SARUM Plain—the Salisbury Plain of our own day—an elevated platform of chalk, extending as far as the eye can reach in broad downs where man would seem to have no abiding place, presents a series of objects as interesting in their degree as the sands where the pyramids and sphinxes of ancient Egypt have stood for countless generations.
This plain would seem to be the cradle of English civilization.
The works of man in the earliest ages of the world may be buried beneath the hills or the rivers; but we can trace back the labours of those who have tenanted the same soil as ourselves, to no more remote period than is indicated by the stone circles, the barrows, the earth-works, of Salisbury Plain and its immediate neighbourhood.
The great wonder of Salisbury Plain,—the most remarkable monument of antiquity in our island, if we take into account its comparative preservation as well as its grandeur—is Stonehenge.
It is situated about seven miles north of Salisbury.
It may be most conveniently approached from the little town of Amesbury.
Passing by a noble Roman earth-work called the Camp of Vespasian, as we ascend out of the valley of the Avon, we gain an uninterrupted view of the undulating downs which surround us on every side.
The name of Plain conveys an inadequate notion of the character of this singular district.
The platform is not flat, as might be imagined ; but ridge after ridge leads the eye onwards to the bolder hills of the extreme distance, or the last ridge is lost in the low horizon. The peculiar character of the scene is that of the most complete solitude.
It is possible that a shepherd boy may be descried watching his flocks nibbling the short thymy grass with which the downs are everywhere covered; but, with the exception of a shed or a hovel, there is no trace of human dwelling.
This peculiarity arises from the physical character of the district.
It is not that man is not here, but that his abodes are hidden in the little valleys.
On each bank of the Avon to the east of Stonehenge, villages and hamlets are found at every mile; and on the small branch of the Wyly to the west there is a cluster of parishes, each with its church, in whose names, such as Orcheston Maries, and Shrawston Virgo, we hail the tokens of institutions which left Stonehenge a ruin.
We must not hastily conclude, therefore, that this great monument of antiquity was set up in an unpeopled region; and that, whatever might be its uses, it was visited only by pilgrims from far-off places. But the aspect of Stonehenge, as we have said, is that of entire solitude.
The distant view is somewhat disappointing to the raised expectation.
The hull of a large ship, motionless on a wide sea, with no object near by which to measure its bulk, appears an insignificant thing: it is a speck in the vastness by which it is surrounded. Approach that ship, and the largeness of its parts leads us to estimate the grandeur cf the whole. So is it with Stonehenge. The vast plain occupies so much of the eye that even a large town set down upon it would appear a hamlet. But as we approach the pile, the mind gradually becomes impressed with its real character.
It is now the Chorea Gigantum—the Choir of Giants; and the tradition that Merlin the Magician brought the stones from Ireland is felt to be a poetical
homage to the greatness of the work which are standing and some prostrate, form the-somewhat confused circular mass in the centre of the plan.
The outermost shadowed circle represents an inner ditch, a vallum or bank, and an exterior ditch, m, ni.The height of the bank is 15 feet; the diameter of the space enclosed within the bank is 300 feet.The section / shows their formation. To the north-east the ditch and bank run off into an avenue, a section of which is shown at p. At the distance of about 100 feet from the circular ditch is a large gray stone bent forward, a, which, in the dim light of the evening, looks like a gigantic human being in the attitude of supplication. The "direct course of the avenue is impeded by a stone, b, which has fallen in the ditch.
A similar single stone is found in corresponding monuments.
In the line of the avenue at the point marked c is a supposed entrance to the first or outer circle of stones. At the points d near the ditch are two large cavities in the ground.
There are two stones e, and two o, also near the ditch. It is conjectured by some, that these formed part of a circle which has been almost totally destroyed. The centre of the enclosed space is usually denominated the temple. It consists of an outer circle of stones, seventeen of which remain in their original position ; and thirteen to the northeast, forming an uninterrupted segment of the circle, leave no doubt as to the form of the edifice.
The restored plan of Dr. Stukeley show's the original number of stones in this outer circle to have been thirty ; those shadowed on the plan are still remaining.
The upright stones of the outer circle are 14 feet in height, and upon the tops of them has been carried throughout a continuous impost, as it is technically called, of large flat stones of the same width. This has not been a rude work, as we see in the structures called cromlechs, where a flat stone covers two or three uprights, without any nice adjustment: but at Stonehenge sufficient remains to show that the horizontal stones carefully fitted each other, so as to form each an arc of the circle; and that they were held firmly in their places by a deep mortice at each end, fitting upon the tenon of the uprights.
