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PREFACE. - Thomas Hodgskin, Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 1 
Travels in the North of Germany, describing the Present State of the Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in that Country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hannover, (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820). Vol. 1.
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The Work now offered to the Public contains the sum of such observations as the author had it in his power to make during a residence of some length in the North of Germany. He visited that country principally with the view of acquiring its language, and of gaining some knowledge of its literature. It was, however, suggested to him, by some of his friends, that he might be usefully employed in collecting information on the present state of the country. The governments of Northern Germany are so numerous, and individually of so little importance, that it would be more laborious than useful to describe them all. At the same time, they all resemble one another so much in their origin, their progress, and their present form and spirit, that an accurate account of one might be adopted as an account of the whole. Hannover was selected for the principal object of inquiry, because it was considered as interesting in itself; and though closely connected with Britain for more than a century, it happens singularly enough that less is known here regarding it than almost any other part of Germany. The observations, however, relating to the state of laws, government, agriculture, commerce, manufactories, and education in Hannover, may be applied, with few exceptions, to the other countries of the North of Germany. He has added such a portion of his travels as he thought would be interesting to the reader. Some historical notices are occasionally inserted; and many remarks are made on the effects of the public institutions which are described, on the German language and literature; and on the character and amusements of such classes of people as he had an opportunity of observing.
The author is too well aware of his own deficiencies to offer any other portion of his three years’ travels to the public than that which seems likely to be rendered acceptable from the importance which the present state of Germany gives to any observations relative to it. France and Italy, which he also visited, have been so often and so well described as to render any thing that he could say of them little more than a repetition of what has been said before. But the extraordinary developement of political feeling, and fermentation of ideas now taking place in Germany, allow him to hope that his observations on the present condition of its inhabitants may be, without presumption, presented to the public, although not clothed in the first style of elegance and learning. That nation, as if suddenly awakened from a long slumber, seems eager to overtake those communities which have started before it in the career of social improvement. In the excess of its zeal it appears to lose sight of the best means of obtaining the advantages for which it is struggling, and sometimes to exasperate the opposition it is unavoidably exposed to by using unnecessary violence. To enable us to judge what chance the Germans have of succeeding in their efforts to ameliorate their political condition, and to know if what they seek be better than what they possess, it is necessary to know those minute circumstances in the structure of their society which are continually operating on their character, and which tend to modify the more important constitutional laws.
Germany was formerly known to the rest of Europe as a great nursery of soldiers; but it is now distinguished, in an extraordinary degree, for its literary and political enthusiasm. The descendants of those philosophers whose principal ambition was to seek terms of fulsome adulation to express their submission and devotedness to their sovereigns, criticise, with bold and honest freedom, the measures of their present rulers; and are recognized by the German public as the censors and judges of men in power, and as the organs of national sentiment. The princes, formerly accustomed to look on their subjects as property to be sold at their pleasure, now find themselves controlled by public opinion; and, even in their worst measures, they profess a deference for its authority. These extensive and rapid changes, which are, in all probability, the precursors of other changes still more important, confer an interest on every subject connected with Germany, and anxiously fix the attention of political philosophers on its progress and future destiny.
The author has adverted to some defects in the system of government which exists in Germany; he has endeavoured to acquire an accurate notion of the composition of the ancient parliaments or states, of the nature of the new constitutions demanded, and of that which has actually been given to Hannover. Details of this kind, however, are inadequate to explain the irritation which now exists in different parts of Germany. Promises made and broken; hopes of improvement excited only to be beat down as sedition when their fulfilment was demanded; growing prosperity nipped in the bud by a change of masters and of measures; nations numbered, and transferred like cattle from one political dealer to another; are, indeed, powerful motives for discontent, but they are local only; while discontent and a desire of change appear to disturb the repose of all Europe.
In countries in every stage of improvement, from our own mighty and well-cultivated island, where a free press has enlightened the people, and where machinery has rendered the unaided labour of the hand nearly valueless; to others at the bottom of the scale, where neither spinning-jennies nor steam-engines are known, and where industry is confined to tilling the ground, there is the same species of comparative poverty and increasing dissatisfaction. These evils may be greater in one country than another,—but they everywhere exist, and everywhere disturb the peace of society. So general a disease can arise from no local cause, or temporary circumstances: it cannot be occasioned by preaching demagogues, or enthusiastic assassins. These may be brought forth, like Hunt and Sandt, by the wants or the irritation of the moment, but they are only the excrescences, if he may so speak, of a feeling which appears permanent and nearly universal. This feeling, which seems to be co-extensive in every country, with the diffusion of knowledge among the governed part of the society, seems principally to arise from the total unfitness of those ancient institutions, which are so pertinaciously supported, to the wants, capacities, and intelligence of the present generation. We might pardon the presumption of men who should endeavour to legislate for a distant country, which they only knew by report. But what terms can express the absurdity of legislating for an unborn world, of the whole circumstances of which we are necessarily ignorant? Everywhere we see statesmen torturing human nature, in order to adapt it to their antiquated regulations. The opposition which ensues—the efforts which are made to resist and to subdue resistance—the expensive apparatus which is thus everywhere necessary to support governments, must, more than any local circumstances, be considered as the causes of the general discontent and misery.
Though these may be partly occasioned by population outrunning subsistence, of which doctrine, however, legislators appear till within these few years to have been perfectly ignorant, they are by no means wholly accounted for by it. According to it we might expect with an increase of population great absolute poverty. We see, on the contrary, however, absolute wealth and only comparative poverty; or the capital of Europe has increased faster than its population. So that, if the means of subsistence or the capital, now possessed by every European society, be compared with the absolute amount of its population, it will be found greater than at any former period. Hence it seems probable that there is something fundamentally wrong in the very principles of European legislation, which may be learned by diligent investigation.
