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Lund students and France – a love that cooled
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Kyrkogatan and the Altona Hotel (second building from the right) in the 1880s. Photo source: University Library

In December 1870, a number of Lund students faced a principle and moral dilemma. They were a group of friends, mostly affiliated with the Småland student nation, who initially used to meet and play cards together, but from this developed a small studentesque order, full of parodic high-sounding rituals and grand titles. At the start, with not many participating, the order’s meetings could be held at the home of one of the members, but quite soon so many new brothers had been admitted to the order that premises for meetings had to be sought in Lund. Such a meeting was planned to take place at the Stadt Altona Hotel on Kyrkogatan, and it was this that placed the order’s brothers in a difficult situation: could they really have their chapter meeting at such an establishment? 

It was not the quality of the food and drink or service that caused doubts – Altona was one of Lund’s “most appreciated inns” and its restaurateur, Thor Andersson, was well known for his courteous bowing. Was it appropriate, as it was exactly 150 years ago that the Prussians and a number of other German states militarily crushed and humiliated France, to go to a restaurant with a German name (Altona being a suburb of Hamburg)?

Lund students – among the “Frenchmen of the North”.
The order’s minutes referred to the brothers’ hesitation, “French as they were”. This did not, of course, mean that they were actually French, but that they felt a strong sense of fellowship with France, the losing side in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. And this was not unique to this small specific group of students. Axel Kock, future professor of Scandinavian Languages and Lund University vice-chancellor 1911–16, became a student in the war year of 1870 and later described the atmosphere he experienced in Lund at that time:

The University’s citizens, students as well as professors, were almost all ardent champions of France’s cause. At student parties, speeches were held in support of France, and often there was no lack of accusations against Prussia. And La Marseillaise   was sung together, both at the Academic Society and around Lundagård.

These sympathetic feelings also extended far beyond Lund and the student world. Kock observed in general that “the Swedes who wished the Germans success were few in number”. As an explanation for this stance, he noted, among other things, that the Swedes

[…] saw in the French above all a ‘first-rate’ nation, a people with the great historical legacy, which, with its spiritual and material cultivation, was at the forefront of Europe’s countries. These – he suggested – had a lot to thank France for in terms of their culture. More than a few Swedes also flattered themselves that “the Frenchmen of the North” had a certain spiritual connection with those of “the South’.

The pro-French feeling was also apparent in Lund’s leading newspaper of the time, Lunds Weckoblad, whose columns featured regular contributions from a large number of the University academics, and whose position on many issues can be assumed to reflect that of academia. At the outbreak of war in July 1870, the newspaper spoke in admiring terms of a “strong and united spirit among the French people”, and the “French army with its brilliant ancient past” and that it was now a question of “letting weapons determine if Europe’s central point lies in Berlin or in Paris”. It is clear that sympathies lay with Paris. History tells us that victory, rapid and crushing, went to Berlin.
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The introduction to a long article in Lunds Weckoblad on 19 July 1870 about the outbreak of war. Photo source: National Library of Sweden.
A professor with deficient German
The fact that even in language terms Lund academics were more oriented towards French than German, is illustrated by two foreign testimonies from the year before the Franco-Prussian War. In 1869, Lund was visited by the French archaeologist Henri Martin and the German author Gustav Rasch, and both wrote accounts of their visits. While the Frenchman Martin could report with satisfaction that the famous zoologist and archaeologist Sven Nilsson’s “beautiful work on Scandinavia’s early inhabitants shall be translated into French to the benefit of European research” the German Rasch’s meeting with another well-known professor of the time, Carl Georg Brunius, proved linguistically troublesome:

Understanding each other, however, was difficult. Advanced age had impaired his hearing; and he also spoke very deficient German. Finally, I managed to clarify my wishes to him in French. 

In the mid-1800s, French was considered the most important foreign modern language by far in Lund and this was reflected in the language education offered by the University. Since the 1600s, there had been so-called “language masters”, practically-oriented tutors, often with a foreign background, who conveyed knowledge in one or more living European languages. Looking at the holders of these positions in the 1800s (until 1862 when they were discontinued) it can be observed that almost without interruption there was a language master in French, whereas there was only one in German, between 1842 and 1850.
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For only a limited period, 1842–1850, Lund University had language masters in both French and German. The language masters were not included in the “proper” academic staff, as they were categorised with tutors of music, dance, drawing and fencing, in the more practically-oriented group of “exercise masters”. Photos from the Lund Academy register, spring semester 1843. Photo source: University Library.

One reason for the disappearance of the language master positions was that during the 1800s the University also gained a professorship in Modern Languages (or “Modern European Linguistics” as it was formally titled). It certainly covered all three languages, English, French and German, but the University management’s opinion on where the focus should lie was reflected in the requirements when the professorship was to be filled around 1840. The applicants for the position were asked to write an academic thesis in French, whereas skills in the other two languages were only to be confirmed  through some supplementary “Aphorisms or Propositions in the German or English language” (it is therefore a little ironic that in the end the position went to a person whose primary focus was English, the Shakespeare translator Carl August Hagberg). Another sign of the French language’s primacy is that when there was a reform and expansion of one of the qualifications awarded by the University in 1863, the preliminary qualification for future civil servants, French was the only compulsory modern language.
An increasingly German-speaking mouthpiece 
Until the mid-1800s, Latin was the self-evident language for serious scholarly publications and not least for academic theses. However, the new University statutes of 1852 had opened the way for theses in general to be written in Swedish, which was advancing as a language on all fronts within the University at this time. This was very apparent when, in 1864, the University launched a new, scholarly annual featuring a variety of articles and papers; this was, among other things, aimed at helping junior university academics to obtain credentials through publication. A review of all contributions in the first four editions (1864–67) shows that of the total of 60 articles, 52 were written in Swedish and only six in Latin. The two other articles were, however, written in French, and the percentage of contributions in  other modern languages would gradually increase over the next few years, in a way that in the 1890s would prompt University librarian Elof Tegnér to note with satisfaction that the annual, through its contributions “in the modern languages of culture” had become “the University’s scholarly mouthpiece  to the educated world”.

However, a look at the table of contents in later editions of the annual shows not only a general internationalisation, but also a change of focus in the international perspective. This shift can be sensed in a review of the 1875–78 editions. The majority of the articles (15 of 28) are still in Swedish, whereas the Latin contribution has fallen to only two. On the other hand, the share of contributions in foreign living languages is as high as eleven, and of these the majority – six against five – are in German, a language that had not figured in the earlier annuals. This new linguistic trend becomes even clearer if you examine the general overviews of the academic staff’s published papers (not counting annual articles and doctoral theses) which the University from the academic year 1875/76 began to publish in its annual report. In the three academic years up to 1877/78, 172 different contributions are listed – everything from thick scholarly tomes and text books to short journal articles – of which 128 are in Swedish, as many as 27 in German, but only eight in French (in addition there were a total of nine scattered articles in Latin, Danish and Spanish; English had not yet gained a foothold in Lund’s scholarly prose). The trend towards German was clearest among the science scholars; physicist Victor Bäcklund is a good example, as he published almost exclusively in that language. However, even among the humanities there are works in German, such as one by philosopher Borelius, published in 1876, with the telling title Skandinavien und Deutschland (Scandinavia and Germany). Something had clearly happened in less than ten years!
Honorary doctor sets new course for foreign policy
The France that Lund students supported in 1870 had been Napoleon III’s grand empire, a dominant European superpower, manifested to the world through spectacular events such as the World’s Fairs of 1855 and 1867 in Paris. The defeated France that remained after the war was by contrast a damaged  republic – in the monarchy-intensive Europe of the time almost a political science anomaly – and, in addition, internally wounded in the spring of 1871 after quelling the revolutionary Paris Commune and a number of other local revolts that followed in the wake of the war. It was by no means obvious that the new France would compel the same admiration, either locally among academics in southern Sweden or at the country’s highest level. Sweden’s king (also an honorary doctor at Lund University) Oscar II, who came to the throne two years after the war, may have had almost exclusively French ancestry, but in his foreign policy he definitely looked less towards Paris and more towards Berlin, the capital of the new, unified German empire, which was the result of the victory over France; Europe’s new great power, not only militarily and politically, but also within science and industry. In 1875, Oscar paid an official visit to the German emperor, Wilhelm I, which the historian Folke Lindberg described as “indisputably the most important” step in that period’s reorientation of Swedish foreign policy:

It was during this visit that the king used rhetorical locutions of striking warmth to give expression to his, and his people’s, sympathetic feelings for the German empire, declared his solidarity with Bismarck’s anti-catholic policy and broached the idea to secretary of state Bülow of an alliance between the United Kingdoms [Sweden-Norway] and Germany as protection against the Russian threat.
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Oscar II (on horseback to the left) on his official visit to the German emperor Wilhelm I in 1875. The visit was a clear public indication of Sweden’s new orientation towards Germany. Photo source: Oscar II och hans tid – En bokfilm (Stockholm 1936).

King Oscar, of course, was not the only one behind Sweden’s new “resolute reorientation” to the advantage of the German empire, but, according to Lindberg, the royal honorary doctor was “an active driving factor”, and the subjects of Oscarian Sweden seem to have fairly rapidly liked and adopted the new order. The German influence – both linguistically and in terms of ideas – was to dominate to a great extent, not least in education and science, until the Second World War. We have already seen how quickly German gained a strong position among research publications from Lund University; another, more quotidian anecdotal testimony is provided in yet another travel account from a French visitor to Lund, a monsieur L. Marcot. When he visited the city in 1885, he had great difficulty in finding someone who could understand French, and left Lund’s cursed “Tower of Babel and confusion of tongues”.
Memories of Altona
One person who was definitely pleased by the changes was our witness to the atmosphere of 1870, Axel Kock. He had already at that point taken a position in the other camp: “I already then sympathised implicitly with Germany”, he writes and adds that he particularly hoped “the German-speaking Alsace would be politically reunited with its former motherland”. It was there and then a clearly inopportune position. Kock talked about how he “often [must] seek to defend this opinion against ardent Francophiles” and how he as a result of his difference of opinion could “feel isolated to a certain extent”.  It was presumably an isolation that he did not need to feel one or two decades later. The next time France and Germany confronted each other on the battlefield – the First World War – the feelings had reversed. A student of that time, Thorild Dahlgren, was one of the co-founders of a society called “Franco-Swedish Amity” in 1915, but noted that he was “one of the very few domestic Swede inviters and founders”; the majority were expatriate Swedes living in France.

So, what happened next to the brothers of the order in the article’s introduction? Well, they swallowed their pride and despite everything held their chapter meeting at Stadt Altona, and did not go under because of it. On the contrary: their order – called “Sällskapet CC” (the CC Order) – lives on even now. Nowadays, however, its brothers don’t have to worry about whether it is right or wrong to hold chapter meetings at Altona, as restaurateur Andersson’s establishment was demolished in 1897 to make way for the magnificent Sparbanken building. Nonetheless, the name does live on: that block of the city is known today as Altona.

Fredrik Tersmeden
Archivist at the University Archives (and Grand Master-elect of the CC Order)

152 Lunds universitet L RGB