Page images
PDF
EPUB

The Danish rivers are neither numerous nor considerable. The climate, generally speaking, is moist and subject to thick fogs, which almost obscure the horizon. Upon a mean of twenty-six years, it has rained for a hundred and thirty days every year, and thundered for thirteen. Their summer begins with June, and ends with September. A calm, serene sky, and an atmosphere free from vapours, is very rarely the lot of the inhabitants of Denmark; but the humidity with which the air is impregnated is highly favourable to vegetation ; and all kinds of corn and grass are cultivated there with great success. To the south of Denmark are the countries of Sleswick and Holstein. Nature has divided these countries into two parts; the one of which is called Geetsland, the other Marschland. Geetsland is the elevated ground situated along the Baltic. The soil resembles that of Denmark. The division of Marschland forms a band or stripe, which extends from the Elbe to the frontiers of Jutland, an alluvium gained and preserved from the sea by a labour which, though vigilant and severe, is repaid by the most ample profits. The sea, however, in all these alluvial countries, seldom forgets his original rights. Marschland, in the midst of all its tranquillity, fat, and silence, was invaded by this element in the year 1634, with the loss of whole villages, many thousands of horned cattle, and 1500 human beings.

Nature is as wild and grand in Norway as she is productive in Marschland. Cataracts amid the dark pines; the eternal snow of the mountains; seas that bid adieu to the land, and stretch out to the end of the world ; an endless succession of the great and the terrible,-leave the eye and the mind without repose. The climate of Norway is extremely favourable to the longevity of the human race, and sufficiently so to the life of many animals domesticated by man. The horses are of a good breed ; the horned cattle excellent, though small. Crops of grain are extremely precarious, and often perish before they come to maturity. *

In 1660, the very year in which this happier country was laying the foundations of rational liberty by the wise restrictions imposed upon its returning Monarch, the people of Denmark, by a solemn act, surrendered their natural rights into the hands of their Sovereign, endowed him with absolute power, and, in express words, declared him, for all his political acts, accountable only to Him to whom all kings and governors are accountable. This revolution, similar to that effected by the King and people at Stockholm in 1772, was not a change from liberty to slavery; but from a worse sort of slavery to a better ; from the control of an insolent and venal senate to that of one man ; it was a change which simplified their degrada. tion, and, by lessening the number of their tyrants, put their servitude more out of sight. There ceased immediately to be an arbitrary monarch in every parish, and the distance of the oppressor either operated as a diminution of the oppression, or was thought to do so. The same spirit, to be sure, which urged them to victory over one evil might have have led them on a little further, to the subjugation of both; and they might have limited the King, by the same powers which enabled them to dissolve the senate. But Europe, at that period, knew no more of liberty than of galvanism ; and the peasants of Denmark no more dreamt of becoming free than the inhabitants of Paris do at this moment.

At present Denmark is in theory one of the most arbitrary governments on the face of the earth. It has remained so ever since the revolution to

• We shall take little notice of Iceland in this review, from the attention we mean to pay to that subject in the review of " Voyage en Iceland, fait par ordre de sa Majesté Danoise," 5 vols, 1802,

which we have just alluded ; in all which period the Danes have not, by any important act of rebellion, evinced an impatience of their yoke, or any sense that the enormous power delegated to their monarchs has been im. properly exercised. In fact, the Danish government enjoys great reputation for its forbearance and mildness; and sanctifies, in a certain degree, its execrable constitution, by the moderation with which it is administered. We regret extremely that Mr. Catteau has given us, upon this curious subject of the Danish government, such a timid and sterile dissertation. Many govern. ments are despotic in law, which are not despotic in fact ; not because they are restrained by their own moderation, but because, in spite of their theoretical omnipotence, they are compelled, in many important points, to respect either public opinion or the opinion of other balancing powers, which without the express recognition of law, have gradually sprung up in the state. Russia, and Imperial Rome, had its prætorian guards. Turkey has its uhlema. Public opinion almost always makes some exceptions to its blind and slavish submission ; and in bowing its neck to the foot of a Sultan, stipulates how hard he shall tread. The very fact of enjoying a mild govern. ment for a century and a half must, in their own estimation, have given the Danes a sort of right to a mild government. Ancient possession is a good title in all cases; and the King of Denmark may have completely lost the power of doing many just and many unjust actions, from never having exercised it in particular instances. What he has not done for so long a period he may not dare to do now; and he may in vain produce constitutional parchments, abrogated by the general feelings of those whom they were intended to control. Instead of any information of this kind, the author of the Tableau has given us at full length the constitutional act of 1660, and has afforded us no other knowledge than we could procure from the most vulgar histories; as if state papers were the best place to look for constitutions, and as if the rights of king and people were really adjusted by the form and solemnity of covenant and pacts ; by oaths of allegiance, or oaths of coronation.

