The Slave Trade
Henry Charles Carey

Chapter XVIII.
How Freedom Grows In Denmark.

Compared with Ireland, India, or Turkey, DENMARK is a very poor country.  She has, says one of the most enlightened of modern British travellers—

“No metals or minerals, no fire power, no water power, no products or capabilities for becoming a manufacturing country supplying foreign consumers.  She has no harbours on the North Sea.  Her navigation is naturally confined to the Baltic.  Her commerce is naturally confined to the home consumption of the necessaries and luxuries of civilized life, which the export of her corn and other agricultural products enables her to import and consume.  She stands alone in her corner of the world, exchanging her loaf of bread, which she can spare, for articles she cannot provide for herself, but still providing for herself every thing she can by her own industry.”[1]

That industry is protected by heavy import duties, and those duties are avowedly imposed with the view of enabling the farmer everywhere to have the artisan at his side; thus bringing together the producers and the consumers of the earth.  “The greater part of their clothing materials,” says Mr. Laing —

“Linen, mixed linen and cotton, and woollen cloth, is home-made;  and the materials to be worked up, the cotton yarns, dye stuffs, and utensils, are what they require from the shops.  The flax and wool are grown and manufactured on the peasant’s farm;  the spinning and weaving done in the house;  the bleaching, dyeing, fulling done at home or in the village.” *** “Bunches of ribbons, silver clasps, gold ear-rings, and other ornaments of some value, are profusely used in many of the female dresses, although the main material is home-made woollen and linen.  Some of these female peasant costumes are very becoming when exhibited in silk, fine cloth, and lace, as they are worn by handsome country girls, daughters of rich peasant proprietors in the islands, who sometimes visit Copenhagen.  They have often the air and appearance of ladies, and in fact are so in education, in their easy or even wealthy circumstances, and an inherited superiority over others of the same class.” *** “In a large country-church at Gettorf, my own coat and the minister’s were, as far as I could observe, the only two in the congregation not of home-made cloth;  and in Copenhagen the working and every-day clothes of respectable tradesmen and people of the middle class, and of all the artisans and the lower labouring classes, are, if not home-made and sent to them by their friends, at least country made;  that is, not factory made, but spun, woven, and sold in the web, by peasants, who have more than they want for their family use, to small shopkeepers.  This is particularly the case with linen.  Flax is a crop on every farm;  and the skutching, hackling, spinning, weaving, and bleaching are carried on in every country family.” — Pp. 381, 382, 383.

The manufacture of this clothing finds employment for almost the whole female population of the country and for a large proportion of the male population during the winter months.  Under a different system, the money price of this clothing would be less than it now is—as low, perhaps, as it has been in Ireland—but what would be its labour price?  Cloth is cheap in that country, but man is so much cheaper that he not only goes in rags, but perishes of starvation, because compelled to exhaust his land and waste his labour.  “Where,” asks very justly Mr. Laing—

“Would be the gain to the Danish nation, if the small proportion of its numbers who do not live by husbandry got their shirts and jackets and all other clothing one-half cheaper, and the great majority, who now find winter employment in manufacturing their own clothing materials, for the time and labour which are of no value to them at that season, and can be turned to no account, were thrown idle by the competition of the superior and cheaper products of machinery and the factory?” — P. 385.

None!  The only benefit derived by man from improvement in the machinery of conversion is, that he is thereby enabled to give more time, labour, and thought to the improvement of the earth, the great machine of production; and in that there can be no improvement under a system that looks to the exportation of raw products, the sending away of the soil, and the return of no manure to the land.

The whole Danish system tends to the local employment of both labour and capital, and therefore to the growth of wealth and the division of the land, and the improvement of the modes of cultivation.  “With a large and increasing proportion —

“Of the small farms belonging to peasant proprietors, working themselves with hired labourers, and of a size to keep from five to thirty or forty cows summer and winter, there are many large farms of a size to keep from two hundred to three hundred, and even four hundred cows, summer and winter, and let to verpachters, or large tenant farmers, paying money rents.  This class of verpachters are farmers of great capital and skill, very intelligent and enterprising, well acquainted with all modern improvements in husbandry, using guano, tile-draining, pipe-draining, and likely to be very formidable rivals in the English markets to the old-fashioned, use-and-want English farmers, and even to most of our improving large farmers in Scotland.” — Laing, 52.

