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Cornwall

Cornwall, but for a few survivals of Duchy jurisdictions, is legally and practically a county of England, with a County Council, a County Police, and a Lord-Lieutenant all complete, as if it were no better than a mere Essex or Herts. But every Cornishman knows well enough, proud as he may be of belonging to the British Empire, that he is no more an Englishman than a Caithness man is, that he has as much right to a separate local patriotism to his little Motherland, which rightly understood is no bar, but rather an advantage to the greater British patriotism,1 as has a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Welshman, or even a Colonial; and that he is as much a Celt and as little of an "Anglo-Saxon" as any Gael, Cymro, Manxman, or Breton.

Cornwall is the most western county in England, and is almost wholly surrounded by the sea, excepting the eastern side, which is partly separated from Devonshire by the Tamar river. The greatest length of the county from Moorwinstow to the Land's End, is nearly 90 miles ; and its greatest breadth from Moorwinstow on the north, to Ram Head on the south, does not exceed 43 miles; but diminishes gradually till it is only, from Mount's Bay to St. Ives, little more than seven miles. Its form, therefore, nearly resembles a horn, or as some historians term it, a cornucopia. The surface of the county being extremely difficult to compute, owing to the many promontories and Uttings on the coast, is stated at about 210 miles, containing 758,484 acres, but is supposed to have been much larger in former times.

According to the works of the most respectable liistotorians, the original name of Cornwall was Cerwts, and so called from its peculiar shape. The antient inhabitants were denominated Carnibii, or Cerwyn and Gwyr, or Men of the Promontory ; but after the Roman invasion, that name is supposed, by Burlase, to have been latinized into Curnubia, which it retained till the Saxons imposed the name of Wcales on the Britons, driven by thera west of the rivers Severn and Dee> calling their county in the Latin tongue, Wallia; after which, finding the Britons had retreated not only into Wales, but into the more western extremities of the island, the Latinists changed Cornubia into Cornwallia ; a name not only expressive of the many natural promontories of the county, but also that the inhabitants were Britons of the same nation and descent as those of Wales; and from Cornwallia, the name of Cornwall is derived.

The climate of this county has long been noted for its mildness and salubrity. Its inhabitants were said to surpass every other county in England, for longevity. The storms which occur, are very severe, but are considered extremely conducive to the healthiness of the inhabitants, by clearing the air of the pernicious vapours which exhale from the mines, leaving in their room, the vivifying qualities wafted by the genial breezes of the ocean. The winters, in general, are very mild; frosts are of short duration; and snow seldom remains upon the ground more than three or four days.

The sterile and rugged aspect of many parts of the county, (especially the road from Launceston to Truro, which presents, excepting the town of Bodmin, almost nothing but extensive and waste moors) impresses the traveller with a very unfavourable opinion of the county; but the admirers of the picturesque will always be delighted with the beauty of its numerous valleys and more cultivated parts. On the other hand, Cornwall, from its maritime situation, and the numerous mines with which it abounds, possesses many advantages. To an antiquarian it will always be highly interesting, as few other counties contain so many Druidical and Roman remains.

The north and south parts of the county are divided by a ridge of barren and rugged hills, running from east to weft, resembling a distorted back bone. The most remarkable hills are Brown-Willy, Roughtor, and Hensborough; the first being no less than 1,368 feet above the level of the sea. The most considerable rivers in the county, are the Tomar, the Lynher, the Fowey, and the Camel or The Tamar, which takes precedence, rises in thenorthern side of the county, in the parish of Moorwinstow, and with little variation, pursuing a southerly direction for nearly 40 miles, unites with the Lynher Creek, and ultimately forms the spacious harbour of Hamoazc, between Plymouth Dock and Saltash. The banks of this river are richly diversified with rocks, woods, and many other objects to interest the poet and the painter.

There have been seven Celtic languages — not all at once, of course — and indeed it is possible that there may have been more; but seven are known to have existed. The seven Celtic languages are Irish, Albanic (or Scottish), and Manx Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, and Gaulish, and it is possible that Pictish must be added to these. The Brythonic (or British), consisting of Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. These may be said to be as near together as three separate languages can well be, but to have drifted too far apart to be accounted three dialects of the same language. The place of Cornish, linguistically as well as geographically, is between Welsh and Breton, but though in some points in which Welsh differs from Breton, Cornish resembles the former, on the whole it approaches more nearly to the latter. Probably Cornish and Breton are both derived from the language of the more southern, while Welsh represents that of the more northern Britons. Of course Cornish, like Welsh, has been influenced to some extent by English, while the foreign influence on Breton has been French. It is probable that the ancient Gaulish, certainly a Celtic language, belongs to this branch. The speakers of different branches— a Welshman and a Highlander, for instance—are no more mutually intelligible than an Englishman and a German would be, if as much so. The three sets of Gaels, however, can understand one another with considerable difficulty, and Irish priests have been known to preach sermons (with but moderate success) in the Catholic parts of the Highlands.

In vocabulary Cornish follows Breton more closely than Welsh, though there are cases where in its choice of words it agrees with the latter, and cases in which it is curiously impartial. All writers of Cornish used to spell according to their own taste and fancy, and would sometimes represent the same word in different ways even in the same page, though certain general principles were observed in each period. There was a special uncertainty about the vowels, which will be easily appreciated by those who are familiar with Cornish English.

Until the time of Henry VIII there is no trustworthy information about the state or extent of the language. It is highly probable, from the number of places still retaining undoubtedly Celtic names, and retaining them in an undoubtedly, Cornish form, that until at least the fifteenth century the Tamar was the general boundary of English and Cornish; though there is said to be some evidence that even as late as the reign of Elizabeth, Cornish was spoken in a few places to the east of the Tamar, notably in the South Hams. Polwhele, however, limits the South Hams use of Cornish to the time of Edward I.



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Page last modified: 26-11-2012 18:58:15 ZULU