Page images

The Polish language is spoken by a population of about ten millions. In many parts of Poland other races and languages prevail, as the Russniak in White and Black Russia, the Lithuanian in Lithuania. These countries were subjected by the Poles, to whom at one period even the ancient Smolensk, and Kiew, the royal seat of Vladimir, belonged.

4. Of the Sorabians and Northern Wends.

When the Burgundians, Suevi, Heruli, and other Northern German tribes moved towards the south to inundate the Roman empire, they left an extensive region on the Baltic coast either wholly destitute of inhabitants, or so thinly peopled as to afford a ready entrance to numerous bands of the Slavic stem, who passed over the Vistula and occupied the vacant space. Tribes of the new race spread themselves along the sea border from the mouth of the Vistula to that of the Elbe. They established independent communities through Northern Germany, which maintained their freedom for centuries. They built on the coast of the Baltic at the mouths of rivers many flourishing towns, carried on commerce, improved in the arts, and appear to have learnt from their German neighbours the use of Runic letters, but rejected Christianity and true civilisation. In some of these towns they erected temples adorned with barbaric magnificence to their pagan gods. Rhetra contained the shrine of their idol Rhadagast, whose image was not long since discovered at Prilwitz. Hamburg was a town of the Slavic tribe of the Obotrites; Weneta, at the mouth of the Oder, was a city of great extent and wealth, and the principal emporium of the Baltic trade. Remains of marble and alabaster mark the spot where Weneta sunk into the sea. Julin, which succeeded to its splendour, rejected Christianity. "Suddenly," says Von Müller, "lightning set fire to its wooden streets, and the whole city was consumed." Mecklenburg still bears the name derived from the "Mikli" or Slavic priests. Charlemagne prevailed upon the Obotrites to embrace Christianity, and defended them against the Saxon Wittikind, who was provoked by their compliance; but when the influence of the Carlovingian princes was withdrawn, the ancient super

Schaffarik's Geschichte. Andover Bibl. Repos.

stition resumed its sway, and three centuries elapsed before the darkness of paganisin was entirely dispelled from the whole northern region of Germany. Except in Lusatia even the language of these Slavic tribes has disappeared.

The Slavic tribe who occupied Lusatia, and still preserve their idiom, are termed Sorabians, or by themselves SRBIE. The Sorabians possessed districts from which the Hermundurians or Thuringians had partly retired on the destruction of the Thuringian kingdom by the Franks in 528. They had kings of their own, possessed the present Osterland, both the Lusatias, the territory of Anhalt, the Electoral circle, and the southern part of the mark of Brandenburg. After their conquest the more industrious Germans established villages within the borders of the indolent Slavic inhabitants, and the German language and population gradually encroached on the Sorabian. In the fourteenth century, the use of this language was forbidden in courts of justice, and it gradually disappeared, except in Lusatia, where it still subsists. Many books, and especially religious formularies, have been translated into it. Lusitze, whence the native appellation was derived, means in their language, 'swampy land.'

The other tribes of Northern Wends are comprehended under the following names:-1. The Obotrites, people in Mecklenburg. 2. The Wagrians, in Holstein. 3. The Luititsians or Wiltzes, in Pomerania, called also Weletabes; they were conquered A.D. 781 by the Obotrites, and the whole country from the Oder to the Vistula formed for more than one hundred and fifty years a great Wendish kingdom. 4. Polabes, or people on the Elbe, from Labe, the Slavic name. for that river.* 5. Linones, from the river Leyne, who long preserved their language: the last person who spoke it died. in 1404.

SECTION IV. Further Observations on the Languages and Literature of the Slavonic Nations.

It is universally known that the Slavonic dialects belong to the Indo-European system of languages. As it has happened

* Polabe means 'on the Elbe;' so Pomerania, from Po-mer, 'on the sea.'

in other instances, the Slavonic idioms, before comparative philology had been much cultivated, have been supposed to bear a particular affinity to some individual member of that groupe. L'Evesque, a well-known writer on the history of the Russians, struck with the resemblance which he detected between the Russian and Latin languages, concluded that the inhabitants of Latium must have been a Slavonian colony.* Others have thought the Slavonic nearly related to the Greek, and Dunkousky, in a work entitled "Die Griechen als Sprachverwandte der Slaven," published at Presburg in 1828, contended that a knowledge of the Slavic dialects is indispensable for the elucidation of doubtful words in the Greek language. This analogy has struck the modern Greeks; and a Greek priest, Constantine, published a work containing eight hundred pages of words corresponding in the Greek and Russian. Some students of the Celtic language have fancied a near relation between the Celtic and the Slavonian; and it was observed by Schloezer that a great proportion of the Slavonic roots are common to that language and the Gothic, and some have gone so far as to class the Slavic among Gothic or old German dialects. The affinity of the Slavonic and the Sanskrit is very obvious: a comparison of the numerals and of many common vocables will convince the reader, that in the forms of words and in the prevailing elements of articulation, the Slavic is nearer to the ancient language of Hindústan than any of the idioms already mentioned. As philological researches are not my principal object I shall satisfy myself with having stated these facts, and must refer my readers who wish to examine the relations of the Slavic language to some writers who have expressly treated on it.‡ The Slavi were late in obtaining letters and a domestic lite

L'Evesque, Essai sur les Rapports de la Langue des Slaves avec celle des anciens habitans de Latium.

