history of england_david hume

D gangs of robbers much disturbed the peace of the

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Unformatted text preview: y obeyed. We find them among the ancient Greeks during the time of the Trojan war. Compositions for murder are mentioned in Nestor’s speech to Achilles in the ninth Iliad, and are called αποιναι. The Irish, who never had any connections with the German nations, adopted the same practice till very lately; and the price of a man’s head was called among them his eric; as we learn from Sir John Davis. The same custom seems also to have prevailed among the Jews.b Theft and robbery were frequent among the Anglo-Saxons. In order to impose some check upon these crimes, it was ordained, that no man should sell or buy any thing above twenty pence value, except in open market;c and every bargain of sale must be executed before witnesses.d Gangs of robbers much disturbed the peace of the country; and the law determined, that a tribe of banditti, consisting of between seven and thirty-five persons, was to be called a turma, or troop: Any greater company was denominated an army.e The punishments for this crime were various, but none of them capital.f If any man could track his stolen cattle into another’s ground, the latter was obliged to show the tracks out of it, or pay their value.g Rebellion, to whatever excess it was carried, was not capital, but might be redeemed by a sum of money.h The legislators, knowing it impossible to prevent all disorders, only imposed a higher fine on breaches of the peace committed in the king’s court, or before an alderman or bishop. An alehouse too seems to have been considered as a PLL v5 (generated January 22, 2010) 132 http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/695 Online Library of Liberty: The History of England, vol. 1 privileged place; and any quarrels that arose there were more severely punished than elsewhere.i If the manner of punishing crimes among the Anglo-Saxons Rules of proof. appear singular, the proofs were not less so; and were also the natural result of the situation of those people. Whatever we may imagine concerning the usual truth and sincerity of men, who live in a rude and barbarous state, there is much more falsehood, and even perjury among them, than among civilized nations: Virtue, which is nothing but a more enlarged and more cultivated reason, never flourishes to any degree, nor is founded on steady principles of honour, except where a good education becomes general; and where men are taught the pernicious consequences of vice, treachery, and immorality. Even superstition, though more prevalent among ignorant nations, is but a poor supply for the defects in knowledge and education: Our European ancestors, who employed every moment the expedient of swearing on extraordinary crosses and reliques, were less honourable in all engagements than their posterity, who from experience have omitted those ineffectual securities. This general proneness to perjury was much encreased by the usual want of discernment in judges, who could not discuss an intricate evidence, and were obliged to number, not weigh, the testimony of the witnesses.k Hence the ridiculous practice of obliging men to bring compurgators, who, as they did not pretend to know any thing of the fact, expressed upon oath, that they believed the person spoke true; and thes...
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