Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

frontier was faintly marked by the mutual fears of the Germans and the Sarmalians, and was often confounded by the mixture of warring and confederating tribes of the two nations. In the remote darkness of the north, the ancients imperfectly descried a frozen ocean that lay beyond the Baltic sea and beyond the Peninsula or islands of Scandinavia.

Climate. Some togenioas writers have saspected that Europe was much colder formerly than it is at present; and the most ancient descriptions of the climate of Germany tend exceedingly to confirm their theory. The general complaints of intense frost; and eternal winter, are perhaps little to be ro garded, since we have no method of reducing to the accurate standard of the thermometer, the feelings, or the expres sions of an orator, bora in the happier regions of Greece or Asia. But I shall select two remarkable circumstances of a less equivocal nature. 1) The great rivers which covered the Roman provinces, the Rhine and the Danube, were frequently frozen over, and capable of supporting the most enormous weights. The barbarians who often chose that severe, season for their inroads, transported, without apprehension or danger, their bumerans armies, their cavalry and their beavy waggons, over a vast and solid bridge of ice. Modern age have not presented an instance of a like phænomenon. 2) The rein deer, that useful animal, from whom the savage of the North derives the best comforts of his dreary life, is of a constitution that supports, and even requires, the most intensa cold. He is found on the rock of Spitzberg, within tena degroes of the pole; he seems to delight in the snows of Lapland and Siberia; but at present he cannot subsist, much less multiply, in any country, to the south of the Baltic. In the time of Cæsar, the rein deer, as well as the elk, and the wild bull was a native of the Hercynian forest, which then overshadowed a great part of Germany, and Poland. The modern improvements sufficiently explain the causes of the diminution of the cold. These immense woods bave been gradually cleared, which intercepted from the earth the rays of the sun. The morasses have been drained, and, jn proportion, as the soil bas been cultivated, the air has becomo more temperate. Canada, at this day, is an exact piclure of anciont Germany. Although situated in the same pa

rallel with the finest provinces of France and England, that e country experiences the most rigoroas cold. The rein deer

are very numerous, the ground is covered with deep and lasting snow, and the great river of St. Lawrence is regularly frozen, in a season when the waters of the Seine and the Thames are usually free from ice.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Ita effects on the natives, It is difficult to ascertain, and easy to exaggerate the iní fluence of the climate of ancient Germany over the minds

and bodies of the natives. Many writers have supposed, and most have allowed, though, as it should seem, without

any adequate proof, that the rigorous cold of the North was favourable to long life and generative vigour, that the women were more fruitful, and the human species more prolific, than in warmer or more temperate climates. We may assert, with greater confidence, that the keen air of Germany formed the large and masculine limbs of the natives, who were, in general, of a more lofty stature than the people of the south, gave them a kind of strength better adapted to violent exertions than to patient labour, and inspired them with constitutional bravery, which is the result of nerves and spirits. The severity of a winter campaign, that chilled the courage of the Roman troops, was scarcely felt by these hardy children of the North, who, in their turn, were unable to resist the summer heats, and dissolved away in languor and sickness under the beams of an Italian sun.

Origin of the Germans. There is not any where upon the globe, a large tract of country, which we have discovered destitute of inhabitants, or whose first population can be fixed with any degree of historical certainty. And yet, as the most philosophic minds can seldom refrain from investigating the infancy of great nations, our curiosity consumes itself in toilsome and die 'appointed efforts. When Tacitus considered the purity of the German blood, and the forbidding aspect of the country, he was disposed to pronounce those barbarians Indigence, or natives of tbe soil. We may allow with safety, and perhaps with truth, that ancient Germany was not originally peopled by any foreigo' colonies, already formed into a political society; but that the name and bation received their

existence from the gradual union of some vandering savages of the Hercynian woods. To assert those savages to have been the spontaneous production of the carth which they inbabited, would be a 'rash inference, condemned by religion, and unwarranted by reason.

Fables and conjectures. Such rational doubt is but ill - suited with the genius of popular 'vanity. Among the nations who have adopted the Mosaic history of the world, the ark of Noah has been of the same use, as was formerly to the Greeks and Romans the siege of Troy. - On a narrow basis of acknowledged truth, an immense but rude superstructure of fable has been erected; and the wild Irishman, as well as the wild Tartar, could point out the individual son of Japhet, from whose loins bis ancestors were lineally descended. The last century abounded with antiquarians of profound learning and easy faith, who, by the dim light of legends and traditions, of conjectures and etymologies, conducted the great grandchildren of Noah from the Tower of Babel to the extremities of the globe.

