Europe – Inhabitants

A STUDY of the soil and a patient observation of climatic phenomena enable us to appreciate the general influence exercised by the nature of the country upon the development of its inhabitants; but it is more difficult to assign to each race or nation its due share in the progress of European civilisation. No doubt, in their struggles for existence, different groups of naked and ignorant savages must have been acted upon differently, according to their numbers and physical strength, their inborn intelligence, their tastes and mental tendencies. But who were those primitive men who first turned to account the natural resources of the country in which they dwelt ? We know not ; for, if we go hack for a few thousand years, every fact is shrouded in darkness. We know nothing even as regards the origin of the leading nations of Europe. Are we the ” sons of the soil,” and the ” shoots of oak-trees,” as told in the poetical language of ancient tradition, or are we to look upon the inhabitants of Asia as the ancestors to whom we are indebted for our languages, and for the rudiments of our arts and sciences? Or did those immigrants from a neighbouring continent settle down amongst an indigenous population ? Not many years ago the Asiatic origin of European nations was accepted as an established fact, and the original seats of our forefathers were pointed out upon the map of Asia. Eut now most men of science are agreed to seek our ancestors upon the very soil which we, their descendants, still occupy. Caverns, the shores of oceans and lakes, and the alluvial beds of our rivers have yielded the remains of human industry, and even human skeletons, which clearly prove that long before these supposed immigrations from Asia there existed in Europe tribes who had already made some progress in human industry Even in the childhood of history there existed tribes who were looked upon as aborigines, and some of their descendants—as, for instance, the Basks—have nothing in common with the invaders from the neighbouring continent. Nor is it universally admitted that the Aryans—that is, the ancestors of the Pelasgians, the Greeks, the Latins, Celts, Germans, and Slays—are of Asiatic origin. Similarity of language may justify our belief in the common origin of the Aryans of Europe, the Persians, and the Hindoos, but it does not prove that their ancestral home should be looked for somewhere near the sources of the Oxus. Many men of learning * look upon the Aryans as aborigines of Europe, but certainty on this point does not exist. No doubt, in prehistoric times, intermigrations between the two continents were frequent ; but we hardly know that directions they took, and can speak with certainty only of those migrations of peoples which are related by history. We thus know that Europe sent forth to other continents Galatians, Macedonians, and Greeks, and more recently innumerable emigrants of all nationalities, and received in turn Huns, Avares, Turks, Mongols, Circassians, Jews, Armenians, Moors, Berbers, and members of many other nations.

Leaving out of consideration the smaller families of nations, as well as the members of races who have not attained a national existence, Europe may be described as consisting of three great ethnological divisions, the principal boundary between which is formed by the Alps, the Carpathians, and the Balkan.

The first of these great families of European nations, the members of which speak Greco-Latin languages, occupies the southern slopes of the Balkan and of the Alps, the Iberian peninsula, France, and a portion of Belgium, as well as a few detached territories within the limits of the ancient Roman empire, altogether surrounded by alien nations. Such are the plains of the Lower Danube and a portion of Transylvania, which are inhabited by the Romanians, and a few secluded Alpine valleys inhabited by ” Romans.” On the other hand, fragments of two ancient nations have maintained their ground in the midst of Latinised populations, viz. the Celtic inhabitants of Brittany, and the Basks of the Pyrenees. Generally speaking, however, all the inhabitants of South-western Europe, whether of Celtic, Iberian, or Ligurian race, speak languages derived from the Latin, and whatever differences existed originally between these various populations, this community of’ language has more or less obliterated them.

The Teutonic nations form the second great group. They occupy nearly the whole of Central Europe to the north of the Alps, and extend through Rolland and Flanders to within a short distance of the Straits of Dover. Denmark and the great Scandinavian peninsula, as well as Iceland, belong to the same group, and the bulk of the inhabitants of the British Islands are likewise generally included in it. The latter, however, should rather be described as a mixed race, for the aboriginal Celtic population of these islands, which now exists pure only in a few remote districts, has amalgamated with Anglo-Saxon and Danish invadcrs, and the language of the latter has become mixed with media val French, the resulting idiom being almost as much Latin as Saxon. The development of national characteristics has been favoured by the isolation in which the inhabitants of the British Islands found themselves, and they differ essentially from continental neighbours—the Scandinavians, Germans, and Celto-Latins—in language and customs.

