« ZurückWeiter »
rights, upon the tranquillity and order of society, upon the increase and diffusion of wealth, or upon the general tone of moral sentiment and energy.
The feudal constitution was little adapted for the defence of a mighty kingdom, far less for schemes of conquest. But as it prevailed alike in several adjacent countries, none had anything to fear from the military superiority of its neighbours. It was this inefficiency of the feudal militia, perhaps, that saved Europe, during the middle ages, from the danger of universal monarchy. In times when princes had little notions of confederacies for mutual protection, it is hard to say what might not have been the successes of an Otho, a Frederic, or a Philip Augustus, if they could have wielded the whole force of their subjects whenever their ambition required. If an empire equally extensive with that of Charlemagne, and supported by military despotism, had been formed about the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, the seeds of commerce and liberty, just then beginning to shoot, would have perished ; and Europe, reduced to a barbarous servitude, might have fallen before the free barbarians of Tartary.
If we look at the feudal polity as a scheme of civil freedom, it bears a noble countenance. To the feudal law it is owing that the very names of right and privilege were not swept away, as in Asia, by the desolating hand of power. The tyranny which, on every favourable moment, was breaking through all barriers, would have rioted without control, if, when the people were poor and disunited, the nobility had not been brave and free. So far as the sphere of feudality extended, it diffused the spirit of liberty and the notions of private right. Every one will acknowledge this who considers the limitations of the services of vassalage, so cautiously marked in those law-books which are the records of customs ; the reciprocity of obligation between the lord and his tenant; the consent required in every measure of a legislative or general nature ; the security, above all, which every vassal found in the administration of justice by his peers, and even-we may in this sense say—in the trial by combat. The bulk of the people, it is true, were degraded by servitude ; but this had no connection with the feudal tenures.
The peace and good order of society were not promoted by this system. Though private wars did not originate in the feudal customs, it is impossible to doubt that they were perpetuated by so convenient an institution, which indeed owed its universal establishment to no other cause. And as predominant habits of warfare are totally irreconcilable with those of industry, not merely by the immediate works of destruction which render its efforts unavailing, but through that contempt of peaceful occupations which they produce, the feudal system must have been intrinsically adverse to the accumulation of wealth, and the improvement of those arts which mitigate the evils or abridge the labours of mankind.
But as a school of moral discipline, the feudal institutions were perhaps most to be valued. Society had sunk for several centuries after the dissolution of the Roman Empire into a condition of utter depravity ; where; if any vices could be selected as more eminently characteristic than others, they were falsehood, treachery, and ingratitude. In slowly purging off the lees of this extreme corruption, the feudal spirit exerted its ameliorating influence. Violation of faith stood first in the catalogue of crimes, most repugnant to the very essence of a feudal tenure, most severely and promptly avenged, most branded by general infamy. The feudal law-books breathe throughout a spirit of honourable obligation. The feudal course of jurisdiction promoted, what trial by peers is peculiarly calculated to promote, a keener feeling, as well as readier perception, of moral as well as of legal distinctions. In the reciprocal services of lord and vassal, there was ample scope for every magnanimous and disinterested energy. The heart of man, when placed in circumstances that have a tendency to excite them, will seldom be deficient in such sentiments. No occasions could be more favourable than the protection of a faithful supporter, or the defence of a beneficent sovereign, against such powerful aggression as left little prospect except of sharing in his ruin.
ROBERT SOUTHEY: 1774-1843.
Southey, a poet of the first rank, wrote numerous miscellaneous works in
prose, the most important of which are, The Doctor, The History of the Peninsular War, The Life of Nelson, The Life of Wesley, and Lives of the British Admirals. None of them has ever been popular, with the exception of The Life of Nelson, which is generally acknowledged to be the best biographical production of the age.
ON THE DEATH OF NELSON. From his Life of Nelson.
The death of Nelson was felt in England as something more than a public calamity ; men started at the intelligence, and turned pale, as if they had heard of the loss of a dear friend. An object of our admiration and affection, of our pride and of our hopes, was suddenly taken from us; and it seemed as if we had never till then known how deeply we loved and reverenced him. What the country had lost in its great naval hero—the greatest of our own and of all former times—was scarcely taken into the account of grief. So perfectly, indeed, had he performed his part, that the maritime war, after the battle of Trafalgar, was considered at an end. The fleets of the enemy were not merely defeated but destroyed; new navies must be built, and a new race of seamen reared for them, before the possibility of their invading our shores could again be contemplated. It was not, therefore, from any selfish reflection upon the magnitude of our loss that we mourned for him: the general sorrow was of a higher character. The people of England grieved that funeral ceremonies, and public monuments, and posthumous rewards, were all which they could now bestow upon him whom the king, the legislature, and the nation would have alike delighted to honour; whom every tongue would have blessed ; whose presence in every village through which he might have passed would have wakened the church-bells, have given school-boys a holiday, have drawn children from their sports to gaze upon him, and old men from the chimney-corner' to look upon Nelson ere they died. The victory of Trafalgar was celebrated indeed with the usual forms of rejoicing, but they were without joy; for such already was the glory of the British navy, through Nelson's surpassing genius, that it scarcely seemed to receive any addition from the most signal victory that ever was achieved upon the seas; and the destruction of this mighty fleet, by which all the maritime schemes of France were totally frustrated, hardly appeared to add to our security or strength; for while Nelson was living to watch the combined squadrons of the enemy, we felt ourselves as secure as now, when they were no longer in existence.
