Home » Newspaper Articles » The Franco-Prussian War » Matthew (1871-01-20)

Matthew (1871-01-20)


France and Denmark – Mr Ellice, M.P. Dundee Advertiser, Friday 20 January 1871, p.8 col.1 (pdf image)

(Letter dated Jan 16 1871, published Jan 20 1871)
Matthew lambasts Mr Ellice, Member of Parliament for Fifeshire, for suggesting that Bismark was guilty of a “policy of plunder”, first in Denmark (the 1864 Schleswig-Holstein conflict) and then in France. In a detailed review of the history of Schleswig-Holstein, he expounds his view, as he did in his Schleswig-Holstein pamphlet, that Denmark was in fact the aggressor and plunderer, while the Duchies were “the remarkable broodground of the most extending race on earth – a race which will probably lay the foundation of a universal language for civilised man”. He also provides some interesting personal details. He was residing in Holstein (this would be at the farm of his son Alexander) during the First Schleswig War of 1848-1852, and he’d prepared a manuscript he planned to publish in England describing “the seizure and plunder of the Duchies by Denmark”, but the manuscript had fallen into the hands of “the enemy”. He also relates the hardships endured by a shipwright neighbour and his two sons at the hands of the Danish, leading eventually to the father’s death. Matthew ends by questioning the Liberal credentials of Mr Ellice, and harks back to his brief time in 1838-9 as the elected representative for Fifeshire and Perthshire to the Chartist National Convention. He contrasts Mr Ellice with Adam Smith, also a Fifeshire man, who “has done more to forward political economy, the most important science that exists, than all others”.



SIR,— Mr Ellice makes the following statement in his electioneering speech at Cupar, as quoted in the public prints:— “I think it (the war) an unmitigated evil, whoever originated it – whether it was Count Bismarck, in pursuance of that policy of plunder that began in the case of Denmark, or whether it was the French Emperor.” Mr Ellice shows either his ignorance or strange error when he speaks of plunder of Denmark by Bismarck. I thought that all Europe knew the aggressive character of Denmark; that it had for more than half a century made the two German Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein a field for plunder. Before the liberating war, I had known two previous risings in the Duchies to free themselves from Dutch thrall. In the first they were not aided by the other German States, and, from the greater extent of population of Denmark, were defeated. In the second, Prussia gave them some assistance, but was checked by the intervention of Russia, which threatened to attack Prussia on the east if she did not withdraw her assistance from the Duchies. This manoeuvre of Russia was with the view of procuring for herself the whole of the Cimbrian Peninsula and the Danish Islands, and thus securing to herself command of the Baltic. At that time I was residing in Schleswig-Holstein, and witnessed the disastrous condition the Duchies, deserted by the Prussians, were reduced to. I drew up, for publication in England, an account of the seizure and plunder of the Duchies by Denmark, but the manuscript being in the scrutoire of my friend Mr M. T. Smidt, the finance Minister of the Duchies, was captured by the enemy, and himself banished. The Prussians having deserted the Duchies, the Danes again established their intollerable thrall.

Holstein is an integral portion of the German Bund. It, along with Schleswig, constitutes the Dukedom of Schleswig-Holstein. The population generally speak the low-country German (parent of the modern English) – a purer, terser, and more expressive language than the high-country German. The people of this territory, which includes the ancient Engelen, by their colonisation of England gave to England their name and language; while England, along with the Lowlands of Scotland (colonised by the N. Frieze), has colonised North America, Australia, New Zealand, &c. These Duchies may thus be regarded the remarkable broodground of the most extending race on earth – a race which will probably lay the foundation of a universal language for civilised man.

