Category Archives: Europe

1918 Flu Hits Holy Zamora

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 79-83, 87:

The Spanish city of Zamora–known as la bien cercada, or well enclosed, due to its impressive fortifications–straddles the River Duero in the north-western region of Castile and León. Deeply religious, it is famous even today for its sombre processions of hooded, barefoot penitents in Holy Week. In 1914, when its citizens learned that they were about to receive a new bishop, the bells rang out for three days. The man himself arrived a few months later, stepping down from a specially chartered train to a railway station packed with well-wishers. Fireworks were let off, and a joyful crowd accompanied him to the cathedral where he took his oath of office. The church-sanctioned newspaper, El Correo de Zamora, promised obedience to the new bishop, and praised his eloquence and youth.

The bishop’s name was Antonio Álvaro y Ballano, and at thirty-eight he already had a glittering career behind him. As a student at a seminary in Guadalajara, he had shone in every subject he had turned his hand to. At twenty-three he had taken up the chair in metaphysics, and after winning a hard-fought contest for the magistral canonry of Toledo, the most important archdiocese in Spain, he had come to the attention of Cardinal Sancha, Primate of Spain. He had been named a bishop in 1913, and prior to his arrival in Zamora, had held the post of prefect of studies at the seminary in Toledo.

When the Naples Soldier [the Spanish name for the flu] returned to Spain in the autumn of 1918, it appeared first in the east of the country, but it soon followed the bishop along the train tracks to Zamora. September is a month of gatherings in Spain. The crops are harvested, the army takes on new recruits, and weddings and religious feasts are held–not to mention that most popular of Spanish pastimes, the bullfight. Young army recruits, some from distant provinces, converged on Zamora to take part in routine artillery exercises, and in the middle of the month, the Correo reported nonchalantly that ‘There is cholera at the frontier, flu in Spain and in this tiny corner of the peninsula, fiestas.’ Then the recruits began to fall ill.

Attempts to quarantine the sick soldiers in barracks on the site of the city’s eleventh-century castle failed, and the number of civilian casualties began to rise. As it did so, the shortage of manpower began to interfere with the harvest, exacerbating pre-existing food restrictions. The press began to sound less sanguine. On 21 September, the Heraldo de Zamora–a newspaper that was nominally independent of the church–rued the unsanitary state of the city. Zamora resembled a ‘pigsty’ in which, shamefully, people still shared living space with animals, and many houses lacked their own lavatory or water supply. The paper repeated an old hobbyhorse, that the Moors had bequeathed to Spain an aversion to cleanliness. ‘There are Spaniards who only use soap for washing their clothes,’ it noted severely.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the country’s inspector general of health, Martín Salazar, had lamented the inability of a bureaucratic and underfunded health system to prevent the disease from spreading. Though provincial health committees took their lead from his directorate, they had no powers of enforcement, and they quickly came up against what he described as the ‘terrible ignorance’ of the populace–the failure to grasp, for example, that an infected person on the move would transmit the disease. Now that the Naples Soldier had returned, one national newspaper, El Liberal, called for a sanitary dictatorship–a containment programme imposed from the top down–and as the epidemic wore on, the call was picked up and echoed by other papers.

On 30 September, Bishop Álvaro y Ballano defied the health authorities by ordering a novena–evening prayers on nine consecutive days–in honour of St Rocco, the patron saint of plague and pestilence, because the evil that had befallen Zamoranos was ‘due to our sins and ingratitude, for which the avenging arm of eternal justice has been brought down upon us’. On the first day of the novena, in the presence of the mayor and other notables, he dispensed Holy Communion to a large crowd at the Church of San Esteban. At another church, the congregation was asked to adore relics of St Rocco, which meant lining up to kiss them.

Also on 30 September, it was reported that Sister Dositea Andrés of the Servants of Mary had died while tending soldiers at the barracks. Sister Dositea was described as a ‘virtuous and exemplary nun’ who had accepted her martyrdom with equanimity and even enthusiasm, who had slept no more than four hours a day, and who had spent much of her time coaxing sick soldiers to eat. The Mother Superior of her order asked for a good turnout at her funeral, and the papers passed on her request. In accordance with tradition, readers were informed, the bishop would grant sixty days’ indulgence to those who complied. Apparently the turnout was not as good as the Mother Superior had hoped, because the day after the funeral the Correo lambasted the citizenry for its ingratitude. The bishop, on the other hand, was satisfied with attendance at the novena, which he described as ‘one of the most significant victories Catholicism has obtained’.

