Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

Norman popular spirit over the remains of the ancient Saxon nationality. The Danes, by expelling the AngloSaxons from the northern and eastern parts of England, as well as by mixing with them in the south, had by degrees undermined their national independence and their popular characteristics, and had thus prepared an entrance for the Scandinavian spirit, which was so nearly allied to the Normau, into a great, if not the greater, portion of the English population. The bold and chivalrous spirit of the Norman aristocracy, their love of daring adventures, and their lofty feeling of freedom, completely agreed with the characteristics of the Scandinavians settled in England at an earlier period. The Normans found among the Scandinavian population of England, and particularly the Danish portion of it, several of those free institutions already in full force which they themselves, with much advantage to liberty, afterwards extended to the whole country.

Thus the conquest of England by Danish-Normans, undoubtedly prepared, or, more properly speaking, was the indispensable and necessary foundation of the subsequent French-Norman conquest; and it may therefore be justly called the first act of that great historical drama, "The Norman Conquest," of which William of Normandy's conquest is only the concluding act.

But many will undoubtedly ask, was the Norman conquest, on the whole, beneficial to England? Would it not have been better had the Anglo-Saxon nationality been permitted to develope itself, instead of being arrested by such violent devastations and by such bloodshed as the Danish-Norman expeditions occasioned? And is it not a proof of the nobleness of the Anglo-Saxon nationality, that it has since prevailed so preponderantly in England?

On this point let us hear a learned and impartial Englishman. The latest and most celebrated Anglo-Saxon historian, Mr. Kemble, says, in his preface to the beforementioned Collection of Anglo-Saxon Diplomas :—" With the close of the fourth volume of this work we arrive at the reign of Harald, and the Norman conquest of England; an event which our contemporary forefathers could only regard as deplorable, but which we must look back upon with gratitude and pride, as the remote origin of our own peculiar character and power. It is hardly possible to compare the signatures to the charters contained respectively in this and in the previous volumes, without seeing how widely a foreign element had become predominant. The Scandinavians of Ingwar, GuSorm, Swegen, and Cnut, successively prepared the way for the descendants of other Scandinavians under William; and the Saxon national character, like the national dynasty, was too weak to offer a successful resistance. Defeated, yet still holding a portion of its domain with unabated perseverance, yielding somewhat in one place, to break out with unshaken obstinacy at another, it accommodated itself partially to the peculiar habits of each successive invader; till, after the closing scene of the great drama commenced at Hastings, it ceased to exist as a national character, and the beaten, ruined, and demoralized Anglo-Saxon, found himself launched in a new career of honour, and rising into all the might and dignity of an Englishman. Let us reflect that defeats upon the Thames and Avon were probably necessary preliminaries to victories upon the Sutlej."

The weakness and degeneracy of the Anglo-Saxon national character contained the seeds of its decay. It has long since been agreed that, in an historical view, we ought not to complain that the degenerate, though highlycivilized, Romans in Britain were compelled to make way for the rude Anglo-Saxons, since the latter brought with them the germ of a new and higher development. In like manner we can hardly regret that the degenerate, but to a certain degree civilized, Anglo-Saxons, were in turn expelled by the more powerful, but ruder Danes; since these also were to prepare, and lay the foundation of, a new and more flourishing state of society. Under the reign of Ethelred the Second, the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxons had already passed away. As a people, they sank entirely, and left only a part of their civilization and of their institutions to their successors in dominion, the Danes and Normans. The transition took place amidst the same shocks and the same bloodshed which still mark every important and radical revolution in the history of nations. The Danish-Norman, or perhaps more properly, the Scandinavian national character, usurped the place of the AngloSaxon. It was certainly built upon the foundation laid by the Anglo-Saxons, but it must be observed that it has made greater progress in all respects. To it especially is owing the development in England of a maritime skill before unknown, of a bold and manly spirit of enterprise, and of a political liberty, which, by preserving a balance between the freedom of the nobles and of the rest of the people, has long ensured to England a powerful and comparatively peaceful and fortunate existence.

