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Memoirs of the Life and Administration of the Right
. A Visit to the South Seas, in the United States' Ship, Vin
cennes, during the Years 1829 and 1830. By C. S.
Great Britain. By C. W. Taylor, Esq. - -
Standard Novels. Frankenstein—The Ghost Seer -
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MoNTH LY REVIEw.
SEPTEMBER, 1831.” ... ...’ “
ART. I.-History of the Northmen, or Danes and Normans, from the earliest times to the conquest of England by William of Normandy. By Henry Wheaton, Honorary Member of the Scandinavian and Icelandic Literary Societies at Copenhagen. 8vo. pp. 367. London: Murray. 1831.
AT a period when all the governments of Continental Europe seem destined to undergo very considerable alterations—alterations so much feared, and so certainly expected by the crowned heads, that many of them are said to be already engaged in laying up stores of gold, as a provision in case of abdication and exile—it becomes a subject of more than ordinary interest, to inquire into the origin of the great communities which constitute the nations existing in that favoured region of the globe, to trace their ancient laws and customs, their history by land and sea, their literature, their religion, and, as far as possible, the peculiarities of character by which they are distinguished. The examination of such topics as these will enable us to understand and to combat all those classes of interested objections to the amelioration of society, which are founded upon the established order of things, which treat every proposition for amendment as an innovation, having nothing in common with what is called the genius of the people, and as calculated only to produce anarchy and ruin. We shall possibly be thus prepared to contend, that the real innovators are those who maintain the monarchical principle to its fullest extent, and the train of heavy imposts, of oppressive laws, of bands of secret spies, and of countless stipendiary armies, by which it is upheld. We shall, perhaps, discover, that the true genius of the people of Europe is intimately allied with liberty, was early accustomed to its blessings, and moulded by institutions expressly formed for its preservation, and that it is in those nations only which have dei. from their ancestors, that usages inconsistent with freeom have ever found a permanent footing. The spirit of the north was noble, original, and bold in all things. vo L. III. (1831.) No. 1. B
Without going too remotely into the divisions of the different tribes by which it was inhabited before the Christian era, we may appeal with just pride to the authentic accounts which are given of them, under the general title of Scandinavians; of the formidable valour with which they contended against the Roman empire in its proudestidios: chocked its progress, and ultimately overturned its power. : Reputéd to have been all descended from the same stock, they formed, in fact, but,9pe pepple as to their laws, customs, language::fiáničs, and joštútions. “No other nation,” says Tacitus, speãking; of one of these tribes, the Cimbri, “has so often given us cause to dread their arms: not the Samnites, nor Carthaginians, nor Spaniards and Gauls, nor even the Parthians; for the despotic energy of the Arsacidae is less to be dreaded, than the German arm nerved by freedom.” The Scandinavians founded the empire of Russia; joined by some Teutonic tribes, they subdued England after it was abandoned by its Roman masters; they explored the Baltic sea, and roamed boldly over the great northern and western ocean, without chart or compass; discovered the Orcades and Faroer isles, and the country subsequently called Ice
land, from the dreary aspect which its rugged mountains, covered
with eternal ice and snows, presented to the eye. They moreover discovered Greenland, and are even said to have sent out an expedition in the early part of the eleventh century, that not only landed on the coast of America, but planted a colony there, which, however, perished so speedily, that scarcely any traces of its existence remained, to establish the claim of the Scandinavians to the honour of being the first Europeans who penetrated to the shores of the New World. The history of the settlement of Iceland by the Norwegians, affords a pretty good illustration of the manner in which these early societies were formed and organized, and of the institutions by which they were governed. Among the petty chieftains who ruled separate clans in the northern parts of Norway, was one named Rolf, who, besides being the patriarch of his people, was also the
pontiff of religion, in which capacity he presided in the great
temple of Thor, the national deity of Norway, and wo guished by the great length of his beard. He happene's to incur the anger of a neighbouring monarch, by giving an asy individual with whom that sovereign, named Harald was at
enmity, in consequence of which Harald held an assize, or Thing,” as it was called, a kind of supreme court or assembly, and proclaimed Rolf an outlaw, unless he surrendered within a limited
* “Thing signifies in the ancient language of the North, a popular assembly, court of justice, or assize: Al-thing, a general meeting of that kind, and Alls-herjar-thing, the general convention of chiefs, nobles, or lords. The Diet of Norway is called to this day the Stor-thiro, a great assembly.’—WHEATON.
period. Thus we perceive, that at a very early period, tho' is to say about the commencement of the ninth century, the power to the sovereign in Norway was not exercised without the sanction of an assembly of some description. Rolf, upon receiving notice of these proceedings, found that it might be dangerous to contend with Harald, and consulting the oracle of his God, he was determined by its advice to migrate to Iceland, carrying with him not only the image of Thor, but also the throne upon which it was placed, as well as the earth upon which the throne stood, and the greater part of the wooden work of the temple by which it was surrounded. He took also with him his household goods, his slaves, and his family, and all his friends who volunteered to accompany him. He took formal possession of that part of the coast upon which he landed, in the ancient accustomed manner, “by walking with a
burning firebrand in his hand, round the lands he intended to
occupy, and marking the boundaries by setting fire to the grass.’ He then erected a large dwelling-house and a temple, near which the assize, or Herjar-thing of the infant community was held in the open air, the place in which the popular assembly met being considered as sacred as the scite of the temple itself. The ancient sagas and other records from which this account is taken, mention the manner in which oaths were administered to juries as well as to witnesses, the former having been already, apparently, a well known institution connected with the administration of justice. Thus we may observe, that the form of government prevailing amongst these little communities, was at once patriarchal, pontifical, and popular.
In process of time these emigrants were followed by others, and the habitable parts of Iceland were occupied by settlers from Norway, who brought with them the civil and religious institutions of their native country. Besides their own immediate families and slaves, the chieftains brought with them a numerous retinue of followers, who were in a great degree their dependants, or, as the Scotch would say, their clansmen, who, though elevated above the class of slaves, by being possessed of personal freedom and property, nevertheless looked up to their chieftains as their protectors, the judges of their controversies in peace, and their leaders in war. The expense of the migratory expeditions falling principally upon these leaders, they naturally appropriated to themselves, by way of indemnification, the new lands of which they took possession, and
these they afterwards granted out to their followers, upon the pay
ment of certain rents reserved to themselves, and of dues for the support of religion. . But a number of small communities could not long exist near each other without frequent conflicts, that were productive of mutual injury; hence they confederated for the better government and harmony of the whole; a common legislator was appointed: the island was divided into four quarters, in each of which was established a chief magistrate, who was chosen by the free voice of the people, and who, in addition to the functions of