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Authority of the princes and magistrates more absolute' over
the property than over the persons of the Germans.
A general of the tribe was elected on occasions of danger; and, if the danger was pressing, and extensive, several tribes concurred in the choice of the same general. The bravest warrior was named to lead his countrymen into the field, by 'his example rather than by his commands. But this power, however limited, was still invidious. It expired with the
war, and in timo of peace, the German tribes acknowledged not any supreme chief. Princes were, however, appointed, in the general assembly, to administer justice, or rather to compose differences, in their respective districts, In the choice of these magistrates, as much regard was shewn to birth as to merit. To each. was assigned, by the public, a guard, and a council of an hundred persons; and the first of the princes appears to have enjoyed a pre-eminence of rank and honour, which sometimes tempted the Romans to compliment him with the regal title.
The comparative view of the powers of the magistrates, in two remarkable instances, is alone sufficient to represent the whole system of German manners. The disposal of the landed property within their district, was absolutely vested in their hands, and they distributed it every year according to a new division. At the same time they were not authorized to punish with death, to imprison, or even to strike a private citizen. A people thus jealous of their persons, and careless of their possessions, must have been totally destitute of industry and the arts, but animated with a high sense of honour and independence.
Voluntary engagements. The Germans respected only those duties, which they imposed on themselves. The most obscure soldier resisted with disdain the authority of the magistrates. The noblest
youths bluskied not to be numbered among the faithful com„panions of some renowned chief, to whom they devoted
their arms and service. A noble emulation prevailed among the companions to obtain the first place in the esteem of their chief; amongst the chiefs, to acquire the greatest oum„ber of 'valiaat companions. To be ever surrounded by a band of select youths, was the pride and strength of the
„chiefs, their ornament in peace, their defence in war. The „glory of such distinguished heroes diffused itself beyond the narrow limits of their own tribe. Presents and ambassies solicited their friendship, and the fame of their arms „often ensured victory to the party which they espoused. In the hour of danger it was shameful for the chief to be surpassed in valour by his companions ; shameful for the companions not to equal the valour of their chief. To survive his fall in battle, was indelible infamy. To protect his „person, and to adorn his glory with the trophies of their own exploits, were the most sacred of their duties. „The chiefs combated for victory, the companions for the
chief. The noblest warriors, whenever their native country was sunk in the laziness of peace, maintained their numerous bands in some distant scene of action, to exercise their „restless spirit, and to acquire renown by voluntary dangers. Gifts worthy of soldiers, the warlike steed, the bloody and ever victorious lance, were the rewards, which the compa„nions claimed from the liberality of their chief. The rude „plenty of his hospitable board, was the only pay that he could bestow or they would accept. War, rapine, and the
freewill offerings of his friends, supplied the materials of this munificence *).“ This institution, however it might accidentally weaken the several republics, invigorated the general character of the Germans, and even ripened amongst them all the virtues of which barbarians are susceptible; the faith and valour, the hospitality, and the courtesy, so conspicuous long afterwards in the ages of chivalry. The honourable gifts, bestowed by the chief on his brave companions, have been supposed, by an ingenious writer, to contain the first rudiments of the fiefs, distributed, after the conquest of the Roman provinces, by the barbarian lords among their vassals, with a similar duty of homage and military service. These conditions are, bowever, very repugnant to the maxims of the ancient Germans, who delighted in mutual presents; but without either imposing, or accepting the weight of, obligations.
German chastity; its probable causes. In the days of chivalry, or more properly of romance, „, all the men were brave, and all the women were chaste; “.
*) Taciti Germania 13, 14.
and notwithstanding tho latter of these virtues is acqutred and preserved with much more difficulty than the former, it is ascribed, almost without exception, to the wives of the ancient Germans. Pulygamy was not in use, except among the princes, and among them only, for the sake of multiplying their alliances. Divorces were prohibited by manners rather than by laws. Adulteries were punished as rare and inexpiable crimes; nor was seduction justificd by example and fashion. We may easily discover, that Tacitus indulges an honest pleasuro in the contrast of barbarian virtue, with the dissolute conduct of the roman ladies; yet there are some striking circumstances that give an air of truth, or at least of probability to the conjugal faith and chastity of the Germans.
Although the progress of civilization has undoubtedly contributed to assuage the fiercer passions of human nature, it seems to have been less favourable to the virtue of chastity, whose most dangerous enemy is the softness of the mind. The refinements of life corrupt while they polish the intercourse of the sexes.