The Englishman is justly proud of his native land, of its internal freedom, and external greatness. But when he extols his country in respect only of its being "AngloSaxon," or praises the merits of the Anglo-Saxons and Norman-French, whilst he unconditionally condemns the Danish expeditions and settlements, as having been merely devastating and destructive, he commits both an historical error and an evident injustice. The Anglo-Saxons performed their 6hare in the civilization of England, and the Norman-French did still more; but it ought not to be forgotten—and least of all by Englishmen, who are so nearly related to the Danes—that the latter also very essentially contributed to win freedom and greatness for England, and that this freedom, and this greatness, are in no slight degree sealed with Danish blood. From at least the Danish-Normanic conquest (about the year 1000), the Danish-Normanic, or Scandinavian, national character has been the prevailing and leading one in England's history, and so it certainly continues to be at the present day.

A perceptible and very remarkable evidence of this is the sympathy which the English people in general feel for the North, the ancient home of their fathers, and particularly for Denmark. The Englishman himself will generally aver, with a sort of pride, that he derives his descent from the North. A Dane travelling in England will everywhere find an unusually cordial reception. He will in general be regarded more as a countryman than as a foreigner, merely because he is a Dane. He will discover that the English, instead of having forgotten their kinsmen beyond the sea, with whom they were formerly united, feel themselves attracted to them by the ties of blood and friendship. He will continually hear complaints of the deplorable attitude which the policy of England assumed with regard to Denmark at the commencement of the present century; and he will adopt the conviction that in this mistaken policy, the people themselves, at least, were not to blame. He will at times be induced to forget that he is at a distance from his native land and from his nearest relatives; for the highly-striking agreement between the character of the English and that of their Scandinavian kinsmen causes a Dane to imagine that he is still among his own friends, in the home which he has long since left. It was certainly also something more than mere accident that, during the last war in Denmark, the Danish cause nowhere, out of the North itself, awakened such general sympathy among the people, nor found so many bold champions, both in speeches and publications, as in England. May we not in these facts trace the effects of near relationship, and perceive the ties of blood?

It should not pass altogether unnoticed that the sympathies of the English for Denmark, and their fraternal feeling towards the Danish people, have increased in proportion as they have been obliged to acknowledge that the Danes of modern times still know how to defend their independence, liberty, and honour, with the bravery inherited from their forefathers. Not to speak of the last contest, so glorious for Denmark, it is particularly the battle in Copenhagen Roads, the 2nd of April, 1801, which has maintained in England the ancient fame of Danish valour. The English regard this action not only as one of Nelson's greatest triumphs, but as one of their most glorious naval battles, particularly on account of the sturdy resistance which they encountered. On Nelson's monument in Westminster Abbey, on which his most glorious battles are recorded, that of Copenhagen is named first. Nelson himself describes the action as the bloodiest and most desperate he had ever beheld. That he is correct in this respect, and that he has not extolled the bravery of our nation merely to enhance his own, we Danes, at least, cannot doubt, since we cannot even admit that the battle must be unconditionally regarded as lost by us.

For the rest, it is remarkable how frequently the English confound the battle in Copenhagen Roads in 1 801 with the carrying off of our fleet in 1807, and place these two entirely distinct events under one and the same head. The English historians have endeavoured gradually to conceal the dishonour attaching to the robbery of our fleet in 1807; and this has even been carried to such an extent, that the rising generation but too often reckons that ignominious act amongst Nelson's triumphs. They imagine that the surrender of our fleet was the result of the battle in the Roads; and yet Nelson had fallen two years before, at the battle of Trafalgar, in 1805. Fortunately for his honour, he was thus spared from partaking in the robbery of the fleet of a nearly-related people, with whom England was at peace.

But this is not the only error which the Dane must correct when he hears in England the name of Nelson extolled at the expense of Denmark and of historical truth. Yet he will find it difficult to refute another similar mistake, namely, a firm belief in Nelson's "complete victory " in the battle of 1801. It is just as unshaken an article of faith among the British people that Nelson then gained a brilliant victory, as it is an acknowledged

« НазадПродовжити »