1694-1778 Voltaire.

The works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 26) online

. (page 17 of 19)
Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 26) → online text (page 17 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

doms of the North. The Russian or Muscovite state
began at this time to put on some form. This state,
which is so powerful, and is every day becoming
more so, was for a long time only a tribe of half-
Christian savages, slaves to the Kazan-Tartars, the
descendants of Tamerlane.

The duke of Russia paid a yearly tribute in money,
skins, and cattle to these Tartars, which he him-
self carried on foot to the Tartarian ambassador,

272 Ancient and Modern History.

appointed to receive them, prostrating himself at
his feet, and presenting him with milk to drink;
and if any part of it fell upon the neck of the ambas-
sador's horse, the duke was obliged to lick it off.
The Russians were on the one hand slaves to the
Tartars; and, on the the other, pressed by the
people of Lithuania : and, on the side of the Ukraine
again, they were exposed to the depredations of the
Crim-Tartars, descendants from the ancient Scyth-
ians of Taurica Chersonesus, to whom they also
paid a tribute. At length there arose a chief, named
John Basilides, or the son of Basil, who, being a
person of great courage, animated his dastardly
Russians, and freed himself from so servile a yoke ;
adding, at the same time, to his dominions, Novgo-
rod and the city of Moscow, which he took from the
Lithuanians toward the end of the fifteenth century.
He extended his conquests as far as Finland, which
country has frequently been the subject of ruptures
between Russia and Sweden.

Russia, then, appears to have been at that time
a large monarchy, though not as yet formidable to
Europe. It is said that John Basilides brought back
with him from Moscow three hundred wagons
loaded with gold, silver, and precious stones. The
history of these dark times is wholly composed of
fables. Neither the inhabitants of Moscow, nor the
Tartars, had at that time any money but what they
had plundered from others ; and as they had so long
been a prey to the Tartars, what great riches could

State of Europe. 273

be found among them ? They were acquainted with
little more than the mere necessaries of life.

The country about Moscow produces good corn,
which is sown in May and reaped in September.
The earth bears some few fruits : honey is as plenty
there as in Poland, and they have large and small
cattle in abundance; but the wool being unfit for
manufacturing, and the people in themselves rude
and void of industry, the only clothing used amongst
them was the skins of beasts. There was not one
house in the city of Moscow built of stone. The
little wooden huts they lived in were made of the
trunks of trees, covered with moss. As to their
manners, they lived like brutes, having a confused
idea of the religion of the Greek Church, of which
they thought themselves members. When they died,
the priest who buried them put into the hand of the
dead person a note addressed to St. Peter and St.
Nicholas. This was their principal act of relig-
ion ; but in almost all the villages to the northeast
of Moscow, the inhabitants were in general idol-

The czars who succeeded John Basilides were
possessed of riches, especially after another John
Basilowitz had, in 1551, taken Cazan and Astrakhan
from the Tartars : but the Russians themselves were
always poor; for as these absolute sovereigns had
almost all the trade of their empire in their own
hands, and raised contributions from those who had

gained a small competency, they quickly filled their
Vol. 2618

274 Ancient and Modern History.

own coffers, and even displayed an Asiatic pomp and
luxury on their festivals and solemn days. They
traded to Constantinople, by the way of the Black
Sea; and with Poland by Novgorod. They had it
therefore in their power to civilize their subjects ;
but the time was not yet come. All the northern part
of their empire beyond Moscow consisted in vast
wilds, and some few settlements of savages. They
were even ignorant that there was such a large
country as Siberia. A Cossack first discovered and
conquered it in the reign of this John Basilowitz,
in the same manner as Cortes conquered Mexico,
with a few firearms only.

