What's all this then?

My name is Victoria Stiles and I'm an Early Career Historian currently doing whatever odd research / consulting / outreach / tutoring jobs come my way. I blog here about some of the interesting texts I've found.
My research focusses on books about Britain and the British Empire which were in circulation in Nazi Germany but you'll also find a smattering of school textbooks, witchcraft beliefs, bog drainage, bemused travellers and weird illustrations that caught my eye.
Translations from German are my own. Comments are currently unmoderated and are mostly spam for leather jackets anyway.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

"A progressive people, such as we are"

Greater Britain
English geography textbook adapted for German learners of English.

Ed. Dr. J. Klapperich, Oberlehrer an der Oberrealschule zu Elberfeld (senior tutor at Elberfeld Realschule)
From the series: Französischer und Englischer Prosaschriften (French and English prose)
Publisher: R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung / Herman Heyfelder, (BERLIN, 1900)

This book brilliantly exemplifies the mixture of misapplied progressive ideas and ingrained, matter-of-fact racism that characterised a lot of late 19th century writing about the British Empire. Perhaps the best example is this phrase from a passage about the abolition of slavery: "it was wrong to treat the most barbarous of our fellow-creatures like beasts". This is nothing unusual for it's time, but I find it important to remember that children in Britain and Germany who read this book at school, would have been in their fifties at the outbreak of the Second World War; experienced and respected members of the community, teachers, civil servants and politicians, and most of them voters.
Anyway, why were German children reading about the British Empire? Here's an extract from the (German) foreword:

In our time, when German and English interests are brushing against one another in all parts of the globe, it should be of particular advantage to gain a more accurate knowledge of the efforts and campaigns of the English beyond the European seas.
The language is easy, clever and completely modern; the original work from which the following chapters have been taken was written in the past few years by a noted author, for the highly recommendable collection of geographical teaching material published by Blackie & Son, Glasgow. In order to make the reading material even easier, I have, wherever possible, removed the more difficult and far-lying names. [...]
On behalf of the publishing company Blackie & Son, Mr Walter W. Blackie of Glasgow has allowed the publication of the following extracts in friendly rememberance of his time spent as pupil of Elberfeld Realschule. For this, I offer him here once again my sincere thanks.

(In unseren Tagen, wo deutsche und englische Interessen sich in allen Erdteile berühren, dürfte eine genauere Kenntnis von den Bestrebungen und Erwerbungen der Engländer jenseits der Europöischen Meeren von besonderem Vorteil sein.
Die Sprache ist leicht, gewandt und durchaus modern; das Originalwerk, welchem die folgenden Kapital entnommen sind, ist für die sehr empfehlenswerte Sammlung geographisher Unterrichtmittel, herausgegeben von Blackie & Son, Glasgow, erst in verflossenen Jahre von einem namhaften Schriftsteller verfaßt und veroffentlicht worden. Um den Lesestoff noch weiter zu erleichtern, habe ich fernliegende und schwierigere Namen nach Möglichkeit gestrichen. [...]
Mr Walter W. Blackie in Glasgow hat in freundlicher Erinnerung an die Zeit, welche er als Zögling der Realschule zu Elberfeld verbrachte, namens der Verlagsfirma Blackie & Son die Herausgabe der folgenden Abschnitte gestattet. Hierfür spreche ich ihm an dieser Stelle nochmals meinen besten Dank aus.)

The core of the book consists of 119 pages of text, divided into 42 short chapters, covering India, Canada, Australia, Africa and the West Indies. There is also a 7-page overview at the back, listing all British possessions along with their area, population and principle exports. A second volume contains a full glossary, although some explanatory notes on the language are provided at the back of the main volume too. There are no illustrations apart from 4 maps and there is a pull-out, coloured map of the world on the inside back cover.
The book describes, in a colourful and interesting way, transport routes to different colonies, the landscape and climate compared to Britain, the flora and fauna, main industries, and several principle cities. Sometimes the author also gives a little information about how Britain acquired the land in question. Of course, in some countries we were just there to lend a guiding hand:

"Britain has large property in this [Suez] canal, and, to keep it safe as the gate between Europe and Asia, British officials are at present directing the government of Egypt, the country having been brought to the brink of ruin by its own unwise and selfish rulers." (p.3)

In other areas, we fought bravely against the odds to save the native population from their self-imposed lack of freedom, and we should be damn proud of ourselves for it:

"India, or Hindostan, has been called the brightest jewel of the British crown. The people of such a tiny island as ours may well be proud to have conquered so great a country. Our other possessions beyond the sea were mostly won from small tribes of ignorant savages, too much occupied in fighting each other to join in defending themselves against the swords and guns, the ships and horses, that made them think Europeans supernatural beings. But India, when we first knew it, was filled with many millions of people, in some ways as learned and civilised as ourselves, among whom we found powerful rulers, large armies, and magnificent cities." (p.1)

