Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII.: free lands near the elbe. - Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 1
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CHAPTER VII.: free lands near the elbe. - 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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free lands near the elbe.
Names.—In what their freedom consisted.—How separated.—Stade.—Forlifications.—Trade.—Appearance of country.—A difference of manners.—An adventure.—An advocate.—A country parson.—Ottendorf.—Land Hadeln.—Farmers.—Servants.—General appearance.—Budjadinger Land.—Borough English.—Opinions.—A German proverb.—Royal tolls.—Provinces of Bremen and Verden.
The shores of the Elbe, the Weser, and the Ems, appear to have been very long inhabited by a race of men who either had a different origin from the inhabitants of the rest of Germany, or who found so many advantages in their situation that they made, at a very early period, some advances in civilization, which have ever since given them a superiority over the rest. It is said that they were Friezlanders, that they spoke a different dialect, and were in many points different from the other tribes of the same nation who spread themselves over Germany. They ardently loved freedom, they formed themselves into various little republics, without either sovereigns or nobles, and in this state they long preserved their independence. The towns of Bremen and Hamburg are well known examples, which still exist. The names of some others have utterly passed away, but not only the names, even the privileges of several still remain. These are known by the names of the land Kehdinger, land Wursten, the Alte land, and, above all, the land Hadeln. The three former lost many of their liberties when they were conquered by the nobles, and the archbishops of Bremen, at an early period, and much of the property of Kehdinger having become, through the misfortune of a dike breaking, which the inhabitants were not capable of repairing, the property of the crown, they were subjected to its magistrates and regulations. They still retain, however, the privilege of electing their own magistrates and clergymen, and they retain their own courts, in which the pleadings are public, and spoken, and in which justice is summarily administered. These courts are composed of magistrates, partly elected by the inhabitants, and partly appointed by the crown, and they are always attended by some of the inhabitants who are elected by the remainder, to perform this and other duties during three years. They have a right to give their opinion, though they are not accustomed to give it, and seem to be a sort of jury. The land Hadeln, or, as the Germans affectionately call it, das Ländchen, retained the most privileges. The inhabitants, divided into parishes, not only elected all their own magistrates, and all the officers of justice, of the revenue, and of the church, but they were completely free from great tithes, from nobles, and from that servitude of the peasantry which has had so sad an influence on the rest of Germany. By a sort of contract with the crown, they paid it a round sum, about 10,000 R. Thalers per year, which they levied as they pleased in lieu of all taxes. They were free from all quartering of soldiers. They were entirely governed by a sort of parliament or states chosen by the different parishes, and at the head of all was placed a sort of royal commissioner. The people themselves kept the roads in repair, and the chief duties of the government of Hannover towards it seems to have been, to give it the name of its dominions, and to take a portion of its revenue. The presence of the French, however, reduced these privileges to a par with those of the inhabitants of the other provinces of Hannover, and though they have now recovered the power of electing their own magistrates, and are again in possession of their ancient tribunals, and again elect their own tax-gatherers, they have lost the power of taxing themselves, they have lost their own separate government and states, and are now in these points subjected to the same rules as the other inhabitants of Hannover. It does honour to the sovereigns of this country that they allowed this little land to enjoy all its ancient privileges, till it was occupied by the French. I had heard and read a good deal of it, and the last chapter had left me at Obergonne, on my way to the very northernmost part of Germany, where it is situated, to visit it. Destitute as it is of all influence on the large societies of Europe, and of all romantic beauty, it is only remarkable as yet possessing the last remains of those free institutions which were imported from this country into Britain.
Nature seems in a manner to have separated the several little districts which have been mentioned from the rest of the world. The Elbe, the Sea, and the Weser, bound them on one side, they extend backward from the water but a few miles, and then vast moors, and barren sands, intervene between them and the other cultivated places. I passed on the following morning, on the inner borders of the Alte land. To my right all was fertility and cultivation, to my left there was nothing but a bleak black waste. A village, called Hornburg, through which I passed, though not within these districts, was so much better than any village I had before seen, that it gave me a favourable idea of what was to come.