The seizure of the Duchies by Denmark waa gradually effected. First, their Duke by heritage became or was elected King of Denmark, much in the name way that the Georges became Kings of England and Electors of Hanover. In the case of Britain, she did not seize upon Hanover as a plunder held field for the English. In the case of Denmark this was done, even although the Kings of Denmark had at their succession to take a solemn pledge that they would not in any way permit the Governments of the two territories to mingle, neither in finance, military, or civil government affairs. This oath was, however, not taken by the two or three last Kings of Denmark, while every condition of the covenant was broken. The people of the Duchies, forced by oppression to enter into war to try to preserve their liberties, and not succeeding, were burthened with the cost of the war in extraordinary contributions upon the land; the young men of the Duchies taken by force to be slaves in the dockyards at Copenhagen and other places of Denmark, and not paid above one-third of what would preserve them from starving, their friends in the Duchies obliged to forward money for this. To make the reader understand the grinding oppression of this, I will state what occurred to my nearest neighbour, not a hundred yards from my door. This man was a most industrious shipbuilder, on a moderate scale, below Blankenese, on the Elbe side. Ha had two very strong young sons, the one nineteen and the other twenty years of age, who, along with several apprentices, carried on the work. An order, however, came from Copenhagen that his two sons must go there to build war vessels. One of the sons, seeing an American vessel passing outward, escaped in a skiff and got on board, while the other was forced away; and, upon reaching Copenhagen, he had only a payment of about 2d English per day, and his father, with very little means, had to remit small sums to preserve him in life. This terrible misfortune and loss of his sons’ assistance ruined him, and he sickened and died. Thousands of families in Schleswig-Holstein have equally suffered, driving the population into repeated attempts to expel their tyrants. But the plunder and tribulation extended farther. Shoals of hungry lawyers and other professions were thrown into the Duchies to occupy Government places, and a large portion of the Danish army to compel submission. Every means was also taken to force the Danish language upon the Duchies, while all, except a small portion of the population in Schleswig upon the border of Jutland, were ignorant of Danish. The Danish was also adopted in the law courts, and in Schleswig in the schools and churches; while everything waa done to repress the Kiel University, so that the Copenhagen University might flourish, by making it obligatory for persons in certain civil situations in the Duchies have studied at Copenhagen. I have seldom seen finer timber than I have seen in the eastern portion of Schleswig-Holstein. Of this a great portion was carried away by the Danes to construct their war navy, while shipwrights were carried away in slavery to build it.

The brigand-plunder affinity between France and Denmark is remarkable. Denmark, knowing that its robbery of the Duchies, a portion of Germany, would come to be attended to were Germany able – that she would expel the Danish raid – naturally tried all that Britain would allow her to do to aid France in the great French war, and even went so far as to compel Britain twice to interfere by force to prevent her fleet joining the French fleet. It has been said that birds of a feather flock together. When two ghosts in a kirkyard meet they fraternise, and well might France say to Denmark, “We’ll league, together league; and we’ll rob, together rob.” And so they did – France in Alsace and Lorraine, Italy and Spain; and Denmark in Schleswig-Holstein – the two marauders gnawiag away at two sides Fatherland till kicked back. I have thought, how would these two aggressive States agree were they placed in juxtaposition? So great is the affinity in love of plunder and in morality, that Copenhagen has long been termed Little Paris! These two aggressives have both been justly chastised, but Denmark not sufficiently so. Denmark ought to have been made deliver her war-fleet to Schleswig-Holstein, as being in a great measure constructed of stolen Schleswig-Holstein timber, and by enslaved Schleswig-Holstein shipwrights; also, to repay the extraordinary war contributions she levied upon the Schleswig-Holstein land. This is justly due. Unless this is paid back, and value of the fleet with interest, the small portion of Danish land still held by Germany should not be returned.

On the other subjects adverted to in Mr Ellice’s speech, want of room prevents me touching. Suffice it to say that they exhibit considerable tact as regards his audience, gained by long experience as a canvasser, great superficiality, and not a little cunning. He seems a Liberal obstructive, believing himself an advanced Liberal, at least wishing to believed such. His opposition to the only clause in the Irish Laad Bill of any approach of justice to Ireland throws doubt of him being more than a sham Liberal. At any rate, he appears to me to be endowed with only the qualification of property to be one of the representatives of the people of Fife. The men of Fife best known how far such a person is calculated to represeat them.

To calumniate our neighbours who never injured us – our ancient allies, who have often fought by our side – men of our own blood, the foremost race of man that exists in civilisation, science, art, and morality – to throw malign and false aspersions upon the greatest man of the age, so proved to be false by facts – I would ask every impartial reader, is not this strongly calculated to produce national hatreds, one of the deepest crimes man can be guilty of?

I have been connected with Fifeshire in more ways than one. It is now nearly an age since I was chosen by the men of Fife, as well as Perthshire, to represent them at the People’s Convention in London to obtain the People’s Charter – a movement which went far to produce the late great extension of the suffrage, and to which the next advance will extend. I am therefore strongly interested in having the Fife members able, vigorous and true. There are plenty of good men and true in Fife. I have often said that Fife had in modern times produced more men of high ability that any other portion of the earth of the same extent and population. Adam Smith was a host in himself, and has done more to forward political economy, the most important science that exists, than all others.

Gourdiehill, Errol, Scotland, Jan 16, 1871.

%d bloggers like this: