Page images
PDF
EPUB

in different ages and nations, and show how each agreed with and deviated from the abstract right. But the statesman has also another study ---- to note the degree of exactness with which the men of a nation have observed in their practices the rules of right and wrong, as currently believed and interpreted in the nation to which they belong. The first is a study for ascertaining national morality, and must be in a great measure postponed till an abstract unimpeachable standard is agreed upon. The second, or the study of individual morality, requires merely knowledge which we at present possess. The standard of the tribes may or may not be far from the right, but the morality of the individual depends not on the excellence of his standard of right, but on his constant adherence to it. The ferocity, cruelty, robbery, and cunning are not believed by those who practise them, or by the companions among whom they live, to be immoral *,

, and therefore, as regards each individual, his conduct in these respects has the practical effect that follows moral conduct. The men of a tribe know little else respecting morality, than whether they keep good faith or are habitually base. Now, among the noble tribes who have founded nations, their scorn of a lie is the very essence of their character. Their pledged word is sacred, they live as men who live in the eyes of noble neighbours; well placed confidence is the life-spring of their society, and no act is done which the public opinion of the tribe condemns. Mental reservation, quibbling evasions, and all the petty arts of trading intrigue are discoveries of a later stage of society ; craft and stratagem are familiar, but they are the weapons of open warfare, what cach must expect from, and what each will practise towards, his avowed enemy, not habits of daily life practised

* His kinsmen did not like Mac lan “the less because he was a robber, for he never robbed them; and that robbery, merely as robbery, was a wicked and disgraceful act, had never entered into the mind of any Celtic chief."- Macaulay, Hist. of England, iv. 193.

66 In

against the innocent unknown, even when not against friends. It is quite true that there are few public virtueş known or practised. There is, in fact, no such thing as a state, nor any of that feeling induced among men by the knowledge that in their dealings with each other they are affecting the general community in which they live. Each man regards only his own views and duties, or at least those of the persons related to him by ties of blood or clanship, and if he performs these according to the light that is in him, I know not how he can fail in the comparison with any other class of mankind. those days there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes."* An objection will here be urged. Instances are forthcoming of corrupt tribes among whom lying, cheating, and thieving, acts known to be wrong and practised as such, are of daily occurrence. If I described to such an objector the composition of a seed, would he bring me a withered one to prove me wrong! And here, in tracing the seed of nations, and showing the necessary moral qualities for the founders of nations, is it relevant to tell me that sometimes the stream of morality has been poisoned at the fountain head? The remark would be a refutation only if it could be shown that a corrupt tribe had been the sole founder of a long-enduring and mighty nation.

Most writers on the progress of society distinguish the three successive stages of hunting, pasturage, and agriculture. The first two, however, are compatible with a nomad existence; and the first step towards the foundation of a national society is the settlement of a tribe, its partition of lands, and its recourse to their cultivation for

• Judges, xxi. 25.

† Such an objector would have no scruple to confound the Brazilian cannibals with the old Scandinavians, the Caffres with the Circassians, or the Thracians with the Homeric heroes. Niebuhr has stigmatised the Celtiberians, the Vandals and the Goths, and the modern Albanese, as tribes marked by faithlessness. Niebuhr, H. R. iv. 207, note.

!

subsistence. This is the first root a nation strikes into the soil. It is manifest that the invasion of a warlike tribe into the land of a more pacific and agricultural people, followed by the total expulsion of the previous occupants, and the conversion of the conquerors into agriculturists, has no other effect than to substitute one tribe for another. No further progress is thereby made towards founding or advancing a nation. As an example of this procedure we may point to the invasion of Norway by the Scandinavian race. The Fins, who previously inhabited it, were expelled to the country now called Finland, and the invaders settled in Norway and became agriculturists. No subsequent invasion has reduced these settlers to be serfs, and formed an upper crust of aristocracy. The peasants themselves have all the high feeling of a conquering and unconquered race, and since the time of Harold Haarfagre in the ninth century, when the small kings were sent forth from Norway to found the aristocracies of Europe, Norway has remained unchanged even by its annexation to Denmark and Sweden, unmoved by any internal readjustments-a democracy of aristocrats. There is scarcely any country on the face of the earth so striking to the imagination of a student of history as this home of the Northmen. By a voyage across the North Sea, or by studying the admirable picture drawn by Mr. Laing with the true genius of an artist who sees far more in his subject than would strike a common observer, we may make ourselves acquainted with one of the finest examples that ever existed of a people in this earliest stage towards national existence. Let us stay for a moment our course down the stream of progress to note some of its characteristics.