The gross appetite of love, becomes most dangerous when it is elevated, or rather, indeed, disguised by sentimental passion. The elegance of dress, of motion, and of manners, give a lustre to beauty, and inflames the senses through the imagination. Luxurious entertainments, midnight dances, and licentious spectacles, present at once temptation and opportunity to female frailty. From such dangers the unpolished wives of the barbarians were secured, by poverty, solitude, and the painful cares of a domestic life. The German huts, open, on every side, to the eye of indiscretion or jealousy, were a better safeguard of conjugal fidelity, than the walls, the bolts, and the eunuchs of a Persian haram. To this reason, another may be added of a more honourable nature. The Germans treated their women with esteem and confidence, consulted them on every occasion of importance, and fondly believed, that in their breasts resided a sanctity and wisdom, more than humad. Some of these interpreters of fate, such as Velleda in the Batavian war, governed in the name of the deity, the fiercest nations of Germany. The rest of the sex, without being adored as goddesses, were respected as the free, and equal companions of soldiers; associated even by the marriage ceremony to a life of toil, of danger and of glory *). In their
*) The inarriage present was a yoke of oxen, horses
E great invasions, the camps of the barbarians were filled with
a multitude of women, who remained firm and undanoted amidst the sound of arms, the various forms of destruction, and the honourable wounds of their sons and husbands. Fainting armies of Germans have more than once been driven
upon the enemy, by the generous despair of the women, who dread death much less then servitude. If the day was irrecoverably lost, they well knew how to deliver themselves and their children, with their own hands, from an insulting
victor. Heroines of such a cast may claim our admiration; E but they were most assuredly neither lovely, nor very suscep
tible of love. Whilst they affected to emulate the stera virtues of man,' they must have resigned that attractive softaess in which principally consists the charm and weakness of wom
Conscious pride taught the German females, to suppress every tender emution that stood in competition with honour, and the first honour of the sex has ever been that of chastity. The sentiments and conduct of these high-spirited matrons may, at once, be considered as a cause, as an effect, and as a proof of the general character of the nation. Female oourage, however, it may be raised by fanaticism or confirmed by babit, can be only a faint and imperfect imitation of the manly valour that distinguishes the age or coantry in which
Religion; its effects in peace and in war. The religious system of the Germans (if the wild opinions of savages can deserve that name) was dictated by their wants, their fears, and their ignorance. They adored the great visible objects and agents of nature, the Sun and the Moon, the Fire and the Earth; together with those imaginary deities, who were supposed to preside over the most important occupations of human life. They were persuaded, that, by some ridiculous arts of divination, they could discover the will of the superior beings, and that human sacrifices were the most precious and acceptable uffering to their altars. Some applanse bas been hastily bestowed on the sublime notion, entertained by that people, of the Deity, whom they neither confined within the walls of a temple, nor represented by any
and arms. See Germ. c. 18. Tacitus is somewhat too #orid
on the subject.
human figure; but when we recollect, that the Germans were unskilled in architecture, and totally unacquainted with the art of sculpture, we shall readily assign the true reason of a scruple, which arose not so much from a superiority of reason, as from a want of ingenuity. The only temples in German were dark and ancient groves, consecrated by the reve rence of succeeding generations. Their secret gloom, the imagined residence of an invisible power, by presenting no distinct object of fear or worship, impressed the mind with a still deeper sense of religious horror: and the priests, rude and illiterate as they were, had been taught by experience the use of every artifice that could preserve and fortify impressions so well suited to their own interest.
The same ignorance, which renders barbarians incapable of conceiving or embracing the useful restraints of laws, exposed them naked and unarmed to the blind terrors of superstition. The German priests, improving this favourable temper of their countrymen, had assumed a jurisdiction, even in temporal concerns, which the magistrate could not venture to exercises and the haughty warrior patiently submitted to the lash of correction, when it was inflicted, not by any human power, but by the immediate order of the god of war. The defects of civil policy were sometimes supplied by the interposition of ecclesiastical authority. The latter was constantly exerted to maintain silence and decency in the popular assemblies; and was sometimes extended, to a more enlarged concern for the national welfare. A solemn procession was occasionally celebrated in the present countries of Mecklenburg and Pomerania. The unknown symbol of the Earth, covered with a thick veil, was placed on a carriage drawn by Cows; and in this manner the goddess, whose common residence was in the isle of Rugen, visited several adjacent tribes of her worshippers. During her progress, the sound of war was hushed, quarrels were suspended, arms laid aside, and the restless Germans had an opportunity of tasting the blessings of peace and harmony. The truce of God, so often and so ineffectually proclaimed by the clergy of the eleventh century, was an obvious imitation of this ancient custom *).
But the influence of religion was far more powerful to inflame, than to moderate, the fierce passions of the Germans.
*) See Robertson's history of Charles V. Vol. I. note 10.