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CHARACTER OF THE SELF-DEVELOPED CIVILIZATION. 71
prietorship by the tribe; and the invention of Runic letters was neutralized by the absence of writing materials. On the other hand, they were good sailors and good smiths; they could submit to discipline; their marriages were religious ceremonies, and their household life severely respectable; they had codes of laws, a regular gradation of ranks through which a man of the people could rise to nobility, a central government, a literature of war-songs and sagas, and a religion. Such a people can scarcely be called barbarous; but it had reached the point at which contact with higher modes of thought than its own was necessary, if it was not to stagnate or to retrograde.
The three great ranks of the earliest Anglo-Saxon society were the noble by birth, the noble by service, and the free. To these, after the conquest of England, would be added the king, the free by service, and the slave. Kings like Hengist or Ella were only captains of royal family, whom the lot had perhaps designated from among several candidates as leaders in a difficult enterprise, and who had then achieved sovereignty by their conduct. As president of the national council, the king summoned it and directed its proceedings. As representative of the people at large, he disposed of the public lands, and entertained ambassadors. It is probable that in special acts his presence was necessary for the due performance of sacrifices. But he was elective out of the royal family, and could be deposed at pleasure; he could only interfere at law where the local courts withheld justice; he had no standing army or police to enforce his will; above all, the modern sentiment of loyalty was unknown. The ealdormen, or high nobility, were pretty much on a level with their sovereign, and intermarried with his family; although, with a pride of birth unknown to the emperors of Rome or Byzantium, the pettiest king of Teutonic race always aspired to an equal alliance.5 Depen
1 Taciti Germania, c. 16, 26. 3 Bede, H. E., lib. v., c. 10.
2 Kemble on Runes-Archæologia, vol. 28.
Alfred translates the three terms, Dictator,
Consul, and General, by the word Cyning.
4 Kemble's Saxons in England, vol. i., pp. 146, 147.
5 Clovis and Ofa are familiar instances.-Greg. Tur., Hist. Franc., lib. ii., c. 28.
KING, NOBLES, AND YEOMEN.
dent on the king, and on the nobles, were the gesith or thanes, recruited from needy men of good family, and from successful adventurers of the lower ranks. Each vassal was maintained by the lord whom he served; and the prizes of office were reserved for the upper ranks. But the relation was not regarded as mercenary; it was rather a sort of clientship or fosterage; the gesith seem to have lived with their lord, and were for ever dishonoured if they came back beaten under any odds from the field on which he had fallen. The freeman proper, or ceorl, was the man who had preferred to settle on his share of the land won in war to remaining in the retinue of his captain. The right to wear long hair, and to carry arms, distinguished him from the subject-people; and his allotment of land after the conquest was a hide, or thirty-three acres. These portions would be continually subdivided as population increased. The old Teutonic remedies for this were twofold either the surplus population emigrated and conquered a new territory, and this process we may believe went on for many years in the inland districts of England; or the tribe made a fresh distribution of its lands from time to time. But this partition, which is easy enough in an open country of corn and grass-land, would be difficult in an old country with vineyards, orchards, and farm-buildings, such as studded England in the fifth century. It is just possible that the folcland, or territory which the tribe at first left unappropriated, was originally designed to satisfy the wants of future generations. But there is no evidence that it was ever thus applied, except indirectly, as nobles and monasteries obtained grants from the king, and assigned them in turn to their followers.
Distinct from the ceorls or yeomanry would be the free by service, or tenants, composed of the Romanized Britons who had
1 Taciti Germania, c. 13.
2 Taciti Germania, c. 14. See Kemble's Saxons in England, vol. i.
3 I assume Mr. Kemble's ingenious theory to be correct. But the question is far from settled; Sir H. Ellis and Mr. Morgan think, with great probability, that the contents of the hide differed in different parts.-Introduction to Domesday, pp. xlvi, xlvii; England under the Normans, pp. 28-33.
THE CONQUERED PEASANTRY.
submitted peaceably. How great the usurpation of land by the Saxons was, we may judge, from the fact that the old termini or stone land-marks of estates, which must have existed throughout the country under the Romans, have completely disappeared,1 and that in the earliest Saxon charters land is always defined by rocks or rivers, the natural boundaries. A few old laws, however, prove that there was a rent-paying British peasantry, who were probably assigned to the king or the caldormen. In process of time, as these men mixed with their conquerors, and the position of the ceorl was degraded, the line of demarcation between the two classes would be offaced. But the distinction between free and slave was eternal. Prisoners of war, the very poor who wanted support in a famine and sold themselves, criminals who could not pay their fines, or whose crimes could not be compounded for, were the first materials of this class; their children inherited their position; and in the last and worst times of the declining Saxon monarchy, freemen were kidnapped and slaves bred in the modern Virginian fashion, to supply the market. But this last horror was unknown to the primitive people who worshipped Odin.