The town of Stade, which I also passed through, is the seat of the provincial government, and of the courts of justice, for those parts of the dominions of Hannover which are named Bremen and Verden. It lies at some distance from the Elbe. A little river, the Schwinge, passes through it, and flows into the Elbe, but it is too small to be navigated by any other vessels than large boats, and it is said to be growing shallower. It is the only fortified place in the whole kingdom; every other part of the large boundaries of Hannover are defenceless, and here nobody can well come but the English. It is kept up to ensure a communication with England, and more than L. 8000 have been voted by the states of Hannover, in order to make this a perfect fortress. Achilles was invulnerable in every part but his heel; it is the heel alone of Hannover, which the wise men of that country are making impregnable.
Stade contains 4000 people, and was formerly a place of considerable importance, but the filling up of the river, which industry might have prevented, and other circumstances, particularly its conversion to a fortress, have reduced it from maintaining itself to be nearly dependant for support on the revenues of the rest of the country. Sonne says,∗ that, in 1815, four vessels were sent from here to catch whales. In 1818, however, there were none. Formerly Stade did share in this fishery, but the capitalists found they could employ their capitals much more advantageously in Hamburg than in Stade, and they had moved there. It is amusing to remark how the commerce of three carriers and eight owners of small vessels are called by this author an important trade. Nothing can give a more correct notion of the state of commerce in this country than such observations. They are better than a host of figures. It is admitted, however, on all hands, that the commerce of Stade has decreased.
Stade is of some importance to the sovereign, from being in the neighbourhood of that part of the Elbe where he makes people purchase a permission to sail on its waters. A vessel, which was formerly an English gun-brig, and which is the whole naval force of his majesty’s German dominions, is stationed here, to levy the toll, or see the certificate that it has been paid in Hamburg. Ships belonging to Altona and Hamburg, the inhabitants on the left bank of the Elbe, and some of those on the right bank, with their own productions, pass toll free, every body else must pay. This is, undoubtedly, the most important toll on water belonging to Hannover, and it is said to produce, when the expences of collecting it are paid, about L. 5000 per year. But this is a sealed part of the management of government, and all which is known concerning it is mere conjecture.
It was only on quitting Stade that I entered the fertile marsh land of Kehdinger. The country was regularly divided into small fields, planted with fruit trees, and rich in promise of an abundant harvest. In the other parts of Germany, the houses of the peasantry are built of the coarsest materials, and are seldom either painted or whitewashed. They have neither rails nor gates, and yards, gardens, and fields, frequently lie uninclosed. They seem to be so much employed in providing the mere necessaries of life, that they have no time to attend to its luxuries. A savage curiously carves the head of his war spear, or the handle of his hatchet, or he cuts his own face and head into pretty devices, but no German bauer ever paints his carts or his ploughs, or ornaments his agricultural implements. In the marsh lands, the gardens and the yards are inclosed, rails and fences are kept in good order, and the houses and implements are neatly painted. Gigs were standing in the yards, or rattling on the roads. The farmers were dressed like gentlemen, and were often sitting at their own doors, smoking their evening pipes, and seemed to enjoy the comforts of home. This difference of the people may be accounted for in few words. In the marsh lands property is free, the farmers are either the owners of the land they cultivate, or they are capitalists who hire it. They answer to our farmers, but the bauers or peasantry are the vassals of nobles, and are yet little better than feudal slaves. The houses in Kehdinger are not collected in villages, but each is built in the neighbourhood of the ground its owner cultivates. This is a most reasonable plan, and it marks a state of society which, in its early stages, was different from that of the rest of Germany, where all the vassals crowded round the castle of their lord. It is an emblem of security, and is of itself almost a proof of a different origin in the people, and of an origin the same as our own. So far as I am acquainted, this method is followed only in Britain, in Holland, on the sea coast from the Ems to the Elbe, to which Holstein may be added, and in the vale of Arno. It is now followed in America, and we may judge that this reasonable practice is the result of men thinking for themselves, and following their individual interest.
