Books, Prehistory, Avebury A Temple of British Druids, Preface

Preface is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

History is political wisdom, philosophy is religious. The one consists in the knowledge of memorable things, and application of that knowledge to the good conduct of life: in embracing the good, and avoiding the ill consequences and examples of actions. So the other teaches us to entertain worthy notions of the supreme being, and the studying to obtain his favour: which is the end of all human and divine wisdom. Religion is the means to arrive at this purpose. In order to be satisfied what is true religion, we must go up to the fountain-head as much as possible. The first religion undoubtedly is true, as coming immediately from God.

When I first began these studies about the Druid antiquities, I plainly discerned, the religion professed in these places was the first, simple, patriarchal religion. Which made me judge it worth while to prosecute my enquiries about them, as a matter the most interesting and important. Knowledge is the glory of a man, divine knowledge of a christian. What I have done in this volume, is a further prosecution of the scheme I have laid down to this purpose. The noble person to whom it is dedicated, induced me to hasten the publication, suggesting the shortness of human life, and having a good opinion of the work.

I was willing to lay hold on the first opportunity of communicating to the world, the pleasure of contemplating so very noble antiquities, which we enjoy in our own island, before it be too late to see them. My endeavour in it is to open the times of first planting the world, after the flood; the propagation of true religion together with mankind; the deviation into idolatry; the persons that built the several kinds of patriarchal temples, such as we see here, in the more eastern parts of the world; the planters of Great Britain in particular; and the connexion there is between the east and west in matters of religion. All this shews there was but one religion at first, pure and simple.

Pausanias in Corinthiac. writes, "the Phliasians, one of the most ancient colonies in Greece, had a very holy temple, in which there was no image, either openly to be seen, or kept in secret." He mentions the like of a grove or temple of Hebe, belonging to that people; and adds, "they give a mystical reason for it." I guess the mystery to be, that it was after the first and patriarchal manner. The same author says in argol. "that at Prona is a temple of Vesta, no image, but an altar, on which they sacrifice." The ancient Hetruscans ordained by a law, that there should be no statue in their temples. Lucian de dea Syr. writes, "the ancient temples in Egypt had no statues." Plutarch, in Numa, and Clemens Alexan. strom. I. remark, "that Numa the second king of Rome, made express orders against the use of images, in the worship of the deity." Plutarch adds, "that for the first 170 years after building the city, the Romans used no images, but thought the deity to be invisible." So to the days of Silius Italicus and Philostratus, at the temple of Hercules our planter of Britain, at Gades, the old patriarchal method of religion was observed, as bishop Cumberland takes notice, Sanchoniathon, p. 266.

Sed nulla effigies, simulachrave nota deorum. Silius III.

[but there are no known images of the gods. Silius Italicus Third Punic War. Line 30.]

And our british Druids had no images. And whatever we find in history, that looks like idolatry in them, is not to be referred to the aboriginal Druids, but to the later colonies from the continent.

Likewise I have opened a large communication between the patriarchal family, of Abraham particularly, and of the first planters of the coasts on the ocean of Spain, Gaul, Germany and Britain. 'Tis plain, what religion was here first planted, as being an almost inaccessible island, flourished exceedingly, and kept up to its original system, even to the days of Cæsar, I mean among the aboriginal inhabitants. The new planters from the continent, on the southern and eastern shore of the island, were tinctured at least with idolatry, in the later times. Whilst on the continent, where more frequent changes of inhabitants happen, idolatry every where polluted it. But in all accounts of the first beginnings of nations, they had the first religion: 'till as every where, time, riches, politeness and prosperity bring on corruption in church and state.

We find, on the continent, idolatry crept on by degrees universally, which was the occasion of providence exerting its self in the Mosaick dispensation: and thereby changing the manner of these temples, altogether polluted. Nevertheless we have no reason to think but that the Druids, in this island of ours, generally kept up to the purity of their first and patriarchal institution. And that is the reason that all our classical writers, tho' much later than the times we are treating of, represent them as a people of a religion diametrically opposite to that of the rest of the world, even as the Jews then, or christians afterwards.

Therefore I thought it fully worth while, to bestow some pains on these temples of theirs, as the only monuments we have left, of the patriarchal religion; and especially in regard to their extraordinary grandeur and magnificence, equal to any of the most noted wonders of the world, as commonly termed.

I have shewn largely enough, the evidences that there were such kinds of temples built all the world over, in the first times; but probably nothing of them now remaining, comparable to those in our own island: which therefore we ought to seek to rescue from oblivion, before it be too late.

