Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: hamburg, and free towns of germany. - Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 1
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CHAPTER VI.: hamburg, and free towns of germany. - 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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hamburg, and free towns of germany.
A contrast.—Jung fern Stieg.—Altona road.—Activity.—Affluence and cleanliness.—A custom.—Buildings.—Börsen Halle.—Country houses.—Rainvill’s garden.—Klopstock’s grave.—A part of his character.—Dancing saloons.—Number of children born out of marriage.—Effects on moral character.—Education.—System for the relief of the poor.—Professor Büsch.—Theatre.—Otto von Wittelsbach.—Commercial travellers.—Commercialinns.—Formation of the Hanseatic league.—Former extent.—Present influence of Hanse towns.—Number of free towns.—Present form of government.—Senates.—Citizens.—Their share in the government.—Quantity of jurisconsults.—Commissions conciliatrice.—Leave Hamburg.
There is a great contrast between the silent town of Hannover, the quiet and almost deserted sands of Lüneburg, and the crowds, the activity, and the bustle of Hamburg. They are trifling to a person who is wafted from London; but they appear extraordinary to an inhabitant of Hannover, when he visits Hamburg for the first time. He is lost in amazement, and thinks he can never sufficiently expatiate on the animation that excites so much wonder. This shews how calm, regular, methodical, and even dull, Hannover is, compared with Hamburg. Some Hannoverians had described to me, with exstacy, a public promenade at Hamburg, called the Jungfern Stieg, and I had been so long accustomed to their own quietness, that I was almost prepared to join in their opinions, when I saw the quantity of people and of apparent enjoyment on this walk on the evening of my arrival in Hamburg.
Its name, translated, signifies Maiden’s Stile; and, if I might judge from what I saw there, it has always been much frequented by a class of ladies, who are very numerous and famous in Hamburg, and who generally remain for the whole of their lives maidens in the eye of the law. On one side, through its whole length, there is a row of handsome houses, a broad carriage road, a walk planted with four rows of trees, and the other side is bounded by a small handsome lake formed by the Alster, a river that flows into the Elbe at Hamburg. The coffee-houses may almost vie with those of the Palais Royal for splendour; and, towards evening, it seemed as if the whole population of the town were collected on this single spot. The busy hum of the conversation of such a multitude, and their restless movement, was like the waves as they break on the shore. Many were walking. Many were sitting about the coffee-houses, or on benches, and many were idly gazing on the still waters. It was a beautiful summer’s evening, and the moon shone both in the heavens and in the lake. Several boats floated on it, and the people in them were still, and seemed more disposed to enjoy than to disturb the serenity. The multitude were of all ages, of all descriptions, and of all countries; and remained enjoying themselves late in the night. In other parts of Germany, the people go quietly home, and to bed, towards ten o’clock; but, at midnight, the walk was yet crowded, and it was long after before all the revellers had retired. Such is the luxury or profligacy of commercial cities.
On Sunday afternoon the town appeared deserted, its whole population were passing on the road between Hamburg and Altona. The gay and the wealthy were gallopping on horseback, or rattling along in a sort of wicker carriages, many of which were standing ready to be hired; the modest and the middling classes were hurrying out of the dust to reach some of the delightful public gardens which lie on the banks of the Elbe. The poorer people sought their pleasure in the cabarets of the neighbourhood, or in looking at curiosities and wonders which they probably saw every Sunday. Wild beasts, and stalls for the sale of old books, fruit-sellers, dealers in earthenware and in old iron, fiddlers, hand-organ players, and Punch, fortune-tellers, and men inviting the passer by to game, some bawling English blacking, and others praising as wonderful for its virtues Dutch cement, curiosities both dead and alive, here a remarkable calf, and there a penny show, booths in which feats of horse-manship and wire dancing were exhibited: In short, some amusements and follies of all kinds were collected on this single spot, and it may be doubted if the motley scene could be surpassed by any thing at Naples, or on the Boulevards of Paris. All this in a German town, and on a Sunday, surprised me. Dancing on a Sunday evening is every where common, but the greater part of the day is devoted to revelry and shows only at Hamburg. It resembles Paris on Sunday. And on week days, when the quays, the streets, and the change are crowded with people of all countries, it resembles London.
Although the hospitable magistrates have given protection to several persecuted classes of men, and have enlarged and enriched their city by opening her gates to the natives of Antwerp when that town was taken by the Spaniards, to the Jews who were driven from Portugal, to the French who fled at the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and lastly, to those who fled from the French Revolution; yet Hamburg must always be considered as a German town. Though mixed with foreigners, the people are, in their language and customs, German. It is situated at the very northern part of Germany, where the national characteristics of dulness and heaviness are said to be strongest, but whenever they are applied to the whole German people, they ought to receive many limitations. Activity is generally proportionate to the density of population. The inhabitants of Berlin, of Hamburg, of the kingdom of Wirtemberg, and of the provinces on the Rhine, are notoriously the most active of all the Germans; and in all these places, the population is proportionately crowded. That the peasants who are thinly scattered over the sandy plains of the north without one large city betwixt Berlin and Hamburg, or betwixt Frankfort and Copenhagen, are dull and heavy, may be true, but these characteristics are not true of the inhabitants of these cities, and particularly they are not true of the inhabitants of Hamburg, who have always participated in the management of their own affairs, and whose industry has not been controlled or limited by an arbitrary government.
It was principally between Altona and Hamburg that the French destroyed so many buildings when they had possession of the town. Several ruins remain, and those houses which have been rebuilt have been run up in a hasty manner; many of them are small and ill-looking, which gave the place itself, animated as it was, a very shabby mean appearance.
