Thursday, 21 December 2017

Dansk Revisited

In my blog of 12 April 2016 A Danish Chest? Evidence from the Essex Wills, I discussed the likely meaning of the epithet Dansk,  applied to chests in early modern wills and inventories. The material below, taken from correspondence donated to the OED project by the editor of the Essex Wills, F. G. Emmison, shows the latter conducting enquiries into the likely meaning of the word back in 1975.


The letters.

The British Library
29th April 1975

Dear Mr. Emmison,

Dr. Wallis has passed your letter of 21st April 1975 to me for attention.

Although it might be helpful to see it in context, I have no doubt that at the time the letter was written “in Danske” refers to Denmark. I base this on the following:—

(i) In Hamlet, Act II, Scene 1 Polonius says to Reynaldo, “Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris.” The edition of the play by H. H. Furness refers to Danske meaning Denmark; this usage also occurs often in William Warner Albion’s England (complete edition, 1612).

(ii) The Oxford English Dictionary gives several examples circa 1600 in which Dansk stands for Danish, including the one in Hamlet. Hence a Dansker means a Dane.

I am afraid there has not been time to look into the historical forms of the place-name, but it seems probable that as it was a Hansa town the German form would have been preferred. There is not much mid-sixteenth century cartography that is really useful. Ortelius Theatrum (1570) gives greater prominence to the Polish form and adds the German below it: Gedanum / Dantzick. Mercator (1595) gives the German only.

Yours sincerely,

E. J. Huddy

Victoria and Albert Museum
1 May 1975

Dear Mr. Emmison,

I am delighted to know that you are pressing on with the publication of the Elizabethan Wills. I have long been an ardent admirer of your work and look forward to the publication of your Volume 3. I am afraid I can say nothing at all helpful about the term ‘ship chest’, but I do know something about ‘Danske chests’ which came, not from Denmark, but from Danzig (Gdansk in Polish). I wrote a little article about the latter, of which I am able to send you a copy. I am only too aware that it is inconclusive but I believe it sums up our knowledge as it stands at present. I am wondering whether the ship chests might be a verison of the cypress chests, some of which were embellished with galleons in full sail of with Venetian galleys. The patterns used for their decoration were somewhat standard and it may be that a version decorated with ships was favoured in this country. I do not know and maybe this is an over-fanciful guess.

Might I beg you to return the offprint when you have finished with it as I seem to have no other copy.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Thornton
Department of Furniture

5 May 1975

Dear Mr Huddy,

I am most grateful for your letter [ref] of 29 April.

Strangely enough, by the same post, I put a query to the Dept. of Furniture, V & A Museum, as to the meaning of a “ship chest”, which occurs frequently in Elizabethan wills but is not defined in O.E.D. I enclose the kind answer, which puts me in a quandary about the port from which my letter was written—“From Dansk”. Oh dear, Mr Huddy, what shall I do?! If, at your leisure (because the book does not go to the printer for another month) you can find this spelling in any English edition of a European atlas of late 16th century I should be most obliged for a further note. I enclose a xerox of the V & A letter.

Yours sincerely

F. G. Emmison

5 May 1975

Dear Mr Thornton

It is extremely good of you to have written with such helpful information in your letter of 1 May. Thank you also for your encouraging remarks: Vo. 3 will be published about April 1976.

Strangely enough, by the same post, I asked Dr Helen Wallis, Supt. of the British Museuk Map Room and an old friend, about the identification of the port from which a letter was written back to England from an Essex sailor who was sick there. It ends “From Danske”. The reply, though a little guarded, plumped for Denmark, not Dansk, relying chiefly on O.E.D., which I own and had used, but ‘Dansk’ in the Dict. merely refers to the adjective, which is much better known.

I am most grateful for the temporary loan of your only remaining offprint, which I will return shortly after reading what looks like a stimulating article.

Yours sincerely

F. G. Emmison

The British Library
13th May 1975

Dear Mr. Emmison,

Thank you for your letter of 5th May 1975.