The King has his privy council, to which he names whom he pleases, with the exception of the heir-apparent, and the princes of the blood, who sit there of right. It is customary, also, that the heads of colleges should sit there. These colleges are the offices in which the various business of the state is carried on. The chancery of Denmark interprets all laws which concern privileges in litigation, and the different degrees of authority belong. ing to various public bodies. It watches over the interests of church and poor : issues patents, edicts, grants letters of naturalization, legitimacy, and nobility. The archives of the state are also under its custody. The German chancery has the same powers and privileges in Sleswick and Holstein, which are fiefs of the empire. There is a college for foreign affairs ; two colleges of finance; and a college of economy and commerce ; which, divided into four parts, directs its attention to four objects : 1. Manufacturing industry : 2. Commerce : 3. Productions : 4. Possessions in the East Indies. All projects and speculations relative to any of these objects are referred to this college ; and every encouragement given to the prosecution of such as it may chance to approve. There are two other colleges, which respectively manage the army and navy. The total number is nine.

The Court of Denmark is on a footing of great simplicity. The pomp introduced by Christian IV., who modelled his establishments after those of Louis XIV., has been laid aside, and a degree of economy adopted much more congenial to the manners of the people, and the resources of the country. The hereditary nobility of Denmark may be divided into those of the ancient, those of the modern fiefs, and the personal nobility. The first class are only distinguished from the second by the more extensive privileges annexed to their fiefs ; as it has been the policy of the Court of Denmark, in latter times, not to grant such immunities to the possessors of noble lands as had been accorded to them at earlier periods. Both of these classes, however, derive their nobility from their estates, which are inalienable, and descend according to the laws of primogeniture. In the third class, nobility derives from the person, and not from the estate. To prevent the female noblesse from marrying beneath their rank, and to preserve the dignity of their order, nine or ten Protestant nunneries have been from time to time endowed, in each of which about twelve noble women are accommodated, who, not bound by any vow, find in these societies an economical and elegant retirement. The nobility of Norway have no fiefs. The nobility of Holstein and Sleswick derive their nobility from their fiers, and are possessed of very extensive privileges. Everything which concerns their common interest is discussed in a convention held periodically in the town of Keil ; during the vacations of the convention there is a permanent deputation resident in the same town. Interests so well watched by the nobles themselves are necessarily respected by the Court of Denmark. The same institu. tion of free nunneries for the female nobility prevails in these provinces. Societies of this sort might perhaps be extended to other classes, and to other countries, with some utility. The only objection to a nunnery is that those who change their minds cannot change their situation. That a number of unmarried females should collect together into one mass, and subject themselves to some few rules of convenience, is a system which might afford grcat resources and accommodation to a number of helpless individuals, without proving injurious to the community ; unless, indeed, any very timid statesman shall be alarmed at the progress of celibacy, and imagine that the increase and multiplication of the human race may become a mere antiquated habit.

The lowest courts in Denmark are composed of a judge and a secretary, both chosen by the landed proprietors within the jurisdiction, but confirmed by the King, in whose name all their proceedings are carried on. These courts have their sessions once a week in Denmark, and are attended by four or five burgesses or farmers, in the capacity of assessors, who occasionally give their advice upon subjects of which their particular experience may entitle them to judge. From this jurisdiction there is appeal to a higher court, held every month in different places in Denmark, by judges paid by the Crown. The last appeal for Norway and Denmark is to the Hoieste Rett, or supreme court, fixed at Copenhagen, which is occupied for nine months in the year, and composed half of noble, half of plebeian judges. This is the only tribunal in which the advocates plead vivå voce; in all the others litigation is carried on by writing. The King takes no cognizance of pecuniary suits determined by this court, but reserves to himself a revision of all its sentences which affect the life or honour of the subject. It has always been the policy of the Court of Denmark to render justice as cheap as possible. We should have been glad to have learnt from Mr. Catteau whether or not the cheapness of justice operates as an encouragement to litigation; and whether (which we believe is most commonly the case) the quality of Danish justice is not in the ratio of the price. But this gentleman, as we have before remarked, is so taken up by the formal part of institutions that he has neither leisure nor inclination to say much of their spirit. The Tribunal of Conciliation, established since 1795, is composed of the most intelligent and respectable men in the vicinage, and its sessions are private. It is competent to determine upon a great number of civil questions; and if both parties agree to the arrangement proposed by the court, its decree is registered and has legal authority. If the parties cannot be brought to agreement by the amicable interference of the mediators, they are at full liberty to prosecute their suit in a court of justice. All the proceedings of the Tribunal of Conciliation are upon unstamped paper, and they cannot be protracted longer than fifteen days in the country, and eight days in the towns, unless both parties consent to a longer delay. The expenses, which do not exceed three shillings, are not payable but in case of reconciliation. During the three years preceding this institution there came before the courts of law 25,521 causes; and, for the three years following, 9,653, making the astonishing difference of fifteen thousand eight hundred and sixty-three lawsuits. The idea of this court was taken from the Dutch, among whom it likewise produced the most happy effects. And when we consider what an important point it is that there should be time for disputants to cool, the strong probability there is that four or five impartial men from the vicinage will take a right view of the case, and the reluctance that any man must feel to embark his reputation and property in opposition to their opinion, we cannot entertain a doubt of the beauty and importance of the invention. It is hardly possible that it should be bad justice which satisfies both parties, and this species of media. tion has no validity but upon such condition. It is curious, too, to remark how much the progress of rancour obstructs the natural sense of justice; it appears that plaintiff and defendant were both satisfied in 15,863 causes. If all these causes had come on to a regular hearing, and the parties been inflamed by the expense and the publicity of the quarrel, we doubt if there would have been one single man out of the whole number who would have acknowledged that his cause was justly given against him.

