Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 374, December, 1846

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 374, December, 1846

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Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 374, December, 1846


BLACKWOOD’S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No. CCCLXXIV.        DECEMBER, 1846.        VOL. LX.

CONTENTS.

Kohl in Denmark and in the Marshes, 645
Lord Metcalfe’s Government of Jamaica, 662
Annals and Antiquities of London, 673
Marlborough’s Dispatches. 1711-1712, 690
Mildred. A Tale. Part I., 709
The Law and its Punishments, 721
Legends of the Thames, 729
Recent Royal Marriages, 740
St Magnus’, Kirkwall, 753
The Game Laws, 754

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BY ARCHIBALD ALISON, F. R. S.
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BLACKWOOD’S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No. CCCLXXIV.        DECEMBER, 1846.        VOL. LX.

KOHL IN DENMARK AND IN THE MARSHES.

Die Marschen und Inseln der Herzogthümer Schleswig und Holstein. Reisen in Dänemark und den Herzogthümer Schleswig und Holstein.

Mr. Kohl, the most prolific of modern German writers, the most indefatigable of travellers, is already well known to the English public by his “Sketches of the English,” “Travels in Ireland,” and many other publications too numerous to remember. He is a gentleman of marvellous facility in travelling over foreign ground—of extraordinary capabilities in the manufacturing of books. Within five years he has given to the world, hostages for fame, some thirty or forty volumes; and explored, socially, politically, scientifically, and æsthetically, North and South Russia, Poland, Moravia, Hungary, Bavaria, Great Britain, France, Denmark, and we know not how many other countries besides. It is as difficult to stop his pen as his feet. He is always trotting, and writing whilst he trots, and evidently without the smallest fatigue from either occupation. He plays on earth the part assigned to the lark above it by the poet: he,
“Singing, still doth soar; and soaring, ever singeth.”
He has already announced a scheme that has occurred to him for a commercial map, which shall contain, in various colours, the productions and raw materials of every country in the world, with lines appended, marking the course they take to their several ports of embarkation. We shrewdly suspect that this gigantic scheme has grown out of another, more personal and profitable, and already put in practice. We could almost swear that Mr Kohl had drawn up a literary map on the very same principle, with dots for the countries and districts to be visited and worked up, and lines to mark the course for the conveyance of that very raw material, which he is eternally digging up on the way, in the shape of disquisitions about nothing, and moral reflections on every thing. Denmark occupies him to-day. We will wager that he is already intent upon working out an article or book from neighbouring Norway or adjacent Sweden.
It was remarked the other day by a writer, that one great literary fault of the present day is a desire to be “so priggishly curt and epigrammatic,” that almost every lucubration comes from the furnace with a coating of “small impertinence,” perfectly intolerable to the sober reader. If any writer is anxious to correct this fault, let him take our advice gratis, and sit down at once to a course of Kohl. So admirable a spinner of long yarns from the smallest threads, never flourished. We have most honestly and perseveringly waded through his eleven or twelve hundred pages of close print, and we unhesitatingly confess that we have never before perused so much, of which we have retained so little. Does not every man, woman, and child, in these days of cheap fares and everlasting steamers, know by heart all that can be said or sung about “tones from the sea?” Are they not to be summoned, at any given moment, under any given circumstances, by your fire at twilight, on your pillow at midnight? Mr Kohl proses about these eternal “tones,” till salt water becomes odious—about storms, till they calm you to sleep—about calms, till they drive you to fury—about winds and waves, till your head aches with their motion. We will not pretend to tell you, reader, all the differences that exist between high marsh-land and low marsh-land, broad dikes and narrow dikes, or to describe the downs and embankments which we have seen, go whithersoever we may, ever since we have risen from the perusal of Mr Kohl’s book. We will not, because Mr Kohl has dealt hardly by us, have our revenge upon you. Nay, we could not, if we would. The picture is jumbled in our critical head, as it lies confused in the author’s work, which is as disjointed a labour as ever puzzled science seeking in chaos for a system. Backwards and forwards he goes—now up to his head in the marshes, now lighting upon an island, disdaining geography, giving the go-by to history, dragging us recklessly through digressions, repudiating any thing like order, and utterly oblivious of that beautiful scheme so dear to his heart, by which we are to trace the natural course of every thing under the sun but the narrative of Mr Kohl’s very tedious adventures.
Mr Kohl knows very well what is the duty of a faithful delineator of foreign countries and manners. He acknowledges in his preface, that his work is rather a make-up of simple remarks than a comprehensive description of the countries named in the titlepage. This confession is not—as is often the case—a modest appreciation of great merits, but a true estimate of small achievements. It is the simple fact. As for the consolatory reflections of the author, that he has at all events proved that he knows more of the lands he describes than his countrymen who stay at home, it is of so lowly a character that we are by no means disposed to discuss it. When he adds, however, that he has already earned a kind reception from the world, and trusts to be reckoned amongst the men who have been useful, we may be permitted to hint, that neither a kind reception nor the quality of usefulness will long be vouchsafed to the individual who leads confiding but unfortunate readers a Will-o’-the-Wisp chase over bogs and moors that have no end, and compels them to swallow, diluted in bottles three, the draught which might easily have found its way into an ordinary phial.