There was reason to suppose, from the appearances upon opening his body, that in the course of nature he might have attained, like his father, to a good old age. Yet he cannot be said to have fallen prematurely whose work was done ; nor ought he to be lamented, who died so full of honours, and at the height of human fame. The most triumphant death is that of the martyr; the most awful, that of the martyred patriot; the most splendid, that of the hero in the hour of victory; and if the chariot and the horses of fire had been vouchsafed for Nelson's translation, he could scarcely have departed in a brighter blaze of glory.
WASHINGTON IRVING: 1783-1859. Irving, a distinguished American author, was born in New York. His chief
works are his Sketch-Book, a series of tales and essays, remarkable for exquisite taste and graceful diction; Bracebridge Hall, a delineation of old English manners; Tales of a Traveller, another series of tales and sketches ; Life and Voyages of Columbus ; The Conquest of Granada ; Mahomet and his Successors; and a Life of Washington.
RURAL SCENERY IN ENGLAND. From The Sketch-Book. Nothing can be more imposing than the magnificence of English park scenery. Vast lawns that extend like sheets of vivid
green, with here and there clumps of gigantic trees, heaping up rich piles of foliage : the solemn pomp of groves and woodland glades, with the deer trooping in silent herds across them; the hare, bounding away to the covert ; or the pheasant, suddenly bursting upon the wing: the brook, taught to wind in natural meanderings, or expand into a glassy lake: the sequestered pool, reflecting the quivering trees, with the yellow leaf sleeping on its bosom, and the trout roaming fearlessly about its limpid waters; while some rustic temple or sylvan statue, grown green and dank with age, gives an air of classic sanctity to the seclusion.
These are but a few of the features of park scenery ; but what most delights me, is the creative talent with which the English decorate the unostentatious abodes of middle-life. The rudest habitation, the most unpromising and scanty portion of land in the hands of an Englishman of taste, becomes a little paradise. The sterile spot grows into loveliness under his hand ; and yet the operations of art which produce the effect are scarcely to be perceived. The cherishing and training of some trees; the cautious pruning of others; the nice distribution of flowers and plants of tender and graceful foliage; the introduction of a green slope of velvet turf; the partial opening to a peep of blue distance, or silver gleam of water: all these are managed with a delicate tact, a pervading yet quiet assiduity, like the magic touchings with which a painter finishes up a favourite picture.
The residence of people of fortune and refinement in the country, has diffused a degree of taste and elegance in rural economy that descends to the lowest class. The very labourer with his thatched cottage and narrow slip of ground, attends to their embellishment. The trim hedge—the grass-plot before the door—the little flower-bed,
bordered with snug box—the woodbine trained up against the wall, and hanging its blossoms about the lattice—the pot of flowers in the window—the holly, providentially planted about the house, to cheat winter of its dreariness, and to throw in a semblance of green summer to cheer the fireside--all these bespeak the influence of taste, flowing down from high sources, and pervading the lowest levels of the public mind.
The effect of this devotion of elegant minds to rural occupations, has been wonderful on the face of the country. A great part of the island is rather level, and would be monotonous, were it not for the charms of culture ; but it is studded and gemmed, as it were, with castles and palaces, and embroidered with parks and gardens. It does not abound in grand and sublime prospects, but rather in little home-scenes of rural repose and sheltered quiet. Every antique farmhouse and moss-grown cottage is a picture ; and as the roads are continually winding, and the view is shut in by groves and hedges, the eye is delighted by a continual succession of small landscapes of captivating loveliness.
The great charm, however, of English scenery, is the moral feeling that seems to pervade it. It is associated in the mind with ideas of order, of quiet, of sober well-established principles, of hoary usage and reverend custom. Everything seems to be the growth of ages of regular and peaceful existence. The old church of remote architecture, with its low massive portal, its Gothic tower, its windows rich with tracery and painted glass; its stately monuments of warriors and worthies of the olden time, ancestors of the present lords of the soil ; its tombstones, recording successive generations of sturdy yeomanry, whose progeny still plough the same fields, and kneel at the same altar—the parsonage, a quaint irregular pile, partly antiquated, but repaired and altered in the tastes of various ages and occupants—the stile and footpath leading from the churchyard, across pleasant fields, and along shady hedgerows, according to an immemorial right of way—the neighbouring village, with its venerable cottages, its public green sheltered by trees, under which the forefathers of the present race have sported -the antique family mansion, standing apart in some little rural domain, but looking down with a protecting air on the surrounding scene : all these common features of English landscape evince a calm and settled security, and hereditary transmission of home-bred virtues and local attachments, that speak deeply and touchingly for the moral character of the nation.