A native of our own country, who has not resided for some time out of it, would scarcely remark as peculiar the apparent comfort, cleanliness, and affluence, which struck me as distinguishing the people of Hamburg. I was indebted for the observation, and for the pleasure which contemplating the enjoyments of our fellow creatures gives, to my residence in a poorer country. All around the city there are several little distinct districts, or lands, some of them are dependant on Hamburg, and some on Hannover. These districts are generally rich marsh lands; their inhabitants are extremely wealthy, and the women are said to wear on gala days diamonds and jewels that are splendid enough to adorn a princess. Each of these districts has a costume somewhat resembling the costumes of the Swiss, and the people, who are generally handsome, look neat and gay. Before reaching the town, I had seen many of them, their larger and better houses, their finely painted milk-pails, with polished hoops, and their cleanly appearance, plainly indicated more affluence than I had lately seen. They give the market of Hamburg, where they stand, selling flowers or fruits, or watching the piles of vegetables ready to be sold, a gay and animated appearance. The servants and the workmen were all neatly and well dressed. I saw nothing like poverty and wretchedness, and with better clothes the people looked handsome and healthy. Cynics may rail at affluence and luxury, but the beauty of the human face and figure, which seems to be increased as men live in ease and enjoyment, proves their advantages. Excessive labour and poverty distort and disfigure the form. I was sensible of this as I looked on the people and the enjoyment at Hamburg, and as I recollected the unwashed faces, dishevelled hair, neglected clothes, and squalid persons of the scattered inhabitants of the sands of Germany. Good living and luxury appeared to have had so great an influence, that I could hardly believe the people were all Germans.
Almost every woman of Hamburg carries, when she goes abroad, a small long basket under her arm, which is covered and concealed by a shawl employed solely to hide it. Every one provides herself with the handsomest shawl her means can procure; it is often better than any article of the dress, and those used by servants of opulent families are of considerable value, and descend like an heir loom from mother to daughter for several generations. Scandal has been very busy with the fame of those ladies who carry baskets, but if all these are of doubtful reputation, they amount to at least half the females of Hamburg. The baskets and shawls give an air of gentility and of intrigue, and curiosity wishes to know what it is which is so carefully concealed.
Hamburg is very well situated to be kept clean, a branch of the Elbe washes it, and the Alster, the little river before mentioned, runs through the town in two small streams. Yet it has not been improved in proportion to the goodness of its situation, and the wealth of its inhabitants. The streets are narrow, crooked, and ill paved, the houses are badly built, and huddled together, and when good-looking, can be rarely seen. The public buildings are large, but not handsome, and most of the churches are great masses of red brick, all the steeples of which, having sunk, now lean on one side, and look ready to fall. No pains seem to be taken to keep the town clean, the canals were suffered to be without water, and emitted in the warm weather most unhealthy smells. St Michael’s church is modern, and possesses the advantage of standing in an open place, where it can be seen. It is a very second rate building, in which all the faults of Italian architecture are carried to a ridiculous excess. It is well proportioned, and had the architect only spared himself the trouble of the ornaments, had he left out his pilasters on high pedestals, and not cut his cornice into innumerable angles, had he made the building as simple as possible, it might have been elegant. But at present it has a heavy and gloomy appearance.
The handsomest building in Hamburg is the Börsen Halle, but unfortunately this is situated in so narrow a street, that it can be scarcely seen. It is the coffee-house of the merchants, where they meet to hear and tell the news, to smoke their segars, and plan their speculations, with every mercantile information at their command. Newspapers, current prices, journals, periodical publications, every thing necessary to the merchant is collected. In the building are reading-rooms, ballrooms, a library, a coffee-house, a restaurateur, and every kind of refreshment both for body and mind. It is supported by subscription; strangers are admitted, on being introduced. The rooms are splendid, and the accommodation excellent. A mercantile newspaper is published in the same building, which is known all over Germany, and perhaps in every commercial town in Europe. The Halle is open the whole day, but it is most frequented a few hours before and after change time. In ornamenting such places, rather than in building churches, the merchants of Hamburg like to display their wealth; in them, in their houses, and places of amusement, you can form an idea of their affluence.
I found the environs of Hamburg delightful. The noble Elbe, smooth as a mirror, was uniting its waters to the ocean, and reflecting gloriously the rays of the sun. Below Hamburg the land rises rather abruptly from the river, and its bank is adorned with well laid out gardens and fine houses. The beauty is rather in the territories of Denmark than in those of Hamburg, but much of it is owing to the merchants of the latter, who have employed their wealth to adorn this part of the country. There are few parts of the world which are so abundant in signs of human happiness as the environs of London. The nice houses and gardens; the windows ornamented with flowers and curtains; the regular and beautiful walks, are all signs of enjoyment. There each house has the appearance of being the comfortable habitation of a family, and the joys of the inner chambers are not less dear to our hearts than the gaiety of the outsides to our eyes. The environs of Hamburg present similar pictures of human felicity. The merchants employ their wealth to make themselves and their families comfortable and healthy houses, removed from the close and crowded city. They may have borrowed this taste from us; but it seems natural, and, whenever men are not dazzled and corrupted by their idle reverence for monarchs, they will assuredly make comfortable dwellings for the mass of the society before they build palaces for the few.
The Hamburgers are greedy of amusement, and the environs of the city abound in houses of entertainment. One of these, from its elegance and beauty, deserves to be mentioned. A little below Ottenson, a small village, farther than Altona from Hamburgh, is a beautiful garden, which, in point of situation and neatness, may vie with any of the world. It occupies the rising bank of the Elbe, and commands a view of the river and opposite coast. On the summit of the hill stands the house, which is elegantly furnished. Every kind of refreshment may be procured. That never-failing accompaniment of such places in Germany, a band of music, filled the still and fragrant air with sweet sounds. You sip coffee, or lave your lips with wine, under the shade of fine trees; you throw your eyes over the wide and majestic Elbe, and, music sounding from a distance, makes the scene a sort of paradise. The general calmness and gentleness of the people allow no noise and turbulence. They were like the place, still, and yet happy. It is called the “Rainvillsiche Garten,”—Rainvill’s Garden,—is one of the favourite resorts of the best company of Hamburg, and does honour to their taste.