Pleased as I was with the appearance of the people and their houses, the first communication I had with them was by no means calculated to give me a favourable idea of their politeness. They are visited by no persons but those who have commercial dealings with them, and they are perfectly unacquainted with any other travellers on foot than pedlars, beggars, and vagrants. They live in affluence, and necessarily despise what looks like poverty. Pedestrians are always poor, and when I asked at a respectable inn at the village of Drochterson for a bed, I was very rudely refused. I became angry, and remonstrated in a manner to which the landlord was not accustomed, and he shut his door against me. A different manner of addressing him than that I had adopted would probably have obtained me all I wished, and I had myself partly to blame for his rudeness. Much of the civility or incivility of strangers depends on our own manners. Those who are constantly haughty and rude will find only grinning servility, which pays itself for its baseness by cheating, or neglect and rudeness from spirits somewhat like their own, which disdain to be insulted. We often make ourselves that character we ascribe to foreigners. In the course of my wanderings, I have often said with Goethe,
Sometimes I have said it in sadness, from not having found the proper means to recommend myself to attention, and sometimes with contentment, from the kindness with which I have been welcomed. A solitary foot traveller can never command respect from the quantity of gold he is expected to disburse, and he must never treat landlords, particularly German landlords, who are accustomed to a sort of equality with their guests, like people who are beneath him. He must buy civility and attention by complaisance and politeness.
The worst part of the adventure was, that I had afterwards a great difficulty to procure any kind of lodging. I knew that the innkeeper had violated an express regulation in refusing to lodge a stranger, and I therefore complained of that and of his ill conduct to a magistrate. But he was the secretary only of the district, was chosen by the inhabitants of the parish, among whom the innkeeper was a man of importance, and while a magistrate in any other part of Germany would immediately have sent for him, inquired into the matter, and most probably have punished him; he said he could do nothing in it, more than notice the complaint as one to be brought forward at the next meeting of the monthly sessions;∗ and that, if I felt myself aggrieved, I must then make the accusation, and then the court would judge of the satisfaction to be given. The court was to meet in two or three days, and it was to be held in the very inn with whose landlord I had quarrelled, which, from the public business being done in his house, was called the Lands Herberge. At first I resolved to wait, but on consulting the apothecary, the clergyman, and the lawyer of the village, with all of whom I became acquainted, they counselled me not, because the landlord was a great friend of the secretary’s, and I departed. The manner in which the magistrate referred the matter to a regular investigation before a competent tribunal, and the whole conduct of the landlord marked a different state of society from that which is predominant in the rest of Germany. There the Königliche Beamter, or royal magistrates, would have shewn no tenderness for an individual, and there it would be difficult to find an individual who, feeling the influence which property gives him, has any of that sort of independence of the magistracy which my uncivil landlord displayed.
It is one favourable part of the practice of these small districts, that the advocates are not allowed to interfere in such quarrels as that of mine, they are rigidly confined to civil causes, and in the others the parties must speak for themselves. This information was given me by the advocate of the village himself, whom I found an intelligent well educated man. Geography was his principal study, and he told me, with somewhat more vanity than truth, that he studied, in all its details, the geography of the whole world, and that, with that of the provinces of Bremen and Verden, and of the land Hadeln in particular, he was intimately acquainted. He knew every village in the whole country, how many houses, and how much cultivated and uncultivated land they contained, and how far every village was from every other. He occupied himself also with politics, and was a good specimen of the class of people to which he belonged. They are always educated at a university, and are in this point different from English attornies.
My adventure kept me at Drochterson a day. My walk on the following day, June 11th, was most delightful. The road, for several miles, lay on the Elbe dike. The river, in all its majesty, was beneath me. It was like a beautiful woman, whose presence absorbs all our attention. Yet there was nothing but what I had frequently seen,—a noble river, spreading into the sea. The morning breeze was fresh and balmy, yet not strong enough to ruffle the surface of the water. The scene gave me spirits, and I went gayly forward. I had now almost traced the course of this river from Prague to the sea. The branch which flows through that city bears the name of Moldau. It was there swift, but tranquil; it was running rapidly through the steep rocks of the narrow channel of the Switzerland of Saxony, and smoothly going on its course at Dresden; it was thickly studded with floating ice at Wittenberg and Magdeburg; at Hamburg it was glowing in the sun; and here it was lost in the sea. I recalled the various beauty I had seen it giving and partaking; the gentle hills of Prague; the ruder mountains of Saxony, with their old castles and wood-covered tops; the decaying Wittenberg; the busy Hamburg, and now a land indebted to art for protection, but superior, perhaps, to all the others, in richness and plenty. In all, however, the Elbe was the principal feature of loveliness; with its minor streams, and the advantages of communication which it offers, it is one of the best gifts of heaven. Here it offers a secure haven for ships; there it is a stream washing the doors of the Bohemian peasant, and bringing him, in exchange for his hops and his corn, the hardware of England and the spices of the east. It hardly does this, but it might do it. Nature gave it to be used. She gives us butterflies as baubles; but a noble river is more useful than beautiful. Some travellers have had great pleasure in seeing the sources of the Ganges, or striding over the Mississippi, and, without laying claim to their merit, I had a participation in their pleasure, as I recalled the extent I had floated on the Danube, and traced the waters of the Elbe.
