Open main menu
This page has been validated.

first by Davies Gilbert with English translation by John Keigwin (1826), and again by W. Stokes for the London Philological Society in 1862. It consists of 259 stanzas of eight lines of seven syllables apiece, and contains a versified narrative of the events of the Passion made up from the Gospels and apocryphal sources, notably the Gospel of Nicodemus. But the bulk of Cornish literature is made up of plays, and in this connexion it may be noted that there still exist in the west of Cornwall the remains of a number of open-air amphitheatres, locally called plan an guari, where the plays seem to have been acted. The earliest representatives of this kind of literature in Cornwall form a trilogy going under the name of Ordinalia, of which three MSS. are known, one a 15th-century Oxford MS. from which the two others are copied. The Ordinalia were published by Edwin Norris under the title of The Ancient Cornish Drama (Oxford, 1859). The first play is called Origo Mundi and deals with events from the Old Testament down to the building of Solomon’s temple. The second play, the Passio Domini, goes on without interruption into the third, the Resurrectio Domini, which embraces the Harrowing of Hell, the Resurrection and Ascension, the legend of St Veronica and Tiberius, and the death of Pilate. Here again the pseudo-Gospel of Nicodemus is drawn upon, and interwoven with the Scriptural narrative we find the Legend of the Cross. As the title Ordinalia indicates, these plays are of learned origin and are imitated from English sources. The popular name for these dramas, quari-mirkle, is a literal translation of the English term miracle play, and Norris shows that whole passages were translated word for word. Many of the events are represented as having taken place in well-known Cornish localities, but apart from this scarcely any traces of originality can be discovered. The same remark holds good in the case of another play, Beunans Meriasek or the Life of St Meriasek. This deals in an incoherent manner with the life and death of Meriasek (in Breton Meriadek), the son of a duke of Brittany, and interwoven with this theme is the legend of St Silvester and the emperor Constantine, quite regardless of the circumstance that St Silvester lived in the 4th and St Meriasek in the 7th century. The MS. of this play was written by “Dominus Hadton” in the year 1504, and is preserved in the Peniarth library. The language is more recent than that of the Ordinalia, and there is a certain admixture of English. The Life of St Meriasek falls into two parts, and at the end of each the spectators are invited to carouse. St Meriasek was in earlier times the patron saint of Camborne, where his fountain is still to be seen and pilgrims to it were known by the name of Merra-sickers. In this play, consequently, we might expect to find something really Cornish. But le Braz has shown that the author of this motley drama was content to draw his materials from Latin and English lives of saints. The story of Meriasek himself was taken from a Breton source and closely resembles the narrative of the 17th-century Breton hagiographer, Albert le Grand. The last play we have to mention is Gwreans an Bys (The Creation of the World), of which five complete copies are known. Two of these are in the Bodleian and one in the British Museum, which also possesses a further fragment. The oldest text was revised by William Jordan of Helston in 1611, but there are indications that parts of it at any rate are older than the Reformation. This play bears a great resemblance to the first part of the Origo Mundi, and may have been imitated from it. It was printed first by Davies Gilbert in 1827 with a translation by John Keigwin, and again by W. Stokes in the Transactions of the London Philological Society for 1864. The language shows considerable signs of decay, and Lucifer and his angels are often made to speak English. The only other original compositions of any length written in Cornish are Nebbaz Gerriau dro tho Carnoack (A Few Words about Cornish), by John Boson (printed in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 1879), and the Story of John of Chy-an-Hur (Ram’s House), a folk-tale which appears in Ireland and elsewhere. The latter was printed in Lhuyd’s Grammar and in Pryce’s Archaeologia. Andrew Borde’s Booke of the Introduction of Knowledge (1542) contains some Cornish conversations (see Archiv f. celt. Lexikographie, vol. i.), and in Carew’s Survey of Cornwall a number of words and phrases are to be found. Apart from the Cornish preface to Lhuyd’s Grammar, the other remains of the language consist of a few songs, verses, proverbs, epigrams, epitaphs, maxims, letters, conversations, mottoes and translations of chapters and passages of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Commandments, King Charles’s Letter, &c. These fragments are to be found (1) in the Gwavas MS. in the British Museum, a collection ranging in date from 1709 to 1736; (2) in the Borlase MS. (1750); (3) in Pryce’s Archaeologia Cornu-Britannica (1790); (4) in D. Gilbert’s editions of the Poem of the Passion (1826) and the Creation of the World (1827). They are enumerated, classified and described by Jenner in his Handbook.

Authorities.—H. Jenner, Handbook of the Cornish Language (London, 1904); A. le Braz, Le Théâtre celtique (Paris, 1905); E. Norris, The Ancient Cornish Drama (2 vols., Oxford, 1859); T. C. Peter, The Old Cornish Drama (London, 1906); L. C. Stern, Die Kultur d. Gegenwart, i. xi. 1, pp. 131-132.  (E. C. Q.) 

CELT, a word in common use among British and French archaeologists to describe the hatchets, adzes or chisels of chipped or shaped stone used by primitive man. The word is variously derived from the Welsh cellt, a flintstone (that being the material of which the weapons are chiefly made, though celts of basalt felstone and jade are found); from being supposed to be the implement peculiar to the Celtic peoples; or from a Low Latin word celtis, a chisel. The last derivation is more probably correct. The word has come to be somewhat loosely applied to metal as well as stone axe-heads. The general form of stone celts is that of blades approaching an oval in section, with sides more or less straight and one end broader and sharper than the other. In length they vary from about 2 to as much as 16 in. The largest and finest specimens are found in Denmark: one in an English collection being of beautiful white flint 13 in. long, 1½ in. thick and 3½ in. broad. Those found in Denmark are sometimes polished, but usually are left rough. Those found in north-western Europe are ground to a more or less smooth surface. That some were held in the hand and others fixed in wooden handles is clear from the presence of peculiar polished spaces produced by the friction of the wood. In the later stone adzes holes are sometimes found pierced to receive the handles.

The bronze celts vary in size from an inch to a foot in length. The earlier specimens are much like the stone ones in shape and design, but the later manufactures show a marked improvement, the metal being usually pierced to receive the handles. It is noteworthy that the celtmakers never cast their axes with a transverse hole through which the handle might pass. Bronze celts are usually plain, but some are ornamented with ridges, dots or lines. That they were made in the countries where they are found is proved by the presence of moulds.

A point worthy of mention is the position which stone celts hold in the folk-lore and superstitious beliefs of many lands. In the West of England the country folks believe the weapons fell originally from the sky as “thunderbolts,” and that the water in which they are boiled is a specific for rheumatism. In the North and Scotland they are preservatives against cattle diseases. In Brittany a stone celt is thrown into a well to purify the water. In Sweden they are regarded as a protection against lightning. In Norway the belief is that, if they are genuine thunderbolts, a thread tied round them when placed on hot coals will not burn but will become moist. In Germany, Spain, Italy, the same beliefs prevail. In Japan the stones are accounted of medicinal value, while in Burma and Assam they are infallible specifics for ophthalmia. In Africa they are the weapons of the Thunder-God. In India and among the Greeks the hatchet appears to have had a sacred importance, derived, doubtless, from the universal superstitious awe with which these weapons of prehistoric man were regarded.

See Sir J. Evans’s Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain; Lord Avebury’s Prehistoric Times (1865–1900) and Origin of Civilization (1870); E. B. Tylor’s Anthropology, and Primitive Culture, &c. For the history of polished stone axes up to the 17th century see Dr Marrel Bandouin and Lionel Bonnemère in the Bulletin de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, April-May 1905.