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CHARLEMAGNE AND HIS TIMES.
A DISTINGUISHED epoch in the history of the world was formed by Charlemagne, the only prince, as remarked by Gibbon, in whose favor the title of Great has been indissolubly blended with the name. In the dark ages of European history, his reign affords a solitary resting-place between two long periods of turbulence and ignominy. He stands like a beacon in the waste, or a rock in the broad ocean. The mighty influence which he exercised upon the age, the illustri. ous families which have prided themselves in him as their progenitor, the very legends of romance, which are full of his fabulous exploits, have cast a lustre around his head, and testify the greatness that has em. bodied itself. in his name.
Thick darkness had settled over Europe with the irruption of the barbarians of the North. A long race of sovereigns, called in history the Sluggard Kings, exercised a nominal sway over France; but the gov. ernment was a chaos, formed of the rude, irregular, and contending passions of individuals. The dukes, the counts, the bishops, and the patricians all strug. gled for their own aggrandizement. There was no popular party. Letters, science, peace, and stability were unknown. The seas of blood which were pour. ed out in the intestine struggles of the French nobles had washed away every tincture of literature which had been left by the Romans ; commerce and industry were crushed under the iron steps of civil war. No principle of law or justice remained to check the strong or to protect the weak, and no acknowledged power of legislation existed except in the sword. It would be difficult, as an eminent historian has remarked, to find anywhere more vice or less virtue than in the annals of the Merovingian dynasty. Charles Martel, mayor of the palace, under Childeric the Second, reduced this chaos to a certain degree of order; but the sciences which had fled, and the arts which had been lost, were unrecovered, till a brighter era opened, and a more lofty and comprehensive mind awoke to recall the treasures of former days.
This was Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, a prince, who, like Napoleon, seemed born for universal innovation, and who exhibited in all his acts that grandeur of conception which distinguishes extraordinary minds. We see him conquering barbarous nations and consolidating a great empire, reforming the coinage and establishing the legal divisions of money, gathering around him the learned of every country, • founding schools and libraries, interfering, but with the tone of a king, in religious controversies, undertaking, for the benefit of commerce, the magnificent enterprise of uniting the Rhine and the Danube, and meditating to
mould the discordant codes of Roman and barbarian laws into a uniform system.
Charlemagne was born in the year 742. The place of his birth is not known, some writers mentioning Aix-la-Chapelle, and others the castle of Ingelheim, near Mentz. A great obscurity also rests over the early part of his life. No records of his education have come down to us, nor any of those particulars of his early years which are generally ornamented by the invention and fancy of biographers. His father, Pepin the Short, mayor of the palace, assumed the title of King of France about seven years after the birth of Charles. At his death, in 768, the kingdom was divided between Charles and his brother Carlo
These princes quarrelled, and their hostility would have produced fatal effects, had not the death of Carloman, in 771, put an end to their disputes. This event left Charles, without a struggle or a crime, sole monarch of the Franks, and his vast and ambitious genius being thus freed from every check, he was placed in a condition to plan those great political schemes which have conferred immortality on the name of Charlemagne.
His reign lasted forty-six years, and was a continued series of victories, political reforms, and remarkable events, which, in the midst of barbarism, offer to our view objects worthy of absorbing our whole attention. Previous to the death of his father he had distinguished himself as a warrior by the defeat of Hunalde, the revolted Duke of Aquitaine. On his accession to the throne of the Franks, he was in the flower of his age, remarkably tall, robust, and active,
in the full vigor both of his physical and intellectual faculties. The first military exploit of the king was a campaign against the Saxons. France had long been at war with this people, who preserved all the ferocity of the German manners, while their courage was further sustained by the love of liberty. Pepin had subjected them to tribute, and compelled them to receive Christian missionaries; but they felt the strongest reluctance to pay the one and embrace the religion of the other. These barbarians having massacred some of the missionaries, Charlemagne took up arms against them in 772. Though often defeated, the Saxons still rebelled, their general, the celebrated Witikind, incessantly exciting their ardor for war, and their love of independence. In the first campaign, he gained a complete victory over the French. Charlemagne took a cruel revenge by the massacre of Verdun, when upwards of four thousand chief men of the Saxons were beheaded. Witikind, after being defeated with great slaughter in several battles, made his submission and embraced Christianity. But, though he kept his engagements with fidelity, he never could tame the fierce spirit of his countrymen. They often submitted, and as often revolted; but, at last, after a war of thirty years, they were entirely subjugated by transplanting many thousand families of them into Flanders and other countries. The most resolute fled into Scandinavia, carrying with them an implacable hatred of the dominion and religion of the Franks.
Every nation in Germany that dared to offer the least resistance sunk under the arms of the French conqueror. The Duke of Bavaria, having rebelled, was stripped of his dominions. The Sclavonians in Pomerania were subdued. The Huns, or Avars, who had settled in Hungary, were driven beyond the Raab. Charlemagne needed only show himself in order to disperse his enemies. In all his wars, the newly conquered nations, or those whom fear had made his dependent allies, were employed to subjugate their neighbours, and the incessant waste of fatigue and the sword was supplied by a fresh population that swelled the expanding circle of dominion.
The conqueror looked upon Christianity as the best instrument for softening the barbarous manners of a ferocious people, without reflecting that Christians are not made by violence. His laws for the Saxons strike us as almost equally barbarous with their own manners. He obliged them to receive baptism on pain of death, and made it a capital offence to break the fast of Lent; in a word, substituting force instead of persuasion. It must not be concealed that the great qualities of Charlemagne were alloyed by the vices of a barbarian and a conqueror. This union of brute violence with grand schemes and elevated views of national improvement has something like a modern parallel in the person of Peter of Russia; yet the sovereign of the Franks must be ranked far above the Czar.
The Saxon wars were spread over a great part of the reign of Charlemagne. Other wars and conquests in the mean time occupied his arms. In 773, he marched into Italy, on the pretext of delivering the Holy See from the oppression of the Lombards. Laying siege at the same time to the cities of Verona and Pavia, he captured, in the former, the widow and child