This careful employment of the builder’s art constitutes one of the remarkable peculiarities of Stonehenge.
The blocks themselves are carefully hewn. It is not necessary to add to our wonder by adopting the common notion that the neighbouring country produces no such material. The same fine-grained sandstone of which the greater number of the masses consists, is found scattered upon the downs in the neighbourhood of Marlborough and Avebury. The stones of the second circle are, however, of a different character; and so is what is called the altar-stone, marked f on the ground-plan. Of the inner circle, enclosing a diameter of 83 feet, which appears to have consisted of much smaller stones without imposts, but about the same in [number as the outer circle, there are very few stones remaining. There is a single fallen stone with two mortices g, which has led to the belief that there was some variation in the plan of the second circle, such as is indicated by the letter a on the restored plan. Within the second circle were five distinct erections, each consisting of two very large stones with an impost, with three smaller stones in advance of each: these have been called trilithons.
That marked h in the ground-plan is the largest stone in the edifice, being 21 feet 6 inches in height.
The two trilithons marked i are nearly perfect.
The stones of the trili-thon k are entire; but it fell prostrate as recently as 1797.
The external appearance which the whole work would have if restored, is shown in the perspective elevation .
The internal arrangement
general plan and some details of every great work of art, of ruinous or entire, before the mind can properly apply which belong to it.
In Stonehenge this especially necessary; for however the imagination by the magnitude of those masses of stone which m their places, by the grandeur even of the fragments or broken in'their fall, by the consideration of the vast required to bring such ponderous substances to this desolate spot, and by surmise of the nature of.the mechanical skill by which they were lifted up and placed in order and proportion, it is not till the entire plan is fully comprehended that we can properly surrender ourselves to the contemplations which belong to this remarkable scene.
It is then, when we can figure to ourselves a perfect structure, composed of such huge materials symmetrically arranged, and possessing, therefore, that beauty which is the result of symmetry, that we can satisfactorily look back through the dim light of history or tradition to the object for which such a structure was destined. The belief now appears tolerably settled that Stonehenge was a temple of the Druids.
It differs, however, from all other Druidical remains, in the circumstance that greater mechanical art was employed in its construction, especially in the superincumbent stones of the outer circle and of the trilithons, from which it is supposed to derive its name; stan being the Saxon for a stone, and heng to hang or support. From this circumstance it is maintained that Stonehenge is of the very latest ages of Druidism; and that the Druids that wholly belonged to the ante-historic period followed the example of those who observed the command of the law:
“ If thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” (Exodus, chap. xx.) Regarding Stonehenge as a work of masonry and architectural proportions, Inigo Jones came to the conclusion that it was a Roman Temple of the Tuscan order. This was an architect’s dream. Antiquaries, with less of taste and fancy that Inigo Jones, have had their dreams also about Stonehenge, almost as wild as the legend of Merlin flying away with the stones from the Curragh of Kildare. Some attribute its erection to the Britons after the invasion of the Romans. Some bring it down to as recent a period as that of the usurping Danes. Others again carry it back to the early days of the Phoenicians. The first notice of Stonehenge is found in the writings of Nennius, who lived in the ninth century of the Christian era.
He says that at the spot where Stonehenge stands a conference was held between Hengist and Vortigern, at which Hengist treacherously murdered four hundred and sixty British nobles, and that their mourning survivors erected the temple to commemorate the fatal event.
Mr. Davies, a modern writer upon Celtic antiquities, holds that Stonehenge was the place of this conference between the British and Saxon princes, on account of its venerable antiquity and peculiar sanctity.
There is a passage in Diodorus Siculus, quoted from Hecataeus, which describes a round temple in Britain dedicated to Apollo; and this Mr. Davies concludes to have been Stonehenge. By another writer, Dr. Smith, Stonehenge is maintained to have been “ the grand orrery of the Druids,” representing, by combinations of its stones, the ancient solar year, the lunar month, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the seven planets.
Lastly, Stonehenge has been pronounced to be a temple of Budha, the Druids being held to be a race of emigrated Indian philosophers.
Startling as this last assertion may appear to be, a variety of facts irresistibly lead to the conclusion that the circles, the stones of memorial, the cromlechs, and other monuments of the highest antiquity in these islands, have a distinct resemblance to other monuments of the same character scattered over Asia and Europe, and even found in the New World, which appear to have had a common origin.
