in a remote district of Scotland,
* Tour in Wales, ii. 306.
In these stormy hills, indeed, it is difficult to suppose that any thing less imperishable than the gneiss, or granite, of which the blocks forming the circular forts are composed, would have preserved the original plan. In flatter and more turfy districts of Scotland, as well as in England, there are mounds seeming to be artificial, and cast in circular terraces, as if they had been put on a turning lathe and bevelled down. There is one of these-perhaps the most remarkable in Britain-at Old Sarum, and it was generally supposed to have some connection with the franchise of that scheduled corporation. How these could have been very available for forts it is difficult to imagine; and to devise any other purpose to which they can have been
applicable, would be still more difficult. But when it was reported in England, as it was about seventy years ago, that there were some ancient hill-forts in Scotland made of glass, the antiquaries, not having a prescience of the Crystal Palace before their eyes, turned from puzzling themselves about the earthen mounds in England, to burst forth in scornful laughter about the glass fortresses of Scotland. But the people who have had much experience in the ways of this world, learn how the same word may, without the slightest misapplication, be used for very different things. The dingy, slag-like lumps, with a vitreous fracture, found in the heather of some Scottish fortified hills, has undoubtedly a claim to the vitreous character, perhaps as strong as the glittering, diaphanous squares which are to let in all the sun, and exclude the wind and rain, at Sydenham. That they were the creation of fire is certain; and though the geologists sought at first to make out a case of volcano, yet it became evident that it was administered by the hand of man; for the materials, which had been calcined and vitrified so as to resemble in a considerable degree the scoria of a glasshouse, were built into walls round the summits of steep, circular hills; those with which we are acquainted have much the appearance, from their extreme steepness and regularity, of having been scarped. And then come the questions-were the vitrified masses produced by some accident, such as the burning of a stronghold? or were they a deliberate method of cementing stones together by fusion? or, perchance, were they the wide circuits within which might be consumed some whole forest of trees, cut down and piled together within a ring of stone, whether as a vast beacon, reddening the sky from the Tweed to Cape Wrath, or a sacrifice to the ancient god of fire ?-Questions, these, which we respectfully decline taking the responsibility of answering.
The step from such rude Titanic works as these to the Norman fortress is great--and perhaps a word or two on other forms of places of strength may be suitable, as showing distinctly that the feudal castles were the combination of the rude strength of the primitive fortress with domiciliary comfortthat they brought the defensive strength, supposed to reside only in inaccessible mountain regions or swamps, into the midst of rich agriculture and smiling abundance-that they no longer rendered necessary a retreat to the place of strength, as one may suppose the whole community of a district to have re
treated to a hill-fort, but were themselves alike the abode of luxurious ease in time of peace, and of resistance and fierce contest in time of war. Perhaps we may best comprehend how original was the idea of the union of fortress and house, or palace, in one, by observing how few are the vestiges of such a combination having existed elsewhere before the establishment of the feudal system. Towns undoubtedly seem to have been fortified from the beginning of town life: and of the extent to which the system was carried, let us take, once for all, the account which honest old Heredotus gives of Babylon, with its walls two hundred cubits high, on which a chariot could be driven with four horses abreast, and its hundred gates of brass. But, of any thing of the nature of a domestic fortress, in which people lived in their ordinary manner during peace, and defended themselves in war, we remember but few vestiges.