By mid-November, the worst was over. … Zamora had suffered worse than any other Spanish city. But its residents do not seem to have held their bishop responsible. Perhaps it helped that they had grown up with the legend of Atilano, the first Bishop of Zamora, who in the tenth century had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to repent of his sins and free his city of plague. There are even those who defend Álvaro y Ballano, claiming that he did what he could to console his flock in the face of inertia at the town hall, the real problem being an ineffectual health system and poor education in matters of hygiene. Before 1919 was out, the city had awarded him the Cross of Beneficence, in recognition of his heroic efforts to end the suffering of its citizens during the epidemic, and he remained Bishop of Zamora until his death in 1927.

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Other Names of the Spanish Flu

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 63-65:

When the flu arrived in Spain in May, most Spanish people, like most people in general, assumed that it had come from beyond their own borders. In their case, they were right. It had been in America for two months already, and France for a matter of weeks at least. Spaniards didn’t know that, however, because news of the flu was censored in the warring nations, to avoid damaging morale (French military doctors referred to it cryptically as maladie onze, ‘disease eleven’). As late as 29 June, the Spanish inspector general of health, Martín Salazar, was able to announce to the Royal Academy of Medicine in Madrid that he had received no reports of a similar disease elsewhere in Europe. So who were Spaniards to blame? A popular song provided the answer. The hit show in Madrid at the time the flu arrived was The Song of Forgetting, an operetta based on the legend of Don Juan. It contained a catchy tune called ‘The Soldier of Naples’, so when a catchy disease appeared in their midst, Madrileños quickly dubbed it the ‘Naples Soldier’.

Spain was neutral in the war, and its press was not censored. Local papers duly reported the havoc that the Naples Soldier left in its wake, and news of the disruption travelled abroad. In early June, Parisians who were ignorant of the ravages the flu had caused in the trenches of Flanders and Champagne learned that two-thirds of Madrileños had fallen ill in the space of three days. Not realising that it had been theirs longer than it had been Spain’s, and with a little nudging from their governments, the French, British and Americans started calling it the ‘Spanish flu’. Not surprisingly, this label almost never appears in contemporary Spanish sources. Practically the only exception is when Spanish authors write to complain about it. ‘Let it be stated that, as a good Spaniard, I protest this notion of the “Spanish fever”,’ railed a doctor named García Triviño in a Hispanic medical journal. Many in Spain saw the name as just the latest manifestation of the ‘Black Legend’, anti-Spanish propaganda that grew out of rivalry between the European empires in the sixteenth century, and that depicted the conquistadors as even more brutal than they were (they did bind and chain the Indians they subjugated, but they probably did not–as the legend claimed–feed Indian children to their dogs).

Further from the theatre of war, people followed the time-honoured rules of epidemic nomenclature and blamed the obvious other. In Senegal it was the Brazilian flu and in Brazil the German flu, while the Danes thought it ‘came from the south’. The Poles called it the Bolshevik disease, the Persians blamed the British, and the Japanese blamed their wrestlers: after it first broke out at a sumo tournament, they dubbed it ‘sumo flu’.

Some names reflected a people’s historic relationship with flu. In the minds of the British settlers of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), for example, flu was a relatively trivial disease, so officials labelled the new affliction ‘influenza (vera)’, adding the Latin word vera, meaning ‘true’, in an attempt to banish any doubts that this was the same disease. Following the same logic, but opting for a different solution, German doctors realised that people would need persuading that this new horror was the ‘fashionable’ disease of flu–darling of the worried well–so they called it ‘pseudo-influenza’. In parts of the world that had witnessed the destructive potential of ‘white man’s diseases’, however, the names often conveyed nothing at all about the identity of the disease. ‘Man big daddy’, ‘big deadly era’, myriad words meaning ‘disaster’–they were expressions that had been applied before, to previous epidemics. They did not distinguish between smallpox, measles or influenza–or sometimes even famines or wars.