No stranger goes to Ottenson without visiting the grave of Klopstock, who is buried in the church-yard, beneath the large linden tree, under which he delighted to sit. His second wife is buried beside him, and two plain stones mark their graves. Some lines from the Messiah are sculptured on his tombstone, but they are so much scribbled over by the names of visitants, every one of whom is of more consequence than Klopstock, that his name can scarcely be read. He could not have chosen a more delightful residence than the neighbourhood of Hamburg. The country is beautiful, and the society of the town is equal to the society of any town of Germany. He appears to have been in one point—perhaps he was in many—like our own Gray. He wished to be thought a gentleman, or a man of the world, rather than a poet; he assumed the appearance and behaviour of a polished courtier, and when his auditors expected to hear him talk of the laws of rythme, or the difficulties he had found in executing his own productions,—when they expected to gather from him the wisdom of poetry and of inspiration, he talked to them of skaiting and of managing horses. As Goethe was beginning to be known in the world, Klopstock was at the height of his reputation; and the latter visited the former at Frankfort, on his way to Carlsruhe. The young poet expected to have learnt much from his senior relative to their art. Klopstock, however, recommended to him the skaits which were used in Friezland as better than those used in Germany. Goethe procured himself a pair, which, as he is a great lover of relics and antiquities, he probably preserves to the present day. Hagedorn, another early German poet of some celebrity, also lived and wrote the greater part of his works in the neighbourhood of Hamburg. In Ottenson church-yard, the Duke of Brunswick, who was before mentioned, is also buried. The little spot contains the dust of a prince who was honoured as a hero and of an illustrious poet.
The wealth of the inhabitants of Hamburg, and their love of amusement, is also shewn in their dancing saloons, which are splendid and numerous. There is one by Altona, intended for every description of persons, which merits the character of a superb room. Such places are constantly visited, particularly on Sundays and holidays, by the young of both sexes. Some are frequented only by females of lost reputation. There is one such, called the Hall of Apollo, which is one of the most splendid rooms in the whole town, and which is occasionally visited by a class of persons who, in our country, would regard it as a profanation. My attention was directed to it by a middle aged citizen of the middling classes of life, who spoke of it in presence of his wife, and several other persons, as a place which all strangers visited, and where he had no objection to accompany his friends. There is something of decency about the haunts of vice on the continent, that while it renders them more dangerous, does not invest them with that character of terror and blackguardism which belongs to them in our country. Their decency is, in truth, their greatest evil, as it leaves young men no motives arising from disgust, from delicacy or prudence, to avoid them.
Such assemblies, and the opinion entertained with regard to them, must have a powerful influence on morals; it may perhaps be traced in the number of children born out of marriage. In Hamburg, in 1817, the whole number of births was 3589, out of which 338 were the children of parents not married. The proportion of natural to legitimate children was one to ten and a half. Hamburg has the name of a free town, and because many persons are ready to attribute every crime and every disorder to freedom, it is necessary to remind the reader that similar assemblies, if they are not so splendid, are equally numerous in the royal residences of Berlin, Vienna, and Paris, and in Berlin they are certainly more libertine and profligate.
The number of children born out of marriage is also equally great, and greater in royal cities, than in the free town of Hamburg. In Paris, in the year 1815, out of 22,612 births, 8976 were children born out of marriage. The proportion is here more than one third. In Petersburgh, in 1816, it was one out of seven;—7888 was the number of births, and 1111 of these were natural children. I have also met some accounts of the children baptized in Dresden, but they did not extend to a great period, and therefore do not justify any general conclusion. The proportion of children born out of marriage was, however, as one to four. In the provinces of Bremen and Verden, in the year 1791, the whole number of births was 5873; of these 255 were children born out of marriage; in 1792, the whole number was 5775, and then the children born out of marriage were 280; in the first year the proportion was one to twenty-two, in the second, one to twenty. In Paris there are four times as many, in Dresden twice as many, and in Petersburgh one third more children, proportionately, born out of marriage than in Hamburg, while in the province of Bremen there was more than a half less. This latter was, however, the proportion of a period long past, and there may now be a great difference.∗
Were all these children the result of a loose and promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, if their fathers took no further notice nor care of them, they would mark a most deplorable state of society; but there is reason to believe, that, in France and in Germany, the parents of many of the children live constantly together, and that nothing is wanting to the legitimacy of their union but the mere ceremony of marriage.
It is a matter of surprise how magistrates and legislators, who take on themselves the task of preventing crimes, not only tolerate, but license places where the temptation to commit them is hatched; how they can take away a life for forgery, and sanction that dissipation to participate in which forgery is committed; how they who take on themselves to prescribe all the actions of their fellow men, can permit them to frequent assemblies in which manly virtue, and all the better affections of the heart, are sacrificed on the altar of low sensuality. But legislators are ignorant of the mischiefs, and careless of the consequences, of laws. They have in their youth trod in the enchanted circle of dissipation, and ever afterwards live on in its delusions. Their ambition is not, and never has been, to make men good, but to make them obedient; and there is reason to believe they have often seduced nations to be criminal that they might be rendered more tractable. Their desire is to govern, and, for the sake of a paltry revenue, as a means of governing, they license prostitutes and sanction gambling. They substitute their laws for the laws of nature; they usurp the authority which reason ought to have over men, and, when they have taught the human race to look only to them, to bow in obedience to their authority, they teach one species of immorality by their commands, and another by neglecting to forbid it. We accordingly find, in the much governed countries of Germany, that men, otherwise decent and respectable, frequent assemblies, without a blush, which, in countries where the cares of the government are somewhat less extensive, where the people think more for themselves, no man could visit without reproach.