"The story of this great conquest by small bands of Englishmen reads more like a fairy tale than plain history. The fact is that the Bengalees, with whom we had first to do, were so slavish and timid that any bold soldier among them would be like a dog driving a flock of sheep. [...]
We had most trouble in subduing the Sikhs, a manly nation of Hindoos inhabiting the Punjaub in the northwest of India. The Goorkhas, also, and other hardy hill tribes, long held out against us in their mountain strongholds. But these brave foemen, once beaten, have usually turned out our heartiest friends among the natives, while those who more readily cringe before us, keep longer a secret hatred of the conquerors whom they durst not opporse openly." (p.12-3)

Apart from this hint at smoldering resentment, absolutely no causes are given for the "Indian Mutiny", just a description of how bravely the colonists held out before reinforcements could arrive. Then, its aftermath and the changes that were imposed:

"When the mutiny had been thoroughly put down, it was felt that India could no longer be governed by a company of merchants, as it had hitherto been. The famour East India Company was dissolved and our Queen was proclaimed sovreign of Hindostan, in place of the Grand Mogul's descendant, who had allowed himself to be made a figure-head for the Mutiny.
In the name of the Queen, who there takes the title of Empress, India is now ruled by a Governor-General at Calcutta, with subordinate governors at the other Presidencies of Madras and Bombay. Under them the country is managed and the laws are administered chiefly by British judges and magistrates, but some of the most trustworty among the natives are also put into high positions. What makes our magistrates respected, above all, is that the native know they will tell the truth and try to do justice. Lying is the weak point of eastern nations, as of all who have not been used to freedom; yet they understand what an advantage it is to have to do with men whose word can be trusted.
The most sensible of the natives must see also the benefits of British rule. Other conquerors have overrun foreign lands merely to plunder and destroy; but we think of the real good of the people. We give them roads, railways, canals, telegraphs, and schools. We keep them from fighting with each other, as in old times, and do not allow their own princes to oppress them." (p.14-5)

The author is just as up-beat about the situation in New Zealand:

"The islands, when we came to them, were inhabited only by a race called the Maoris, who seem to have been originally South Sea Islanders. Though given to cannibalism, which they may have taken to because they found here so little flesh for food, the Maoris were far above most savages - brave, warlike, and with some notions of arts and industry; their better treatment of women also showed them superior to the miserable aborigines of Australia. At first, the settlers got on with them pretty well, but by and by there came quarrels, leading to a series of wars lasting for a quarter of a century. At one time there were 10,000 English soldiers in the field against them, but the Maoris defended their palisaded forts so well that we can hardly be said to have got the nest of it. At last peace was made, and the Maoris are now so far civilised that they vote like other citizens, and some even sit as members of the colonial parliament." (p.93-4)

Elsewhere, the indigenous population was less satisfactory, and had to be "tamed" rather than "civilised". In Africa, for example:

"This is not the place to tell the story of the wars which both we and the Dutch have again and again had with the Kafir tribes. Peaceful missionaries, also, have faced dangers and hardships to carry light among these darkminded barbarians. The religion of the Kafirs is a cruel superstition, only too true to their fierce nature. They believe much in witchcraft and evil spirits. Their priests are cheating conjurers, who pretend to be able to bring rain and work other miracles. If anything goes wrong, such impostors try to throw the blame of it on anyone who may have offended them, and often thus get innocent people put to death on suspicion of being wizards and witches.
When the Kafirs showed themselves so cruel to their own countrymen, it may be supposed what they were to their enemies. But, between our missionaries and our soldiers, the tribes near the colonies have now been tamed so far as to keep from interfering with the settlers, and many of them are learning to live quietly and industriously." (p.108)

And worst of all in Australia:

"In the early days of the Australian colonies, the Blackfellows made dangerous neighbours, being always ready for massacre and treachery, but slow to be won over by kindness, as Captain Cook found. It is to be feared that kindness has been too little tried on them; but at least they have learned to be afraid of our superior strength. Not so much by our weapons as by the diseases we have introduced among them, and by the fatal strong drink which we carry with us to curse all lands, they seem likely to be exterminated before long. There were believed to have been no more than 150,000 of them when we first came; but now the dwindling and degraded tribes cannot number half as many." (p.77)

There is no difference in tone between this passage and the description of the (at that time) near extermination of the buffalo from the plains of Canada; no sense of injustice, only mild regret at the result of a natural process. However, when other European nations were responsible for genocide, the author is far more indignant in his description:

