Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

was very numerous; it was a tribe. The chief, the patriarch, lived with his children, his near relatives, the various generations which were gathered around him, all his kindred and his servants, and he not only lived with them, but he had the same interests, the same occupations, he led the same life. Was not this the position of Abraham, of the patriarchs? is it not that of the chiefs of the Arab tribes, who still keep up the form of the patriarchal life Another family system presents itself, the clan, a small society, the type of which we must seek for in Scotland, and Ireland, and through which a great portion of the European world has probably passed. This is no longer the patriarchal family. There is a great difference here between the situation of the chief and that of the rest of the population; he did not even lead the same life; the greater part tilled and served; he was idle, and a warrior. . But their origin was the same; they all bore the same name; the ties of kindred, ancient traditions, mutual reminiscences, similar affections established between all the members of a clan a moral bond, a kind of equality. These are the two principal types of the family life with which history furnishes us. Is this then, the feudal family Evidently not. It seems, at first, to have some affinity with the clan, but the difference is greater than the resemblance. The population which surrounded the holder of a fief was entirely unconnected with him ; they did not bear his name; between them and him there was no affinity, no bond either historical or moral. Neither was it the same as the patriarchai family. The possessor of a fief did not lead the same life, did not engage in the same occupations as those who surrounded him; he was idle and a warrior, whilst the others were labourers. The feudal family was not numerous ; it was not a tribe ; it confined itself to the family, properly so called, the wife and children; they lived apart from the rest of the population, in the interior of the castle. The colonists and serfs had no part with them; their origin was different, the inequality in their position was prodigious. Five or six individuals, in a situation at once superior and estranged from the rest, composed the feudal family. It must obviously have been invested with a peculiar character. It was narrow, concentrated, constantly on the defensive, constantly forced to distrust, or, at least, to avoid, even its retainers. Domestic life would, of course, become of great importance. I am aware that the brutality of the passions, and the custom for the chief to spend his time in war or the chase, were great obstacles to the development of the domestic life. But this obstacle would be overcome; the chief necessarily returned habitually to his home; he always found there his wife and children, and few besides them; they would remain his only permanent society; with them alone he would share his interests, his fate. It was impossible that domestic existence should not acquire great influence. Proofs of this abound. Was it not in the heart of the feudal family that the importance of women was developed In all ancient societies, I do not speak of those in which the family spirit did not exist, but of those where it was powerful, in the patriarchal life, for instance, women did not hold nearly so high a place as they acquired in Europe under the feudal system. It was to the development, the preponderance of domestic manners inevitable in feudalism, that they chiefly owed this change, this advance in their position. The cause of this has been sought in the peculiar manners of the ancient Germans, in the national respect which, in the midst of their forests, they are said to have borne towards women. German patriotism has founded on a sentence of Tacitus I know not what superiority, what primitive and ineffaceable purity of manners, in the relation of the two sexes in the German race. Mere fancies. Sentences similar to that of Tacitus, sentiments and customs like those of the ancient Germans are found in the recitals of numbers of observers of savage and barbarous nations. There is nothing

primitive in it, nothing peculiar to one race. It was in the effects of a strongly determined social system, in the progress, in the preponderance of domestic life that the importance of women in Europe originated; and the preponderance of the domestic life became, very early, an essential feature of the feudal system. A second fact, a fresh proof of the empire of the domestic life, equally characterises the feudal family: this is the spirit of inheritance, of perpetuation, which was evidently all-powerful. The spirit of hereditary right is inherent in the family spirit; but it has nowhere been so fully developed as in feudalism. This proceeded from the nature of the property with which the family was incorporated. The fief was not like any other property; it constantly needed a possessor who could defend it, work for it, acquit himself of the obligations inherited with the domain, and thus maintain it in its rank in the general association of the masters of the country. From this sprang a kind of identity between the actual possessor of the fief and the fief itself, and all the generations of its future possessors. This circumstance contributed greatly to strengthen and draw closer the family ties, already rendered so powerful by the nature of the feudal family.

[ocr errors]

I now leave the seignorial dwelling, and descend amongst the little population that surrounds it. Here, everything has a different aspect. The nature of man is so good, so fertilizing, that when a social position has lasted for some time, it establishes between those who are connected by it, whatever may be conditions of the connexion, a kind of moral bond, sentiments of protection, benevolence, and affection. Thus it was in feudalism. No doubt, in the course of time there may have sprung up some moral relations, some habits of affection, between the colonists and the possessor of the fief. But this must have happened in spite of their relative position, not from its influence. Considered in itself, the position was radically bad. There was nothing morally common between the possessor of the fief and the colonists; they were part of his domain, they were his property; and under this word property are comprised all the rights which we now call rights of public sovereignty, as well as the rights of private property, the right of imposing laws, taxes, and punishments, as well as that of disposing of, and selling. As far as this can be said of the relative position of man to man in any case, there were between the lord and the cultivators of his domains, no rights, no guarantees, no society.