Some people reserved judgement. In Freetown, a newspaper suggested that the disease be called manhu until more was known about it. Manhu, a Hebrew word meaning ‘what is it?’, was what the Israelites asked each other when they saw a strange substance falling out of the sky as they passed through the Red Sea (from manhu comes manna–bread from heaven). Others named it commemoratively. The residents of Cape Coast, Ghana called it Mowure Kodwo after a Mr Kodwo from the village of Mouri who was the first person to die of it in that area. Across Africa, the disease was fixed for perpetuity in the names of age cohorts born around that time. Among the Igbo of Nigeria, for example, those born between 1919 and 1921 were known as ogbo ifelunza, the influenza age group. ‘Ifelunza’, an obvious corruption of ‘influenza’, became incorporated into the Igbo lexicon for the first time that autumn. Before that, they had had no word for the disease.

As time went on, and it transpired that there were not many local epidemics, but one global pandemic–it became necessary to agree on a single name. The one that was adopted was the one that was already being used by the most powerful nations on earth–the victors in the Great War. The pandemic became known as the Spanish flu–ispanka, espanhola, la grippe espagnole, die Spanische Grippe–and a historical wrong became set in stone.

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Filed under Brazil, Britain, disease, France, Ghana, Iran, Japan, language, nationalism, Nigeria, Poland, Sierra Leone, Spain, U.S., war, Zimbabwe

Southern Sympathies Abroad, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 120-121:

General Johnston is a very well-read man, and agreeable to converse with. He told me that he considered Marlborough a greater general than Wellington. All Americans have an intense admiration for Napoleon; they seldom scruple to express their regret that he was beaten at Waterloo.

Remarking upon the extreme prevalence of military titles, General Johnston said, “You must be astonished to find how fond all Americans are of titles, though they are republicans; and as they can’t get any other sort, they all take military ones.”

Whilst seated round the camp fire in the evening, one of the officers remarked to me, “I can assure you, colonel, that nine men out of ten in the South would sooner become subjects of Queen Victoria than return to the Union.” “Nine men out of ten!” said General Johnston—”ninety-nine out of a hundred; I consider that few people in the world can be more fortunate in their government than the British colonies of North America.” But the effect of these compliments was rather spoilt when some one else said they would prefer to serve under the Emperor of the French or the Emperor of Japan to returning to the dominion of Uncle Abe; and it was still more damaged when another officer alluded in an undertone to the infernal regions as a more agreeable alternative than reunion with the Yankees.

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A British Colonel in Matamoros, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 8-10:

Brownsville is a straggling town of about 3000 inhabitants; most of its houses are wooden ones, and its streets are long, broad, and straight. There are about 4000 troops under General Bee in its immediate vicinity. Its prosperity was much injured when Matamoros was declared a free port.

After crossing the Rio Grande, a wide dusty road, about a mile in length, leads to Matamoros, which is a Mexican city of about 9000 inhabitants. Its houses are not much better than those at Brownsville, and they bear many marks of the numerous revolutions which are continually taking place there. Even the British Consulate is riddled with the bullets fired in 1861-2.

The Mexicans look very much like their Indian forefathers, their faces being extremely dark, and their hair black and straight. They wear hats with the most enormous brims, and delight in covering their jackets and leather breeches with embroidery.

Some of the women are rather good-looking, but they plaster their heads with grease, and paint their faces too much. Their dress is rather like the Andalucian. When I went to the cathedral, I found it crammed with kneeling women; an effigy of our Saviour was being taken down from the cross and put into a golden coffin, the priest haranguing all the time about His sufferings, and all the women howling most dismally as if they were being beaten.

Matamoros … suffers much from drought, and there had been no rain to speak of for eleven months.

I am told that it is a common thing in Mexico for the diligence to arrive at its destination with the blinds down. This is a sure sign that the travellers, both male and female, have been stripped by robbers nearly to the skin. A certain quantity of clothing is then, as a matter of course, thrown in at the window, to enable them to descend. Mr Behnsen and Mr Maloney told me they had seen this happen several times; and Mr Oetling declared that he himself, with three ladies, arrived at the city of Mexico in this predicament.

4th April (Saturday).—I crossed the river at 9 a.m., and got a carriage at the Mexican side to take my baggage and myself to the Consulate at Matamoros. The driver ill-treated his half-starved animals most cruelly. The Mexicans are even worse than the Spaniards in this respect.

I called on Mr Oetling, the Prussian Consul, who is one of the richest and most prosperous merchants in Matamoros, and a very nice fellow.