Yet Odinism, in the fifth and sixth centuries, was probably very different from what it became at a later date, when the Norse sea-rovers, in the vigour of national life, reconstructed the poem of their old mythology upon Roman and Christian models. The great central ideas of the northern religion, the belief in a heroic struggle between the gods and the powers of nature, the prevision that good was to be overcome, and the faith
1 The Welsh term maenol, a manor, from maen, a stone, seems to imply that the termini were introduced into Britain.
2 Ine's Laws, 23, 32, 74, distinguish the rent-paying Briton, "Wealh gafolgelda," from the "Theow-wealh," and from the Wylisc freeholder. The Northumbrian codes assess the Briton's were according to the amount of land on which he can pay rent to the king.-W. G., 7; A. S. Laws, vol. i., p. 137. Towards the end of the 9th century, the compact of Alfred and Guthrum distinguishes "the rent-paying ceorl" from the Englishman and the Dane as an inferior.-A. S. Laws, vol. ii., p. 155.
3 Malmesbury, lib. iii., p. 418.
that it was grander in defeat than evil could be in victory-these conceptions we may be sure underlie, however dimly, the earliest Saxon creed. Our fathers made the gods in their own image, with all the vices of savages, but with all the virtues of men; and judging the future from their own hard experiences of uneasy life, they looked forward to the crash of the world without hope and without fear. But the better part of a faith, the germ of what is vital and true in it, does not often find an adequate embodiment in its rites. A superstitious reverence for chance as the expression of invisible laws, made the priest a diviner, and threw a meaning over the common accidents of life; the falling of a stick, the neighing of a horse, the first words spoken by a stranger, were auguries. In strange contrast with the morality of the people, is the foul taint of impure symbols in their worship, the relics, no doubt, of early fetichism; but not the less debasing, because disguised under an aftergrowth of legend. Nor did the Teutonic tribes shrink from human sacrifices; captives taken in war, even a whole people, were sometimes immolated in gratitude to the gods; other victims preluded a great expedition; and at stated festivals, in a cycle probably of nine years, a mystical number of men and household animals was offered up to appease the jealousy of the unseen powers. It is scarcely probable that the abstract notion of an All-Father had yet been elaborated; the genealogies of the northern gods are a wild tangle of events and names to the last. But Woden, or Intelligence; Thor, the Thunderer; Seaxnot, the God of War; the Sun God Baldag (the Norse Baldr); Seator, who is strangely like Saturnus: and Freia, at once Cybele and Aphrodite Demosia, are among the more prominent names in the Pantheon. As for the lesser principalities and powers of the Saxon faith, they were infinite: weird sisters presiding over life, giants living in the forests, and dwarfs haunting the mines, household gods, and heroes over-topping common men, yet only half divine.
1 The speech of the Thane in Edwin's council tells very much against any belief in a future life, at least for all men.-Bede, H.E., lib. ii., c. 13. 2 Grimm, D. M., p. 1064. Greg. Tur., Hist. Franc., lib. ii., cap. 37. 3 Grimm, D.M., p. 478.
STRENGTH OF ODINISM.
Columns with sculptured figure-heads were probably the earliest statues; and mounds surrounded with concentric ditches, and secluded in groves, the first temples. But the people took easily what they found to their hand, and worshipped the gods of Rome under new names, or profaned Christian churches with unholy rites. Yet if they were comprehensive, they were not tolerant; any desecration of a sacred place brought down a barbarous punishment on the offender; and if he escaped from men, an ineffable curse from the gods was believed to follow his steps. Their priesthood does not seem to have been a powerful or a numerous class; probably ecclesiastical and secular life were closely intertwined. The strength of the religion, apart from the fact that it was a product of the national mind, lay rather in its universality than in its organization. Every mount, and grove, and stream, had its appropriate deity; every solemn act of life its ritual; every meal was sacrificial; and a series of feasts throughout the year marked the seasons, commemorated the dead, or did honour to the gods. Christmas, Easter, May-day, and the Eve of St. John, preserved for many centuries the tradition of pagan observances under Christian names.*
1 Thorpe's Northern Mythology, vol. i., p. 284.
2 Grimm, D. M., p. 72, quotes from the life of S. Bertulf; "fanum quoddam arboribus consitum." Compare Bede, H.E., lib. ii., c. 13, "fana idolorum cum septis quibus erant circumdata."
3 Alcuin's Vita S. Willibrordi, c. 10. Frithiof-Saga, canto 14.
4 In Thuringia, on the 3rd day of Whitsuntide, a young peasant is enveloped in green boughs in the forest, and amid rejoicings conducted into the village. -Thorpe's Mythology, vol. i., p. 284. Eostur-monath quondam a Deâ illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit.— Bede, De Temporum Ratione, cap. xv.