I propose to publish but one volume more to complete this argument, as far as I have materials for that purpose. What I have done, I look upon as very imperfect, and but as opening the scene of this very noble subject. The curious will find sufficient room to extend it, to correct and adorn the plan I have begun. And I take it to be well worthy of the pains; as it lets in upon us an excellent view of the scheme of providence, in conducting the affair of true religion, thro' the several ages of the world. We may hence discern the great purpose of inducing the Mosaick dispensation, on that very spot of ground where the main of idolatry began, and from whence it was propagated over all the western and politer world; and over which world providence raised the mighty Roman empire, to pave the way of a republication of the patriarchal religion.

We may make this general reflexion from the present work, that the true religion has chiefly since the repeopling mankind after the flood, subsisted in our island: and here we made the best reformation from the universal pollution of christianity, popery. Here God's ancient people the Jews are in the easiest situation, any where upon earth; and from hence most likely to meet with that conversion designed them. And could we but reform from the abominable publick profanation of the sabbath and common swearing, we might hope for what many learned men have thought; that here was to be opened the glory of Christ's kingdom on earth.

I have rendered it sufficiently clear, that the Apollo of the ancients was really Phut son of Cham. And I have pointed to the reader, how he may have a perfect idea of the countenance of the man, in innumerable monuments of antiquity, now to be seen. I have pursued that amusing topick thro' very many of the ancient patriarchs before and after Phut: so as to recover their, at least heroical, effigies. Which, I hope, sometime I may find an opportunity of publishing.

I shall conclude my preface with a piece of old poetry, being some nervous lines, in no contemptible vein, wrote on our subject a hundred years ago, by Samuel Danyel a domestick of queen Anne's, wife to king James I. The curious reader will observe a remarkable delicacy in the sentiments throughout: a struggle between time and the greatness of these works, equal to that of letters, in endeavouring to recover and preserve the memory of them; which their founders, tho' well qualified, neglected to do.

Blessed letters, that combine in one

All ages past; and make one live with all!

Make us confer with those who now are gone,

And the dead living unto counsel call!

By you th' unborn shall have communion

Of what we feel, and what does us befall.

Soul of the world, knowledge, without thee

What hath the earth that truly glorious is?

Why should our pride make such a stir to be;

To be forgot? What good is like to this,

To do worthy the writing, and to write

Worthy the reading, and the world's delight!

You mighty lords, that with respected grace,

Do at the stern of fair example stand;

And all the body of this populace,

Guide with the only turning of your hand:

Keep a right course, bear up from all disgrace,

Observe the point of glory to our land.

Hold up disgraced knowledge from the ground,

Keep virtue in request, give worth her due.

Let not neglect with barbarous means confound

So fair a good, to bring in night anew.

Be not, oh be not accessary found

Unto her death, that must give life to you.

Where will you have your virtuous names safe laid?

In gorgeous tombs, in sacred cells secure?

Do you not see, those prostrate heaps betrayed

Your fathers bones, and could not keep them sure?

And will you trust deceitful stones fair laid,

And think they will be to your honour truer?

No, no, unsparing time will proudly send

A warrant unto wreck, that with one frown

Will all these mockeries of vain-glory rend,

And make them as before, ungraced, unknown.

Poor idle honours that can ill defend

Your memories that cannot keep their own!

And whereto serves that wondrous trophy now,

That on the goodly plain near Wilton stands?

That huge dumb heap, that cannot tell us how,

Nor what, nor whence it is, nor with whose hands,

Nor for whose glory it was set to show,

How much our pride mocks that of other lands.

Whereon when as the gazing passenger

Hath greedy looked with admiration,

And fain would know its birth, and what it were,

How there erected, and how long agone;

Inquires and asks his fellow-traveller,

What he hath heard, and his opinion!

And he knows nothing; then he turns again,

And looks and sighs, and then admires afresh,

And in himself with sorrow doth complain,

The misery of dark forgetfulness.

Angry with time, that nothing should remain,

Our greatest wonders wonder to express.

Then ignorance, with fabulous discourse,

Robbing fair art and cunning of their right,

Tells how those stones were by the devil's force,

From Africk brought, to Ireland in a night:

And thence to Britannie, by magick course,

From giants hand redeemed by Merlin's sleight.

And then near Ambry placed, in memory

Of all those noble Britons murdered there,

By Hengist and his Saxon treachery,

Coming to parle in peace at unaware.

With this old legend then, credulity

Holds her content, and closes up her care.

And as for thee, thou huge and mighty frame,

That stands corrupted so by times despite,

And gives no evidence to save their fame,

That set thee there, and testify their right:

And art become a traitor to their name,

That trusted thee with all the best they might.

Thou shall stand, still belyed and slandered,

The only gazing stock of ignorance,

And by thy guilt the wise admonished,

Shall never more desire such heaps t' advance,

Nor trust their living glory with the dead,

That cannot speak, but leave their fame to chance.

Tho' time with all his power of years, hath laid

Long battery, backed with undermining age,

Yet thou makes head, only with thy own aid,

And war with his all conquering forces wage;

Pleading the heavens prescription to be free,

And have a grant t' indure as long as he.