Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

cred groves.

preters of the law, and judges in civil and criminal matters. Their sacerdotal character was hereditary, though young men of noble families were occasionally adopted into the order.

The religion of the Celts was a kind of Theism ; they had no idols, and always showed great aversion to them. They worshipped the Supreme Being in sa

The oak and the mistletoe were sacred. They had bards, who were not only poets, but soothsayers, and their songs were transmitted by tradition. The Druids offered human sacrifices, and they drew omens from certain appearances, and also from the flight of birds.

The Germanic family, though divided into several branches, formed one of the mighty waves of population which poured forth upon Europe from the western portions of Asia. These spread themselves to the north, and occupied Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and a part of Russia and Poland. In the latter regions, they met with Tartars from Asiatic Scythia, and the mixture of these races produced the Sclavonic nations.

The decline of the Roman power, in the fourth and fifth centuries, tempted these northern tribes from their cold and less fertile regions, and they rushed down like an avalanche, overspreading the countries which lay before them. The Danes and Saxons seized upon England, and various other tribes obtained a footing in France, Spain, and Italy. The present language of Germany, England, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden has a basis derived from the great Germanic stock. The language of France, Spain, and Italy has a basis derived from the Latin tongue.

Robust forms, light hair, blue eyes, florid complexions, and large, broad-fronted heads constitute the chief physical characteristics of the pure Germanic family ; while, morally and intellectually, they stand preëminent above all the other tribes of mankind. They are conspicuous, in particular, for what may be called the industrial virtues, exhibiting a degree of indomitable perseverance in all improving pursuits, which has rendered them the great inventors of the human race. The mixture of German and Tartar blood in the northeastern nations of Europe has given to these darker hair and complexions than the pure Germans, and has also lessened their propensity to intellectual cultivation. The effects of the Tartar conquest of Russia, in the twelfth century, by Genghis Khan, whose successors held the country for 200 years, will probably be observable in the career of this people for ages to come, and, indeed, perhaps as long as the race exists.

The history of Europe may be divided into three periods, Ancient History, the Middle Ages, and Modern History. The first of these periods begins with the settlement of Inachus in Greece, in the year 1856, B. C., and ends with the fall of Rome in the year 479, A. D. During this period, none of the present kingdoms of Europe were founded, and the whole space is occupied with the history of Greece and Rome, embracing, however, many countries which formed dependencies of the latter.

The Middle or Dark Ages, extending from the fall of Rome to the year 1400, comprise a long and remarkable period in the history of the human race, and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

exhibit

many wonderful phenomena of human nature. It was during this period that most of the present kingdoms of Europe had their foundation; it was during this period that the feudal system took its rise, that the crusades had their wild career, that the Troubadours sang their lays of love and war, and that the fantastic institution of chivalry, with most of the orders of knighthood, had their beginning and end. It was during this period, also, for the most part, that Christianity was disseminated throughout Europe, that the present languages of Europe were formed, and that a commingling of races took place, which seemed indispensable to a high and permanent civilization.

We
may

refer to this period, also, for the germs of many of the arts and institutions which contribute to the present improved condition of mankind.

One of the most remarkable circumstances in the history of the Middle Ages is, that, during so dark a period, Gothic architecture took its rise and reached its highest perfection. It is said to affect an imitation of

. the forest, whose branches unite and form an arch above; but where it originated, or from what source it was derived, is unknown. The subject has afforded much scope for antiquarian speculation, but it is probable that no satisfactory answer to the question will ever be rendered. The knowledge of the art was never permitted to go beyond a fraternity of free-masons, and it is not to be supposed that the early archives of that mysterious association have survived so many rey. olutions.

The history of the Middle Ages is occupied chiefly with the doings of kings, princes, and potentates. We hear little of the common people, but their slaughter in war. They were, indeed, regarded but as ingenious animals, made to serve the privileged classes, - to live, suffer, or perish, as might serve the interest, pleasure, or caprice of their masters. As they had no political rights, s@they had few domestic comforts. They had, in their mud dwellings, no chairs, or chimneys. A heap of straw served for a bed, and a billet of wood was the only pillow. The houses of the rich, at this period, afforded, indeed, a striking contrast to those of the present day. Few of them contained more than two beds. The walls, which were of stone, were generally bare, without wainscot, or even plaster. In a few instances they were decorated with hangings.

In the twelfth century, a large proportion of Eng. land was stagnating with bog, or darkened by native forests, where the wild ox, the roe, the stag, and the wolf had hardly learned the supremacy of man.

The culture of land was so imperfect, that nine or ten bushels of corn to the acre was an average crop.

The

average annual rent of an acre of land was from sixpence to a shilling. In the reign of Edward the First, 1272, a quarter of wheat was sold for four shillings sterling. The price of a sheep was a shilling, that of an ox, ten shillings. It appears, that, in 1301, a set of carpenter's tools was sold for one shilling.

At this period, the living of even the highest nobility of England afforded a striking contrast to that of their luxurious descendants. They drank little wine, which was then sold only by the apothecaries. They rarely kept male servants, except for husbandry, and still more rarely travelled beyond their native country.

[ocr errors]

An income of ten or twenty pounds was reckoned a competent estate for a gentleman ; at least, the lord of a single manor seldom enjoyed more. A knight who possessed £ 150 a year passed for extremely rich. Sir John Fortescue speaks of five pounds a year as a fair living for a yeoma”; and we read that the same sum served for the annual expenses of a scholar attending the university. Modern lawyers must be surprised at the following, which Mr. Hallam extracts from the church warden's accounts of St. Margaret, Westminster, for 1476 ; “ Also, paid to Roger Fylpott, learned in the law, for his counsel giving 3s. 8d., with four pence for his dinner."

In an inventory of the goods of “ John Port, late the king's servant,” who died about 1524, we find that this gentleman's house had consisted of a hall, parlour, buttery, and kitchen, with five bedsteads, two chambers, three garrets, and some minor accommodations. From this it may be inferred that Mr. Port was rather an important man in his day, for very few individuals at that time could boast of such accommodations. His plate was valued at £ 94, his jewels at £ 23. It appears that this individual was esteemed a man of great wealth, for his time.

We may consider the Middle Ages as extending to the beginning of the fifteenth century. From this period we can trace a series of remarkable events, all tending to aid in that sunrise of civilization which followed the Dark Ages. The use of gunpowder in projecting heavy bodies is said to have been discovered by Berthold Schwartz, a monk of Mayence, about the year 1300. It was not much used for military purposes till

« VorigeDoorgaan »