Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ny. Sweden, which now supplies Europe whih tron, 'was equally ignorant of its own riches; and the appearance of the arms of the Germans furnished a sufficient proof, how littlo, iron they were able to bestow on what they must bave deemed the noblest use of that metal. The various transections of peace and war had introduced some Roman coins, (chiefly silver) among the borderers of the Rhine and Danube; but the more distant tribes were absolutely unacquainted with the use of money, carried on their confined traffic by the exchange of commodities, and prized their rade earthen vessels as of equal value with the silver vases, the presents of Rome to their princes and ambassadors. To a mind capable of reflection, such leading facts convey more instruction, than a

tedious detail of subordinato circumstances. The value of - money has been settled by general consent to express our wants, and our property; as

ers were invented to express our ideas: and both these institutions, by giving a more active energy to the powers and passions of human nature, have contributed to multiply the objects they were designed to rem present. The use of gold and silver, is in a great measure factitious, but it would be impossible to enumerate the important, and various services which agriculture, and all tho' arts, hare received from iron, when tempered and fashioned by the operation of fire, and the dexterous hand of man. Money, in a word, is the most universal incitement, iron the most powerful instrument, of human industry; and it is very difficult to conceive by what means a people, neither actuated by the one, nor seconded by the other, could emerge from the grossest barbarism.

Their indolence. If we contemplate ą savage nation in any part of the globe, a supine indolence, and a carelesenons of futurity will be found to constitute their general character. In a civilized slate, every faculty of man is expanded and exercised; and the great chain of mutual dependence connects and embraces the several members of society. The most pumerous portion of it is employed in constant and useful labour. The select few, placed by fortune above that necessity, can, however, fill op their time by the pursuits of interest or glory, by the improvement of their estate or of their understanding, by the duties, the pleasures, and even the follies of social life. The

Germans were noi possessed of these varled resources. The care of the house and family, the management of the land and cattle, were delegated to the old and the infirm, to women and slaves. The lazy warrior, destitute of every art that might employ his leisure hours, consumed his days and nights In the animal gratifications of sleep and food. And yet, by a wonderful diversity of nature, (according to the remark of a writer who had pierced into its darkest recesses) the same barbarians are by turns the most indolent, and the most restless of mankind. They delight in sloth, they detest tranquillity *). The languid soul, oppressed with its own weight, anxiously required some new and powerful sensation; and war and danger were the only amusemento adequate to its fierce temper. The sound that summoned the German to arms was grateful to his ear. It roused him from his uncomfortable lethargy, gave him an active pursuit, and by strong exercise of the body, and violent emotions of the mind, restored him to a more lively sense of his existence. In the dull intervals of peace, these barbarians were immoderately addicted to deep gaming and excessive drinking; both of which, by different means, the one by inflaming their passions; the other by extinguishing their reason, alike relieved them from the pain of thinking. They gloried in passing whole days and nights at table; and the blood of friends, and relations, often stained their numerous and drunken assemblies. Their debts of bonour, (for in that light, they have transmitted to us those of play) they discharged with the most romantic fidelity. The desperate gamester, who had staked his person and liberty on a , last throw of the dice, 'patiently submitted to the decision of fortune, and suffered himself to be bound, chastised, and sold into remote slavery, by his weaker, but more lucky antagonist,

Their taste for strong liquors, Strong beer, a liquor extracted with very little art from wheat or barley, and corrupted, (as it is strongly expressed by Tacitus) into a certain semblance of wine, was sufficient for the gross purposes of German debauchery. But those who had tasted the rich wines of Italy, and afterwards of Gaul, sighed for that more delicious species of intoxication. They

* Tacitus Germ. 15.

attempted not, however, (as has since been executed with so much success), to naturalize the vine on the banks, of the Rhine and Danube; nor did they endeavour to procure by industry the materials of an advantageous commerce. To 90licit by labour what might be ravished by arms, was esteemed unworthy of the German spirit. The intemperate thirst of strong liquors often urged the barbarians to invade the provinces, on which art or nature had bestowed those much envied presents. The Tuscan who betrayed his country to the Celtic nations, attracted them into Italy, by the prospect of the rich fruits and delicious wines, the production of a happier climate. And in the same manner the German auxilia

ries, invited into France during the civil wars of the sixteenth i century, were allured by the promise of plenteous quarters in

the provinces of Champaigne and Burgundy. Drunkenness, the most illiberal, but not the most dangerous of our vices, was sometimes capable, in a less civilized state of mankind, of occasioning a battle, a war, or a revolution,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