After dinner we went to a fandango, or open-air fête. About 1500 people were gambling, and dancing bad imitations of European dances.

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Sweden’s Sture Age

From Scandinavia: A History, by Ewan Butler (New Word City, 2016), Kindle pp. 72-75:

Now Karl Knutsson was recalled to the throne for the third time. Although he was by no means a great man and suffered throughout his political life from his inability to win the love and trust of the peasants, as Engelbrekt had done, Knutsson has a place of honor in the story of Sweden; in his time, he provided a focal point for Swedish dreams of freedom and independence. Before he died in May 1470, Knutsson named Sten Sture as succeeding regent. Sture was never to seek the title of king and thus initiated the period which has come to be known as “the Sture Age.”

Christian, of course, was far from being reconciled to the turn of events in Sweden, and in the summer of 1471, his fleet set sail for Stockholm carrying with it a large and well-equipped army. Upon landing in Sweden the Danish forces were joined by the Unionist nobility, and the combined armies laid siege to Stockholm. Sture called upon the peasants of Svealand, the great province that stretches almost from the Baltic to the Norwegian frontier, to rally to the Swedish cause, and they came in the thousands. The rustic Swedish army then marched upon Stockholm, and on October 10, 1471, one of the great dates of Swedish history, they confronted the Danes on the heights of Brunkeberg, just beyond the northern wall of the city.

The battle that followed ended in a complete triumph for Sture’s legions. The Dannebrog, that miraculous standard, was captured by the embattled countryfolk; Christian himself was wounded, and the flower of Danish nobility was killed. This decisive victory gave Sweden peace with Denmark for a generation, and in thankfulness for the country’s deliverance, Sten Sture commissioned the German wood carver Bernt Notke to fashion a heroic statue of Saint George, the city’s patron saint. The statue was presented to Sture in the Church of Saint Nicholas, in Stockholm. It stands there to this day, gloriously ornate: Saint George, in splendid armor, his horse similarly caparisoned and plumed, rides with sword raised, while beneath the hoofs of his rearing steed writhes a dragon of singularly repellent aspect.

Christian, his military ambitions considerably reduced, now set himself to make Copenhagen a center of scholarship. Up to that time, no secular centers of learning existed in Scandinavia. Advanced education was offered in the north only under the aegis of the Catholic Church or pursued abroad, usually at the University of Paris. He declared his intention to found the first university of Scandinavia. Informed of this project, Sture resolved to beat his old enemy even in this, and in 1477, the great University of Uppsala, now a seat of learning renowned throughout the world, opened its doors to its first students. Copenhagen did not have its university until a year later. Under Sture’s guidance, Sweden began to emerge into the modern world. Six years after the foundation of the university, Sweden was given its first printing press, also at Uppsala, and regent and archbishop gathered around this mechanical wonder, which turned out the first printed book in Swedish in 1483.

In 1481, Christian I of Denmark died, and the Danes, anxious to restore the Union, proposed that the election of a successor should be postponed until representatives of all three Scandinavian nations could meet to thrash out a new constitution for the Union. A meeting was held at Halmstad in 1483, but it was attended by delegations from Norway and Denmark only, as Sten Sture boycotted the gathering. Christian’s son, John, was elected king of Norway and Denmark, but no word came from Sweden, where Sture was having trouble, as usual, with the nobility. This time, however, he held a weapon which kept them in check: The peasants idolized “Our Lord Sture” and whenever the nobles showed signs of serious opposition, Sture called a Riksdag. The solid backing which the peasants and small merchants gave him at these meetings, of which twenty were held between 1470 and 1497, was enough to intimidate the regent’s aristocratic enemies.

Peaceful progress was not destined to last long, however. In 1495, the Swedish nobles persuaded Russia to declare war on Sweden while they themselves joined forces with King John of Denmark, hoping that Sture would be unable to face a war on two fronts. The regent, however, got the better of the Russian forces in Finland; he then rounded on the Danes and the rebel Swedish noblemen, who were led by Svante Nilsson Natt och Dag. (The latter part of his name translates as Night and Day, a reflection of the blue and gold quarterings on his coat-of-arms.)

