Britannia, by William Camden


Preamble to IRELAND.


Small I I have at last survey’d, or rather run over, the whole Island of Britain, namely those two flourishing Kingdoms, England and Scotland, ⌈now united into one Kingdom of Great Britain.⌉ The British Sea. And since I must necessarily cross the Sea, to come to Ireland and the other Islands, I hope it will not be thought a Digression, if I premise something concerning the British Ocean.

That vast and wide Ocean, which surrounds Britain on all sides but the South, ebbs and flows with so strong a tide, that Pithœus Massiliensis reports it to swell eighty cubits higher than the Island. PithoeusLib. Hexamer. c.3. St. Basil calls it the great Sea, to be dreaded by Mariners; and St. Ambrose speaks thus of it, The great Sea, unattempted by Mariners, is that roaring Ocean which encompasses Britain, and extends into the most remote parts;British Sea formerly unknown. of which we have not so much as a fabulous Account. Sometimes it overflows the Fields adjoyning, and then retreats and leaves them. To speak with Pliny, it lies so wide and open, that * * Vis Lunæ laxè grassantis.the force and pressure of the Moon does considerably affect it; and it flows with such Force, that it not only drives back the rivers that run into it; but either surprizes the beasts upon the shore, it advances so fast; or leaves Sea-monsters upon the banks, it returns so quick. Every Age has seen so many Sea-monsters left behind upon the dry land, to the great amazement of the beholders, that Horace had good grounds for what he said,

Belluosus qui remotis
Obstrepit Oceanus Britannis.

And Seas (where shapeless Monsters roar)
That wash
Great Britain’s farthest shore.

And Juvenal,

Quanto Delphino Balæna Britannica major.
As much as Dolphins yield to British Whales.

Nay, a voyage over our Sea was thought such a notable Enterprise, that Libanus, the Greek Sophist, in his Panegyrick to Constantius Chlorus,Julius Firmicus. exclaims, This Voyage to Britain, seems equal to the noblest triumph! And Julius Firmicus, not the Astrologer, but another who was a Christian, in a Treatise upon the Errors of prophane Religion, dedicated to Constans and Constantius, Emperours, says, You have row’d over the swelling and raging billows of the British Ocean in the very Winter; a thing never yet done, nor ever to be done again. A Sea, almost unknown to us, hath submitted to you; and the Britains are terrified at the unexpected arrival of a Roman Emperor. What would you atchieve farther? The very Elements have yielded themselves Captives to your Valour.

The learned Julius Scaliger, in his Poems, would make the CaurusCaurus. or north-west wind, the product of the British Sea; in opposition to Lucan, who writes thus,

Primus ab Oceano caput exeris Atlantæo,
Caure, movens æstus.

You fierce North-west, that swell the raging tide,
Raise from
Atlantick waves your low’ring head.

For certain, this wind exceedingly annoys Ireland; and for a great part of the year, as Cæsar says, it blows in this Island.Caesar

That Ships first ply’d upon this Sea, as some write, seems incredible to me. Wicker-Ships of the Britains. But that the Britains used small wicker Vessels, cover’d with leather, such as they call Corraghs at this day, is evident from Pliny; with whom Lucan agrees,

Primum cana salix madefacto vimine parvam
Texitur in puppem, cæsoque induta juvenco,
Vectoris patiens tumidum super emicat amnem:
Sic Venetus stagnante Pado, fusoque Britannus
Navigat Oceano.

First, little Boats of well soak’d twigs were made,
A reeking hide above the twigs was laid:
Thus rudely fitted, o’re the waves they rode,
And stock’d with Passengers, outbrav’d the flood.
Thus rough
Venetians pass the lazie Po,
And British Keels the boundless Ocean plow.

Thus likewise Polyhistor; In that Sea, which is between Britain and Ireland, they sail in wicker bottoms, cover’d with Ox-hides. During their Voyages (how long soever,) they do not eat.

As for the Commodities and Advantages of this Sea; it’s warmth, which cherishes the Earth; it’s steam and vapour, which feeds the Air and bedews the Fields; the many Fish of all kinds bred in it, viz. Salmon (which Bede calls Isicii, and Pliny Esox,) Plaice, Punger, Cod, Haddock, Whiting, Herring, Basse, Maccarel, Mullet, Turbet, Seal, Rochet, Sole, Pilchard, Scate, Oyster, Lobster, Crab, and innumerable others which swarm in great shoals on this coast; these, I say, are not to my present purpose. Yet I must not forget to take notice of those Jewels, Pearls.which Jubas tells us are roundish, and like Bees swim in clusters, with one like a Captain at the head of them. Thus also Marcellinus, after he has spoken of the Persian and Indian Pearls; Which kind of Jewels, we know very well, are found in the creeks of the British Sea, tho’ not so fine. caesar But although Pliny gives them the character of small and ill-colour’d, yet Suetonius makes them the great motive of Cæsar’s coming hither, and says, they were so large, that he us’d to poize them in his hand, and dedicated a Breast-plate made of them to Venus Genitrix; which appears by the Inscription. Origen also to the same purpose: The best Sort of Sea-pearl is found among the Indians, or rather in the Red-Sea. The next, are those pick’d-up in the British Ocean. In the third place are to be reckon’d those that are found near Scythia in the Bosphorus, being not so good as either of the other. And a little after: As for that Pearl which they say is found in Britain, it looks like gold, but is somewhat speck’d and cloudy, * * Luce obtusius.and without the proper Lustre. Thus also our Venerable Bede, concerning the Shell-fish of this Sea: Among others, there are Muscles, in which they find the best Pearl of all colours, purple, violet, green, and especially white. There are ¦ ¦ Cochlea.Cockles also in great abundance, with which they dye the Scarlet colour so strong, that neither Sun nor Rain will change it: nay, the older it is, the better it looks. Tertullian, reprehending the dissolute luxury of his time, says, If ambitious Luxury would feed it self from the British or the Indian Seas, there is a kind of Shell-fish so agreeable to the palate, that it not only exceeds the Purple-fish, or the Oyster, but even the Scallop it self.

This Sea in general is call’d the British, and Caledonian Sea, but yet has several names, according as it touches upon the several Coasts.

On the East, towards Germany, they call it the German Ocean. On the North it is called Oceanus Hyperboreus, which the Antients untruly described, to be still, and heavy to the oar, and for that reason not easily rais’d to a storm. This, Tacitus thought, was because Land and Hills, which are a great cause of Tempests, are rare here; and also the Sea it self is so wide and deep, that this weighty mass of waters is not easily to be mov’d and driven. Julius Solinus. To the West, it is call’d Oceanus Deucalidonius, and Vergivius; and between England and Ireland, it goes by the name of the Irish Sea, or St. George’s Chanel. This the Antients describe to be so high and raging, that it was not navigable all the year round, except only some few days in Summer. On the South, towards France, it is properly call’d the British Sea: but, at this day, the Dutch, call it the Chanel;See in Kent. the English, the Sleeve; and the French in the same sense, Le Manche; because it grows narrow, by little and little, like a sleeve.Pyrenaean That the Sea as far as Spain, went under the name of the British Sea, we are assur’d by Pomponius Mela, who was himself a Spaniard; where he tells us, that the Pyrenæan Hills run out as far as the British Sea.

Nature has scatter’d certain Islands up and down this Sea, for show and ornament; some few to the East and South; but on the West and North-sides, very many. For there, they stand so thick, that they do as it were, parcel and embroider the Sea. But since Ireland so far exceeds the rest; both its Largeness and Renown may justly entitle it to the first place.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06