I am very interested indeed to read Mr. Thornton's remarks about “Danske chests”, and I must confess it shakes my earlier conviction about the explanation of the place name in your original enquiry. Unfortunately Mr. Thornton's article is not available here at present. Clearly more information is required about the Elizabeth [sic] customs in respect of Baltic place names, but the problem seems less likely to be solved in the printed maps available here. The atlases and maps printed about 1565 were European and these appear to have used the German form “Dantzick” or the Latin “Gedanum”. The only English edition of Ortelius’s Theatrum was published in 1606.

So I should suggest that other examples must be found, possibly in the state papers and in the records of trade with the Baltic countries. I will certainly let you know if anything useful turns up.

Yours sincerely,

E. J. Huddy

The British Library
16th May 1975

Dear Mr. Emmison,

I asked a colleague in the Reading Room to look into your enquiry about Dansk, and the result has further weakened the case for explaining the name as Denmark. It seems that literary critics are not all in agreement either.

The references in Hakluyt are significant in the present context, I think. I am enclosing several extracts. Danske in these examples tends to confirm Mr. Thornton's thesis, but those Elizabethan merchants trading in the Baltic perhaps used the Polish or German forms according to personal preference.

The sixteenth century printed maps used the German form, but I have found an interesting hybrid, DANTZK, on Blaeu's maps of Poland and Prussia in the Theatre du monde (Amsterdam, 1635).

As for Polonius, he did get a bit confused sometimes; and the comment on Danskers, “Right or wrong, the result is very pleasing to British ears…” puts the case for poetic licence nicely.

Yours sincerely,

E. J. Huddy

1 June1975

Dear Mr Huddy,

I very much appreciate your kindness in giving me further information in your letter of 13 May.

The problem remains, so I must be cautious in the identification.

Yours sincerely

F. G. Emmison

The British Library

5 June 1975

Dear Mr Emmison,

Thank you for your letter of 1 June in reply to mine of 13 May. I am wondering whether you received my letter of 16 May also, with the enclosures. I should be very interested to know your opinion regarding the references in Hakluyt as these probably represent contemporary usage. I doubt whether the argument in “Notes and queries” covers sufficient evidence; and it would follow that the O.E.D.'s definition is not adequate.

Yours sincerely,

E. J. Huddy

The photocopies 

[the headings to nos. 5 and 6 were accidentally exchanged]

1. Richard Hakluyt The Voyages, Vol. II (ed. MacLehose, Glasgow 1903)

p. 396
A letter of Thomas Alcocke to the worshipfull Richard Gray, and Henrie Lane Agents in Moscouia from Tirwill in Polonia, written in Tirwill the 26. of Aprill 1558.
My duety premised unto your worships, with commendations &c. It may please you to be advertised, yt my last I sent from Smolensco, which I trust you haue receiued wt other letters to diuers of our English men, wherein I certified you of my long retayning there, as also of my departure from thence, and howe that I had hired a Totar to bring mee to Danske. We came to a certaine village on Satterday the sixe and twentieth of Februarie, and there remained that night and Sunday to refresh our horses, intending to haue gone away on Munday earely.
2. Richard Hakluyt The Voyages, Index (ed. MacLehose, Glasgow 1905)

p. 204/2

Danske, cable market at (1557) II. 382; Leonard Brian at, 387; wax market at, 389; Thomas Alcock at 396–399; and the Narva navigation, 485
Dantiske, Robert Elson at (1555) II. 296.

p. 205/1

Danzig, II. 8; Wolstan’s voyage to, I. 15; or Gdanum, II. 10; English merchants and goods seized in, 15–18; mercantile differences settled in, 22; ships of, despoiled by Hanse merchants, 70; Sir Jerome Horsey at (1584), III. 345; burgomaster of, and William Harborne (1588) VI. 58; customs in, 59; hulk with Spanish goods, captured by the English (1589) VI. 510.

