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and virtue are the only sufficient pillars of a republic, and that although, for an instructed and moral people who can appreciate the blessing, a free constitution is unquestionably the best form of government, yet for an ignorant and vicious one, it is as unquestionably the worst.
Leaving this part of history, which, instructive as it is, does not so particularly interest us as that of our own ancestors, we shall confine ourselves for the present to the consideration of our subject as it relates to Great Britain.
The original inhabitants of our parent island, the ancient Britons, rude as history describes them, and torn continually by intestine wars, were yet not entirely barbarous. They had before the Roman invasion attained considerable proficiency in the working of metals, of bronze at least, of which their weapons and domestic implements were formed. This is proved not only by the evidence of history, but also by specimens which are occasionally discovered even at the present day. Their war chariots were formidable enough to throw the steel clad Romans frequently into confusion : they were no mean tacticians, their troops were regularly drawn up in battle, and many of their chiefs were capable of directing the movements of an army, and of forming the regular and systematic plan of a campaign. They had a sort of money composed of metal rings, so accurately balanced, that each of the larger is uniformly found to be exactly equal in weight to a certain number of the smaller. They understood the use of the mechanic powers, the lever at least, as is proved by the vast temples or pillared circles now remaining: immense stones are yet seen so perfectly balanced upon a pivot, that the strength of one man can move the weight of many tons. One in Cornwall called Constantine Tolman, is an enormous mass of thirty-three feet in length, fourteen and a half deep, and eighteen and a half across. It is placed due east and west, resting upon two smaller stones, and its weight is computed at seven hundred and fifty tons. The removal of a mass like this by so rude a people is astonishing, and would severely try even the utmost resources of modern science.
The condition of the operative class, if there was one among them, did not differ probably from what it usually is among rude nations; and their domestic furniture, their habits and mode of living, presented no doubt, like those of all half civilized communities, a mixture of rudeness and barbaric decoration.
The Roman conquest came, however, and with it the arts and civilization of the conquerors; who, following out their wise policy of neither seeking to exterminate nor reduce to slavery the nations they conquered, soon covered the land with cities, and temples, and villas ; magnificent roads, the vestiges of which remain to this day, extended in every direction. The blessings of christianity were in time introduced, and Roman Britain soon became a civilized, flourishing and happy country.
The colleges of operatives which have been before spoken of, were doubtless introduced there; but so deep is the silence of history evincing the tranquillity of Britain during the four hundred years of the Roman domination, and so entire seems to have been the resemblance between the Roman institutions there, and at home, that we find nothing to add to the brief notice already given.
Then came the Saxon invasion, sweeping over the land in a torrent of blood and fire, dissipating like a dream every vestige of christianity and the Roman civilization, and leaving behind it a long and dreary track of desolation, ignorance and misrule. But even this visitation, disastrous as it at first seemed for the cause of human improvement, and vast as was the amount of misery and suffering inflicted upon the conquered people, yet, says a modern writer, “that chaotic mass which then constituted society, contained the elements of modern European civilization; and in proportion to that very confusion, to the number and heterogeneous character of the component elements of that chaos, are the richness and completeness of the civilization which has been the result of them."
The free and wild barbarians, who, rushing from the forests of the north, in the sixth century, overthrew the Roman power, brought with them the germs of institutions which have in their developement proved themselves immeasurably superior to those which they superseded. Long before this event the ancient civilization had reached its culminating point; for centuries it had been declining, and in its decrepitude had entirely ceased to afford mankind the means of advancement. This apparent destruction then may be viewed as one of those awful lessons, by which Providence is ever instructing the human race, and should teach us that with nations as with individuals, adversity generates progress, and the greatest evils seem to give birth to the most important benefits.
Under the Saxon rule the people were divided into four classes. First, the class from which their kings were taken; for although their monarchs were to a certain degree elective, yet they were generally chosen from a particular family supposed to be descended from Odin, the great war god of the northern tribes. The second class were the nobility, or thanes: third the ceorls, who
were partially free, but bound to the land upon which they were born; and fourth, the theowes, or slaves, whose condition was one of absolute servitude. From the second of these classes, the ceorls, the great body of their operatives probably came; gradually winning for themselves additional privileges, until we shall find them under the Norman rule entirely emancipated, and making common cause with the aristocracy, against the first convulsive efforts for freedom which were made by the agricultural laborers.
Incorporations of trades or guilds existed among their operatives as in Roman times; and it will be interesting for us to know that one principal object of these guilds was to provide for “ the honorable interment of deceased brethren. A fine paid in honey was inflicted upon any brother for non-attendance at the funeral, and the guild were to provide half the provisions for the funeral entertainment,” at which, says the history, “all who were present gave two pence for alms. If a member died or fell sick out of his own district, the rest were to fetch him back, according to his will, under the same penalty.”
We have evidence that in the Saxon period certain handicrafts had arrived at considerable perfection : English works in gold and silver were famous upon the Continent as early as the eighth century. Domestic industry was carefully inculcated, and females of the highest rank employed themselves in household avocations: the daughters of king Edward the elder did not disdain the labors of the distaff, the loom and the needle; and in the will of king Alfred, the female part of his family is designated as the spindle side.
The most able artificers were attached to the monasteries; and we find in their service, architects, illuminators of manuscripts, and workers in gold and silver, as
“ The process
well as carpenters, smiths, masons, &c. of tanning was well understood, and leather was much used as an article of clothing; the tanner himself worked up the material which he had prepared into shoes, hose, &c.; he made also a variety of articles which are now obtained from the saddle and harness maker. The crafts of the blacksmith and carpenter, at all times so important, were of course doubly prized in those rude times; and we learn that there were six smiths' forges in Gloucester, as early as the reign of Edward the Confessor, in the twelfth century. Iron was dug and melted, casting in brass and other metals was understood, and all those arts so necessary even to the appearance of civilization, were known and practiced among them, rudely to be sure, yet in sufficient perfection for their simple wants; although the dress, houses, and domestic accommodations of the people were still miserable in the extreme; and learning became so nearly extinguished, that when the Normans came in, but “very few of the English clergy could so much as read the church service; and if any one among them understood grammar, he was looked upon as a prodigy."
Commerce had before this sprung into being, and an ordinance of king Athelstan, in the second quarter of the tenth century, enacts that every merchant who shall have made three voyages over the sea with a ship and cargo of his own, shall have the rank of thane, or nobleman.
Slaves seem to have been at this period one of the chief articles of export, and the introduction of christianity into the country dates from the memorable fact, that the exposure of some beautiful Saxon children in the slave market at Rome, so excited the sympathy of Gregory, who afterwards became pope, that when this event gave