Civil war broke out in Sweden, and Sture had almost subdued the rebels when John of Denmark’s fleet appeared off the coast with a large sea-borne army. Once again, the peasants formed up behind their “Lord.” In a letter to the governors of Stockholm, the peasants of Dalecarlia wrote: “Dear friends, you all know that since he became our regent we have enjoyed law and order, and peace and quiet have reigned. You also know that the provinces and castles of our Fatherland were formerly in divers hands, but that they are now united because he ventured life and property in this cause. Since he has served us so faithfully, we cannot suffer him to be driven from the regency by force.” For all the support of the local peasants, however, Sture did not command sufficient forces to risk a pitched battle against John’s powerful array, and he fell back to Stockholm, where he was besieged. His pleas for reinforcements from other parts of the country seem to have gone unheeded, and in October 1497, Sture surrendered the city in return for a full amnesty for himself and all his followers. John was at once elected king of Sweden by the triumphant noblemen who had backed him.

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Sweden’s Caps vs. Hats in 1700s

From Scandinavia: A History, by Ewan Butler (New Word City, 2016), Kindle pp. 166-167:

The death of Christian VI in 1746 and the succession of his son as Frederick V was welcomed by most Danes.

Meanwhile, in Sweden, effective government was exercised by Count Arvid Horn, celebrated as one of Charles XII’s most daring generals and, later, as a skillful diplomat. As president of the estate of nobles, Horn decided that war-weary Sweden needed a long period of peace, and he had to choose his allies with some care. In 1727, when Horn began his rule, Europe was divided into two rival camps. England-Hannover and France stood opposed to Austria, Spain, and Russia, and Horn finally linked the fortunes of Sweden with the Anglo-French combination.

For eleven years, Horn pursued a pacifist policy, much to the displeasure of a large number of young noblemen who were eager to follow a more aggressive course, an aspiration in which they were supported by many influential businessmen and burgesses. These aggressively minded young men nicknamed Horn’s party the “Nightcaps” or more usually the “Caps,” in tribute to their sleepy conduct of national affairs, and in consequence came to call themselves the “Hats.”

In the 1730s, the alliance between England and France broke up, and the French ambassador in Stockholm, well supplied with money, began to intrigue with the Hats. By the payment of large bribes, he managed to organize a campaign of ruthless agitation and abuse aimed at Horn’s government. In 1739, Horn was forced to resign and his supporters were expelled from the council. The Hats, generally men of the lesser nobility and the bourgeoisie, took over.

The aim of the Hats was to take revenge on Russia, with French help, and the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1741 seemed to give them the opportunity that they sought. Beginning with a tripartite contest for the Austrian inheritance and the invasion of Austria by Frederick the Great of Prussia, it was to draw many European nations into the fray. France, Spain, Bavaria, and Sweden came to Prussia’s support, while Britain and Holland joined beleaguered Austria. Separately, Sweden declared war on Russia. The entire conflict, which was fought in many combinations and in many theaters, including the American colonies (where it was known as King George’s War), lasted until 1748.

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Fashioning Finnish Philology

From Scandinavia: A History, by Ewan Butler (New Word City, 2016), Kindle pp. 212-213:

In Finland, administrative ties with Sweden had been exchanged for ties with Russia, but literary life such as it was continued to develop in its own fashion. Despite the crosscurrents of Classicism, Romanticism, and Realism that were playing elsewhere in Europe, Finland’s chief concern in the nineteenth century was the development of a unified national language. Literature and theater could not emerge until a Finnish language had been developed and accepted among cultivated men, who up to that time had been conversant only in Swedish. Finland’s vast store of folklore offered the most promising area of exploration to the generation of writers who first tackled the language problem. Writing in 817 [1817?], a student argued: “No independent nation can exist without a fatherland, and no fatherland can exist without folk poetry [which is] nothing more than the crystal in which a nationality can mirror itself.” The key figure in this search for a national identity was Elias Lönnrot, who as a philologist-folklorist, collected materials from the Lapps, the Estonians, the Karelians, and other Finnish tribes, and assembled both the first dictionary of the Finnish language and its first extensive written literature. His legend, Kalevala (1835), a compilation of some 22,000 lines of oral history, tells in epic form the mythic history of the Finns from the Creation to the coming of Christianity, and it served as a rallying point for Finnish nationalist feeling, not only in subsequent literature, but in painting, sculpture, music, and political life, as the people moved toward independence.

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