Book: Legends and Romances of Brittany
Author: Lewis Spence

Legends and Romances of Brittany By Lewis Spence

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 293
Publication Date: 1917

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Lewis Spence recounts tales of knights, kings and saints, some more or less historical in nature, others set in the timeless land of the fairy-tales. Brittany also has extensive lore of fairy-folk, including several unique species, such as the Korrigan, Nain, Goric, and the dread Ankou, a female spirit of death. Chapters include: The Land, The People And Their Story; Menhirs And Dolmens; The Fairies Of Brittany; Sprites And Demons Of Brittany; World-Tales In Brittany; Breton Folk-Tales; Popular Legends Of Brittany; Hero-Tales Of Brittany; The Black Art And Its Ministers; Arthurian Romance In Brittany; The Breton Lays Of Marie De France; The Saints Of Brittany; and, Costumes And Customs Of Brittany.

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THE romantic region which we are about to traverse in search of the treasures of legend was in ancient times known as Armorica, a Latinized form of the Celtic name, Armor ('On the Sea'). The Brittany of to-day corresponds to the departments of Finistère, Côtes-du-Nord, Morbihan, Ille-et-Vilaine, and Loire-Inférieure. A popular division of the country is that which partitions it into Upper, or Eastern, and Lower, or Western, Brittany, and these tracts together have an area of some 13,130 square miles.

Such parts of Brittany as are near to the sea-coast present marked differences to the inland regions, where raised plateaux are covered with dreary and unproductive moorland. These plateaux, again, rise into small ranges of hills, not of any great height, but, from their wild and rugged appearance, giving the impression of an altitude much loftier than they possess. The coast-line is ragged, indented, and inhospitable, lined with deep reefs and broken by the estuaries of brawling rivers. In the southern portion the district known as 'the Emerald Coast' presents an almost subtropical appearance; the air is mild and the whole region pleasant and fruitful. But with this exception Brittany is a country of bleak shores and grey seas, barren moorland and dreary horizons, such a land as legend loves, such a region, cut off and isolated from the highways of humanity, as the discarded genii of ancient faiths might seek as a last stronghold.

Regarding the origin of the race which peoples this secluded peninsula there are no wide differences of opinion. If we take the word 'Celt' as describing any branch of the many divergent races which came under the influence of one particular type of culture, the true originators of which were absorbed among the folk they governed and instructed before the historic era, then the Bretons are 'Celts' indeed, speaking the tongue known as 'Celtic' for want of a more specific name, exhibiting marked signs of the possession of 'Celtic' customs, and having those racial characteristics which the science of anthropology until recently laid down as certain indications of 'Celtic' relationship--the short, round skull, swarthy complexion, and blue or grey eyes. It is to be borne in mind, however, that the title 'Celtic' is shared by the Bretons with the fair or rufous Highlander of Scotland, the dark Welshman, and the long-headed Irishman. But the Bretons exhibit such special characteristics as would warrant the new anthropology in labelling them the descendants of that 'Alpine' race which existed in Central Europe in Neolithic times, and which, perhaps, possessed distant Mongoloid affinities. This people spread into nearly all parts of Europe, and later in some regions acquired Celtic speech and custom from a Celtic aristocracy.

It is remarkable how completely this Celtic leaven--the true history of which is lost in the depths of prehistoric darkness--succeeded in impressing not only its language but its culture and spirit upon the various peoples with whom it came into contact. To impose a special type of civilization upon another race must always prove a task of almost superhuman proportions. To compel the use of an alien tongue by a conquered folk necessitates racial tact as well as strength of purpose. But to secure the adoption of the racial spirit by the conquered, and adherence to it for centuries, so that men of widely divergent origins shall all have the same point of view, the same mode of thought, manner of address, aye, even the same facies or general racial appearance, as have Bretons, some Frenchmen, Cornishmen, Welshmen, and Highlanders--that surely would argue an indwelling racial strength such as not even the Roman or any other world-empire might pretend to.

But this Celtic civilization was not one and undivided. In late prehistoric times it evolved from one mother tongue two dialects which afterward displayed all the differences of separate languages springing from a common stock. These are the Goidelic, the tongue spoken by the Celts of Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and the Brythonic, the language of the Welsh, the Cornish, and the people of Brittany.

The Breton Tongue

The Brezonek, the Brythonic tongue of Brittany, is undoubtedly the language of those Celtic immigrants who fled from Britain the Greater to Britain the Less to escape the rule of the Saxon invaders, and who gave the name of the country which they had left to that Armorica in which they settled. In the earliest stages of development it is difficult to distinguish Breton from Welsh. From the ninth to the eleventh centuries the Breton language is described as 'Old Breton.' 'Middle Breton' flourished from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries, since when 'Modern Breton' has been in use. These stages indicate changes in the language more or less profound, due chiefly to admixture with French. Various distinct dialects are indicated by writers on the subject, but the most marked difference in Breton speech seems to be that between the dialect of Vannes and that of the rest of Brittany. Such differences do not appear to be older than the sixteenth century.

The Ancient Armoricans

The written history of Brittany opens with the account of Julius Cæsar. At that period (57 B.C.) Armorica was inhabited by five principal tribes: the Namnetes, the Veneti, the Osismii, the Curiosolitæ, and the Redones. These offered a desperate resistance to Roman encroachment, but were subdued, and in some cases their people were sold wholesale into slavery. In 56 B.C. the Veneti threw off the yoke and retained two of Cæsar's officers as hostages. Cæsar advanced upon Brittany in person, but found that he could make no headway while he was opposed by the powerful fleet of flat-bottomed boats, like floating castles, which the Veneti were so skilful in manœuvring.