The Slays, or Slavonians, form the third group of European nations. They are less numerous than the Greco-Latins, but the territories they occupy are far more extensive, for they spread over nearly the whole of Russia, over Poland, a large portion of the Balkan peninsula, and about one-half of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. All the great plains to the east of the Carpathians are inhabited by Slays, either pure or mixed with Tartars and Mongols. To the west and south of the mountains the race is split up into numerous small nations, and in the valley of the Danube these come into contact with Romanians, as well as with Turks and Magyars, the two latter being of Asiatic origin, and these separate the Slavonians of the north from the Slavonians of the south. In the north, Finns, Livonians, and Lithuanians interpose between the Slavonians and the Germanic nations.

Race and language, however, are not always identical. Members of one race frequently speak the language of another, and race and linguistic boundaries, therefore, differ frequently. As for the political boundaries, they scarcely ever follow those natural features which would have been selected had their settlement been intrusted to the spontaneous action of the different nations. They hardly ever coincide with the boundaries of races or of languages, except in the ease of a few high mountain ranges or of arms of the sea. On many occasions the countries of Europe were arbitrarily split up in consequence of wars or diplomatic arrangements. A few peoples only, protected by the nature of their country as well as by their valour, have maintained their independence since the age of great migrations, but many more have been swept aw ay by successive invasions. Many others, again, have alternately seen their frontiers expand and contract more than once even during a generation.

The so-called “balance of European powers,” founded as it is upon the rights of war and ambitious rivalries between nations, is necessarily unstable. Nations eminently fit to lead a common political existence are torn asunder on the one side, whilst the most heterogeneous elements are thrown together on the other. In these political arrangements the nations themselves are never consulted, but their wishes and inclinations must nevertheless prevail in the end, and the artificial edifice raised by warriors and statesmen will come to the ground. A true “balance of power” will only be established when every nation of the continent shall have become the arbiter of its own destinies, when every pretended right of conquest shall have been surrendered, and neighbouring nations shall be at liberty to combine for the management of the affairs they have in common. Our arbitrary political divisions, therefore, possess but a transitory value. They cannot altogether be ignored; but in the following descriptions we shall, as far as possible, adhere to the great natural divisions as defined by mountains and valleys, and by the distribution of nations having the same origin and speaking the same language. But even these natural boundaries lose their importance in countries like Switzerland, inhabited by nations speaking different languages, but held together by the strongest of all ties—the common enjoyment of freedom.

From an historical point of view a description of Europe should commence with the maritime countries of the Mediterranean. It was Greece which gave birth to our European civilisation, and which at one time occupied the centre of the known world. Her poets first sang the praises of venturesome navigators, and her historians and philosophers collected and classified the information received with respect to foreign countries. In a subsequent age, Italy, in the very centre of the Mediterranean, took the place of Greece, and for fifteen centuries maintained herself therein : Genoa, Venice, and Florence succeeded Rome as the leaders of the civilised world. During that period the surrounding nations gravitated towards the Mediterranean and Italy; and it was only when the Italians themselves enlarged the terrestrial sphere by the discovery of a new world beyond the ocean that this preponderance passed away from them, to remain for a short time with the Iberian peninsula. Greece had been the mediator between Europe and the ancient civilisations of Asia and Africa ; Spain and Portugal became the representatives of Europe in America and the extreme Orient ; historical development in its progress had followed the axis of the Mediterranean from east to west.

It will be found natural, under these circumstances, when we describe the three Mediterranean peninsulas in the same volume, particularly as they are peopled almost exclusively by Greco-Latin nations. France, though likewise Latinised, nevertheless occupies a .distinct position. It is a Mediterranean country only as respects Provence and Languedoc, the rest of its territory sloping towards the Atlantic. Its geographical position and history have made France the great European thoroughfare upon which the nations of the Mediterranean and of’ the Atlantic meet to exchange their products and to fight their battles. Ideas are imported into France from all parts of Europe, and she is called upon to act the part of an interpreter between the nations of the North and of the South. Next to France we shall describe the Germanic countries of Europe, the British Islands, and Scandinavia; and lastly, the immense empire of Russia.