Pictures of German Life in the XVIIIth and XIXth Centuries, Vol. II.

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Language: English
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A shot from the alarm-gun! Timidly does the citizen examine the dark corners of his house to discover whether any strange man be hid there. The peasant in the field stops his horses to consider whether he would wish to meet with any fugitive, and earn capture-money, or whether he should save some desperate man, in spite of the severe punishment with which every one was threatened who enabled a deserter to escape. Probably he will let the fugitive run away, though in his power, for in his secret soul he has a fellow feeling for him, nay, even admires his daring.

There is scarcely any sphere of earthly interest which stamps so sharply the peculiarities of the culture of the time, as the army and the method of carrying on war. In every century the army corresponds exactly with the constitution and character of the state. The Franconian landwehr of Charles the Great, who advanced on foot from their Maifeld to Saxony, the army of the noble cuirassiers who rode under the Emperor Barbarossa into the plains of Lombardy, the Swiss and Landsknechte of the time of the Reformation, and the mercenary armies of the Thirty Years' War, were all highly characteristic of the culture of their time; they sprang from the social condition of the people, and changed with it. Thus did the oldest infantry of the proprietors take root in the old provincial constitution, the mounted chivalry in the old feudalism, the troops of Landsknechte in the rise of civic power, and the companies of roving mercenaries in the increase of royal territorial dominion; these were succeeded in despotic states, in the eighteenth century, by the standing army with uniform and pay.

But none of the older forms of military service were entirely displaced by those of later times, at least some reminiscences of them are everywhere kept. The ancient landfolge (attendants on military expeditions) of the free landowner had ceased since the greater portion of the powerful peasantry had sunk into bondsmen, and the strong landwehr had become a general levy, of little warlike capacity; but they had not been entirely set aside, for still in the eighteenth century all freeholders were bound at the sound of the alarum to hasten together, and to furnish baggage, horses, and men to work at the fortifications. In the same way the knights of the Hohenstaufen were dispersed by the army of free peasants and citizens, at Sempach, Grunson, Murten, and the lowlands of Ditmarsch, but the furnishing of cavalry horses remained as a burden upon the properties of the nobility; it was after the end of the sixteenth century—in Prussia, first under Frederic William I.—that it was changed into a low money-tax, and this tax was the only impost on the feudal property of nobles. The roving Landsknecht also, who provided his own equipments and changed his banner every summer, was turned into a mounted mercenary with an unsettled term of service; but in the new time the customs of free enlistment, earnest money, and entering into foreign service, were still maintained, although these customs of the Landsknecht time were in strange and irreconcilable contrast to the fearful severity with which the new rule of a despotic state grasped the whole life of the recruit.

The defects of the standing army in the eighteenth century have been often criticised, and every one knows something of the rigorous discipline in the companies with which the Dessauer stormed the defences of Turin, and Frederic II. maintained possession of Silesia. But another part of the old military constitution is not equally known, and has been entirely lost sight of even by military writers....