As the people on the one side were not
heard, so the dignity of the Imperial
crown on the other brought no substantial power; and as the hundred princes were never disposed to diminish their separate independence, it followed that the German empire was but a vain shadow.
The princes and nobles parcelled out the land, and ruled it in severalty with an authority which there was none to dispute, to guide, or to restrain.
Nobility throughout Germany
was strictly a caste.
The younger son of a subordinate and impoverished noble family would not have wedded with the wealthiest plebeian heiress.
Various chapters and ecclesiastical preferments were accessible to those only who were of unmixed aristocratic ancestry.
It followed, that, in the breast of the educated commoner, no political passion was so strong as the hatred of nobility; for nowhere in the world was the pride of birth so great as in the petty German principalities.
The numerous little princes—absolute within their own narrow limits over a hopeless people, whose fortunes they taxed at will, whose lives and services they not only claimed for the service of the state and of themselves, but as merchantable property which might be transferred to others—made up for the small extent of their dominions by an excess of self-adulation; though, after all, as was said of them by one of the greatest German poets, who was ready to praise merit wherever found, they were but ‘demi-men, who, in perfectly serious stupidity, thought themselves beings of a higher nature than we.’1
But their pride was a