Of these judicious critics, one of the most entertainiog was Olaus Rudbeck *), professor in the university of Upsal. Whatever is celebrated either in history or fable, this zealous patriot ascribes to this country. From Sweden (which formed so considerable a part of ancient Germany) the Greeks themselves derived their alphabetical characters, their astronomy, and their religion. Of that delightful region, (for such it appeared to the eyes of a native) the Atlantis of Plato, the country of the Hyperborians, the gardens of the Hesperides, the Forlugate Islands and even the Elysian Fields were all but faint and imperfect transcripts. A clime so prófusely favoured by nature, could not long remain desert after the flood. The learned Rudbeck allows the family of Noah

*) His work, entitled Atlantica, is uncommonly scarce. Bayle has given two most curious extracts from it. République des lettres, Janvier et Février 1685. - Eine zum Zwecke genügende Nachricht von diesem Werke giebt unter der bescheidenen Ueberschrift: Flüchtige Ansicht der Rudbeckschen Atlantica," cin, Karl, C'appe, unterzeichneter und im 26sten Stück der Zeitung für die elegante Welt vom Jahre 1818 abgedruckter Aufsatz. Hiernach besteht Olf Rudbecks Atlandaus drei Folianten der vierte ist in dem Upsalaischen Brande gerade aus der Presse kommend, in Rauch aufgegangen."

a few years, to multiply from elght to about twenty thousand persons. He then disperses them into small colonies to replenish the earth, and to propagate the human species. The German or Swedish detachment, (which marched, if I am not mistaken, under the command of Askenaz the son of Gomer, the son of Japhet) distinguished itself by a more than common diligence in the prosecution of this great work. The northern hive cast its swarms over the greatest part of Ea- , rope, Africa, and Asia; (to use the author's metaphor) the blood circulated from the extremities to the heart.

The Germans ignorant of letters, of arts and agrin

culture, and of the use of metals. But all this well – laboured system of German antiquities is annihilated by a single fact, too well attested to admit of any doubt, and of too decisive a nature, to leave room for any reply. The Germans, in the age of Tacitus, were unacquainted with the use of letters; and the use of letters is the principal circumstance that distinguishes a civilized people from a herd of savages, incapable of knowledge or reflection. Without that artificial help, the human memory soon dissipates or corrupts the ideas intrusted to her charge; and the nobler faculties of the mind, no longer supplied with models or with materials, gradually forget their powers: the judgment becomes feeble and lethargic', the imagination languid or irregular. Fully to apprehend this important truth, let us attempt, in an improved society, to calculate the immense distance between the man of learning, and the illiterate pea-! sant. The former by reading and reflection, multiplies his own experience, and lives in distant ages, and remote countries; whilst the latter, rooted to a single spot, and confined to a few years of existence, surpasses, but, very little, hiş fellow-labourer the ox in the exercise of his mental faculties. The same, and even a greater difference will be found bete ween nations than between individuals; and we may safely pronounce, that without some species of writing, no people has ever preserved the faithful annals of their history, ever made any considerable progress in the abstract sciences or ever possessed, in any tolerable degree of perfection, the useful and agreeable arts of life.

Of these arts, the ancient Germans were wretchedly destitate. They passed their lives in a state of ignorance and po

verty, which fo has pleased some declaimers to digally with the appellation of virtuous simplicity. Modern Germany is said to contain about two thousand three hundred walled towns. In a much wider extent of country, the geographer Ptolemy could discover no more than ninety places, which he decorates with the name of cities: though, according to our ideas, they would but ill deserve that splendid title. We can only suppose them to have been rude fortifications, constructed in the centre of the woods, and designed to secure the women, children and cattle, whilst the warriors of the tribe marched out to repel a sudden invasion. But Tacitus asserts, as a well known fact, that the Germans, in his time, had no cities; and that they affected to despise the works of Roman industry, 'as places of confinement rather than of security. Their edifices were not even contiguous, or formed into regular villas; each barbarian fixed his independent dwelling, on the spot to which a plain, a wood, or a stream of fresh water, had induced him to give the preference. Neither stone, nor brick, nor tiles were employed in these slight habitations. They were indeed no more than low huts of a circular figure, built of rough timber, thatched with straw and pierced at the top to "leave a free passage for the smoke. In the most inclement wiater, the bardy German was satisfied with a scanty garment made of the skin of some animal. The nations who dwelt towards the North , clothed themselves in furs; and the women manufactured for their own use a coarse kind of linen.

The game of various sorts, with which the forests of Germany were plentifully stocked, supplied its inbabitants with food and exercise. Their monstrous herds of cattle, less remarkable indeed for their beauty than for utility, formed the principal object of their wealth. A small quantity of corn was the only produce exacted from the parth: the use of orchards or artificial mcadows was unknown to the Germans; nor can we expect any improvements in agriculture from a people, whose property every year experienced a general change by a new division of the arable lands, and who, in that strange operation, avoided disputes, by suffering a great part of their territory to lie waste, and without tillage.

Gold, silver and iron, were extremely scarce ia Germany. Its barbarous inhabitants wanted both skill and patience to investigate those rich veins of silver, which have so liberally rewarded the attention of the princes of Brunswick, and Saxo

« AnteriorContinuar »