A Fascinating Briton’s Observations and Insights in Mid-19th Century Partitioned Poland

Here is my latest review, just appearing on Amazon.
Review of The Polish Captivity, Volume 1, by Sutherland Edwards. 1863, Wm. Allen & Co., London.
Reviewer Mr. Jan Peczkis
A Fascinating Briton’s Observations and Insights in Mid-19th Century Partitioned Poland. Class Differences
The author travelled extensively across foreign-ruled Poland, and provided this 1863 fact-filled account along with a foreigner’s mid-19th century perspective unclouded by later developments. Owing to the breadth of information presented, I can only focus on a few matters.
Consider some interesting bits of information. The LIBERUM VETO was neither specifically Polish, nor itself bad. It became harmful to Poland only because corrupt nobility misused it. (pp. 252-253). The wounded Kosciuszko never said FINIS POLONAIE, and expressed strong disgust that anyone would even imagine him making such a foolish and treasonous statement. (pp. 2-3). For all the German attempts to “steal” Copernicus, Alexander von Humboldt acknowledged that Copernicus was a Pole. (p. 85). Substantial areas around Breslau (Wroclaw) continued to resist the centuries-long Germanization pressures as of this late date (1863), as verified by Edwards’ personal experience. (pp. 8-9).
Although Edwards does not use the term Turanian civilization (as done by Feliks Koneczny) to describe Russia, he notes the knout, an instrument of government, originating from the Tatars. Even the then-reigning “liberal” Tsar Alexander II was very autocratic. He arrested Russian nobles without accusation, and temporarily exiled them without trial. (p. 21). Edwards believes that the massacre of Polish civilians by Russian troops (at Warsaw in 181), owed to the “despotic habits” of Russian soldiers not knowing how else to disperse a crowd. (pp. 59-60).
Even in a partitioned state, Poland had already achieved a good deal, and this had long preceded the “organic work” stressed by Endeks many decades later. Edwards comments, (quote) In Poland, since the moral revival caused by the destruction of the country in a political sense, we find poets, historians, politicians, men of distinction of all kinds, serving in the army, not because they had been bred soldiers, but because they were born patriots. In another sphere, modern Poland has produced a fair number of legists, economists, and other men of science and learning; indeed an immense number, when we take into consideration the fact that the universities of Warsaw and Wilna [Wilno] were suppressed, and their libraries carried off to St. Petersburg…the university of Cracow…France owes her system of credit-institutions to a Pole, M. Wolowski, of the French Institute; and the best work on the resources of Russia is by a Pole, M. Tengoborski. (unquote)(p. 5).
All three partitioning powers were suppressing Polish-ness to a considerable extent. (p. 198). The Germans had already been systematically trying to denationalize the Poles of Posen (Poznan) [note: well before the Second Reich and the KULTURKAMPF], and the Russians were doing much the same in their conquered territories. (p. 198). Edwards (pp. 6-7) found the Poles beaten down in all three occupation zones. Even though the “Age of Imperialism” was not yet in full bloom, the Russians were already pontificating about Wilno being Russian, and the Germans about Posen being German. (pp. 27-28). On the other hand, the Austrians made no pretensions of Krakow or Leopol (Lwow) being Austrian. (pp. 28-29).
Interestingly, Edwards found that, in all three occupation zones, the majority of Poles considered Germans to be the most contemptuous of Poles, and the Germans as the worst enemy of Poland. (pp. 227-229). [Several decades later, Roman Dmowski concurred, and added that this was not just his opinion, but also that of most Poles.]
The author does not, as many writers nowadays assume, that the Polish peasantry lacked national consciousness at the time. He leaves it an open question, pointing to the fact that the thinking of the peasant was primarily animated by a fear of the Russian official. (pp. 110-111).
Already by the mid-19th-century, Russians (in this case) were trying to discredit Polish patriotism by painting it as nothing more than a ploy by privileged Poles to restore their privileges. (p. 111) [Later, this became a mainstay of Communist propaganda, as, for example, directed at the Polish Government in Exile during WWII.] Kosciuszko and Kilinski never had notable privileges. (pp. 268-269). The author personally met Polish townspeople–obviously in no position to get privileges of any kind–who were ardent patriots, even though a resurrected Poland would have been of no personal benefit to them. (p. 111-112).
The reader will quickly learn that Polish society was much less hierarchical (my term) than most other societies of the time. Sutherland Edwards has an exceptionally detailed and informative account of the social structure of Poland, to which I devote the remainder of this review.
Feudalism was never introduced in Poland, and the subjugation of the peasants came later—from an abuse of power. (p. 144). Earlier, in the 13th and 14th centuries, as verified by written contracts, the peasant owed part of the fruits of his labor to the noble, but did not owe his land to the same. What’s more, the peasant was free to move from estate to estate. (p. 145). At no time in Polish history was the peasant sold as a slave, as happened for a time in Russia. (pp. 145-146). Even after the eventual loss of land ownership, the Polish peasant still had other rights, and the lord provided for him. (for details, see pp. 148-149). The peasant was entitled to a significant part of his time and labor for himself. Sometimes, he got rich. (p. 149). Finally, an Agricultural Association existed to help peasants and to form a bridge between proprietors and peasants. In addition, according to Edwards, this “gave the lie to those who maintain that the Poles are a frivolous and thoughtless race”. (p. 20).
Misunderstandings about the nature of Polish society arise from semantics. Edwards comments, (quote) A “noble” in ancient Poland, as in Hungary, was simply a freeman. “Nobility” does not necessarily mean aristocracy any more than it does peerage. (unquote)(p. 112). He adds, (quote) In most countries nobility is an affair of good birth, while peerage is an affair of political rights, aristocracy an affair of social position…(In Poland)…every freeholder and descendant of a freeholder was born a noble and an elector. In Poland, the court was nothing, and, consequently, there was no court aristocracy; and though there were great patrician families, they were not distinguished by titles, and possessed no privileges. (unquote). (p. 119). In fact, in Poland, the degree of one’s political privilege was at no time based on how much land one owned. (p. 126). [Other than the dishonorable titles bestowed by the partitioning powers, only seven princes—Lithuanian ones–were bestowed with titles, and, of these, only three were still alive—the Czartoryskis, the Sanguszkos, and the Radziwills. (p. 119).]
Edwards did see a “loose” aristocratic class in Poland, gaining more and more privileges from the king just before the Partitions, but it was so broad-based that he called it an “aristocratic democracy”. Thus, Kosciuszko was a noble, but not an aristocrat. (pp. 112-113).
The freeing of the serfs by the partitioning powers was a tool to divide Poles, and the powers ruling over Poland had never shown such an impulse before. (p. 153). In contrast, Polish democratic principles predate modern democracy and the French Revolution. (p. 115). Already in 1574, every Pole from the freeholder class had a direct vote in choosing the king (p. 126.), a fact which may have meant that participation in the affairs of state had been entrusted not to too few, but too many. (p. 126).
The May 3, 1791 Constitution provided for the gradual emancipation of the peasantry (p. 153), and—ironically–the Partitions only delayed it. (pp. 111). Edwards describes it very succinctly, (quote) The Poles did not say, “We shall have no more nobles” but, “We will enable members of all classes to acquire nobiliary privileges or franchises, either by the purchase of land (which everyone was allowed to buy), or by distinction in commerce or the arts, or by gallantry in the field of battle, or by so many years’ State service of any kind.” (unquote)(p. 127).

By piotrbein