"The first Spanish settlers in these islands [The West Indies] behaved very cruelly to their original inhabitants, and killed almost all of them off in a short time, though they had received the strangers with friendliness. Other white men who sought to make their fortunes here were less cruel, but not less lazy and greedy than the Spaniards. to work for them in the hot sun of this climate, they brought negro slaves from Africa, whose descendants now make up a great part of the population. By and by it began to be felt, first of all in England, that it was wrong to treat the most barbarous of our fellow-creatures like beasts, tearing them from their native soil and families and driving them to toil under the lash for the profit of their masters. the shameful slave-trade was first put down; then slavery was abolished wherever the British flag flies, an example since imitated by all civilised nations. but when the negroes were no longer obliged to work, they showed themselves as much disposed for idleness as their masters; and the West Indian Islands have not flourished in freedom, especially since sugar, one of their chief products, has come to be largely made in Europe." (p.115)

This idea of laziness as the cause of other peoples' misfortune is a common theme in Greater Britian. Cowardice and superstition are also vices that the author abhors and parts of the book read like morality tales on a national scale:

"The Hindoos belong to the same branch of the human family as ourselves, that called the Aryan, whose various languages are so like each other as to be evidently related. But this race are our elder brothers. When the peoples of Europe were still ignorant barbarians, their far-off kinsmen in Hindostan wrote thoughtful books, made wise laws, and could defend themselves manfully as well as obey their rulers, qualities without which there cannot be a great nation.
By and by the Hindoos degenerated, grew cowardly and superstitious, and could no longer keep to themselves the rich country that tempted invaders. Then came swarms of pirates and mountain robbers, who mostly belonged to another stock, and had this in common that they followed the faith of Mohammed, the Arabian prophet, who more than a thousand years ago set up a bitter rivalry to Christianity." (p.10)
"A progressive people, such as we are, is one not too slow to change its habits, thoughts, and actions when good reason has been shown. A superstitious people is the opposite of this: one that, without regard to right or wrong, will go on doing as its ignorant forefathers did, and so falls behind in the world.
In India, the bulk of the population are Hindoos, by religion at least, and the Hindoo religion is a sadly superstitious one. It was once a much nobler way of thinking, but through sloth and slavery of mind it has grown corrupt, as weeds will flourish rather than flowers or fruit when a garden is left to itself. Pious Hindoos honestly believe that they are right in their worship; but it seems worse than wasted upon hideous idols and degrading ceremonies." (p.15-16)
"The lazy fellow who has no other trade, likes to be a servant or an official, with not much to do and plenty of other hands to do it for him. [...] Their chief ambition is to get some place under government, as policeman, doorkeeper, or clerk, which gives them a chance to play the great man in a small way and to take bribes for doing favours. Backshish, which means money given and taken as from master to slave, not earned in fair wages, is the curse of India, as of all eastern lands, where poor men will cringe like dogs, and lie and flatter where they dare not bully. That is what comes of being born out of a free country." (p.36)
"Destructive fires are very common in the American forests, as also on the prairies, where, however, the grass is sooner burned up. We have seen how lazy farmers clear the ground by fire, and the wasteful Indians would think nothing of burning a wood to have a better crop of berries by and by." (p.54-5)
"Some [Kafirs] are still proud barbarians who care for no work but that of killing. Others are found serving the colonists as herds, grooms, and labourers on the land where they were once masters. A Kafir is usually a strong fellow, who will work well while he is at it, but does not keep long in a mind for industry. Often he comes down to the settlements for a spell of work till he has earned enough to buy a gun, a wife, or some cattle, with which, for the rest of his life, ge can set up as an idle gentleman among his own people." (p.108)

However, the author does posit the idea that the English could have turned out just as lazy, under different circumstances:

"The climate of a country is important, not only for the comfort of those who live in it, but as having a great deal to do with their character. We British would not have conquered or colonised so much of the world, but that we belong to a country where the weather stirs us up to be active and hardy. [...] But it would have been very different with us had we been born under the Indian sun. There the climate makes it difficult, often dangerous, to be out-of-doors during a great part of the day. To live in warm, damp air softens both body and mind. So, rich people in India are not ashamed to grow fat and lazy, while the poor, who have to work as well as they can, lose their spirit, and would like to be idle if they could.
In some ways it is not so hard to be poor in India as in Britain. The heat makes a great saving in food, clothes and houses. [...] A servant may be hired for a few shillings a month, out of which he keeps himself. A native soldier's pay is about sixpencea day, to support himself, his horse, and his family. [...] Give the Hindoo one cooked meal of rice a day, a thatched roof to keep off the sun, a grass mat or a frame of wicker work to lie upon, a cotton cloth to wrap about his waist, and he is not disposed to take much more trouble, unless to please the priests and the idols he worships." (p.8-9)