When the United States are compared with Spain, Holland with Italy, some circumstances, common to them all, may be discovered, which impede prosperity in some, and destroy it in others. Hannover may be considered as in a middle state, or as one of those nearly stationary countries, in which so much is consumed that nothing remains as a nucleus for continual increase, and where things are so much regulated, that change and improvement are alike prevented. In this point it seems calculated to serve as a lesson to those politicians who have a passion for petty legislation. Social regulations the most minute and most numerous, and a perfect obedience on the part of the people, distinguish that country. The government went on in its own course, perfectly undisturbed, till the country was occupied by the French. The credit of good intentions must be given to it, for its professions of a fatherly care for its subjects have been unbounded. Its power has been nearly unlimited. The actual condition of its subjects, their progress in the arts, the events of their history, tell clearly what the government has effected.
Hannover, which has otherwise few charms for the traveller, is not uninteresting to the political philosopher. It possesses none of the wonders of nature, nor of the magical creations of art; it has no splendid buildings, and no majestic ruins of ancient glory. With many fine rivers, and a considerable territory, containing valuable minerals, it has never been a commercial or manufactural nation, and has never shone on the political hemisphere like Holland, Genoa, and Venice. Prosperous countries arrest our attention to inquire into the causes of their welfare, and Hannover has a claim to our notice, because it has never been prosperous. The fields of the sluggard are as instructive as those of the industrious man, and, from a nation that has never risen to eminence, the causes may be learnt of the eminence of others.
Hannover is well supplied with schools for elementary education, and they are here described at some length. Göttingen may serve, in some measure, as a specimen of German universities. An account of it is given, with such remarks as serve to explain the importance of the German students, and the means by which they are made a distinct body from the rest of the society. At a time when an education-committee, in our country, seems disposed to subject education to the control of the legislature, it may be of some importance to remark, that the whole education of Germany is directed and controlled by the governments of that country. And excellent as it may be considered, it has not been so efficacious in nourishing either active or speculative talents as education in our country, where it has hitherto nearly escaped the all-regulating ambition of the magistrate.
Whatever relates to criminal jurisprudence is at present deservedly much attended to in our country. Such information as could be obtained is, therefore, given regarding that of Hannover. A list of the punishments inflicted in one year was procured, and some of the prisons were visited. Facts relative to the effects of punishment seem yet to be wanted to enable us to decide with precision on the principles which are the foundation of criminal law. One which is here presented may be worthy of repetition.—Adultery has long been punished as a crime both in France and Germany, and chastity is more frequently violated in those countries than in Britain. Forgery, and every other kind of theft, is more severely punished in Britain than in France, and yet every man who has visited the latter country must be convinced, from the manner in which silver spoons and forks are used in the meanest auberge or restaurateur’s, as well as from the official statement of crimes committed in that country, which has been published, that theft and forgery are more rare in France than in England. This fact deserves the serious consideration of every advocate of severe criminal laws.
The author is sensible that he has left many points untouched, and has treated others very imperfectly. Since his return he has found reason to regret, as many other travellers much superior to him have also done, that he had not laid in a greater stock of preparatory knowledge before he left his country. Some of the deficiencies must, however, be attributed to the difficulty of obtaining information. The Germans have an abundance of works full of statistical calculations, but they have very few which critically examine the constitution of their country, or which explain the effects of their most important laws. To mention the cause of an omission, however, does not always excuse it, and the critic will still find many opportunities to exercise his forbearance.
The author has never been much accustomed to composition, and when he began this Work he had been for a considerable time more in the habit of using a foreign language than his native tongue. He is now aware that this circumstance has produced many inaccuracies of style, of which, however, he was insensible till it was too late to remedy them. He hopes they are not so great as to render the text obscure, and he trusts that faults which amount only to inelegance of expression may be pardoned in a man whose pretensions to authorship are of a humble kind.
It seems as if we had long been celebrated for corrupting the orthography of other nations. Leghorn for Livorno, and Munich for München, are examples, and travellers very often take the liberty of correcting such errors as fall in their way. Dr Clarke has written Tronyem for Drontheim, and, in compliance with the orthography of the Germans, Hannover is here written with two nns. When the Germans write Hanover, the stroke over the n signifies that it ought to be doubled, and, imitating this manner of writing it, without paying attention to the stroke, has probably been the cause why we have written it with one n only. The German orthography is also followed in writing such words as bauer instead of boor,—Reichs-Thaler instead of Rix-Dollar, and others. Boor, which we have borrowed from the Dutch, implies something stupid and contemptible, which characteristics ought not to be applied to the peasantry of Germany. Bauer accurately expresses their occupation; they are the labourers or architects of the ground. Reichs-Thaler is a coin different in value from a Spanish dollar, and circulated under the guarantee of the empire, or reich. Rix-dollar is only a corruption of the same words. Some titles of office and of dignities are also preserved in the original, because the usual translation either gives a very imperfect or a very false idea of the office signified. Thus amtman, (for example,) which is usually translated by the French word bailie, has led some authors to speak of a respectable magistrate as the officer of a spunging-house. There are innumerable honorary titles to which we have nothing corresponding. Hofrath (translated court-councillor) confers a certain rank on the persons to whom it is given. This, and other similar titles, are sometimes used without being translated.
With these few preliminary remarks, the author commits the work to the judgment of the public. Although his inquiries into the social regulations and manners of another nation have been a source of enjoyment to him, he cannot promise himself that this will not be his only reward. It will, however, be a double gratification to him if his labours, in their present form, shall give either amusement or information to his readers.
Edinburgh, December 27, 1819.