The czars had very little share in the affairs of
Europe, except in some wars with the Swedes on
account of Finland. None of the inhabitants ever
stirred out of the country, nor engaged in any mar-
itime trade. The very port of Archangel was at
that time as much unknown as those of America,
and was not discovered till the year 1553, by the
English, who were in search of new countries in
the North, after the example of the Spaniards and
Portuguese, who had made several new settlements
in the South, the East, and the West. It was
necessary to pass the North Cape, at the extremity
of Lapland. It was known by experience that there
was a country where, during five months of the year,
the sun never rose above the horizon. In this
attempt the crews of two ships perished with cold
and other disorders on this coast. A third ship,

State of Europe. 275

commanded by one Chancellor, anchored in the port
of Archangel, in the river Dwina, the borders of
which were inhabited only by savages. Chancellor
sailed up the Dwina to Moscow. The English after
this were almost the only masters of the trade of
Muscovy, and gained great riches by the furs they
brought from there; and this was another branch
of trade taken from the Venetians. This republic
had formerly had markets, and even a town, on
the borders of the Tanais, and afterward carried
on a trade for furs with Constantinople. Whoever
reads history with any advantage, will see that there
have been as many revolutions in trade as in states.

It was very improbable at that time that a prince
of Russia should one day found, in the marshes at
the bottom of the Gulf of Finland, a capital, in whose
port there arrives every year nearly two hundred and
fifty foreign ships, and which has sent forth armies
to fix a king on the the throne of Poland, assist the
German Empire against France, become masters
of Crimea, and divest Sweden of part of its terri-

About this time Lapland began to be more par-
ticularly known, to which even the Swedes, the
Danes, and the Russians had hitherto been in a
manner strangers. This vast country, which borders
on the north pole, had been described by Strabo,
under the name of the country of the Trog-
lodytes, and Northern Pygmies. We have learnt
that the race of Pygmies were not fictitious beings.

276 Ancient and Modern History.

It is probable that the Northern Pygmies have
become extinct, or have been all destroyed by the
neighboring nations. Several kinds of men have
disappeared from the face of the earth, as well as
several kinds of animals.

The Laplanders do not appear in the least to
resemble their neighbors ; for example, the men of
Norway are large and well made : whereas, Lapland
produces no men taller than three cubits; their
eyes, ears, and noses, again, are different from those
of all the other people who surround them. They
seem to be a species formed purposely for the cli-
mate they inhabit, which they themselves are
delighted with, and which none but themselves can
like. Nature seems to have produced the Lap-
landers, as she has done the reindeer, peculiarly for
that country: and as these animals are found
nowhere else in the world, so neither do the people
appear to have come from any other part. It is not
probable that the inhabitants of countries less sav-
age would have passed over the most frightful
deserts, covered with perpetual snows, to transplant
themselves into so barren a part of the globe. One
family may have been cast by a tempest upon a
desert island, and have peopled this island; but no
number of people would quit their habitations on the
continent, where they were provided with some
kind of nourishment, to settle themselves in a remote
part, amidst rocks covered with moss, and where
they could meet with no other subsistence than fish

State of Europe. 277

and the milk of reindeers : besides, supposing people
from Norway or Sweden to have transplanted them-
selves into Lapland, could they possibly have become
so entirely changed in figure ? How happens it that
the Icelanders, who dwell as far northward as the
Laplanders, are so tall in stature, and the Lap-
landers, on the contrary, not only very short, but
of a quite different form? These were, therefore,
a new species of men who made their appearance to
us at the same time that America and Asia pre-
sented us with others. The sphere of nature now
became enlarged to us on all sides ; and it is on
this consideration alone that Lapland merits .our

I shall not take any notice of Iceland, which was
the Thule of the ancients ; nor of Greenland, nor
yet of all those countries bordering on the pole,
whither the hopes of discovering a passage into
America have carried our navigators. The knowl-
edge of these countries is as barren as the countries
themselves, and does not enter into the political
plan of the world.


Poland, which for a long time retained the man-
ners of the Sarmatians, its first inhabitants, began
to be of some consideration in Germany after the
Jagellonian race came to the throne; and was no
longer the same country which was wont to receive
its kings at the emperor's will, and pay him tribute.

2y 8 Ancient and Modern History.

The first of the Jagellon family was chosen king
of this republic in the year 1382. He was duke
of Lithuania, and was an idolater, as well as the
rest of his countrymen, and a great part of the
palatinate. He was made king upon a promise of
becoming Christian, and incorporating Lithuania
with Poland.