This was, I fancy, the cause of that truly intense and invincible hatred with which the people have, at all times, regarded the feudal system, the remembrance of it, its very name. It is not an unexampled case for men to submit to oppressive despotisms, and become accustomed to them, even so far as almost to prefer them. Theocratic and monarchical despotism have more than once obtained the approbation, almost the affection of the population submitted to them. Feudal despotism has always been repulsive, odious; it has oppressed the destinies, but never reigned over the souls of men. The reason is, that in the theocracy and the monarchy, the power is exercised in virtue of certain persuasions common to the master, and to the subjects; it is the representative, the minister of another power, superior to all human powers; it speaks and acts in the name of the Divinity, or of a general idea, not in the name of man himself, of man alone. Feudal despotism is quite another thing ; it is the power of an individual over an individual, the dominion of the personal and capricious will of a man. It is, perhaps, the only tyranny, which, to his eternal honour, man will never consent to accept. Whenever he sees in his

ruler, a mere man, when the will which oppresses him is only a human will, individual as his own, he is offended, and endures the yoke with indignation. Such was the true, distinctive character of the feudal power; and such is the origin of the antipathy which it never ceased to inspire. The religious element which was associated with it was little calculated to lighten the burden. I do not fancy that the influence of the priest was much, in the little society which I have described, nor that he was very successful in legitimating the connection between the inferior population and its lord. The church has exercised a very great influence over European civilization, but this it has done by proceeding in a general manner, by changing the general dispositions of mankind. When we examine closely into the little feudal society, properly so called, we find the influence of the priest between the lord and the colonists to be hardly anything. Most frequently he was himself as rough and inferior as a serf, and very little able, either by situation or disposition, to oppose the arrogance of the lord. No doubt, as he was only called upon to sustain and develope some moral life in the inferior population, he was dear and useful to them on this account, and he probably diffused something of consolation and life; but he could do, and did, I conceive, very little for their fortune. I have examined the elementary feudal society; I have placed before you the principal consequences which might accrue from it, either to the possessor of the fief himself, to his family, or to the population congregated around him. Let us now leave these narrow bounds. The population of the fief was not confined to the territory, there were other societies, analogous or different, to which it bore relation. What influence did this general society to which it belonged exercise over civilization ? I will make a short observation before replying: it is true that both the possessor of the fief and the priest belonged to a general society, they had, at a distance, numerous relations. It was not the same with the colonists, and serfs : every time that, to designate the rural population, at this period, we employ a general word, which seems to imply one and the same society, the word people, for example, we speak untruly. There was for this population no general society; its existence was entirely local. Beyond the territory which they inhabited the colonists had no connexion with any one, were neither bound to any one, or to anything. There was for them no common destiny, no common country; they did not form a people. When we speak of the feudal association as a whole, it is the possessors of fiefs only that are concerned. Let us see what were the relations of the petty feudal society with the general society with which it was connected, and what consequences these relations would probably have on the development of civilization. You know what ties bound the possessors of fiefs among themselves, what relations were attached to their property, what were the obligations of service on the one part, and protection on the other. I shall not enter into the details of these obligations, it is enough that you have a general idea of them. From them there was necessarily implanted in the mind of each possessor of a fief a certain number of moral ideas and sentiments, ideas of duty, sentiments of affection. It is obvious that the principle of fidelity, of devotion, of loyalty to engagements, and all the sentiments connected with these, must have been developed and maintained by the relations of the possessors of fiefs among themselves. These obligations, duties and sentiments, endeavoured to convert themselves into rights and institutions. Every one knows that feudalism desired to regulate by law the extent of the services due from the possessor of the fief to his suzerain; what were the services he might expect in return; in what cases the vassal owed military or pecuniary aid to his suzerain; in what form the suzerain ought to obtain the consent of his vassals for services to which they were not bound by the simple possession of their fief. Attempts were made to place all these rights under the guarantee of institutions the object of which was to ensure respect towards them. Thus, the seignorial jurisdictions were to dispense justice between the possessors of fiefs, upon claims carried before their common suzerain. Thus, every lord of any importance assembled his vassals in parliament, to treat with them on matters which required their consent or concurrence. There were, in short, a collection of political, judicial, and military powers, by which they attempted to organise the feudal system, to convert the relations of the possessors of fiefs into rights and institutions. But these rights and institutions had no reality, no guarantee. If we inquire what is the nature of a guarantee, a political guarantee, we arrive at the perception that its fundamental character is the constant presence, in the midst of the society, of a will, a power with the inclination and the ability to impose a law upon individual wills and powers, to make them observe the common rule, and respect the general