history of england_david hume

C but the other german nations in the age of tacitus

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Unformatted text preview: l union drew much closer the knot of particular confederacies: An insult upon any man was regarded by all his relations and associates as a common injury: They were bound by honour, as well as by a sense of common interest, to revenge his death, or any violence which he had suffered: They retaliated on the aggressor by like acts of violence; and if he were protected, as was natural and usual, by his own clan, the quarrel was spread still wider, and bred endless disorders in the nation. The Frisians, a tribe of the Germans, had never advanced beyond this wild and imperfect state of society; and the right of private revenge still remained among them unlimited and uncontrouled.c But the other German nations, in the age of Tacitus, had made one step farther towards completing the political or civil union. Though it still continued to be an indispensable point of honour for every clan to revenge the death or injury of a member, the magistrate had acquired a right of interposing in the quarrel, and of accommodating the difference. He obliged the person maimed or injured, and the relations of one killed, to accept of a present from the aggressor and his relations,d as a compensation for the injury,e and to drop all farther prosecution of revenge. That the accommodation of one quarrel might not be the source of more, this present was fixed and certain, according to the rank of the person killed or injured, and was commonly paid in cattle, the chief property of those rude and uncultivated nations. A present of this kind gratified the revenge of the injured family by the loss which the aggressor suffered: It satisfied their pride by the submission which it expressed: It diminished their regret for the loss or injury of a kinsman by their acquisition of new property, and thus general peace was for a moment restored to the society.f But when the German nations had been settled some time in the provinces of the Roman empire, they made still another step towards a more cultivated life, and their criminal justice gradually improved and refined itself. The magistrate, whose office it was to guard public peace and to suppress private animosities, conceived himself to be injured by every injury done to any of his people; and besides the compensation to the person who suffered, or to his family, he thought himself entitled to exact a fine, called the Fridwit, as an atonement for the breach of peace, and as reward for the pains which he had taken in accommodating the quarrel. When this idea, which is so natural, was once suggested, it was willingly received both by sovereign and people. The numerous fines which were levied, augmented that revenue of the king: And the people were sensible, that he would be more vigilant in interposing with his good offices, when he reaped such immediate advantage from them; and that injuries would be less frequent, when, besides compensation to the person injured, they were exposed to this additional penalty.g This short abstract contains the history of the crimin...
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