This Jagellon, who took the name of Ladislaus,
was father of the unfortunate Ladislaus who was
king of Hungary and Poland, and formed to be
one of the most powerful monarchs in the world, had
he not unfortunately been defeated and slain in 1445,
at the battle of Varna, which, at the instigation of
Cardinal Julian, he fought against the Turks, in
defiance of his faith solemnly plighted.

The Turks and the monkish knights of the Teu-
tonic Order were a long time the two great enemies
of Poland. The latter, who had formed themselves
into a crusade, not being able to succeed in their
attempts against the Mahometans, fell upon the
idolatrous and the Christian inhabitants of Prussia,
which was then a province belonging to the Poles.

During the reign of Casimir, in the fifteenth cen-
tury, the Teutonic Knights waged a long war with
Poland; and at length divided Prussia with this
state, on condition that the grand master of their
order should be a vassal of this kingdom, and, at
the same time, a prince palatine and have a seat in
the diet.

At this time the palatines had votes only in the

State of Europe. 279

estates of the kingdom ; but Casimir summoned dep-
uties from the body of the nobility, in the year
1640, who have ever since maintained this privilege.

The nobles then had another privilege in common
with that of the palatines, which was that of not
being subject to arrest for any crime before they
were juridically convicted : this was a kind of right
of impunity. They had besides the right of life and
death over their peasants, whom they might put
to death with impunity, provided they threw the
value of ten crowns into the grave : and if a Polish
nobleman killed a peasant belonging to another
nobleman, he was by the laws of honor obliged to
give him another in his room ; and, to the disgrace
of human nature, this horrid privilege still subsists.

Sigismund, who was of the Jagellonian race, and
died in 1548, was contemporary with Charles V.,
and was esteemed a great prince. During his reign
the Poles had several wars with the Muscovites,
and with the Teutonic Knights, while Albert of
Brandenburg was their grand master. But war
was all the Poles knew, without being acquainted
with the military art; which was first carried to
perfection in the southern parts of Europe. They
fought in a confused and disorderly manner; they
had no fortified places; and their chief strength
consisted, as it still does, in their cavalry.

They wholly neglected trade; nor did they dis-
cover, till the thirteenth century, the salt pits of
Cracow, which now constitute the chief wealth of

280 Ancient and Modern History.

the country. The corn and salt trade was left to
Jews, and other foreigners, who grew rich by the
proud indolence of the nobles and the slavery of
the people. There were at that time in Poland no
less than two hundred Jewish synagogues.

If we consider the government of this country,
it will appear, in some respects, an image of the
ancient government of the Franks, Muscovites, and
Huns ; and, in others, somewhat to resemble that of
the ancient Romans, inasmuch as the nobles, like
the tribunes of the Roman people, could oppose the
passing of any law in the senate by simply pro-
nouncing the word "Veto" This power, which
extended even to all the gentlemen, and was carried
so far as to give a right of annulling, by a single
vote, all the other votes of the republic, has now
become a kind of right of anarchy. The tribune was
the magistrate of the people of Rome ; whereas a
gentleman in Poland is only a member and a sub-
ject of the state, and this member has the peculiar
privilege of disturbing the whole body ; but so dear
is this privilege to self-love, that, if anyone should
attempt to propose in the diet an abolition of thi?
custom, he would be certain of being torn in pieces.

In Poland, as well as in Sweden, in Denmark,
and throughout the whole North, the only distin-
guishing title was that of " noble." The dignities
of duke and count are of a later date, and are
derived from the Germans; but these titles confer
no power. The nobles are all upon an equality. The

State of Europe. 281

palatines, who deprived the people of their liberty,
were wholly employed in defending their own
against their kings ; and, notwithstanding the Jagel-
lon family were so long in possession of the throne,
its princes were never either absolute in their roy-
alty, nor even kings by right of birth, but were
always chosen as chiefs of the state, and not as
masters. In the oath taken by these kings, at their
coronation, they expressly desired the nation to
dethrone them if they did not observe those laws
they had sworn to maintain.