right. There are only two possible systems of political guarantees: there must either be a particular will, and power, so superior to all others, that none can resist it, and that all are compelled to submit to it, as soon as it interferes; or else a public power, and will, the result of the concurrence and development of individual wills, which must likewise be in a condition, when it has issued from them, to rule over and obtain respect from all. Such are the only two possible systems of political guarantees: the despotism of an individual, or of a body, or free government. When we review all systems, we find that they are all included under one or other of these. Well, neither one nor the other existed, or could exist, under the feudal system. Doubtless, the possessors of fiefs were not all equal among themselves; there were many more powerful than the rest, and many powerful enough to oppress the yeaker. But there was not one, to begin with the highest suzerain, the king, who was in a condition to impose law on all the others, in a condition to compel obedience. Observe that all permanent means of power and action were wanting: there were no permanent troops, no permanent taxes, no permanent tribunals. The social powers and institutions were, in some sort, obliged to recommence, to be recreated each time they were needed. It was necessary to organise a tribunal for every process, an army for every war, a revenue whenever there was need of money; every thing was occasional, accidental, special; there was no means of central. permanent, independent government. It is clear that, in such a system, no individual was capable of imposing his will on others, or of causing the general right to be respected by all On the other hand, resistance was as easy as repression was difficult. Shut up in his castle, having to do with a small number of enemies, easily finding, among the vassals situated in the same way as himself, means of coalition, and of assistance, the possessor of a fief had every facility for defending himself. Thus then the first system of political guarantees, the system which places them under the intervention of the most powerful, is proved to be impossible in feudalism. The other system, that of free government, of a public power, was equally impracticable; it could never have arisen in the midst of feudalism. The reason is simple. When we speak, in the present day, of a public power, of what we call the rights of sovereignty, the right of imposing laws, taxes, and punishments, we all know, and think, that these rights belong to no individual, that no one has, on his own account, the right to punish others, to impose on them a burden, or a law. These are rights that pertain only to society in general, which are exercised in its name, which it holds, not of itself, but of the most High. Thus, when an individual comes before the power which is invested with these rights, the sentiment which moves him, perhaps unconsciously, is that he is in the presence of a public, legitimate authority, which has a mission to command him, and he is in a manner submissive, naturally and involuntarily. It was quite otherwise in feudalism. The possessor of the fief was invested with all the rights of sovereignty in his domain, and over the men that occupied it; they were inherent to the domain, and formed part of his private property. What we now call public rights, were then private rights; what are now public powers, were then private powers. When a holder of a fief, after having exercised sovereignty in his own name, as proprietor, over all the population among whom he lived, went to an assembly, to a parliament held in the presence of his suzerain, a parliament not at all numerous, generally composed of his equals, or nearly so, he neither carried there, nor brought away with him, an idea of public power. Such an idea was a contradiction to his whole existence, to all his acts in his domains. He only saw there men invested with the same rights and in the same situation as himself, acting as he did, in virtue of their personal will. Nothing led or obliged him to recognise, in the highest department of the government, in the institutions which we call public, that character of superiority and generosity, inherent to the idea which we form of political powers. And if he was discontented with the decision made there, he refused to concur in it, or appealed to force to resist it. Force was, under the feudal system, the true and habitual guarantee of right, if we may call force a guarantee. All rights appealed unceasingly to force to ensure their being recognised and respected. No institution succeeded in doing this. This was so much felt, that institutions were never applied to. If the seignorial courts, and parliaments of vassals had been in a condition to act, we should meet with them in history more frequently than we do; their rarity proves their uselessness.

62.-ACCESSION OF HENRY II. HUME.

The extensive confederacies, by which the European potentates are now at once united and set in opposition to each other, and which, though they are apt to diffuse the least spark of dissension throughout the whole, are at least attended with this advantage, that they prevent any violent revolutions or conquests in particular states, were totally unknown in ancient ages; and the theory of foreign politics in each kingdom formed a speculation much less complicated and involved than at present. Commerce had not yet bound together the most distant nations in so close a chain : wars, finished in one campaign, and often in one battle, were little affected by the movements of remote states. The imperfect communication among the kingdoms, and their ignorance of each others situation, made it impracticable for a great number of them to combine in one project or effort: and above all, the turbulent spirit and independent situation of the barons or great vassals in each state gave so much occupation to the sovereign, that he was obliged to confine his attention chiefly to his own state and his own system of government, and was more indifferent about what passed among his neighbours. Religion alone, not politics, carried abroad the views of princes, while it either fixed their thoughts on the Holy land, whose conquest and defence was deemed a point of common honour and interest, or engaged them in intrigues with the Roman pontiff, to whom they had

« ForrigeFortsett »