+ It must be observed that the correspondence is not of modern date, or such as can have originated from later intercourse between the Russians and the Greeks.

Dobrowsky, Geschichte der Böhmischen Sprache und ältern Literatur; Prag. 1818. And Schaffarik, Geschichte der Slavischen Sprache und Literatur; Buda, 1826. Also an historical view of the Slavic language and its various dialects, published in the fourth volume of the Biblical Repository of Andover, Massachusetts.

rature. Their solitary and unsocial life was unfavourable to mental improvement. Yet poetry appears to have been cultivated by the Servians and by the Russians even in pagan times. From the age of Rurik, and even at an earlier period, the Russians inhabited towns and villages; and Vladimir the Great, the first Christian monarch, established schools, and employed Greek artists to embellish the churches founded at Kiew, into which the Slavonic liturgy, some time before composed by Cyril for the Slavonians in the south, was soon introduced. Vladimir and his knights were at the same time the patrons and heroes of the Russian poems, as were Charlemagne and his peers of the romances of the Franks. The literature of the Slavi is, from its very commencement, monastic. Nestor and Dalemil are the earliest authentic historians of great celebrity among these nations. The former of these was a Russian, the latter a Bohemian. Nestor is universally considered as the father of Russian history. The Russians have indeed, like other nations, fabulous legends, which reach up to a period of higher antiquity. According to Bishop Joachim, Slaven, a grandson of Japhet, built in Russia the city of Slavensk, where a long line of princes reigned before the time of Rurik, the real founder of the Russian monarchy. But these stories are as unworthy of credit as the tales of our Geoffrey. Nestor was a writer of a different class, and almost deserves a place by the side of the Venerable Bede. He was an ecclesiastic of the monastery of Petschersky, and died in the year 1056. He was a person of great mental activity, and collected information from all sources on which it was attainable. He consulted the oldest men of Kiew, and the best-informed persons of various towns in Russia. He collected the oral traditions of earlier times, examined the monuments and tombs of ancient princes, and the registers of the churches. His annals were edited not long ago by the learned Von Schloezer, the author of several well-known works on the history of the northern nations. The chronicles of Nestor are accounted authentic, but they do not carry back the history of the Russians into periods of remote antiquity.†

* See Dr. Bowring's prefaces to his Specimens of Russian and Servian Poetry. + Dobrowsky, Geschichte der Böhmischen Sprache und ältern Literatur.

Dalemil, the Bohemian chronicler, was much later than Nestor, and a writer of quite different character. His whole chronicle is in Bohemian rhymes, and was long a very popular work among his countrymen. It was composed at the monastery of Buntzlaw, and brings down the Bohemian history to the coronation of King John in 1311, soon after which it was composed. The writer was an ardent patriot, full of hatred towards the Germans, whom he regarded as the oppressors of his country; and he magnifies the achievements of every warrior of the genuine Slavic race. The prevalence of Teutonic manners and the German language was a common matter of complaint among the Bohemians of this time.*

SECTION V. Of the Moral Character of the ancient Slavic Race. Comparison of the Germans, Sarmatæ, and Slavo


The ancient writers not yet acquainted with the Slavic nations, at least by their common name, contrast the German and Sarmatic races. The Sarmatæ, according to Tacitus, differed from the Germans in living on horseback and among horses they were not accustomed like the Germans to travel far, or with speed on foot: they built no houses or fixed habitations, but had their dwelling upon wheels or in movable waggons: in warfare they used no shields. In all these particulars, Tacitus informs us, they differed from the Germans, as likewise from the Venedi, another race dwelling beyond the Vistula. The Sarmatæ and Venedi resembled each other in the squalid filthiness of their habits and the indolence of their lives. The Sarmatæ of a later age roved about the steppes of Scythia, according to the description of Ammianus,† with numerous herds, directed by the choice of pasturage or the pursuits of war. Their movable towns or camps consisted of

Two miserable hexameters by Abbot Peter Von Königral are cited by Dobrowsky, in which this ascendancy is notified:

"Turba Bohemorum canit hoc, quod scivit eorum
Lingua, sed ipsorum pars maxima Teutonicorum
Cantat Teutonicum."

+ Ammian. Marcel. lib. xvii. c. 12.

« PreviousContinue »