The system of this country has attracted instead of repelling population, and with its growth there has been a constant and rapid advance toward freedom.  The class of verpachters above described

“Were originally strangers from Mecklenburg, Brunswick, and Hanover, bred to the complicated arrangements and business of a great dairy farm, and they are the best educated, most skilful, and most successful farmers in the North of Europe.  Many of them have purchased large estates.  The extensive farms they occupy, generally on leases of nine years, are the domains and estates of the nobles, which, before 1784, were cultivated by the serfs, who were, before that period, adscripti glebę, and who were bound to work every day, without wages, on the main farm of the feudal lord, and had cottages and land, on the outskirts of the estate, to work upon for their own living when they were not wanted on the farm of the baron.  Their feudal lord could imprison them, flog them, reclaim them if they had deserted from his land, and had complete feudal jurisdiction over them in his baronial court.” — P. 53.

It is, however, not only in land, but in various other modes, that the little owner of capital is enabled to employ it with advantage.  “The first thing a Dane does with his savings,” says Mr. Brown,[2] British consul at Copenhagen—

“Is to purchase a clock;  then a horse and cow, which he hires out, and which pay good interest.  Then his ambition is to become a petty proprietor;  and this class of persons is better off than any in Denmark.  Indeed, I know no people in any country who have more easily within their reach all that is really necessary for life than this class, which is very large in comparison with that of labourers.”

To the power advantageously to employ the small accumulations of the labourer, it is due that the proportion of small proprietors has become so wonderfully large.  “The largest proportion of the country, and of the best land of it,” says Mr. Laing,[3] is in their hands —

“With farms of a size to keep ten or fifteen cows, and which they cultivate by hired labour, along with the labour of the family.  These small proprietors, called huffner, probably from hoff, a farm-steading and court-yard, correspond to the yeomen, small freeholders, and statesmen, of the North of England, and many of them are wealthy.  Of this class of estates, it is reckoned there are about 125,150 in the two duchies:  some of the huffners appear to be copyholders, not freeholders;  that is, they hold their land by hereditary right, and may sell or dispose of it;  but their land is subject to certain fixed payments of money, labour, cartages, ploughing yearly to the lord of the manor of which they hold it, or to fixed fines for non-payment.  A class of smaller land-holders are called Innsters, and are properly cottars with a house, a yard, and land for a cow or two, and pay a rent in money and in labour, and receive wages, at a reduced rate, for their work all the year round.  They are equivalent to our class of married farm-servants, but with the difference that they cannot be turned off at the will or convenience of the verpachter, or large farmer, but hold of the proprietor;  and all the conditions under which they hold — sometimes for life, sometimes for a term of years — are as fixed and supported by law, as those between the proprietor and the verpachter.  Of this class there are about 67,710, and of house-cottars without land;  17,480, and 36,283 day-labourers in husbandry.  The land is well divided among a total population of only 662,500 souls.” — P. 43.

Even the poorest of these labouring householders has a garden, some land, and a cow;[4]  and everywhere the eye and hand of the little proprietor may be seen busily employed, while the larger farmers, says our author—

“Attend our English cattle-shows and agricultural meetings, are educated men, acquainted with every agricultural improvement, have agricultural meetings and cattle-shows of their own, and publish the transactions and essays of the members.  They use guano, and all the animal or chemical manures, have introduced tile-draining, machinery for making pipes and tiles, and are no strangers to irrigation on their old grass meadows.” — P. 127.

As a natural consequence, the people are well clothed.  “The proportion,” says Mr. Laing—

“Of well-dressed people in the streets is quite as great as in our large towns;  few are so shabby in clothes as the unemployed or half-employed workmen and labourers in Edinburgh;  and a proletarian class, half-naked and in rags, is not to be seen.  The supply of clothing material for the middle and lower classes seems as great, whether we look at the people themselves or at the second or third rate class of shops with goods for their use.” — P. 379.