Separate buildings like towers there probably have been in many times and places, and they may have been used as fortresses. Along the Roman Wall were the square towers called mile-castles, which are interesting, not only as the best remains of the arrangements made by the great aggressors for the protection of their frontier, but as the models on which the ancient inhabitants would probably build their castles-if they built any. It is singular enough that the Border peel-towers -built one thousand years after the Romans had abandoned Britain to her fate-have, in their compact squareness, more resemblance to these castell, than any type of earlier British castellated architecture possesses. Since the publication of Mr. Bruce's book on the Roman Wall, to which we lately had occasion to refer, no one need remain ignorant of any feature, however minute, which, now existing, attests what these mile-castles originally were. Mr. Bruce tells us, in a summary description, that "they derive their modern name from the circumstance of their being usually placed at the distance of a Roman mile from each other. They were quadrangular buildings, differing somewhat in size, but usually measuring from sixty to seventy feet in each direction. With two exceptions, they have been placed against the southern face of the wall; the castle of Portgate, every trace of which is now obliterated, and another near Esica, the foundations of which may with some difficulty still be traced, seem to have projected equally to the north and south of the wall. Though generally placed about seven furlongs from each other, the nature of the ground, independently of dis
tance, has frequently determined the spot of their location. Whenever the wall has had occasion to traverse a river or a mountainpass, a mile-castle has uniformly been placed on the one side or other to guard the defile. The mile-towers have generally had but one gate of entrance, which was of very substantial masonry, and was uniformly placed in the centre of the south wall; the most perfect specimen now remaining, however, has a northern as well as a southern gateway. It
is not easy to conjecture what were the in-stones of equal size, and the insertion of mi
nute splinters to make up deficiencies-for, as there is no stone-hewing, there is also no cement.
It is the most puzzling of the peculiarities of these perplexing buildings, that they have tiers of galleries running round them within the thickness of the wall. To form the roofs of those tiny serpentine chambers, large slabs have been necessary; but, in some marvellous manner, they have been obtained without being wrought; for, on the largest, it is vain to look for the mark of a chisel, or even artificial squaring or smoothing. It would seem, at least in such of them as we have seen, that the thinnest large slabs of schist had been collected in the mountains, and brought, probably, from great distances, to fulfil the object of the builder.
It seems to have been ever taken for granted that these round towers must have been fortresses, and the only remaining question seemed to be-by what people, nation, or language were they so used? Was it by the Phoenicians? A great antiquary showed that in Tyre and Sidon there must have been edifices precisely of the same character, though no vestige of them now remains. Did they belong to the Caledonians of the days of Tacitus, or to the Atacotti, or to the Dalriads, or to the Albanich, or to the Siol Torquil, or the Fion Gall, or the Dubh Gall? Or, were they erected especially by some individual Aulaf or Maccus, or Sigurd, or Thorfin, or Godred M Sitric, or Diarmid M Maelnam bo-all gentlemen having their own peculiar claims on the architectural merit? It occurred to us, one day, to ask internally the question, whether they were fortresses or strongholds at all? It arose as we looked down from the broken edge of the galleried wall of one of those towers in solitary GlenElg Beg. It stands, a hoar ruin on the edge of a precipice, where a torrent takes a sudden turn; and nothing could be better conceived for the landscape ideal of the remains of some robber stronghold of the middle ages, than the remnant of circular masonry rising
ternal arrangements of these buildings-probably they afforded little accommodation, beyond what their four strong walls and wellbarred gates gave."
They were evidently mere barracks or stations; nor can much more be said for any of the Roman works in the lands of their conquests. Roman troops were taught, in the conflict with the barbarian, to look solely to discipline; and the places called forts, apart from these square towers along the wall, were merely intrenched camps.
out a bulge, in a decreasing sweep from the broad base-there is not a single ornament or moulding to let the antiquary detect them, as the Romanesque work proved the betrayal of the Irish round towers. Nay, there is not the mark of chiselling on the stones, to show that human hands have touched them. That can be inferred from the structure alone; and the unhewn lumps of mica schist or gneiss are laid in distinct courses perfectly parallel and round, by the selection of rough
Investigation is, in this country, ever apt to strip our stone edifices of their hoar antiquity. Mr. Petrie has taken the shine," as the cockneys say, out of the round towers of Ireland, by showing that they have the ordinary details of the Romanesque ecclesiastical work, and has rendered it unnecessary to decide whether they are anchorite hermitages for a multitude of rivals to St. Simeon Stylites, or temples for Photic or for Phallic worship. Criticism has gone in the same way back upon our castles, proving, in truth, that very few of them are so old as they were supposed to be. Yet there is a particular class of buildings of a systematically castellated type, which the scythe of the archæological iconoclast has not yet swept on the age of which no particle of authentic light has been cast, and which we are thus entitled to count as old as we like.
