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2: The Wandering Nations

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By land and by sea, race after race has come to make the hills of Wales its home. One race would be short, with dark eyes and black hair; another would be tall, with blue eyes and fair hair. They came from different countries and along different paths, but each race brought some good with it. One brought skill in taming animals, until it had at last tamed even the pig and the bee; another brought iron tools to take the place of stone ones. Another brought the energy of the chase and war, and another a delight in sailing a ship or in building a fortress.

One thing they had in commonóthey wandered, and they wandered to the west. From the cold wastes and the dark forests of the north and east, they were ever pushing west to more sunny lands. As far back as we can see, the great migration of nations to the west was going on. The islands of Britain were the furthest point they could reach; for beyond it, at that time, no man had dared to sail into the unknown expanse of the ocean of the west. In the islands of Britain, the mountains of Wales were among the most difficult to win, and it was only the bravest and the hardiest that could make their home among them.

The first races that came were short and dark. They came in tribes. They had tribal marks, the picture of an animal as a rule; and they had a strange fancy that this animal was their ancestor. It may be that the local nicknames which are still rememberedósuch as "the pigs of Anglesey," "the dogs of Denbigh," "the cats of Ruthin," "the crows of Harlech," "the gadflies of Mawddwy"ówere the proud tribe titles of these early people. Their weapons and tools were polished stone; their hammers and hatchets and adzes, their lance heads and their arrow tips, were of the hardest igneous rockóchipped and ground with patient labour.

The people who come first have the best chance of staying, if only they are willing to learn; hardy plants will soon take the place of tender plants if left alone. The short dark people are still the main part, not only of the Welsh, but of the British people. It is true that their language has disappeared, except a few place-names. But languages are far more fleeting than races. The loss of its language does not show that a race is dead; it only shows that it is very anxious to change and learn. Some languages easily give place to others, and we say that the people who speak these languages are good linguists, like Danes and Slavs. Other languages persist, those who speak them are unwilling to speak any new language, and this is the reason why Spanish and English are so widespread.

After the short dark race came a tall fair-haired people. They came in families as well as in tribes. They had iron weapons and tools, and the short dark people could not keep them at bay with their bone- tipped spears and flint-headed arrows. We know nothing about the struggle between them. But it may be that the fairy stories we were told when children come from those far-off times. If a fairy maiden came from lake or mound to live among men, she vanished at once if touched with iron. Is this, learned men have asked, a dim memory of the victory of iron over stone?

The name given to the short dark man is usually Iberian; the name given to the tall fair man who followed him is Celt. The two learnt to live together in the same country. The conqueror probably looked upon himself at first as the master of the conquered, then as simply belonging to a superior race, but gradually the distinction vanished. The language remained the language of the Celt; it is called an Aryan language, a language as noble among languages as the Aran is among its hills. It is still spoken in Wales, in Brittany, in Ireland, in the Highlands of Scotland, and in the Isle of Man. It was also spoken in Cornwall till the eighteenth century; and Yorkshire dalesmen still count their sheep in Welsh. English is another Aryan tongue.

The more mixed a nation is, the more rich its life and the greater its future. Purity of blood is not a thing to boast of, and no great and progressive nation comes from one breed of men. Some races have more imagination than others, or a finer feeling for beauty; others have more energy and practical wisdom. The best nations have both; and they have both, probably, because many races have been blended in their making. There is hardly a parish in Wales in which there are not different types of faces and different kinds of character.

The wandering of nations has never really stopped. The Celt was followed by his cousinsóthe Angle and the Saxon. These, again, were followed by races still more closely related to themóthe Normans and the Danes and the Flemings. They have all left their mark on Wales and on the Welsh character.

The migration is still going on. Trace the history of an upland Welsh parish, and you will find that, in a surprisingly short time, the old families, high and low, have given place to newcomers. Look into the trains which carry emigrants from Hull or London to Liverpool on their way westóthey have the blue eyes and yellow hair of those who came two thousand years ago. But this country is no longer their goal, the great continent of America has been discovered beyond. Fits of longing for wandering come over the Welsh periodically, as they came over the Danesócaused by scarcity of food and density of population, or by a sense of oppression and a yearning for freedom. An empty stomach sometimes, and sometimes a fiery imagination, sent a crowd of adventurers to new lands. And it is thus that every living nation is ever renewing its youth.


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