As I was on the dike, and the tide in, the islands and houses in the river presented a curious appearance. The former are useful only for grass, and are frequently covered by the water. The houses, one of which is generally built on each island, are risen, by means of artificial mounds, considerably above the level of the highest tides. When the tide is in, the lower parts of the island become covered, and nothing is seen but the mound and the house. Till I had inquired, I could not imagine what had induced people to build houses on the water.
In a place where I stopped for refreshment, there came a man dressed in a sort of blue linen frock, with a common fur cap and dirty boots. He was smoking, and drank some spirits. He talked about carrying out dung, and of waggons, and all the operations of farming, in the dialect of the country. I supposed he was the parish butcher, and was surprised to learn that he was the clergyman. He cultivated his own glebe, and, as he did not keep a team, he seemed under some difficulty to procure the horses necessary for his work.
I reached the little town of Otterndorf, in Land Hadeln, towards evening, and, taught by the experience of the former night, I was cautious in what manner I asked for a bed. I had been recommended to an inn; it was all full with “herrn Officiere.” The woman civilly directed me to another, where I was welcomed in a hearty, but ridiculous manner. A tall stately man, with a long brown coat, looking altogether very much like a Quaker, received me with a shake of the hand, and repeated very often, in a solemn tone, and with sundry shakes of the head, Walk in, Sir, walk in,—Treten sie näher mein Herr, treten sie näher. Then calling to his wife, with very tender words, but in a most peevish tone, asked her, could she get the gentleman some coffee. This was his mode of commanding. Up stairs was a billiard-room, and a place to play skittles,—Kegel Bahn,—with newspapers, cards, and other amusements. On going to my room, I was surprised to be met at the head of the stairs by a young man, who, with the peculiar voice and manner of the landlord, shook me also by the hand, and repeated the same words of welcome. It was a perfect farce, but I was restrained from indulging in laughter from supposing he was an impudent waiter, who was mocking his principal. He was, however, the eldest son, and, having never been from home, had acquired precisely his father’s peculiar manner of address, and the solemn singing tone with which he uttered Treten sie näher mein Herr, treten sie näher.
Otterndorf is a clean little town, in which there are more workers in gold and silver than booksellers; a sign that the opulence of the people is employed more to ornament their bodies than their minds. The only bookseller’s shop was kept by a widow, who dealt principally in psalm and prayer books, and also in matches and birch brooms. Nothing was to be learnt in her shop so curious as the strange mixture of her wares. Two or three trifles gave me a favourable idea of the good sense of the inhabitants. The steeple of the church scarcely rose above the roof. Nothing but the whim of ignorance, endeavouring to excite wonder, could have erected immense piles of bricks and stones till they almost reached the heavens, and nothing but the solemn feelings of religion which are connected with steeples, could now make people admire them. It was seven o’clock, and in every house the tables were ready for supper, or the people were collected round them, enjoying, in their own family, the evening repast.