There are some provisions in the criminal law of Denmark, for the personal liberty of the subject, which cannot be of much importance so long as the dispensing power is vested in the Crown; however, though they are not much, they are better than nothing; and have probably some effect in offences merely criminal, where the passions and interests of the governors do not interfere. Mr. Catteau considers the law which admits the accused to bail, upon finding proper security, to be unjust, because the poor cannot avail themselves of it. But this is bad reasoning; for every country has a right to impose such restrictions and liens upon the accused that they shall be forthcoming for trial; at the same time, those restrictions are not to be more severe than the necessity of the case requires. The primary and most obvious method of security is imprisonment. Whoever can point out any other method of effecting the same object, less oppressive to himself and as satis. factory to the justice of the country, has a right to require that it be adopted; whoever cannot, must remain in prison. It is a principle that should never be lost sight of, that an accused person is presumed to be innocent; and that no other vexation should be imposed upon him than what is absolutely neces. sary for the purposes of future investigation. The imprisonment of a poor man, because he cannot find bail, is not a gratuitous vexation, but a necessary severity ; justified only because no other, nor milder mode of security can, in that particular instance, be produced.

Inquisitorial and penal torture is, in some instances, allowed by the laws of Denmark. The former, after having been abolished, was re-established in 1771. The corporations have been gradually and covertly attacked in Den. mark, as they have been in Great Britain. The peasants, who had before been attached to the soil, were gradually enfranchised between 1788 and 1800; so that, on the first day of the latter year, there did not remain a single slave in the Danish dominions; or, to speak more correctly, slavery was equalised among all ranks of people. We need not descant on the immense importance of this revolution; and if Mr. Catteau had been of the same opinion, we should have been spared two pages of very bad declamation, beginning, in the true French style, with "oh toi,” and going on with what might be expected to follow such a beginning. The great mass of territorial proprietors in Denmark are the signiors, possessing fiefs with very extensive privileges and very valuable exemptions from taxes. Many persons hold land under these proprietors, with interests in the land of very different descriptions. There are some cultivators who possess freeholds, but the number of these is very inconsiderable. The greater number of farmers are what the French call Metayers, put in by the landlord, furnished with stock at his expense, and repaying him in product, labour, or any other manner agreed on in the contract. This is the first, or lowest stage of tenantry, and is the surest sign of a poor country. The feudal system never took root very deeply in Norway: the greater part of the lands are freehold, and cultivated by their owners. Those which are held under the few privileged fiefs which still exist in Norway, are subjected to less galling con. ditions than farms of a similar tenure in Denmark.—Marriage is a mere civil contract among the privileged orders. The presence of a priest is necessary for its celebration among the lower orders. In every large town there are two public tutors appointed, who, in conjunction with the magistrates, watch over the interests of wards, at the same time that they occupy themselves with the care of the education of children within the limits of their jurisdiction.Natural children are perhaps more favoured in Denmark, than perhaps in any other kingdom of Europe. They have half the portion which the law allots to legitimate children, and the whole if there are no legitimate. —A very curious circumstance took place in the kingdom of Denmark in the middle of the last century, relative to the infliction of capital punishments upon malefactors. They were attended from the prison to the place of execution by priests, accompanied by a very numerous procession singing psalms, &c., &c. : which ended, a long discourse was addressed by the priest to the culprit, who was hung as soon as he had heard it. This spectacle, and all the pious cares bestowed upon the criminals, so far seduced the imaginations of the common people that many of them committed murder purposely to enjoy such inestimable advantages, and the government was positively obliged to make hanging dull as well as deadly, before it ceased to be an object of popular ambition.

In 1796, the Danish land forces amounted to 74,654, of which 50,880 were militia. * Amongst the troops on the Norway establishment is a regiment of skaters. The pay of a colonel in the Danish service is about 1,740 rixdollars per annum, with some perquisites ; that of a private 6 schellings a day. The entry into the Danish states from the German side is naturally strong. The passage between Lubeck and Hamburg is only eight miles, and the country intersected by marshes, rivers, and lakes. The straits of the Baltic afford considerable security to the Danish isles; and there are very few points in which an army could penetrate through the Norway mountains to overrun that country. The principal fortresses of Denmark are Copenhagen, Rends. bhurg, Głuchstadt, and Frederickshall. In 1801, the Danish navy consisted of 3 ships of 80 guns, 12 of 74, 2 of 70, 3 of 64, and 2 of 60; 4 frigates of

• The militia is not embodied in regiments by itself, but divided among the various regiinents of the line.

« PreviousContinue »