State of population. The climate of ancient Germany has been mollified, and the soil fertilized, by the labour of ten centuries from the time of Charlemagne. The same extent of ground, which at present maintains, in ease and plenty, a million of husbandmen and artificers, was unable to supply an hundred thousand lazy warriors with the simple necessaries of life, The Germans abandoned their immense forests to the exercise of hun-, ting, employed in pasturage the most considerable part of their lands, bestowed on the small remainder a rude and careless cultivation, and ihen accused the scantiness and sterility of a country that refused to maintain the multitude of its inhabitants. When the return of famine severely admonished them of the importance of the arts, the national distress was sometimes alleviated by the emigration of a third, or, perhaps, a fourth part of their youth. The possession and the enjoyment of property are the pledges which bind a civilized people to an improved country. But the Germans, who carried with them what they most valued, their arms, their cattle, and their women, cheerfully abandoned the vast silence of their woods for the unbounded hopes of plunder and conquest.

The innumerable swarms that issued, or seemed to issue, from the great storehouse of nations, were

[ocr errors]

multiplied by the fears of the vanquished, and by the credulity of succeeding ages. And from facts thus exaggerated, an opinion was gradually established, and has been supported by writers of distinguished reputation, that, in the age of Cæsar and Tacitus, the inhabitants of the North were far more num merous than they are in our days. A more serious inquiry into the causes of population, seems to have convinced mo'dera philosophers of the falsehood, and indeed the impossibility of the supposition. To the names of Mariana and of Machiavel *), we can oppose the equal names of Robertson and Hume **).

German freedom. A warlike nation like the Germans, without either cities, letters, arts or money, found some compensation for this savago state in the enjoyment of liberty. Their poverty secured their freedom, since our desires and our possessions are the strongest fetters of despotism. „ Among the Suiones, (says „ Tacitus) riches are held in honour. They are therefore y, subject to an absolute monarch, who, instead of intrusting his people with the free use of arms, as is practised in the rest of Germany, commits them to the safe custody, not of a citizen, or even of a freedman, but of a slave. The neighbours of the Suionės, the Sitones, are sunk even below servitudo:

: they obey a woman.“ In the mention of these exceptions, the great historian sufficiently acknowledges the general theory of government. We are only at a loss to conceive by what means riches and despotism could penetrate into a remote corner of the North, and extinguish the generous flame that blazed with such fierceness on the frontiers of the Roman provinces: or how the ancestors of those Danes and Norwegians, so distinguished in latter ages, by their unconquered spirit, could thus tamely resign the great character of German liberty. Some tribes, however, on the coast of Baltic, acknowledged the authority of kings, though without relinquishing the rights of men; but in the far greater part of Germany, the form of government was a democracy, tempered, indeed, and controlled, not so much by general and

[ocr errors][merged small]

*) Machiavel Hist. di Firenza, l. i. Mariana Hist. Hispan. I. V. c. i. **) Robertson's Charles V. Huine's politieai Essays.

positive laws, as by the occasional ascendant of birth or va- lour, of eloquence or superstition.

[ocr errors]

Assemblies of the people. Civil governments, in their first institutions, are voluntary associations for mutual defence. To obtain the desired end, it is absolutely necessary, that each individual should conceive himself obliged to submit his private opinion and actions, to

tbe judgment of the greater number of his associates. The : German tribes were contented with this rude but liberal out

line of political society. As soon as a youth, born of free parents, had attained the age of manhood, he was introduced into the general council of his countrymen, solemnly invested

with a shield and spear, and adopted as an equal and worthy by member of the military commonwealth. The assembly of the

warriors of the tribe, was convened at stated season, or on sudden emergencies. The trial of public offences, the election of magistrates, and the great business of peace and war, were determined by its independent voice. Sometimes, indeed, these important questions were previously considered, and prepared in a more select council of the principal chieftains. The magistrates might deliberate and persuade, the people only could resolve and execute; and the resolutions of the Germans were for the most part hasty and violent. Barbarians accustomed to place their freedom in gratifying the

present passion, and their courage in overlooking all future into consequences, turned away with indignant contempt from the

remonstrances of justice and policy, and it was the practice to signify, by a bollow murmur, their dislike of such timid counsels. But whenever, a more popular orator proposed to vindicate the meanest citizen from either foreign or domestic injury, whenever be called upon his fellow-countrymen to assert the national honour, or to pursue some enterprise full of danger and glory, a loud clashing of shields and spears expressed the eager applause of the assembly. For the Germans always met in arms, and it was constantly to be dreaded, lestan irregular multitude, inflamed with faction and strong liquors, should use those arms to enforce, as well as to declare, their furious resolves. We may recollect, how often the diets of Poland have been polluted with blood and the more numerous party has bera compelled to yield to the more violent and seditious.

[ocr errors]

*

« AnteriorContinuar »