Land Hadeln may contain about ninety-six square miles, and 15,000 inhabitants. The greater part of it is rich marsh land, very fertile and chiefly under the plough, though a large tract on the outer side of the Elbe dike is constantly used as grazing land. Hadeln is divided into farms of various sizes, but the largest seldom contains more than 300 acres, and the smallest seldom less than 50. They are cultivated by the proprietors, who having not only a fruitful soil, but a cheap conveyance by water to Hamburg for all their produce, are incited to industry and improvement, and they live in affluence and splendour. Compared with the peasants of Germany, their freedom has made them licentious. They eat meat three or four times a day, and instead of being clad in coarse woollen which has been made by their wives, they wear fine English cloths, and look like gentlemen. Their sons go for soldier officers, and the daughters are said to study the Journal des Modes. The proprietors ride in to town, to take their coffee and play at billiards, and hear and tell the news, and at home they drink their wine out of cut glass, or tea out of china. Their houses are all surrounded by lofty trees and handsomely laid out gardens, the floors are carpeted and the windows of plate glass. The dwelling apartments, the barns and the places for the cattle, are all covered with one immense roof, and every house looks something like a palace surrounded with a little park. The proprietors direct the agriculture, without working a great deal themselves, and resemble very much in their hearty manners English farmers. In Hadeln, however, they are the principal people, while an English farmer is often of little importance, compared with the wealthy merchant, or titled land-owner.
The farm work is done by hired labourers, in other parts of Germany, the farmers and labourers are the same people. I am far from admiring a state of society, in which some are idle and opulent, and others industrious and poor, but though this is the case in Hadeln, the farm servants seem all well fed and well clothed. They generally live in the house of their master, and, besides board, receive about 8d. per day; when they do not live in the house, their wages are about 14d. rye at the same time selling for 5s. 6d. per bushel, and they generally have enough ground for a garden, and to grow potatoes. They are active and clean; I saw them carrying out dung, and returning at a good smart trot. They ride, and at this work they take much care of their clothes; each one was provided with a little straw mat, which he threw on the dung or in the waggon, that he might sit clean. Both in France and England, I have seen the labourers throw themselves lazily on the putrifying heap. The Hadelers were formerly, with the exception of the Britons and the Friezlanders, perhaps the most free of any people in Europe, and they, like our countrymen, managed their own affairs themselves. The consequence has been, that there is no little spot where all the inhabitants appear more comfortable than in the Land Hadeln. I will not affirm that every advantage which their situation gives has been adequately improved,—that they might not add commerce and manufactures to agriculture, that no machinery might be employed with advantage, and that knowledge is cultivated as it ought to be. But I have seen no place on the Continent, with the exception of the mere neighbourhood of Hamburg, that equals Land Hadeln in the apparent happiness and prosperity of its people. It is one of the happiest looking little spots I ever saw, and while every lover of British freedom must admire this last remains of the freedom of his German ancestors, he must lament over the number of similar little districts, which, in the course of years, have fallen under the dominion of one or other of the great nobles of Germany.
“Henry of Brunswick Wolfenbüttle formed in 1501 a treaty with the Count of Oldenburg, to reduce some lands to obedience, which were claimed by the Archbishop of Bremen, to whom the brother of Henry was coadjutor; the chief of these was a little district on the left side of the Weser, called Budjadinger land. The Duke of Brunswick and the Count of Oldenburg attacked it in the year 1513, when a severe frost allowed them to pass the morasses and water that had hitherto protected it; the inhabitants took refuge in a moor, they heaped masses of ice one on the other, and over the whole they poured water, which converted it into one solid wall of ice; but a traitor, Gerke Ubbeson, shewed the enemy a road round the wall and through the moor. The Budjadinger men were taken in the rear, and were at length totally defeated, 700 of them were left dead on the ice, and the remaining 400 surrendered themselves prisoners. The land was given to the Count of Oldenburg, to whom it at present belongs.”∗ Such was the end of the independence of this other Hadeln, and such has been the end of many separate independent communities, not only in this obscure quarter of the world, but in every other. By similar means of violence some few families have become the rulers of the human race, and now not to obey and reverence those whose ancestors acquired wealth and power, by destroying the independence of our fellow men, has become one of the greatest crimes we can commit, and can only be expiated by a shameful death.
Hadeln and the other lands have always had laws of their own, but they have not been able to secure themselves from the influence of the Roman laws, which have been grafted on the better institutions of a people who had more freedom than the Romans; and even the magistrate of the little town of Otterndorf must be learned in the institutes of Justinian. The introduction of this foreign law has been one means of rendering juries of little use, and of weakening the interest which the inhabitants of these countries once took in the administration of justice.