The establishments for education in Hamburg are very good. Every parish, of which there are five, has its own school, where the poor are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion, free of expence. Exclusive of these, there is a school destined for the children of paupers,—Die Industrie und Arbeit Schule,—in which they are taught the above useful arts, and also how to perform various sorts of work. There are several schools of a better sort. There is a high-school, in which the classical languages are taught, and there is what is called a Gymnasium, in which young men are prepared for the university; but Hamburg itself has no university. In most parts of Germany the whole education is completely under the control of the magistracy, while in Hamburg there are many private schools.
When the French were in possession of Hamburg, they suspended the establishment which formerly provided for the relief of the poor. When it was in activity not a beggar was to be seen, and before it was established they were so numerous, that it was impossible to walk the streets without being very much annoyed by them. During the time its operations were suspended, the evil again grew intolerable; they are now resumed, and, during my stay in Hamburg, I saw only three beggars, at the moment I was about to depart. They had taken their station at the common landing-place, were most wretched-looking, and were very importunate in their demands. It is forbidden by the laws to give alms, under a penalty of five R. Thalers, half of which is to be given to the beggar if he informs against the giver. Indiscriminate alms given is not a virtue; but I am slow to believe any general rule can be the exact measure to which our charities ought to extend, and I am unwilling to think that the good of society can ever demand a law for the suppression of our benevolent affections. This is something worse. It bribes villany to smite charity.
The establishment dates from the year 1788, and was supported by all the power of the government. The superior part of it consisted of an upper poor committee, composed of five senators, two elders of the parishes, and twenty citizens. In this committee, the treasurers of the churches, the chiefs of the orphan-house, of the hospital, and of the penitentiary, had seats and votes. Their principal business was to provide employment for the poor, and to take care of the funds for their support. A smaller committee, consisting of twelve, directed those persons who claimed assistance to be employed, rewarded, or punished, according as they were in distress, were industrious, or were negligent. To promote the aim of the establishment, the town was divided into five districts, and each district was again divided into twelve quarters, and, as the town does not contain more than 107,000 inhabitants, each quarter could not contain, on an average, 2000. Each district had two overseers, and the respectable citizens in each quarter, in conjunction with the overseers, and under their guidance, looked after the poor in their quarter, and collected what funds they could for their support. They visited the houses, and inquired into the character of every person asking or needing succour. They ascertained what was the cause of their distress, and what was the best means of helping them. All these circumstances were marked on papers of a certain form, provided for that purpose, so that the whole life and character of every one of the poorer people became known to the magistrates, and was put on record. The industrious were encouraged, the idle were compelled to work, and those whose misconduct had brought misery on themselves, were otherwise punished. Care was taken that the children were all sent to school. It was, in fact, a most extensive police of citizens, and perhaps as efficient a one as could be established. There can be little doubt, that when it was vigorously followed out there would be no beggars, but the great mass of the poor would fall under the tutelage and care of the poor committees.
One of the principal promoters of this scheme was a Professor Büsch; and for his services to humanity, the citizens, under the guidance of a society which there is in Hamburg for the encouragement of the useful arts, have erected a monument to his honour. It is placed on the walls of the town, which are converted into a promenade. It is a simple obelisk on a pedestal of granite, on which is a medallion of Büsch, and some figures, emblematical of learning, and of the peaceful virtues of citizens. There is nothing to admire in the execution. The inhabitants of free towns in modern times, like the inhabitants of the free cities of ancient Greece, know how to honour merit; and, in the estimation of wisdom, the world is likely to be more benefited by a monument to such a man as Büsch than by all those which are erected to commemorate victories, which are at the same time defeats,—which are glory to one nation, but shame to another. Modern wars are made from such a calculating policy, that the merit of being pre-eminently just rarely belongs to any one party.
The theatre of Hamburg does the wealth of the citizens no honour. It is a small, ill built, ill looking house; but the company of performers is generally supposed to be the third best of Germany. Those of the Court, or of the Burg theatre at Vienna, and of the theatre at Berlin, are superior; but Hamburg has given birth to and nourished a great variety of talent. The celebrated Madame Shröder is a native of Hamburg, and received her theatrical education there. The manner in which Otto von Wittelsbach, a tragedy, written by a Professor Babo of Munich, was represented, gave me a favourable opinion of the performers, particularly of a Mr Herzfeld, who both looked and played the high-spirited, open-hearted, generous, disappointed, fierce, and insulted Otto very well. The tragedy is written in prose, but the fable is good, and the language plain and neat, and it is recommended to the Germans by its being taken from an event in their own history.
Otto was the friend and supporter of Philip of Suabia, whom he in a great measure helped to the imperial throne. Philip had promised him one of his daughters in marriage; but afterwards, out of policy, refused to give him either of them. And Otto, reconciled from supposing Philip’s conduct would promote the welfare of the state, assents to a proposal to assist the King of Poland, then engaged in war. He is too noble himself to suspect deceit in others; but Philip has a minister, who seeks, by the crooked paths of policy, to attain that security which is always reached by the strait ways of righteousness. The manner in which this minister leads his master from one step of state policy to another, till he makes the once noble Philip do the basest things, which fill him with fear and horror, is an instructive lesson. The minister hates the generous Otto; and, by his persuasion, the letter of recommendation which the emperor gives Otto to the King of Poland, warns the latter to be careful of him as a disturber of the public tranquillity. Otto confides the letter to his sword-bearer, who says, no seal ever yet hindered him from reading a letter, because he cannot read. In this he resembles his master, who had begun to learn, when the monk, his instructor, gave him a book, which began, “The vow of chastity, of poverty, and of obedience, is the only key to the door of heaven.” Otto threw the book away, and forgot his reading. The seal of the letter gets melted by chance, it is read to Otto by a friend, and he then discovers the manner in which Philip wished to impose on him; he returns to court, upbraids, and in the heat of altercation murders the emperor; he is put to the ban of the empire, his castle of Wittelsbach, the ancient seat of the “Agiolfinger,” is destroyed, and as he is about to leave it and his country on a pilgrimage, he is murdered.