In regard to house accommodation, he says:—

“The country people of Denmark and the duchies are well lodged.  The material is brick.  The roofing is of thatch in the country, and of tiles in the towns.  Slate is unknown.  The dwelling apartments are always floored with wood.  I have described in a former note the great hall in which all the cattle and crops and wagons are housed, and into which the dwelling apartments open.  The accommodations outside of the meanest cottage, the yard, garden, and offices, approach more to the dwellings of the English than of the Scotch people of the same class.” — P. 420.

Every parish has its established schoolmaster, as well as

“Its established minister;  but it appears to me that the class of parochial schoolmasters here stands in a much higher position than, in Scotland.  They are better paid, their houses, glebes, and stipends are better, relatively to the ordinary houses and incomes of the middle class in country places, and they are men of much higher education than their Scotch brethren.” *** “It is quite free to any one who pleases to open a school;  and to parents to send their children to school or not, as they please.  If the young people are sufficiently instructed to receive confirmation from the clergyman, or to stand an examination for admission as students at the university, where or how they acquired their instruction is not asked.  Government has provided schools, and highly qualified and well-paid teachers, but invests them with no monopoly of teaching, no powers as a corporate body, and keeps them distinct from and unconnected with the professional body in the university.” — Pp. 170, 336.

“The most striking feature in the character of these small town populations,” says our author —

“And that which the traveller least expects to find in countries so secluded, so removed from intercourse with other countries, by situation and want of exchangeable products, as Sleswick, Jutland, and the Danish islands, is the great diffusion of education, literature, and literary tastes.  In towns, for instance, of 6000 inhabitants, in England, we seldom find such establishments as the 6000 inhabitants of Aalborg, the most northerly town in Jutland, possess.  They enjoy, on the banks of the Lymfiord, a classical school for the branches of learning required from students entering the university;  an educational institution, and six burger schools for the ordinary branches of education, and in which the Lancastrian method of mutual instruction is in use; a library of 12,000 volumes, belonging to the province of Aalborg, is open to the public;  a circulating library of 2000 volumes;  several private collections and museums, to which access is readily given;  a dramatic association, acting every other Sunday;  and two club-houses for balls and concerts.  A printing office and a newspaper, published weekly or oftener, are, in such towns, establishments of course.  Wyborg, the most ancient town in Jutland, the capital in the time of the pagan kings, and once a great city, with twelve parish churches and six monasteries, but now containing no remains of its former grandeur, and only about 3000 inhabitants, has its newspaper three times a week, its classical school, its burger school, its public library, circulating library, and its dramatic association acting six or eight plays in the course of the winter.  These, being county towns, the seats of district courts and business, have, no doubt, more of such establishments than the populations of the towns themselves could support; but this indicates a wide diffusion of education and intellectual tastes in the surrounding country.  Randers, on the Guden River, the only river of any length of course which runs into the Baltic or Cattegat from the peninsular land, and the only one in which salmon are caught, is not a provincial capital, and is only about twenty-five English miles from the capital Wyborg;  but it has, for its 6000 inhabitants, a classical school, several burger schools;  one of which has above 300 children taught by the mutual-instruction method, a book society, a musical society, a circulating library, a printing press, a newspaper published three times a week, a club-house, and a dramatic society. Aarhuus, with, about the same population as Randers, and about the same distance from it as Randers from Wyborg, has a high school, two burger schools, and a ragged or poor school, a provincial library of 3000 or 4000 volumes, a school library of about the same extent, a library belonging to a club, a collection of minerals and shells belonging to the high schools, a printing press, (from which a newspaper and a literary periodical are issued,) book and music shops, a club-house, concert and ball-room, and a dramatic society. Holstebro, a little inland town of about 800 inhabitants, about thirty-five English miles west from Wyborg, has its burger school on the mutual-instruction system, its reading society, and its agricultural society.  In every little town in this country, the traveller finds educational institutions and indications of intellectual taste for reading, music, theatrical representations, which, he cannot but admit, surpass what he finds at home in England, in similar towns and among the same classes.” — P. 316.