The manners of the opulent farmers are not in general praised by the other Germans. There are no large towns, and no well polished society near them, and they have learnt neither the elegance nor the duplicity of cities. They have no pursuit but agriculture, no other ambition but to make and spend money, and they judge every man according to his possessions. I know not whether the fault belongs to their education, or to that of the rest of their countrymen, to their isolated life, or to the habitual dependence of the others; but what they call sincerity and plain dealing, their countrymen name vulgarity and rudeness; what they call independence, other people stigmatise as pride and contempt. They are certainly at present a distinct people from the rest of the Germans; they want all the softness and gentleness which distinguish them, but they are more energetic and more independent; they are less book read, but they have a more manly port and a greater vigour of mind. Formerly they were distinguished by the multitude and splendour of their clothes; they knew no other way to get rid of their superfluous wealth than in profusion to their backs or their bellies. They gave gluttonous feasts, and wore habits of silk with silver buttons. A more elegant taste is now spreading amongst them, and they may possibly preserve their own manly virtues, while they put on the polished surface of the rest of their countrymen.
A practice still exists in Land Hadeln, which is also the law of some parts of England, and called Borough English. A practice which is so peculiar may be quoted as another proof of a common origin, though it was once the law in many parts of the north of Germany. By this law the farms which remain undivided descend to the youngest son. Admitting a necessity to keep the farms undivided, arising from the buildings which are necessary to the cultivation of the land being indivisible; the reasons assigned in favour of this law appear weighty and full of wisdom. The parents have more time to provide for their eldest than for their youngest son; according to the common course of events, the former is married and settled in the world, while the latter is yet under the parental roof. It should naturally be the latter who should contribute most to the minute comforts of his parents, and who should most need their assistance and favour. They can give the eldest a part of the stock from the farm, but they can only provide for the youngest by giving him their land. If the elder brother grows up as heir, he becomes in part possessed of all before the rest of the children can dispute it with him, and he generally gripes too hard to allow the younger ones to receive their proper portion. This law is not, however, invariably good. The eldest son may, from many circumstances, be more the proper object of tenderness than the youngest, and the daughters of a family have, in general, more need to be provided for than any of the sons. This, and all other general regulations, however apparently wise, can never equal individual wisdom in judging of all the different circumstances which ought to influence its decision in the disposal of its property, nor supply its place when it may chance to fail.
I dined in the society of a few persons, principally officers of the army, who fed daily at the table of the landlord, and clean knives and forks, which is very unusual on the Continent, were given with every change of plates. In truth, this is a luxury common only in England and Hadeln. A considerable company was playing cards and billiards, with one of whom, who happened to be an advocate, I entered into conversation. We spoke of trial by jury, which he thought an evil, because the juries were not qualified to decide what is right. Lawyers introduce or make codes of laws filled with nice subtleties, with hair-breadth distinctions, with metaphysical definitions of words, not of things, and of these they are right in affirming common men cannot judge; for nobody can know any thing of them whose mind is not from youth upwards perverted to this sort of knowledge. They must retain the profits of interpreting these subtleties, and, if they acquire wealth and power by them, they care not if the reason of man is debilitated, and his freedom destroyed. I mention this opinion because it is a common one amongst the lawyers of Germany, and is urged by them to prove that trial by jury is pernicious. In the course of our conversation, I remarked, that most of the inhabitants here read and talk politics much. The landlord had entertained me with a long economical discussion on the ill effects of the new tax on distillation. The lawyer had spoken of new constitutions, and two gentlemen who were sitting near us were discussing the propriety of allowing a free importation of English goods into Germany. Several newspapers were lying on a side-table, and the whole of the company seemed to retain a sufficient recollection of a former state of freedom, to make them discontented with their present state, and to censure, with much more boldness than I had before met in a promiscuous company, the actions of their government.
On the following day, I walked rather more than forty miles on my way to the town of Bremen, stopping to sleep at a village called Hagen, where a decent public-house was kept by a man who had been a serjeant in the German Legion.
At leaving Otterndorf, there was an agreeable foot-path on a bank at some distance from the road side. I had taken this, “was brushing with hasty steps the dew away,” and “crooning” o’er I hardly knew what, but as I thought perfectly secure from any interruption. The people were not content, however, to pass without a salutation; they lustily called out good morning from the distant road, and I was often obliged to take off the half laid cable of my meditations to twist up the threads of compliment. This was not always pleasing, but I could easily forgive the interruption for the good will which it expressed.