I know no German tragedy which is so simple and plain, so clear from all absurd sympathies and powerful fates, and mysterious necessities to commit crime as this. It has not that vividness of character, and appropriate language, that admirable representation of old times which distinguished Goetz von Berlichingen; yet Otto is the very picture of a true knight, and the spirit of the manners of that time seems to have been caught and copied. Men of strong passions, whose conduct has been accurately described, who were unalloyed by affectation and unpolished by refinement, who lived for themselves, and so separated from the rest of the world, as to remain unaltered by its opinions, probably afford some of the best materials for tragedy. We are sufficiently acquainted with the character of the days of chivalry to appreciate the sentiments, and take an interest in the conduct of the persons who lived in those days. And a tragic author has little more to do than to copy the language which has been handed down to us as theirs. Professor Babo has done this, and he has succeeded. The piece, though not new, was received with great applause, much of which was undoubtedly due to the good acting of Mr Herzfeld.
I may here mention a class of men I have frequently met in Germany, but with whom I am not sufficiently acquainted to describe them accurately, more than by their outward marks. If you meet with two or three persons riding on horseback in company, and they have long rapiers hanging at their sides, and are well wrapped up in great coats and caps, with a little portmanteau strapped on behind their saddle, you may be sure they are mercantile travellers. If the colour of their clothes approaches grey, and are rather coarse, if they boast of the excellence of German manufactories, and exalt the patriotism of using only them, if they have a mortal hatred for English manufacturers and machinery, if their manners are rather presumptuous and coarse, like men grown suddenly rich, and they are rather dirty and slovenly in their persons; they are of the same class of people, but they surely come from the neighbourhood of the Rhine, from Elberfeld, or Sölingen. The riders I have seen in all parts of Germany, and I have occasionally associated with the sect at Leipsic, Hamburg, Bremen, Frankfort, and in Holland, and I have found them every where alike.
They are a numerous class of men, as the whole commerce of Germany is yet much more carried on through them than through the ordinary post. They are more usually partners than hired persons. From the nature of their pursuits, from their mixing much with society, and from their having shared in that good education which is given to every child in their country, they are some of its most shrewd and practical men. Their business teaches them not to confine their love to any tract of Germany, and the impediments they feel to their success from the numerous governments, makes them rational and steady patriots. Several petitions and remonstrances which have been sent from the commercial class to the diet at Frankfort, and to the sovereign of Prussia, relative to a freedom of trade for all parts of Germany, and to giving free constitutions to their country; and some very spirited and well reasoned articles on some branches of political economy which have frequently found their way into the Allgemeine Zeitung, published at Stutgard, and which were the production of some of this class of men residing on the Rhine, shew in what manner they begin to interest themselves in politics. They are united by interest, they have frequent opportunities of communicating with each other, and they can give weight to their sentiments. They have suffered from an alteration in the course of trade, are yet ignorant how beneficial a free intercourse between nations is, and they are led by their apparent interest to wish for laws restricting the importation of French and English articles, and to ask for a monopoly. With these natural defects, and with too great an habitual love for amusement, they are certainly to be ranked amongst the most active and political of all the German people.
There are two points in which they excel; they are not noble, they belong to no caste, and are, of course, opposed to exclusive privileges; and they do not form incorporated trades, and are, therefore, not opposed to a free exercise of the industry of any citizen. They are gathering wealth and political power, and untainted with the metaphysics of the philosophers, the technicalities of the lawyers, and the enthusiasm of the students, and far removed from the ignorance and degradation of the peasants, may be looked on as some of the most sane and healthy minded people of Germany. They are neither visionarily mad, nor practically slaves. There were not less than eighty persons of this description from all parts of Germany, who dined at the table d’hôte every day, who were constantly going and coming, and who afforded an endless change of faces and of society.
In commercial inns a mere idle traveller finds no companions, for every other inhabitant has his distinct occupations and friends, who find him amusement when he is not employed. Nor are such inns to be recommended to those who pine after comfort and repose, and who are desirous of having all the little scraps of information which are usually supplied by an intelligent waiter, or a valet-de-place. They are, however, worth visiting; at them you feed excellently, the conversation is always animated and loud; the opinions of this class of men merit attention, and the large parties which assemble form a singular feature in society. Never but in Germany, and in commercial towns, have I seen a table d’hôte which was habitually frequented by more than sixty persons.
The end of the thirteenth, and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries, seem to have been fruitful in associations to obtain or preserve freedom. The Hanseatic league, though neither the first nor the last, became one of the most powerful of such associations, and, with the exception of the union of the Swiss, has lasted longer than any other. A union of the cities on the Rhine, which was also formed for the purpose of protecting their property, and giving security to that commerce which was just then beginning to spread civilization over Europe, preceded the Hanseatic league. These unions were not copied from one another, but were, in each instance, the result of a necessity to protect the property of merchants from the ravages of freebooters; and the mercantile classes, relying on themselves, united together for protection and security. They are remarkable instances of a common interest uniting men who lived under different governments, who were separated from each other, and who wanted the magic bond of a common country. At that time men defended one another because they were injured. Now, they do it, because they are subjects or slaves of the same monarch.
In the fourteenth century, the Hanseatic league comprised almost all the considerable towns of Germany and Holland. The number was at one time sixty-two, and though they were too much scattered to act well together, their common interest held them united, and made them at that period formidable to all the sovereigns of the Continent. The power of these latter, however, became gradually too great to be resisted by scattered individual towns; and each of them fell in its turn under the sway of some prince. A change of commerce reduced the prosperity of some of the towns, and the powerful league was at length again reduced to the two cities with whom it originated, Hamburg and Lubeck, and their later sister Bremen. They are probably indebted for their continued independence to the distance at which they are situated from any power capable of conquering and retaining them with advantage.