The peasantry of Norway have ever lived under udal laws. When, as conquerors, their ancestors first settled there, the land was parcelled out among them, but as there were no subject residents (for the Fins were totally driven out) the conquering owners became cultivators,

they did not become feudal lords, nor were there ever feudal lords to whom they were dependants; to this day their social system remains the same, owing to the division of property among all the sons, the rare necessity for purchasing or selling lands, and the absence of invaders, or of commercial occupations. In the remote glens of the north, the inhabitants “ retain the dress, manners, character, and athletic forms which we imagine as belonging to the race of ancient times. There are said to be families which can trace their descent from the days of Harold Haarfagre. ...

.. One

One may believe that as the descendants of Rolf Ganger, the great progenitor of William the Conqueror, may be traced to many of the thrones of Europe, those of Rolf's kinsmen who settled in Iceland, while his more ambitious relative steered to the south, may now exist as peaceful Icelandic peasants in the original domiciles of their forefathers, more happy, Deppin supposes, during the thousand years which have elapsed since their ancestors parted on the shores of Norway, than their distant relatives on their thrones. It is at least pleasing to the imagination to see among this class of ancient proprietors the forms of countenances and figures to which we are accustomed, without perhaps having any distinct meaning, to attach the word noble.” *

The moral qualities of the Norwegian are exactly those which an aristocracy of birth in its purest state possesses. Honour, which Montesquieu has pointed out as the principle of aristocracies, is the principle of Norwegian society. “ Loss of honour has been from the earliest times a specified effective punishment in the criminal law of Norway, standing next in degree to loss of life. ... The Norwegian peasant has the feeling and proper pride of an independent man, possessed of property, and knowing nothing above him but the law. ... Among a people whose national character and social condition are so formed, who are scattered in small clusters only over the country, and whose business and occupations are of the most simple kind, the loss of honour is not an unmeaning nominal punishment as it would be among our manufacturing population.”*

* Laing's Norway, pp. 406, et seq.

Now, in such a state of society, there is but one internal cause of movement, over-population. This cause has never been in action in Norway since the ninth century, when the small kings and their followers were expelled from that country and sent forth to found the aristocracies of Europe. The surplus population of such countries, or the warriors of a tribe yet unsettled, cause by invasion the next step in this progress. These invasions to be successful must be made by a people more warlike than the invaded, but the number of the conquerors is often astonishingly small in comparison with that of the conquered. In the times of turmoil and warfare, amid which nations arise, not simply is one fresh layer, but often two, and sometimes more, are placed over the original stratum of the peasant populace. The Saxons, after they had driven the Britons into the fastnesses of Wales, populated England very much in the same way as Norway, after the expulsion of the Fins, was populated by the Scandinavians. The institution of chiefs, which prevails almost universally among tribes, is not discontinued when the tribes become a settled and agricultural people. But between such small kings as they are well termed in Norway, earls or eldermen as they were called among our Saxon ancestors, between them and the nobles belonging to a conquering race, there is this vital difference—the former are the leaders of a tribe whether wandering or settled; the latter parcel out among themselves the land, and regard the subjugated people settled thereon as only the appurtenances of the land.

The natural tendency of these small kings is of course either for the whole to band themselves together into

* Laing's Norway, p. 231, et seq.

« PreviousContinue »