There are some other attempts to draw comparisons between British customs and those of other peoples, but these can't make up for the contemptuous language used in the descriptions of physical characteristics, religions and lifestyles, and in the placing of different peoples on a scale from savage to almost civilised. None of this makes particularly pleasant reading;

"We found this vast country [Australia] inhabited by a peculiar race of savages, who, in many respects, are among the lowest of the human race. The "Blackfellows", as they were nicknamed by the settlers, are rather dark brown, with thick black hair, and a coating of grease and dirt that hides the natural colour of their skin. Herded together in wandering tribes, they have no fields or villages, and only faint idea of religion, government, or comfort. [...]
They are truly savage in their treatment of women. or "gibs", who count as little better than beasts of burden. An Australian savage buys or steals his wife, sometimes knocking her down by way of courtship; and when he is in a bad humour will punish her by a blow on the head from a heavy club, or by running a spear through her limbs. [the author mentions this later, as a common punishment for stealing]. There is a story that an explorer was asked if the bullocks he brought with him were the white man's "gibs", because they carried the baggage!" (p.74-5)
"The bodies of [Aborigine] boys and girls are often horribly gashed with sharp stones to leave raised scars, which are admired as marks of manhood or beauty. The nose is pierced to have a long bone stuck through it, as we have ear-rings. In some parts a boy's two front teeth have to be knocked out when he reaches a certain age. Such disfigurements are common to all savages, and have not wholly died out among ourselves, when one comes to think of it. The tattooing of the sailor, the shaving of the soldier, like a girl's ear-piercing, are remnants of our savage ancestry." (p.76)
"The Hottentots are a stupidly barbarous people, with yellowish-brown faces, black wooly hair, flat noses, and thick lips. The most remarkable point about them is their language, which has some curious clicking sounds hardly pronounceable by Europeans, and not unlike the cackling of geese. [...]
Of the same stock as the Hottentots, apparently, are the Bushmen, who, like the Australian aborigines, count physically among the lowest of savages, though is some ways they seem more intelligent that they look. In height the men are only about four and a half feet, the women even smaller. Their poisoned arrows made them dangerous enemies; but they were hunted away like beasts by the original settlers, and only a few of them are now found hiding in the deserts and caves upon the edge of the colony." (p.106-7)
"Here and there at the stations [on the Canadian railways], or hanging about the villages, we catch sight of a group of Indians, who, dressed in a ludicrous mixture of their own costume and cast-off white men's clothes, stare wonderingly at the "fire-waggons" which are beyond their comprehension. They cannot be expected to like having their old hunting-grounds turned into farms; but they are harmless enough, so long as not allowed to get at whisky, and are kept in order by a few hundreds of mounted police." (p.63-4)
"Now and then the train may give us a peep of an Indian camp, tall pointed tents of smoky skins or canvas, round which feed their troops of active ponies. We have reached the country of the Blackfeet, fiercest of all western Indians, as the Iroquois were in the east; but both of them have long ago learned that the white man must be master." (p.65)
"The Mohammedans, too, have their superstitious customs; and there are smaller bodies with peculiar ones of their own. in Bombay, especially, may often be seen the high black hats and white garments of the Parsees. These are descendents of old Persian fire-worshipers, who many centuries ago went there as exiles from their native land. Though not numerous, they are an intelligent and progressive people, who take kindly to many of our ways, and sometimes even beat us at cricket, which has become their favourite game. Like the Jews, they succeed as money-makers and men of business; and a great part of the trade of India is in their hands." (p.17-8)
"It is often said that a Burman is fit for nothing but steering a boat or driving a cart, but they show themselves able to work hard when their living depends on it. Though they do not take readily to business for themselves, they can be useful as clerks and assistants to the English merchants who are opening up the resources of this country." (p.41)

The pride in Britain's / the English people's achievements is overwhelming, and must have had a strange effect on German pupils. Here are two final extracts for you. The first one is almost funny in its patriotism, the second is the final paragraph of the book:

"New Zealand was originally discovered in 1642 by the Dutch navigator Tasman, who naturally called it after a part of his own country, as Australia was first named New Holland. In the next century it was visited by Captain Cook, after whom came other Englishmen, till towards the middle of this century it began to be settled as a British colony. [...] A much better name for the country would be New England, if that had not already been taken by our great colony in America." (p.91-2)

"But here must end a list of a chief colonies, which might have been spun out to far greater length. They are to be numbered by hundreds in all, if we count every island. Scattered over the face of the earth, they are calculated to cover one fifth of the world, and to be sixty or seventy times the size of Great Britain, whose bravery and enterprise has won such wide dominion, that on the British Empire, it is truly said, the sun never sets." (p.119)

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