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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

'Hun' in 19th Century poetry


yperman

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I had always assumed that 'Hun' was a Great War invention till I found in T. Gray's  poem "Hohenlinden" which has the line 'With furious Frank and fiery Hun'. It does not seem to be derogatory - the poem celebrates a victory by German speaking people - and surely it is fair to say in the mid 19th century British public sentiment was pro German speaking lands - the British Royal House of Hanover, France the default enemy etc. I wonder where 'Hun' comes from?

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Didn't we learn about Huns in European History at School?  A tribe that came from Hungary, or some other Eastern bit of Europe?  Ages ago (also, ages ago since I went to School!).

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Latin hunni or huni 4th century 

Old English  Huna 8th century

OED

 

Glaswegian,  The Huns 1985.

Fact.

Edited by Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
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I have just noticed I put Gray as the poet when it is in fact Campbell. But I thought the Huns were not a Teutonic race?

53 minutes ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:

Latin hunni or huni 4th century 

Old English  Huna 

 

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Campbells poem is about the Battle of Hohenlinden in 1800 when the French defeated the combined forces of Austria and Bavaria for whom he uses the ‘shorthand’ Hun. Certainly he isn’t using the word in a pejorative sense indeed I cannot see that much evidence of Hun being used as such over the next 100 years or so. In fact Kaiser Wilhelm II seems to have enjoyed making the comparison between the Asiatic hordes and his own German Army.

 

I cannot say definitively why Hun assumed such a derogatory meaning by the British in particular but can offer an observation. In August 1914 the British Government and press made much of  German atrocities in Belgium and Northern France and at some length portrayed the enemy as uncivilized barbarians happy to destroy iconic cultural sites of Western Civilisation  such as the library at Leuven and Rheims Cathederal.  As the German Army swept towards Paris it was of course defeated on the Marne. Following this victory, British newspapers compared this great victory to the defeat of the barbarian Attila and his Huns by the Roman Empire in 451 at Chalons which is also on the river Marne. Subsequently this comparison gained credence particularly when writers such as Rudyard Kipling took up this tale t of how 1600 years later the westward movement of the barbarian had one more been halted by the civilized armies of the west.

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The OED entry is a bit of a rabbit hole (hopefully the link works). Campbell's Hohenlinden appears in section A2.

 

ilkley, the dictionary agrees with your link between Wilhelm and the Asiatic hordes. It even suggests that Wilhelm's comparison of German troops to the historical Huns may have precipitated the adoption of the word into English to refer to barbaric Germans.

 

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21 hours ago, knittinganddeath said:

The OED entry is a bit of a rabbit hole (hopefully the link works). Campbell's Hohenlinden appears in section A2.

 

The use of Hun seems to have rapidly become an epithet for the behaviour of the German Army and I presume by extension Germans as a whole. I suppose we cannot be too surprised at this given the manner in which words like 'woke' and 'gammon'  have become popular terms of abuse in the so called 'Culture Wars'. 

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I seem to remember the Kaiser is supposed to have urged his troops to 'behave like Huns' in China, in reply to the atrocities committed by the Boxers around 1900.

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