These are the circular towers, called, sometimes, Dunes, Burghs, Danish forts, Pictish forts, &c., scattered hither and thither in the far northwest of Scotland. They are supposed to be of Scandinavian origin-to have been the fortresses built by the Sea-kings, but nothing in the least degree resembling them has been found elsewhere within Scandinavian land. Their mysterious builders have carefully avoided every particle of incidental evidence that might lead to a betrayal of their origin. Graceful and symmetrical as they are in their outline-perfectly circular, and rising, with
Bruce on the Roman Wall, p. 53.
flush from the edge of the precipice. But it was precisely the force with which these apparent conditions of a fortified character were conveyed, that showed the utter want of them in the others scattered throughout the valley. What could they have defended? Whom could they have resisted?
Primitive fortresses are places where considerable armies or large numbers of people go for protection from besieging enemies. Now, though the outside circle of these burghs is considerable, yet, from the thickness of the galleried wall, they only contain an inner area of from twenty to thirty feetthe size of a moderate dining-room. And, while the numbers they could have held were thus few, they possessed no means like the medieval castles for assault, and could have been easily pulled to pieces by an enemy. Nor, if they were places of strength, can it be easily conceived why there should be a whole cluster of them in a place like Glen Beg, and no others in the neighboring districts.
The notion, indeed, of their being strongholds, seems to have been grasped at once by their striking resemblance in structure and dimensions to the Norman flanking round towers. But the Norman towers were only outworks, to aid in defence of the central keep, and could have been of small service as detached forts. There are many things which have a warlike resemblance to this part of a feudal castle;-a windmill, as Don Quixote's chivalrous eye at once told him, possesses the character very decidedly-so does a modern blast-furnace. The columbarium lingering on the grounds of some old mansion, is often mistaken for a tower; and the prototype of the columbarium, the Roman tomb, eminently anticipated the form of the Norman tower. Of one of these Byron says:
"There is a stern old tower of other days, Firm as a fortress with its fence of stone ;Such as an army's baffled strength delays, Standing with half its battlements alone."
One of these tombs is the nucleus of the castle of St. Angelo; others were incrusted into the fortified mansions of the quarrelsome Colonna so like were they, though built as the quiet mansions of the dead, to the towers of feudal fortresses.
Shall we venture a theory about these Highland round towers? We have not yet found one to our own satisfaction; but the reader, if he likes, may take the following, which we guarantee to be of the average
quality of such theories. It is well known that, when the Scots, under Kenneth M'Alpine, conquered the Picts, they saved from death just two inhabitants of that devoted race-a father and son; their disinterested object in this clemency was, to find out how the Picts got their beer. It seems that they possessed a precious and much-coveted secret in the means of brewing heather-ale. The Scots offered to spare the lives of the captives, if they would reveal the secret. The father promised to do so if they would, in the first place, comply with his request-a very odd one for a father to make in such circumstances--to put to death his son. They did so; and then the father uttered a loud yell of triumph-the secret of the beer would be for ever hidden in his bloody grave. He could not trust to the firmness of his son; he could entirely rely on his own, and he was ready to bear all tortures rather than make the revelation. Now, why not suppose that these mysterious buildings were just breweries of heather-ale, and that, in the various galleries, decreasing as they ascend until they become mere pigeon-holes, the brewsts of the different years were binned for the use of hospitable, dinner-giving Picts? No one can disprove the theory; and this is more than can be said of many another.