Hamburg has been often assailed by the Danes, but they always wanted power sufficient to subdue it, supported as it was by the other Hanse towns, and sometimes by the intercession, if not by the arms of the emperor. It was obliged, however, to purchase in 1768 a resignation from Denmark of the right it claimed to the town, and a future security from attack.
Some account of the present state of the governments of these three towns will be interesting, not only from their antiquity, and from the honourable place they hold in history, but also from the influence they are likely to have on the future prosperity of that people, whose language their inhabitants speak. They are far removed from the other busy parts of Germany, and, from the facility of communication by water, have almost so much to do with Britain as with Germany. But they are the great emporiums for the commerce of this latter country, and are constantly visited by crowds of travellers and merchants from every part of it. Their language is German, their publications spread through Germany, their customs, their freedom itself, their laws are German, and though they possess none of that lofty fame which dazzles and deludes, yet, from their prosperity, they are likely to enjoy a considerable influence on opinion. Their newspapers, particularly the “Deutsche Beobacter,” published at Hamburg, warmly espouse the side of liberality, and are much read in Germany. Though separated from the active parts of it by large districts of sand, they can thus make their voice be heard on the far side, and may help their countrymen in those rational struggles they have now commenced, to obtain political freedom, through the medium of opinion. As an example of the influence of their press, I may mention, that the newspaper of Bremen was the first to publish an account of a man being tortured in Hannover in 1818, which then attracted the notice of the literary public of Germany, and since then the torture has been abolished in Hannover. Their interest, also, is most intimately connected with the freedom of trade in Germany, and as this can only be obtained through free constitutions being given to the rest of their countrymen, the press of the Hanse towns will assist in obtaining them. With commercial people freedom and prosperity must be synonymous terms, and the geographical situation alone of these towns must make their inhabitants admirers of freedom.
In a mere literary point of view, I am not so able to appreciate their effects, but it may be remarked, that Klopstock lived and wrote in Hamburg, and that Goethe was born and educated in Frankfort. And, according to the general principle, of liberty being the mother of talents, it may be expected that the natives of the free towns should, in no case, be behind the inhabitants of the other parts of Germany.
The general form of the government of these three towns is the same. In name it is republican, and each is an independent sovereign. Under the empire they were subject to no control greater than that to which each individual sovereign was subject. There were formerly fifty-one free imperial towns in Germany, which were also republics, which had sovereign power within their own territories, but over which the emperor had in some measure extended his dominion rather more than over the princes of the empire. They were the principal seats of the wealth, civilization, and industry of Germany. At present Frankfort on the Maine is the only one remaining. All the rest have fallen under the dominion of different sovereigns. The alterations in society, from rude freedom to polished slavery, are nowhere more strongly marked than in the history of Germany. Political power, from having been much divided, has become gradually concentrated in the hands of a few sovereigns, and men have only lately learnt all the evils of this concentration. As Frankfort is now independent, and as it forms, with the three cities of Lubeck, Hamburg, and Bremen, a distinct part of the empire of Germany, and each one has a vote at the diet, I shall include Frankfort in the few observations I shall here make on their different constitutions.
Both the executive power and the power of administering justice are placed in all these towns, in the hands of a senate, which is composed, in Hamburg, of four bürgermeisters and twenty-four senators; in Lubeck of four bürgermeisters and sixteen senators; in Bremen also of four bürgermeisters and twenty-four senators; and in Frankfort of two bürgermeisters and forty-two senators. In the three Hanse towns the senates fill up all the vacancies which may occur by death in their own body. The qualifications requisite for a senator are, that the person is a citizen,—that he follows that Christian confession of faith which is followed by the city. In Bremen, for example, each member must be a Calvinist; in Hamburg, a Lutheran. He must be of a certain age,—not related in a certain degree to the other members of the senate,—and he must not be in the service of any foreign prince. In Frankfort the members of the senate are only required to be Christians, and the citizens take a small share in electing them. The senate elects six persons, and deputies chosen by the citizens elect six more. These twelve elect three persons, and of these three the senate chooses one. In this manner every vacancy is filled. In all these towns, therefore, the citizens, who are only a part of the people, have little or nothing to do with the election of their own magistrates.
When the towns of Germany first grew into importance, there were no large accumulation of capital in the hands of individual tradesmen. Each citizen had his own house, worked at his trade, had his single apprentice, and very often no journeyman. It was not at that time an unjust principle to regard him only as a citizen who possessed, within the walls, a house of a certain value, because, in fact, there were at that time few other inhabitants of towns than those who did possess a house. But in our times all this is altered. Large capitalists employ many men who constantly live in cities, but who can never accumulate, with the wages of their labour, a sufficiency of wealth to purchase a house in a city, where, from convenience of situation, every house has the value of a palace. And when the law makes it a necessary condition to obtaining the rights of a citizen, that a man shall possess a house of a certain value, all the people who cannot buy a house, and who, at the present day, are probably the majority of the society, are therefore excluded from the privileges of citizenship, by a regulation made under circumstances totally different from the present, and when the present circumstances could never have been contemplated or imagined.
Such a regulation as this is in force in most of the Hanse towns, and thus a large body of the inhabitants are excluded from every participation in political power. Thus, in Hamburg, those citizens only take part in public affairs who possess a house of their own which is worth 1000 Reichs Thalers, species, or about L. 200 Sterling, and who have had the right of citizenship conferred on them by the senate. To obtain them, also, it is necessary for the aspirant to prove that he is not noble,—not a Wende,—and not a Cerf—Leibeigner,—that he professes one of the three Christian confessions of faith,—and that he does not already possess the right of citizenship in any other city. In Frankfort, to be a citizen a man must possess 5000 florins, or L. 250 Sterling; but here the legislative body, at the recommendation of the senate, has the power to give the right of citizenship to persons of extraordinary talents, or who may otherwise have a claim on it, when they do not possess this sum. The rights of citizenship are in Lubeck and Bremen in the gift of the senate, and, in the latter city, to be permitted to take part in the public affairs, a man must possess 3000 Thalers species, or L. 600. It is not enough, in the eyes of legislators, that wealth has of itself a thousand charms, but they have increased its influence on the mind by giving it a multitude of privileges. In fact, it has now usurped all the power of legislation, and most penal laws are now made for the mere protection of wealth.