Before leaving Land Hadeln, the country began to change to moor and morass. One large district in the neighbourhood of a village called Wanna, was inclosing and bringing under cultivation. The great difficulty was to drain it, and no adequate plan had been adopted. It was merely intersected by ditches, but the soil was sandy, and the ditches all filled up after heavy rain, and the whole again became a bog. After this my whole day’s walk was amongst sterile sands or morasses. The banks of the Weser at a distance looked well peopled, but my steps were in the midst of barrenness. The surface of the brown heaths or black bogs was only variegated with large patches of shining white from the tufted heads of the moor-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium). It was most abundant. The length of each filament may be an inch or two inches long; it wants tenacity, and might decay when gathered; but I know, from making the experiment, that it may be easily spun, and I should suppose, that it might be improved by cultivation, and that this now useless substance might, in the manufactory of many articles, supply the place of a more costly material.
Bremerlehe is a little town on the Weser, which is remarkable as having no guilds but that of the fell-mongers. All other trades may be freely exercised there. This, however, had not made it flourishing, though its situation is good. It was once intended to have made a sort of port in the Weser, at a place called Carlsburg, a little distance from Bremerlehe, but storms and a change in the course of the Weser destroyed the works, and they have not since been resumed. After Bremerlehe I passed through a village which had been recently burnt; an accident that very often happens in Germany. There is hardly a week in which some newspaper does not mention the melancholy fact of a whole village being destroyed by fire, and I had heard of three such in the province of Bremen in eight weeks. Much of the mischief is caused by the houses being built close together, and by the large roofs being usually thatched with straw. Thirty houses had here been consumed, several were rebuilding, and also re-thatching. Workmen, I was informed, were so plentiful, that many had offered to work for nothing but food, and as many as fifty were employed at one building. Most of the houses had been insured, which enabled the owners to build others, and without this they would have been in a most distressed state.
A saying, which is, I believe, a German proverb, and which I heard to-day, deserves to be recorded. It was, “Wo die Frau arbeitet nicht, da gibt kein brodt im Hause;”—When the wife does not work, there is no bread in the house;—which accurately expresses what the women of Germany are expected to perform, and what they actually do. The person who repeated the observation confessed that they laboured much more than the men.
This was a country destitute of any other roads than mere tracks, yet there were two royal tolls, and at these all travellers, even those on foot, are obliged to pay. At the first there was a small old wooden bridge, which might require some repairs, and it is better to pay for such an accommodation, than to wade through the stream; but at Stotel, where the other was situated, there was no road, nothing but a track over sand and heath. The toll was levied for permission to tread on the barren ground.
I reached the town of Bremen early on the next day, Sunday, June 14th.
The marsh lands of which I have here spoken form, in the geographical division of the kingdom of Hannover, a part of the provinces of Bremen and Verden, and I shall subjoin a short description of the characteristics of these provinces.
With the exception of the strips of land lying on the shores of the Elbe and the Weser, and to which, particularly the former, nature has been remarkably bountiful, the greater part of these provinces are bogs and sand. The only use made of the former is to dig peat in them, though some successful attempts have been made, and others are making, to cultivate them. Some attempts, not yet completed, have also been made to drain them. The sand is fertile in places, but in general it produces, like Lüneburg, nothing but heather. Trees flourish well in some places, and fertility is found wherever there is running water. These provinces are not absolutely a flat level, but they are low, with little variations of altitude, and are, in general, black gloomy wastes. They are naturally sterile, and nothing but an increasing population, the fruits of whose labour shall all belong to themselves, can ever bring them under general cultivation.
[∗]Erd Beschreibung des Konigieichs. Hannover, p. 242.
[∗]Hermann and Dorothea. “Happy is he to whom nature has given a pleasing countenance, for she always recommends him, and he is a stranger nowhere.”
[∗]This sessions was a meeting of the magistrates of several districts, and seems to resemble, in many little points, the quarter sessions of England.
[∗]Handbuch der Väterlandischen Geschichte, von Dr Karl Venturini, Vol. III. pages 89, 93.