We have here abundant evidence of the beneficial effect of local action, as compared with centralisation.  Instead of having great establishments in Copenhagen, and no local schools, or newspapers, there is everywhere provision for education, and evidence that the people avail themselves of it.  Their tastes are cultivated, and becoming more so from day to day; and thus do they present a striking contrast with the picture furnished by the opposite shore of the German Ocean, and for the reason that there the system is based on the idea of cheapening labour at home and underworking the labourer abroad.  The windows of the poorest houses, says Mr. Laing —

“Rarely want a bit of ornamental drapery, and are always decked with flowers and plants in flower-pots.  The people have a passion for flowers.  The peasant girl and village beau are adorned with bouquets of the finest of ordinary flowers; and in the town you see people buying, flowers who with us, in the same station, would think it extravagance.  The soil and climate favour this taste.  In no part of Europe are the ordinary garden-flowers produced in such abundance and luxuriance as in Holstein and Sleswick.”—P. 50.

The people have everywhere “leisure to be happy, amused, and educated,”[5] and, as a consequence, the sale of books is large.  The number of circulating libraries is no less than six hundred,[6] and their demands give

“More impulse to literary activity than appears in Edinburgh, where literature is rather passive than active, and what is produced worth publishing is generally sent to the London market.  This is the reason why a greater number of publications appear in the course of the year in Copenhagen than in Edinburgh.” *** “The transmission of books and other small parcels by post, which we think a great improvement, as it unquestionably is, and peculiar to our English post-office arrangement, is of old standing in Denmark, and is of great advantage for the diffusion of knowledge, and of great convenience to the people.” — Pp. 373, 374.

The material and intellectual condition of this people is declared by Mr. Laing — and he is an experienced and most observant traveller — to be higher than that of any other in Europe;[7]  while Mr. Kay, also very high authority, places the people of England among the most ignorant and helpless of those of Europe.  The Danes consume more food for the mind

“Than the Scotch; have more daily and weekly newspapers, and other periodical works, in their metropolis and in their country towns, and publish more translated and original works;  have more public libraries, larger libraries, and libraries more easily accessible to persons of all classes, not only in Copenhagen, but in all provincial and country towns;  have more small circulating libraries, book-clubs, musical associations, theatres and theatrical associations, and original dramatic compositions;  more museums, galleries, collections of statues, paintings, antiquities, and objects gratifying to the tastes of a refined and intellectual people, and open equally to all classes, than the people of Scotland can produce in the length and breadth of the land.” — P. 390.

High moral condition is a necessary consequence of an elevated material and intellectual one; and therefore it is that we find the Dane distinguished for kindness, urbanity, and regard for others,[8] and this is found in all portions of society.  In visiting the Museum of Northern Antiquities, which is open to the public, free of charge, on certain days —

“The visitors are not left to gape in ignorance at what they see.  Professors of the highest attainments in antiquarian science — Professor Thomsen, M. Worsaae, and others — men who, in fact, have created a science out of an undigested mass of relics, curiosities, and specimens, of the arts in the early ages — go round with groups of the visitors, and explain equally to all, high and low, with the greatest zeal, intelligence, and affability, the uses of the articles exhibited, the state of the arts in the ages in which they were used, the gradual progress of mankind from shells, stones, and bones to bronze and iron, as the materials for tools, ornaments, and weapons, and the conclusions made, and the grounds and reasons for making them, in their antiquarian researches.  They deliver, in fact, an extempore lecture, intelligible to the peasant and instructive to the philosopher.” — P. 399.

In place of the wide gulf that divides the two great portions of English society, we find here great equality of social intercourse, and

“It seems not to be condescension merely on one side, and grateful respect for being noticed at all on the other, but a feeling of independence and mutual respect between individuals of the most different stations and classes.  This may be accounted for from wealth not being so all-important as in our social state;  its influence in society is less where the majority are merely occupied in living agreeably on what they have, without motive or desire to have more.” — P. 423.

How strikingly does the following contrast with the description of London, and its hundred thousand people without a place to lay their heads! —

“The streets are but poorly lighted, gas is not yet introduced, and the police is an invisible force;  yet one may walk at all hours through this town without seeing a disorderly person, a man in liquor unable to take care of himself, or a female street-walker.  Every one appears to have a home and bed of some kind, and the houseless are unknown as a class.” — P. 394.