The more they are examined, the more are the actual fortresses of Britain stripped of any pretensions to extreme antiquity, and brought within the Norman period. There are two leading objects of fortification-the protective, and the aggressive; and, according to the view we have been supporting, it has been the function of the Norman, in the development of European history, to be the inventor and propagator of the kind of works adapted to the latter objects. Fortresses of mere refuge are on the tops of hills, or in other inaccessible places. It does not suit the aggressor to go to the wilds; he must have his elements of strength in the very middle of the people whom he is to rule over. If a rock happens to be found bulging out of a fine alluvial district-as the plutonic upheavings of trap have supplied in Edinburgh, Stirling and Dumbarton-it is well; but, where there are no natural strengths, they must be artificially constructed-and art has in this department far outstripped nature, or has, rather, found in her own resources better means of defence against her instruments of destruction than nature provides.
The Saxons did not raise strongholds of this kind, nor did the northern races, in their
native districts; and, indeed, it is rather | fended from an enemy ready to sacrifice a curious to observe that there is scarcely a sufficient number of men to batter it open feudal castle to be found in the Scandinavian and rush in by the breach. The object, then, territories, whence issued the race who is, by outworks to keep the assailants at a strewed all Europe with fortresses. Scott distance. The flanking towers accomplished speaks of Bamborough as "Ida's castle, huge this for the Norman fortress, and the work and square; "but there can now be little of a siege was not in those days utterly undoubt that it is a Norman edifice. If the tall, like what it now is, in general character, gaunt tower of Conisborough retain its Saxon though the less destructive character of the antiquity, yet it is evident that it must have weapons on either side made it a much closer been a rude and feeble strength, standing affair. alone without the outworks, which were the great achievement of Norman engineering. Some other bare towers of this character are supposed to be of ante-Norman origin, as the round tower of Trematon, in Cornwall, and that of Launceston, on the apex of a conical rock, round the base of which Norman works have been raised.
The earliest Norman form was the vast square keep, such as Bamborough New Cas tle, or the Tower of London. The value of projecting angles seems soon to have been felt, but it does not appear that the noble flanking round towers, which make a perfect Norman fortress, were devised until the days of the Edwards. The central strength then consisted of a square work, with a round tower at each angle. When the work was very large, demi-towers might project here and there from its face. This was the leading principle of modern fortification-the protec tion of the face. It is understood that no plain wall-plate, however strong, can be de-I
There is room for considerable classification, and even for abundant technical nomenclature, among the besieging engines used before the invention of gunpowder. The term mangona, or mangonel, was generally applicable to ballistic engines, moved by springs, or quick descending weights. The trebuchet, the matafunda, the ribaudequin, and the petrary, were special machines for discharging what the Americans call rocks. There were the robinet, the espringal, and the bricolle, which discharged huge iron bolts and other miscellaneous mischievous articles. The oddest of all names to find among these wicked and destructive agents is conveyed in a sentence by Grose, who says that "Beugles, or bibles, were also engines for throwing large stones, as we learn from an ancient poem;" and he quotes as his authority the Romance of Claris, in the Royal Library of Paris (No. 7534).
"Et pierres, et les perrieres,
Besides the ram and the testudo, with which every boy becomes acquainted in the plates to his Roman Antiquities, there were instruments bearing the quadrupedal names "The of the war-wolf, the cat, and the sow. cattus or cat-house, gattus or cat," says the instructive Grose, "was a covered shed, occasionally fixed on wheels, and used for covering of soldiers employed in filling up the ditch, preparing the way for the movable tower, or mining the wall. It was called a cat because under it soldiers lay in watch like a cat for its prey. Some of these cats had crenelles and chinks, from whence the archers could discharge their arrows. These were called castellated cats. Sometimes, under this machine the besiegers worked a small kind of ram.' The sow reminds all true Scotsmen of Black Agnes of Dunbar jeering Salisbury with the farrowing of his ow, when she toppled on its wooden roof a
History of the English Army, ii. 308.