It was no easy matter to preserve the right of
election always free, and still continue the same
family on the throne: but the kings having no
strongholds in their possession, nor the manage-
ment of the public treasury, nor the army, could
not make any attack upon the liberties of the nation.
The state allowed the king a yearly revenue of about
twelve hundred thousand livres of our money for
the support of his dignity, which is more than the
king of Sweden has to this day; the emperor has
no allowance, but is obliged to support, at his own
expense, the dignity of Head of the Christian
World, Caput Orbis Christiani; while the islands of
Great Britain give their king nearly twenty-three
millions for his civil list. The sale of the kingly
office is now in Poland one of the principal sources
of the money which circulates in that kingdom.
The capitation tax levied on the Jews, which is
one of its largest revenues, does not amount to

282 Ancient and Modern History.

above one hundred and twenty thousand florins
of the coin of the country.

With regard to the laws, the Poles had no written
code in their own language, till the year 1552. The
nobles, who were always of equal rank with each
other, were governed by the resolutions taken in
their assemblies, which is at present the only real
law among them; and the rest of the nation are
guided only by these resolutions. As these nobles
are the only possessors of lands, they are masters
of all the rest of the people, and the husbandmen
are no other than their slaves: they are also in
possession of all the church benefices. It is the same
in Germany; but this is an express and general
law in Poland; whereas, in Germany, it is only an
established custom ; indeed, a custom greatly repug-
nant to Christianity, though agreeable to the spirit
of the Germanic constitution. Rome, in all its dif-
ferent forms of government, from the times of its
kings and consuls to the papal monarchy, has always
enjoyed this advantage, that the door to honors and
dignities was always open to pure merit.


The kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway
were, like that of Poland, elective. The peasants
and artificers were slaves in Norway and Denmark ;
but in Sweden they had a seat in the diets of the
state, and gave their vote in the imposition of taxes.

State of Europe. 283

Never did two neighboring nations entertain a more
violent antipathy to each other than the Swedes and
Danes ; and yet these rival people formed only one
state in the famous Union of Calmar, at the end of
the fourteenth century.

One of the Swedish kings, named Albert, having
attempted to appropriate a third of the farms in the
kingdom to his own use, his subjects revolted against
him. Margaret of Waldemar, queen of Denmark,
who was called the Semiramis of the North, took
advantage of these troubles, and got herself acknowl-
edged queen of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, in
the year 1395. Two years afterward she united
these two kingdoms, which ought always to have
continued under the dominion of one single sov-

When we recollect that formerly the Danish
pirates alone carried their victorious arms through-
out the greater part of Europe, and conquered Eng-
land and Normandy, and afterward see that Sweden,
Denmark, and Norway, though united, were not a
formidable power to their neighbors, we may evi-
dently conclude that conquests are only to be made
among an ill-governed people. The Hanse towns
of Hamburg, Liibeck, Dantzic, Rostock, Liine-
burg, and Wismar alone were able to resist the
power of these three kingdoms, on account of their
superior riches ; and the single city of Lubeck car-
ried on a war against the successors of Margaret of
Waldemar. This union of the three kingdoms,

284 Ancient and Modern History.

which appeared so fair at first sight, proved in the
end the source of all their misfortunes.

There was in Sweden a primate who was arch-
bishop of Upsala, and six bishops who had almost
the same authority in that country which most of
the great ecclesiastics had acquired in Germany and
other nations, especially the archbishop of Upsala,
who was, like the primate of Poland, the second
person in the kingdom. Whosoever is the second
person in a state is always desirous of being the first.

It happened in the year 1452 that the estates of
Sweden, tired of the Danish yoke, chose with one
consent the grand marshal, Charles Canutson, for
their king, and being equally weary of the power of
the bishops, they ordered a perquisition to be made
into the estates which the Church had engrossed
under favor of these troubles. The archbishop of
Upsala, named John de Salstad, assisted by the six
bishops of Sweden and the rest of the clergy,
excommunicated the king and the senate at high
mass, laid his ornaments upon the altar, and putting
on a coat of mail, and taking a sword in his hand,
quitted the church, and began a civil war, which
the bishops afterward continued for seven years.
After this there was nothing but the most bloody
anarchy, and a perpetual war between the Swedes,
who wanted an independent king, and the Danes;
the latter of which almost always gained the mas-
tery. The clergy, who were at one time in arms
for their country, and at another against it, recipro-

State of Europe. 285

cally excommunicated, fought with, and plundered
one another.