That there are gems in the volumes cannot be denied: that they are not of the first water, is equally beyond a doubt. Scattered over a prodigious surface, they have not been gained without some difficulty. Those who are not able or disposed to turn to the original, will be glad to learn from us something of the sturdy Frieslanders and Ditmarschers. They who have energy and patience enough to overcome the prolixity of the author, will at least give us credit for some perseverance, and appreciate the difficulties of our task.
Mr Kohl commences his work with a description of the Islands. We will follow the order of the titlepage, and begin with the “Marshes” and their brave and hardy inhabitants. The author informs us, with pardonable exultation, that, upon asking a German of ordinary education whether he knew who the Ditmarschers are, he was most satisfactorily answered, “Ja wohl! are they not the famous peasants of Denmark who would not surrender to the king?” We question whether many Englishmen, of even an extraordinary education, would have answered at once so glibly or correctly. To enable them to meet the question of any future Kohl with promptness and success, we will introduce them at once to this singular race, and give a rapid sketch of their country and political existence.
The territory inhabited by the Ditmarschers is a small district of flat country, stretching along the Elbe and the Eyder, and is about a hundred miles in length. Its maritime frontier was originally defended by lofty mounds, which opposed the encroachments of the sea; whilst inland it found protection in an almost impenetrable barrier of thick wood, bogs, lakes, and morass. This barrier constitutes the marshes so minutely described by our author. The Ditmarschers are a people of Friesic origin; the name, according to Mr Kohl, being derived from Marsch, Meeresland, sea-land, and Dith, Thit, or Teut, Deutsch, German. In the time of Charlemagne, or his immediate successors, the district was included in the department of the Mouth of the Elbe, and was known as the Countship of Stade. It was bestowed by the Emperor Henry IV., in 1602, upon the archbishops of Bremen, to be held by them in fief. The Ditmarschers, however, were but slippery subjects; and, maintaining an actual independence within their embankments, cared little who governed them, provided sufficient advantages were offered by the prince or prelate who demanded their allegiance. In 1186, we find them claiming the protection of Bishop Valdemar of Sleswig, the uncle and guardian of Prince Valdemar, afterwards known as Valdemar the conqueror; for, “being grievously worried by the oppressions of the bailiffs of their spiritual Lord,” they declared a perfect indifference as to “whether they paid tribute to Saint Peter of Bremen, or Saint Peter of Sleswig.” They passed from the rule of Bishop Valdemar, who was subsequently excommunicated, to that respectively of the Duke of Holstein, the Bishop of Bremen, and Valdemar II., King of Denmark. When the last-named monarch gave battle to his revolted subjects at Bornhöved in Holstein, in the year 1227, the Ditmarschers suddenly united their bands with those of the enemy, and decided the fate of the day against the king. They then returned to the rule of the bishops of Bremen, stipulating for many rights and privileges, which they enjoyed unmolested during 300 years; that is to say, up to the year 1559, whilst they yielded little more than a nominal obedience to their spiritual lords, and evinced no great alacrity in assisting them in times of need.
During their long period of practical independence and freedom, the Ditmarschers governed themselves like stanch republicans. Their grand assembly was the Meende, to which all citizens were eligible above the age of eighteen. It met in extraordinary cases at Meldorf, the capital: but commonly seventy or eighty Radgewere, or councillors, decided upon all questions of national policy propounded to them by the Schlüter, or overseers of the various parishes into which the district was divided, who generally managed the affairs of their own little municipality independently of their neighbours. This simple institution underwent some modifications about the middle of the fifteenth century, when, in consequence of internal dissensions, eight-and-forty men were chosen as supreme judges for life. These “achtundveertig” had, however, but little real power. They met weekly; but on great emergencies they summoned a general assembly, amounting to about 1500 persons, and consisting of the various councillors and schlüter. This assembly held forth in the market-place of the capital. The masses closely watched the proceedings, and when it was deemed necessary, called upon one of their own number to address the meeting on behalf of the rest.
The peace enjoyed by the Ditmarschers from without, contrasted strongly with the tumults that were often experienced within. The annals of these people inform us, that whole families and races were from time to time swept away by the hand of the foe, and by the violence of party spirit. The Ditmarschers celebrate several days as anniversaries of victories. One, the Hare day, dates as far back as 1288, when a party of Holsteiners made an incursion into the marshes, but were speedily opposed by the natives. For a time the two hostile bands watched each other, neither willing to attack, when a hare suddenly started up between them. Some of the Ditmarschers, pursuing the frightened animal, exclaimed Löp, löp!