The senates must consult the citizens when new laws are to be made,—when new taxes are to be levied,—when war is to be made,—when a new religion is to be tolerated,—when the domanial property of the city is to be sold,—when the armed force is to be augmented,—and when any expences are to be incurred. The power to make propositions belongs entirely to the senate, and it makes them not directly to the mass of the citizens, but to different persons who represent them. In Lubeck the citizens assemble in twelve colleges, or guilds, according to their trades; each college appoints a certain number of elders, with whom the senate communicates in writing. In Bremen, the citizens, divided into four sections, appoint a certain number of notables who act for them, and who are called together by the senate, generally several times in the year.
Hamburg is divided into five parishes. Over the citizens of each of these parishes three elders have authority. They are called the college of fifteen elders. The college elects its own members from amongst the citizens of the different parishes. It also elects nine deacons for each parish, who, united with them, make together the college of sixty, and twenty-four subdeacons for each parish, who, united with the rest, make the college of 180. The elders elect, further, six adjoints for each parish, who, united to the others, make the whole number 210. When the citizens are called together to communicate with the senate, the members of these colleges must attend; the remainder of the citizens may if they please. Before any propositions are made to the whole of the citizens, they are communicated to the elders, and their opinion is asked as to the propriety of assembling the citizens, though they have no power to compel this when the senate does not please. When the citizens are called together, and 200 are assembled in the town-house, the bürgermeisters appear, and the propositions which the senate has to make are read. A copy of these is given to each of the five parishes, the members of which, with the senior elder of each parish for president, go into five separate chambers to deliberate, and each parish comes to a separate resolution. The elders of the different parishes now meet, and make, according to the resolutions of each parish, a joint resolution, which passes for the resolution of the citizens. If this agree with the propositions of the senate, it is then law. If the propositions are not agreed to, the senate may propose them again. Should they then be rejected, the senate, with the college of sixty, the elders, and the deacons, confer on the subject, and endeavour to come to an agreement. When this occurs, the citizens are again called together, and, as their leading men are now in unison with the senate, the propositions are generally assented to. Should an agreement not be obtained by these means,—should the citizens obstinately refuse their consent to the propositions, the senate retires them “from its great love for freedom and peace;” if it should obstinately persist, a deputation of twenty persons, half elected out of the senate, and by it, and half elected by the citizens, have a power given them, from which there is no appeal, to decide the question. From the power which the elders have of leading the debates, and of afterwards making the resolutions nearly what they please,—it appears that this should be called the senate communicating with the elders rather than with the citizens. There is reason to believe, from its having been found necessary to compel a certain number of persons to attend, that the citizens found themselves of no consequence in these assemblies, and therefore left off frequenting them. Hamburg, however, is the only one of the Hanse towns which has the least claim to the name of a popular government.
In Frankfort the citizens, that is, persons who possess L. 250 Sterling, and have had the rights of citizenship given them by the senate, are divided into three classes according to their ranks; the first are nobles, learned men, public servants, &c.; the second, bankers, merchants, retail traders, &c.; the third are mechanics, and persons not included in the two first classes. Each of these classes elects twenty-five deputies, by each of the members inscribing the names of twenty-five citizens on a piece of paper, and giving it in to the president, and they together making seventy-five, are the electing college, and elect forty-five persons who take part in making laws when the legislative body is called together. This election is renewed ever year. These forty-five elected members, twenty members of the senate chosen by it, and twenty members of what is called the permanent committee of the citizens, chosen by this committee, form the legislative body of Frankfort. The president is always a senator. This body is to be assembled once a year by the senate, and remains six weeks together. It is in the power of the senate to call them oftener, and to keep them longer together.
In describing the subjects on which the senates are generally obliged to consult the citizens, I described the duties and functions of this legislative body which represents the citizens. The permanent committee of citizens, mentioned above, consists of fifty-one originally elected by the citizens, the vacancies are afterwards filled by this committee, choosing six of its own members, who, with six of the forty-five representatives of the citizens, elect some persons to fill them. Their office is permanent, and six of them must be jurisconsults,—Rechtsgelehrte. The influence which this class of men have in Germany, and the number of them who are employed in every department of government, deserves to be remarked, and pondered on by all those who speculate on the further progress of German society. Thus of the twenty-four senators of Hamburg eleven must be jurisconsults, and three of the bürgermeisters, four secretaries, and four “Syndici,” who have the power to give advice, though not a right to vote in the senate, are all jurisconsults. Thus also in Bremen, of the thirty-eight persons who compose the magistracy, twenty-nine are jurisconsults. These are people learned in law, who have no other occupations but those of governing and judging, and no other emolument but what they derive from their trades. An equal proportion is to be found in all the governments of Germany.
Formerly in civil suits of a certain value, an appeal might be made from the decisions of the senates to the court of the empire. At present, there is no appeal but that of sending the papers of any process to some faculty of jurisprudence for their decision. It is intended to establish a court of appeal for the four free cities, but at present the senators possess, uncontrolled, the power of administering justice. When to this, and the share they take in legislation, is added, that they alone are the executive power, that the accounts of the expenditure, with the exception of Frankfort, are submitted only to them, and that they hold their offices for life, it appears to me, that, so far as form and paper constitutions go, the senates of all these towns have unlimited power; yet I believe no instance is known of their being guilty of oppression, or of their failing to support, to the utmost of their power, the general interest of their fellow-citizens. The favourable opinion which the citizens entertain of their governments, may be partly derived from they being much better than the governments of the surrounding monarchies. But so far as paper constitutions are imagined to be a security to the governed against the power of the governors, they appear to be perfect anomalies in politics; the people have no securities, and yet they are not oppressed.