At length the Danes, having gained the mastery,
under the command of their king, John, son of
Christian I., and the Swedes being subdued, and
having afterward revolted again, this King John
caused his senate in Denmark to publish an arret
against that of Sweden, by which all the members
of that senate were condemned to lose their nobility
and forfeit their estates. What is very singular is,
that he caused this arret to be confirmed by the
emperor Maximilian, and that this emperor wrote
to the estates of Sweden in 1505, telling them that
they were to pay obedience to that ordinance,
or else he would proceed against them according
to the laws of the empire. I do not know how
Abbe Vertot, in his " Revolutions of Sweden," came
to forget so important a transaction, which Puffen-
dorf has so carefully preserved.

This fact is a plain proof that both the German
emperors and the popes have always pretended to
a universal jurisdiction. It also proves that the
Danish king was willing to flatter Maximilian, whose
daughter he afterward obtained for his son, Chris-
tian II. In this manner were rights established
in those days. Maximilian's council wrote to the
Swedes in the same manner as that of Charlemagne
had done to the people of Benevento and Guienne :
but he wanted the same number of forces and equal
power with Charlemagne.

286 Ancient and Modern History.

This Christian II., after the death of his father,
took very different steps. Instead of applying to
the imperial chamber for an arret, he obtained four
thousand men of Francis L, king of France. Before
this time the French had never engaged in any of the
quarrels of the North. It is probable that Francis
I., who aspired to the imperial dignity, was willing
to gain a support in Denmark. The French troops
fought several battles against the Swedes, under
Christian, but were very badly recompensed for their
services, being sent home without pay, and set upon
in their return by the peasants, so that not more than
three hundred men returned alive to France, the
usual fate of all expeditions sent too far from their
own country.

We shall see what a tyrant this Christian was,
when we come to the article on " Lutheranism."
One of his crimes proved the cause of his punish-
ment, in the loss of his three kingdoms. He had
lately made an agreement with an administrator
created by the estates of Sweden, whose name was
Sten Sture ; but he seemed to fear this administrator
less than he did the young Gustavus Vasa, nephew
of King Canutson, a prince of the most enterprising
courage, and the hero and idol of the Swedes ; and
pretending to be desirous of having a conference
with the administrator in Stockholm, demanded of
him, at the same time, to bring with him on board
his fleet, then lying in the road, the young Gustavus,
with six other noblemen as hostages. As soon as

State of Europe. 287

they were on board he put them in irons, and
made sail to Denmark with his prize. After this
he made preparations for an open war, in which
Rome took part. We will now see how she came
to enter into it, and in what manner she was

Trolle, archbishop of Upsala whose cruelties I
shall relate when I come to speak of Lutheranism
who had been chosen primate by the clergy, con-
firmed by Pope Leo X., and was united in interest
with Christian, was afterward deposed by the estates
of Sweden, in 1517, and condemned to do perpetual
penance in a monastery. For this the estates were
excommunicated by the pope in the customary style.
This excommunication, which was nothing in itself,
was rendered very formidable by the power of
Christian's arms.

There was at that time in Denmark a legate
from the pope, named Arcemboldi, who had sold
indulgences throughout the three kingdoms. 3uch
had been the address of this priest, or the weakness
of the people, that he had raised nearly two millions
of florins in these countries, though the poorest in
Europe, which he was going to send over to Rome ;
but Christian seized on them as a supply for the
war he was carrying on against the excommunicated
Danes. This war proved successful ; Christian was
acknowledged king, and Archbishop Trolle was rein-
stated in his dignity. It was after this restoration
that the king and his primate gave that fatal feast

288 Ancient and Modern History.

at Stockholm, at which he caused all the members
of the senate, and a great many citizens, to be mas-
sacred. While these things were occurring, Gus-
tavus escaped from his confinement and fled into
Sweden. He was obliged to conceal himself for
some time in the mountains of Dalecarlia, in the dis-
guise of a peasant. He even worked in the mines,
either for his subsistence, or to better conceal him-
self: but at length he made himself known to these
savage people, who, being from their rustic sim-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19

Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 26) → online text (page 17 of 19)