3. Louis Zettersten, ‘Danskers in “Hamlet”.’ in Notes and Queries 6 February, 1926

p. 99/1

[States that according to Dr. Gosta Langenfelt, Shakespeare's "dansker" is the medieval name of Danzig; Shakespeare meant Danes but got hold of the wrong word.]

4. G. A. Gibbs,  ‘Danskers in “Hamlet”.’ in Notes and Queries 27 February, 1926

p. 157/2–158/2

[Aims to rebut the preceding. Points to Jamieson, Scottish Dictionary: Danskeine. Danskene, s. Denmark.]

5. Nares, Glossary of words…in Shakespeare (1905)

pp. 224/2–225/1

DANSKE, Denmark; and DANSKERS, Danes.

By chance one Curan, son unto
A prince in Danske, did see 

The maid, with whom he fell in love, 

As much as man might be.

Reliques of Anc. Engl. Poetry, 240.

Them at the last on Dansk their lingring fortunes drave,
Where Holst unto their troops sufficient harbour gave.

Drayt. Polyolb., xi, p. 864.

Enquire me first what Danskers are in Paris, 

And how, and who, what means, and where they keep, 

What company, at what expence.

Haml., ii, 1.

The author of the Glossary to Lyndsay considers this as an erroneous interpretation, and says that it means Dantzickers; but, if he had looked at the context, he would have seen that Polonius's speech would have been nonsense with that interpretation; for how were they to find out Hamlet by inquiring for Dantzickers? Also Danish:

It is the king of Denmark doth your prince his daughter crave,
And note, it is no little thing with us allie to have;

By league or leigure, Danske can fence or front you,
friend or foe.

Alb. Engl., iii, 16, p. 70.

So that he makes a noise when he’s on horseback,

Like a Danske drummer. O, ’tis excellent.

White Devil, O. Pl, vi, 264.

In that work, indeed, it is printed Dantzic, by mistake, or by way of correction to the text; but the true reading is Danske, as indeed the metre shows it should be.

6. Jamieson Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, Vol. 2 (1880)

p. 14/2


“At this feild the erle of Bothuell fled away with all hes company, and passed out of Scotland to Danskeine, where he deceissit miserablie.” Marioreybanks’ Annals, p. 19.

Formed, perhaps, without sufficient reason, by mariners, from the name which an inhabitant of that country takes to himself, Danske.

It is used, however, by Skene.

“The merchandis vsis to pay fraucht for their guds to Flanders be the sek [sack], to France, Spayne, and England be the tun: and to Danskene, and the Easter Seas, be the serplath.” De Verb. Sign. vo. Serplaith.

Archdeacon Nares has satisfactorily proved that Mr. Chalmers, in the Gl. to Lyndsay, has given “an erroneous interpretation” of the term Danskers, as used by Shakspeare, as if it meant Dantzickers; adding; “If he had looked at the context, he would have seen that Polonius’s speech would have been nonsense with that interpretation, for how were they to find out Hamlet by inquiring for Dantzicker’s?” After all, Mr. Chalmers, who is never at a loss to prove what he has once imagined, may be able to shew that Danskeine, mentioned above as the place to which Bothwell fled, was no other than Dantzic.

7. Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, Volume 2.

p. 11/1–2

[Two entries are relevant: a small entry, ‘Dansk, n….= DANSKIN a.’, with one 1681 quotation, and a much larger one, ‘Danskin, -ene, a. and n…. f. Polish Gdansk Danzig, with adjectival ending…1. adj. Connected with, made in, bought from Dantzig.’ There follows a list of the nouns with which it is used, including kist, and quotations from 1492 onwards. Examples with kist: ‘Ane Danskin kist with ane sey kist; 1596 Fraser P. 228; Ane Danskyne kist in the nether chamber; 1630 Bamff Chart. 223; My meikill trunk or schyryn kist, being ane Danskein kist; 1627 Edinb. Test. LIV. 106’. ‘2. n. The town of Dantzig’, with examples from the 15th to the early 17th century.

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