The causes of the moderation of these gentlemen in the pursuit of power, as compared to the conduct of other governors, may be traced to their having little or no territory, above all, no valuable distant territory, and, consequently, they can have no revenues but what they derive from the citizens. They live amongst the people, and they are, therefore, so much under the influence of public opinion, as if they had no control over the press, and every third man were a political writer. Conversation, without public meetings, or official and authorized public bodies, gives a consistency and a force to public opinion which keeps the magistrates within the bounds prescribed by custom. What Villers has said of Lubeck, the government of which is notoriously a close oligarchy, in describing the constitutions of the Hanse towns, appears to me applicable to them all. “Le gouvernment de Lubeck semble être une convention de famille sans défiance et sans jalousie, où l’amour de la mère commune, où la bonne-foi rèciproque et le respect du contrat d’union tiennent lieu de limites et de vigilance active.”∗
There is great difference between a form of government and principles of governing. It is of no consequence what the former is, provided the latter be right, though there may be some forms under which there is a greater probability that the principles will be right than under others. It is the form of the government of these free towns, its approach to an oligarchy of lawyers, which is wrong; the principles of governing, because they have always been subjected to the opinions of the people, are commensurate with the wisdom which the people possess, and they are, therefore, contented, and the government is good.
Some wish has been expressed to separate the judicial from the executive functions, and although this is, in theory, an excellent principle, yet to put it in practice in Hamburg, while public opinion can control both the executive and judicial powers, seems hardly worth the trouble and expence it would occasion. A greater improvement would be the admission of people of every religion into the offices of the state, and to the privileges of citizenship. Intolerance is at present carried farther in the Hanse towns, particularly in Bremen, than in any other part of the north of Germany, and it is extraordinary enough, that, combined with this intolerance, the members of the church in these two cities should have more wealth and worldly power than the generality of their Protestant brethren. There is nothing in the form of these governments which is worthy of imitation, or which can be imitated by the rest of Germany. In fact, most of the cities of Germany have formerly had similar constitutions, and they have either destroyed themselves, or they have been destroyed for their inefficiency. There is nothing in these governments more than the expence of a too numerous magistracy to prevent the growing prosperity of the towns. The inhabitants, from their extensive communication, must increase in knowledge and liberality, and, from the one specimen which I have given of the influence of their press, and from the nature of their occupations rescuing them from those fatal speculations which too often occupy the mere literary men of Germany, they may be expected to exert a more beneficial influence on the whole country, than any other equal portions of the community.
All the free towns have some territory more than is enclosed by their walls, and some of it, as Ritzebüttel, which belongs to Hamburg, is at a considerable distance from the city. The amount of the inhabitants, subjects of the different free towns, that is, both within and without their walls, is as follows: Frankfort 47,372; Lubeck 43,127; the city has only 25,526; Hamburg 129,739; and Bremen 46,270. Their revenues are estimated, that of Frankfort L. 80,000, that of Lubeck at L. 37,000, that of Hamburg L. 100,000, and that of Bremen at L. 40,000. They have all some debts. Together, they contain a population of 266,000 persons, and a revenue of L. 257,000 per year.
Hamburg and Bremen have adopted those commissions concilialrice which were first invented in Denmark. They are composed of two or three persons who have power to decide disputes, quarrels, and claims in a summary way, without letting them go through all the tedious formalities of a regular law process.
I left Hamburgh on Monday, June 8th, in a boat that goes every afternoon at three o’clock to Harburg. It cost an hour and a half to cross. The weather was fine, and the company mixed and agreeable. A great deal of the conversation was of that trifling sort which a very mixed society of people, all strangers to one another, usually have. At length, some political topics were started, and it was easy to remark, that most of the people thought more than they dared to say. I ventured to suggest, that the many persons who are employed in Germany in the capacity of governors of one sort or another, was one great cause for the quantity of taxation, and for that continued poverty of the people of which they were complaining. Immediately I was reproved for venturing too far, and cautioned to be careful of what I said; which shews under what inspection and restraints, real or imaginary, the people yet suppose themselves to labour. From politics the conversation became economical, the subject of the distresses of the commercial world was introduced, and the machinery of England blamed as the cause not only of ruin to England, but of ruin to the world. I said something in favour of machinery, but every person present, particularly some mercantile travellers, were my opponents. Mine was the right cause, and the steadiest of the believers in the hurtful effects of machinery declined to say much for his opinion. The prejudice against machinery is not confined to Germany, but it is, I believe, more violent there than in any other country; there books have been written expressly to prove that the machinery of Britain was the ruin of the Continent.
On arriving at Harburg, my companions went their various ways, and I took a solitary evening walk, intending to visit that part of Hannover which lies on the shores of the Elbe and the sea. I thought to have reached a little town called Buxtehude to sleep, but heavy sandy roads prevented this, and I stopped at a little village called Obergonne, where the contrast was great between the comforts of an inn at Hamburg, and those which a village alehouse could afford, and between the busy multitudes of that town, and the silence of the little family. They were all going to bed as I entered; it was ten o’clock, and I was soon shewn the little room where I was to sleep. There was a decent bed in one corner, but on two sides were several shelves, and on them the milk and cream from five cows, and part of the provender of the family were kept. The family were farmers, possessing about twelve acres of land, for which they had some services to perform, and tithes but no rent to pay. They exercised their industry in a variety of ways, such as digging peat, and sending it with their little produce to Hamburg, but they were still poor, and destitute of any thing like comfort. They were too indolent, or too much occupied, to keep either their house or their persons clean.
[∗]Since the text was written, I have seen the list of births in these provinces for 1817, in which the proportion of natural to legitimate children is as 1 to 15, and in the whole kingdom of Hannover as 1 to 14.
[∗]Constitutions des trois villes libres Anséatiques, par Charles de Villers, p. 89.