A Letter from Line: The Flensburg Antiquities and the Danish-Prussian/Austrian War of 1864

By Wiell, Stine | Antiquity, December 1996 | Go to article overview

A Letter from Line: The Flensburg Antiquities and the Danish-Prussian/Austrian War of 1864


Wiell, Stine, Antiquity


The letter from Line

We may begin the extraordinary story of the Flensburg Collection, largest provincial museum in the United Monarchy of Denmark, with the letter from Line:(1)

Flensburg, February the 20th [1864]

'Dear Madam,

'We are all very worried about our mutual friend, who has fallen ill on Als.

'One cannot know what could happen to him with the present tribulation on this island, and he should receive more careful attention on Funen or on Zealand. You would show me a great favour by asking your husband to talk to the right persons about having him removed carefully and as soon as possible. My best regards to you and your husband.

'Yours truly 'Line'

The letter was sent from a Prussian occupied town during the war between Denmark and Prussia/Austria that began when Denmark in 1864 decided on a joint democratic constitution between the Danish kingdom and the Duchies of 'Slesvig, Holsten and Lauenborg' which also fell under the Danish monarchy [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. Denmark was to lose the war and the Duchies.

With two others, the letter from Line is now forgotten in its special file in a huge private archive (now in the Danish National Archive, Copenhagen). Who is 'Dear Madam'? Who is 'Line'? On the surface, the letter is about a wounded Danish soldier, who is to be transferred because of 'tribulation' on the island of Als. Only on the surface! 'Tribulation' is a strange word to use about enemy troops. The letters are in the archives of the area's prefect, August Regenburg (1815-1895), powerful director of the Ministry for Schleswig until the Duchies were lost in 1864.

Two other puzzling letters

Another letter, dated the previous day, 19 February 1864, was written by Helveg Conrad Christian Engelhardt (1825-1881), who taught English and French at the grammar school in Flensburg [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. As part-time curator of the local museum, since 1852 he had been in charge of the Flensburg Collection. The recipient, Christian Frederik Herbst (1818-1911), was employed at the 'National Museum of Northern Antiquities',(2) in the Prince's Palais in Copenhagen, where he was right-hand man (and presumed successor) to the ageing Director, Christian Jurgensen Thomsen. Engelhardt's letter expressed gratitude to Herbst for attending to Engelhardt's private business in Copenhagen, concluding with greetings to mutual acquaintances and notice that he, Engelhardt, was unable to 'make any further progress in that case'. The curious reader will ask, 'Which case?'

A third letter, of 26 February 1864, is from Herbst to Regenburg, who seem on familiar terms. After attending the same school, they had both studied law at the University of Copenhagen, and now lived on the same street, Norregade in Copenhagen, Herbst at number 37, Regenburg at number 15. Herbst begins by explaining he would rather have walked the few steps to Regenburg's house; a 'flu kept him in bed, so he had instead to write. What was more suited to the ear than the pen is set out:

'Today, I received a cryptographic letter from Engelhardt, in which he requests me to ask you to move the artefacts as soon as possible - [because of the present tribulation on Als, he quotes from the letter from Line] - and, of course, for more reasons than this, they have to be removed to Sealand or Funen. Ever since Hoyer-Moller became army chaplain I have been wishing for the same thing to happen. . . .'

The 'patient', it appears, is the collection of artefacts, not a wounded soldier. This caution - for fear the letter would get into the wrong hands - is also a proof that Engelhardt, his superior the Director Regenburg, and staff of the Museum of Northern Antiquities were involved in attempts to hide the Flensburg Collection during the 1864 war. Why does Hoyer-Moller's becoming army chaplain affect the issue?

The Flensburg Collection: a famous and royal museum

Engelhardt's attempted rescue was a unique and very personal, almost private act, to save a collection he himself had made with assiduity, hard work and talent into the largest outside the capital (DBH 1919). …

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