—”Run, run!” The foremost Holsteiners, seeing the enemy approaching at full speed, were thrown into confusion; whilst those behind them, hearing the cry of “run, run!” took to their heels, and a general rout ensued. The day of “melting lead” is another joyful anniversary. Gerard VII. of Holstein, endeavouring in 1390[1] to subjugate the country of the Ditmarschen, drove the people at the crisis of an assault to such extremities, that they were obliged to take refuge in a church, which they obstinately defended against the Duke’s troops, until Gerard, infuriated, ordered the leaden roof of the building to be heated. The melted lead trickled down on the heads of the Ditmarschers, who, finding themselves reduced to a choice of deaths, desperately fought their way out, engaged the Holsteiners, whom they overcame, and who, ignorant of the country, were either lost in the intricacies of the marshes or drowned in the dikes. The forces of a count, a duke, and a king, were in turns routed by the brave Ditmarschers, who have not yet forgotten the glory of their ancient peasantry. In 1559, however, they ceased to gain victories for celebration. In that year Denmark and the Duchies united to subdue the small but very valiant nation. They marshalled an army of twenty-five thousand picked men, whilst the Ditmarschers could with difficulty collect seven thousand. John Rantzan commanded the allied army. He captured Meldorf, set fire to the town, pursued the inhabitants in all directions and destroyed the greater number whilst they were nobly fighting for their liberties. Utterly beaten, the Ditmarschers submitted to their conquerors. Three of the clergy proceeded to the enemy, bearing a letter addressed to the princes as “The Lords of Ditmarschen,” and offering to surrender their arms and ammunitions, together with all the trophies they had ever won. A general capitulation followed: not wholly to the disadvantage of the people, since it was stipulated that none but a native of the country should hold immediate authority over it. At first the land was divided amongst the sovereigns of Denmark, Holstein, and Sleswig; but in 1773 it was finally ceded in full to the Danish monarch, together with part of Holstein, by the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, (afterwards Grand-Duke of Russia,) in exchange for Oldenburg and Delmenhorst. The Ditmarschers, at the present hour enjoy many of their former privileges: they acknowledge no distinctions of rank; they have their forty-eight Supreme Judges (the ancient schlüter) under the name of Vögte or overseers, and may, in fact, be regarded as one of the best samples of republicanism now existing in the world.
Thus much for their history. Of their far-farmed dikes and sluices, of the marsh-lands and downs which their embankments inclosed, much more may be said, for Mr Kohl devotes half his work to their consideration. We will not fatigue the indulgent reader by engaging him for a survey. The land is distinguished by the inhabitants by the terms grest and marsch; the former being the hilly district, the latter the deposits from the sea:—the one is woody in parts, having heath and sand, springs and brooks: the other is flat, treeless, heathless, with no sand or spring, but one rich series of meadows, intersected in every direction by canals and dikes. Far as the eye can reach, it rests upon broad and fertile meads covered with grazing cattle; whilst from the teeming plain stand forth farm-houses innumerable, raised upon wurten, or little hillocks, some ten or twelve feet above the level of the land, for security against constantly recurring inundation. All external appliances needful for the establishment are elevated upon these heights, whose sides are, for the most part, covered with vegetable gardens, and here and there with flowers and shrubs. The houses have but one story; they are long, and built of brick. For protection against the unsteady soil, they are often supported by large iron posts projecting from the sides, and looking like huge anchors. There are few villages or hamlets in the marshes. The inhabitants are not gregarious, but prefer the independence of a perfectly insulated abode. The “threshold right” is still so strictly maintained amongst them, that no officer of police dare enter, unpermitted, the house of a Ditmarscher, or arrest him within his own doors.
The roads in the marshes, as may be supposed, are, at times, almost impassable; riding is therefore more frequent than driving or walking, although many of the more active marshers accelerate their passage across the fens by leaping-poles, which they employ with wonderful dexterity. The women ride always behind the men, on a seat fastened to the crupper. As the dikes lie higher than the meadows, they prove the driest road for carriages and passengers; but they are not always open to the traveller, lest too constant a traffic should injure the foundations. The carriages chiefly used are a species of land canoe. They are called Körwagen, and are long, narrow, and awkward. On either side of the vehicle, chairs or seats swing loosely. No one chair is large enough for the two who occupy it, and who sit with their knees closely pressed against the seat which is before them.
The process of gradually reclaiming new land from the waves is somewhat curious. As soon as a sufficient amount of deposit has been thrown up from the sea, outguards, or breakwaters, called höfter are immediately erected. Within the breakwater there remains a pool of still water, which by degrees fills up with a rich slime or mud called slick. As soon as the slick has attained an elevation sufficient to be above the regular level of the high waves, plants styled “Queller” appear, and are soon succeeded by others termed Drücknieder, from the tendency of their interlaced roots and tendrils to keep down the soft mud. In the course of years, the soil rises, and a meadow takes the place of the former stagnant pool. As these new lands are extremely productive, often yielding three hundred-fold on the first crop of rape-seed, sixty to eighty fold on barley, and from thirty to forty on wheat, their possession is ever a subject of great dispute. Formerly the diking and embankments were undertaken by companies; but at present they are in the hands of the Danish government, which makes all necessary outlay in the beginning, and appropriates whatever surplus may remain upon the original cost to future repairs and to the aid of the general poor fund. Some slight idea may be formed of the enormous expense incurred in the construction and maintenance of these dikes, when we state that the Dagebieller dike alone cost ten thousand dollars for one recent repair. Ninety thousand dollars were one sum

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Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 374, December, 1846
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