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Matthew (1870-10-18)


Dundee Advertiser, 18 October 1870

(Letter written Oct 18 1870)
Matthew paints the French as aggressive war-mongers and the Germans as “long suffering and slow to anger” with a “strong disposition to peaceful industry, to ‘live and let live’”.

Unfortunately, the British Newspaper Archive is missing all issues of the Dundee Advertiser for 1870. The text below has been reproduced from “Evolutionary concepts in the Nineteenth Century: Natural Selection and Patrick Matthew” (Dempster 1996).

Sir,— In a late number of your paper a Southern German, a little jealous, it would seem, of the great energy of the Northern Germans, has attempted to mystify the state of things betwixt France and Germany, ignoring facts, and speaking of his brother Germans in terms which every German will be ashamed to see. All Europe knew the preparation by France of a vast army and navy in time of peace. This vast war preparation was evidently intended, after the fashion of the legions of ancient Rome, to overawe the other nations, render France military superior of Europe, and to fulfil her views of aggressive intention wherever she coveted an accession of territory. How the other nations of Europe submitted to have their independence and thus interfered with, in a manner constrained by the late domineering war power of France to be her vassal, is the result of the want of combination. The constant boasting of this great Army, their menace of a march to Berlin, countenanced by the Government, the press, and the people of France, has, however, united Germany in self-defence. A few years ago, we in Britain had similar threats of a French invasion and a march to London, which, however, where not carried out from the Channel difficulty but which originated our Volunteer organisation and our fire-precision matches. This vast military preparation, and threats of the invasion of Germany, were enough to be a just casus belli on the part of united Germany against France. But the Germans, long suffering and slow to anger, remained without any disposition whatever or thought of attacking France. As proof of this – of their strong disposition to peaceful industry, to ‘live and let live’ – the withdrawing of a member of the Hohenzollern family to be King of Spain, owing to the French Government declaring that such would be followed by a declaration of war by France, is sufficient. This is being yielded by Germany, the only reason that France could adduce for a declaration of war was that the self-defence union of Germany had interfered with the balance of power in Europe not, however, mentioning that this union was caused by menaces of her own creating. What should we think of France declaring war against Britain because she had organised an army of volunteers? How often has France tried to upset the balance of power in Europe? The right balance of power in the eye of the French is, at least was, all of Europe at the feet of France. The war preparation – the vast army of more than 500,000 soldiers – which was the chief business of Napoleon III to create, was on purpose to effect this. In choosing a King what right had France to dictate to Spain? I have seen a good deal of Europe, and at times of great political excitement, and have found the governing power or executive most beneficially carried out in Prussia. In the north of Germany the science of Government, the science necessary to be known to officials, are taught in the Universities. No wonder, therefore, that Spain, so much requiring an efficient Government, should desire a leading magistrate from a country where the science of Government is most studied and the executive most beneficially exerted.

The vast French army created by Napoleon III in time of peace, prepared for aggression wherever an enlargement of territory or opportunity for plunder presented itself, has cost the other nations of Europe several hundred millions sterling in military and naval preparations of self defence, repressing industry and promoting misery in most cases to an equal amount. The recent declaration of war by France shows how flimsy a pretext will be seized upon. This declaration was regarded as a godsend by the French army, which delighted in bloody wars and quick promotion, accompanied by plunder at will. In the time of the grandfather of the present French soldier, rich, industrious Germany was regarded as a brigand’s Paradise. In marching eastwards, each little potentate’s domain and Court-City afforded a sort of caravansary on the way, while the danger of a skirmish-fight was not greater then gave excitement and zest to life to the French soldier. There was always in the vista a return victorious to Paris; and if all had not won a Marshall’s baton, most were loaded with plunder and glory, with breast covered with Orders and medals. A return to Paris, to enjoy triumphal processions and the smile of beauty in the capital of the civilized world, was their Heaven.

The truth is, this army, the child of the Emperor, had come to feel his master. If agreeable work was not provided by their creator, the soldiers would have amused themselves by plucking him down and putting up a more active Emperor. So the Emperor was selfishly forced to hound his army on to capture Germany, neither he nor them having a thought of guilt. Military glory would cover all. The little affairs of the Crimea and Mexico, mere interludes, did not afford much glory or plunder; nor did the arduous duties of Algiers, only acting as a military school and training savage inhumanity. The conquest and plunder of Germany would, however, atone for all, would load the French with glory and riches, and raise the Emperor Napoleon the Third to be the greatest man of the age. To Berlin ho! was the cry that resounded throughout France. What is the Emperor? What is the invincible army now? I would ask of this Southern German correspondent: Who is it that has affected this astonishing metamorphosis? Do they merit the terms he has twitted them with? As to Alsace and Lorraine, is it not necessary to the future peace of Europe that France, long the disturber of Europe, be compelled to restore the territory she had robbed from her neighbours and be in future limited to her own territory? The nations of Europe, in humanity should demand fighting to cease, on these conditions, with payment of the cost of the war to Germany. Yours, etc.

Patrick Matthew
Gourdiehill, Errol
18 October 1870

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