P G Tait's poem on the Franco-Prussian War

This is a transcription of an unpublished poem by Tait, which has been sourced from his pocket notebook.

Written in October 1870, the untitled poem finds its context in the height of the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870 - May 1871) when Otto von Bismarck was the German chancellor.

Tait writes that he has sent the poem on to 'Russel'. This is, presumably, Alexander Russel (Russell) (1814 - 1876), editor of The Scotsman newspaper: his identity is suggested by evidence from Tait's scrapbook. The poem was not published in the newspaper.

To make it easier to read, we have replaced some of the contractions used by Tait.

Transcribed by Elizabeth Lewis, The University of St Andrews.
Who is this German fat but quick?
The hound that crouched 'neath Bismarck's stick.
What time the plunderers of the Dane
Quarrelled about their shameless gain.
Beery and fat and scant of wind
He puffs along the battle plain
For is not Bismarck's "stick" behind?
Who's dead to honour, lives to pain.
This is your German, fat yet quick
Driven to war by Bismarck's stick.
-- -- --
What is this German's lawful prize?
Whate'er finds favour in his eyes.
The accursed one who hounds him on
Knows well his self-respect is gone.
He fears his reckless discontent,
And so in devilish mood
Delighted sees it find a vent
In rapine, lust and blood.
That is this German's lawful prize
Whate'er finds favour in his eyes.

What does his master hope to gain?
That does not seem so very plain.
To inscribe in each historic tome
Another rush of Goths to Rome?
Seeks he the immortality
Of him who fired Diana's shrine,
Or with the ambition cursed is he
With Caliph Omar's fame to shine?
What then does Bismarck hope to gain?
I give it up -- my quest is vain.
-- -- --
But what then will this German gain?
The answer is both full and plain --
Contempt from every honest man
The thief's reward, the murderer's ban,
When Europe's slow but sure police
Are set upon his bloody track
And all shall feel that lasting peace
Requires he should be beaten back.
These will the rabid German gain
Fettered at length in Europe's chain.

But are not Germans civilized?
Is justice not among them prized?
These statements which have long been made
But yesterday were not gainsaid --
But he who runneth now may read
Unlikely as it may seem
This quiet content, devoid of greed
Is but an empty dream.
For Germans are not civilised
Say rather they are brutalized.
-- -- --
What should the wretched Frenchman feel,
Downtrodden by the German's heel?
Glad that the veil is drawn aside
Which did so long the monster hide
That lust of Blood and Rapine rife
Are plainly now revealed
Which secretly preparing strife
Were but by Tartuffe's cant concealed.
This satisfaction he may feel
Though crushed beneath that brutal heel

Say what shall be the wretches' fate
Who finds this monster at his gate?
Dares he to act the part of man
And shoot the murderer if he can?
Dares she her honor to defend
Who[se] face has pleased some German boor,
Or dare the starving peasant tend
His little stock, his winter's store?
The gallows is the wretches' fate
Behold this monster at his gate.
-- -- --
Death and Dishonour, that is all.
In vain for mercy do ye call.
Hell is abroad -- his hounds obscene
Are loosed on every village green --
The fairest spots on earth that smiled
Are soiled by murderer's tread
The grey-beard and the sucking child
Heighten the piles of dead.
Pity has fled, and right is wrong,
Nature aghast -- Oh Lord how long.

But, Frenchman, though thou feel the curse,
Rejoice -- thy foeman's case is worse.
When from his hordes thy land is free
Thou shalt enjoy thy liberty --
He, crushed beneath an iron hand,
With none from  stick to save,
May yell in praise of Vaterland
But is not less a Slave!
Hurrah -- each mangy skulking hound
In Bismarck's leash is firmly bound.
-- -- --
All honour, Bismarck, to thy stick
Which makes thy beery slaves so quick --
But act with caution -- have a care --
And dread the vigour of despair!
Even Germans may at last feel shame
The "stick" so long to bear --
Syne play to thee this pleasant game
For "turn about" is fair.
And Frenchmen will pronounce it "chic"
When Bismark's slaves give him the "stick".

Last Updated April 2015