Why this is so is, that, because of the growing improvement in the condition of the people, the land is daily increasing in value, and is becoming divided, and men are attracted from the city to the land and the smaller towns — directly the reverse of what is observed in England.  “There is,” says Mr. Laing —

“No such influx, as in our large towns, of operatives in every trade, who, coming from the country to better their condition, are by far too numerous for the demand, must take work at lower and lower wages to keep themselves from starving, and who reduce their fellow-craftsmen and themselves to equal misery.  Employment is more fixed and stationary for the employed and the employers.  There is no foreign trade or home consumption to occasion great and sudden activity and expansion in manufactures, and equally great and sudden stagnation and collapse.” — P. 394.

“Drunkenness has almost,” we are told, “disappeared from the Danish character,” and it is

“The education of the tastes for more refined amusements than the counter of the gin-palace or the back parlour of the whisky-shop afford, that has superseded the craving for the excitement of spirituous liquor.  The tea-gardens, concert-rooms, ball-rooms, theatres, skittle-grounds, all frequented indiscriminately by the highest and the lowest classes, have been the schools of useful knowledge that have imparted to the lowest class something of the manners and habits of the highest, and have eradicated drunkenness and brutality, in ordinary intercourse, from the character of the labouring people.” — P. 396.

Denmark is, says this high authority, “a living evidence of the falsity of the theory that population increases more rapidly than subsistence where the land of the country is held by small working proprietors;”[9]  and she is a living evidence, too, of the falsity of the theory that men commence with the cultivation of the most productive soils, and find themselves, as wealth and population increase, forced to resort to poorer ones, with diminished return to labour.  Why she is enabled to afford such conclusive evidence of this is, that she pursues a policy tending to permit her people to have that real free trade which consists in having the power to choose between the foreign and domestic markets — a power, the exercise of which is denied to India and Ireland, Portugal and Turkey.  She desires to exercise control over her own movements, and not over those of others;  and therefore it is that her people become from day to day more free and her land from day to day more valuable.

Turkey is the paradise of the system commonly known by the name of free trade — that system under which the artisan is not permitted to take his place by the side of the producer of silk and cotton — and the consequence is, seen in the growing depopulation of the country, the increasing poverty and slavery of its people, the worthlessness of its land, and in the weakness of its government.  Denmark, on the contrary, is the paradise of the system supposed to be opposed to free trade — that system under which the artisan and the farmer are permitted to combine their efforts — and the consequence is seen in the increase of population, in the growth of wealth and freedom, in the growing value of land, in the increasing tendency to equality, and in the strength of its government, as exhibited in its resistance of the whole power of Northern Germany during the late Schleswig-Holstein war, and as afterward exhibited toward those of its own subjects who had aided in bringing on the war.  “It is to the honour,” says Mr. Laing[10]

“Of the Danish king and government, and it is a striking example of the different progress of civilization in the North and in the South of Europe, that during the three years this insurrection lasted, and now that it is quelled, not one individual has been tried and put to death, or in any way punished for a civil or political offence by sentence of a court-martial, or of any other than the ordinary courts of justice;  not one life has been taken but in the field of battle, and by the chance of war.  Banishment for life has been the highest punishment inflicted upon traitors who, as military officers deserting their colours, breaking their oaths of fidelity, and giving up important trusts to the enemy, would have been tried by court-martial and shot in any other country.  Civil functionaries who had abused their official power, and turned it against the government, were simply dismissed.”

These facts contrast strikingly with those recently presented to view by Irish history.  Ireland had no friends in her recent attempt at change of government.  Her leaders had not even attempted to call in the aid of other nations.  They stood alone, and yet the English government deemed it necessary to place them in an island at a distance of many thousand miles, and to keep them there confined.  Denmark, on the contrary, was surrounded by enemies close at hand — enemies that needed no ships for the invasion of her territory — and yet she contented herself with simple banishment.  The policy of the former looks abroad, and therefore is it weak at home.  That of the latter looks homeward, and therefore is it that at home she is strong; small as she is, compared with other powers, in her territory and in the number of her population.


1 Laing’s Denmark and the Duchies, London, 1852, 299.

2 Quoted by Kay, Social and Political Condition of England and the Continent, vol. i. 91.

3 Denmark and the Duchies, 42.

4 Ibid. 136.

5 Denmark and the Duchies, 368.

6 Ibid. 394.

7 Ibid. 388.

8 Denmark and the Duchies, 362.

9 Denmark and the Duchies, 294.

10 Denmark and the Duchies, 269.