In Great Britain and Ireland, in Jersey and Guernsey, in France, in Germany in Denmark and Sweden, such monuments are found extensively dispersed. They are found also, though more rarely in the Netherlands. Portugal, and Malta in Gozo and Phoenicia.
But their presence is also unquestionable in Malabar, in India, in Palestine, in Persia. Figures 7 and 8 represent a Druidical circle, and a single upright stone standing alone near the circle, which are described by Sir William Ouseley him at Darab, in the province of Fars. in are copied from those in Sir William Ouseley them upon the same page with the If we had obliterated the Oriental figures might easily receive them as from another point of view.
The the general arrangement of Stonehenge, and other similar monuments of Europe, led Sir William Ouseley to the natural conclusion that a “British Antiquary might be almost authorised to pronounce it Druidical, according to the general application of the word among us.” At Darab there is a peculiarity which is not found at Stonehenge, at least in its existing state. Under several of the stones there are recesses, or small caverns. In this particular, and in the general rudeness of its construction, the circle of Darab resembles the Druidical circle of Jersey (9),. although the circle there is very much smaller, and the stones of very inconsiderable dimensions,—a copy in miniature of such vast works as those of Stonehenge and Avebury.
This singular monument, which was found buried under the earth, was removed some fifty years ago by General Conway, to his seat near Henley, the stones being placed in his garden according to the original plan.
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When we open the great store-house not only of divine truth but of authentic history, we find the clearest record that circles of stone were set up for sacred and solemn purposes. The stones which were taken by Joshua out of the bed of the Jordan, and set up in Gilgal, supply the most remarkable example. The name Gilgal itself signifies a circle. Gilgal subsequently became a place not only of sacred observances, but for the more solemn acts of secular government. It was long a controversy, idle enough as ‘'such controversies generally are, whether Stonehenge was appropriated to religious or to civil purposes.
If it is to be regarded as a Druidical monument, the discussion is altogether needless; for the Druids were, at one and the same time, the ministers of religion, the legislators, the judges, amongst the people. The account which Julius Caesar gives of the Druids of Gaul, marked as it is by his usual clearness and sagacity, may be received without hesitation as a description of the Druids of Britain : for he says, “ the system of Druidism is thought to have been formed in Britain, and from thence carried over into Gaul ; and now those who wish to be more accurately versed in it for the most part go thither (/. e. to Britain) in order to become acquainted with it.” Nothing can be more explicit than his account of the mixed office of the Druids: “ They are the ministers of sacred things; they have the charge of sacrifices, both public and private ; they give directions for the ordinances of religious worship (religiones interpretantur).
A great number of young men resort to them for the purpose of instruction in their system, and they are held in the highest reverence.
For it is they who determine most disputes, whether of the affairs of the state or of individuals: and if any crime has been committed, if a man has been slain, if there is a contest concerning an inheritance or the boundaries of their lands, it is the Druids who settle the matter: they fix rewards and punishments : if any one, whether in an individual or public capacity, refuses to abide by their sentence, they forbid him to come to the sacrifices.
This punishment is among them very severe; those on whom this interdict is laid are accounted among the unholy and accursed ; all fly from them, and shun their approach and their conversation, lest they should be injured by their very touch ; they are placed out of the pale of the law, and excluded from all offices of honour.
” After noticing that a chief Druid, whose office is for life, presides over the rest, Csesar mentions a remarkable circumstance which at once accounts for the selection of such a spot as Sarum Plain, for the erection of a great national monument, a temple, and a seat of justice
:—“ These Druids hold a meeting at a certain time of the year in a consecrated spot in the country of the Carnutes (people in the neighbourhood of Chartres), which country is considered to be in the centre of all Gaul.
Hither assemble all from every part who have a litigation, and submit themselves to their determination and sentence.” At Stonehenge, then, we may place the seat of such an assize. There were roads leading direct over the plain to the great British towns of Winchester and Silchester. Across the plain, at a distance not exceeding twenty miles, was the great temple and Druidical settle-itv.
ment of Avebury.
The town and hill-fort of Sarum was close at hand (23).
Over the dry chalky downs, intersected by a few streams easilv forded, might pilgrims resort from all the surrounding
The seat of justice which was also the seat of the highest unity, would necessarily be rendered as magnificent Id accomplish.
Stonehenge might be of a later :Lan Avebury, with its mighty circles and long avenues of tu.Iars : but it might also be of the same period,—the one . sned by its vastness, the other by its beauty of proportion, sriee executed in that judgment-seat was, according to :e?timonv. bloodv and terrible. The rplirrirmc