Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Price, email email@example.com,
from the 1889 Cassell & Company edition.
LETTERS ON SWEDEN, NORWAY, AND DENMARK
by Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was born on the 27th of April, 1759. Her
father--a quick-tempered and unsettled man, capable of beating wife,
or child, or dog--was the son of a manufacturer who made money in
Spitalfields, when Spitalfields was prosperous. Her mother was a
rigorous Irishwoman, of the Dixons of Ballyshannon. Edward John
Wollstonecraft--of whose children, besides Mary, the second child,
three sons and two daughters lived to be men and women--in course of
the got rid of about ten thousand pounds, which had been left him by
his father. He began to get rid of it by farming. Mary
Wollstonecraft's first-remembered home was in a farm at Epping.
When she was five years old the family moved to another farm, by the
Chelmsford Road. When she was between six and seven years old they
moved again, to the neighbourhood of Barking. There they remained
three years before the next move, which was to a farm near Beverley,
in Yorkshire. In Yorkshire they remained six years, and Mary
Wollstonecraft had there what education fell to her lot between the
ages of ten and sixteen. Edward John Wollstonecraft then gave up
farming to venture upon a commercial speculation. This caused him
to live for a year and a half at Queen's Row, Hoxton. His daughter
Mary was then sixteen; and while at Hoxton she had her education
advanced by the friendly care of a deformed clergyman--a Mr. Clare--
who lived next door, and stayed so much at home that his one pair of
shoes had lasted him for fourteen years.
But Mary Wollstonecraft's chief friend at this time was an
accomplished girl only two years older than herself, who maintained
her father, mother, and family by skill in drawing. Her name was
Frances Blood, and she especially, by her example and direct
instruction, drew out her young friend's powers. In 1776, Mary
Wollstonecraft's father, a rolling stone, rolled into Wales. Again
he was a farmer. Next year again he was a Londoner; and Mary had
influence enough to persuade him to choose a house at Walworth,
where she would be near to her friend Fanny. Then, however, the
conditions of her home life caused her to be often on the point of
going away to earn a living for herself. In 1778, when she was
nineteen, Mary Wollstonecraft did leave home, to take a situation as
companion with a rich tradesman's widow at Bath, of whom it was said
that none of her companions could stay with her. Mary
Wollstonecraft, nevertheless, stayed two years with the difficult
widow, and made herself respected. Her mother's failing health then
caused Mary to return to her. The father was then living at
Enfield, and trying to save the small remainder of his means by not
venturing upon any business at all. The mother died after long
suffering, wholly dependent on her daughter Mary's constant care.
The mother's last words were often quoted by Mary Wollstonecraft in
her own last years of distress--"A little patience, and all will be
After the mother's death, Mary Wollstonecraft left home again, to
live with her friend, Fanny Blood, who was at Walham Green. In 1782
she went to nurse a married sister through a dangerous illness. The
father's need of support next pressed upon her. He had spent not
only his own money, but also the little that had been specially
reserved for his children. It is said to be the privilege of a
passionate man that he always gets what he wants; he gets to be
avoided, and they never find a convenient corner of their own who
shut themselves out from the kindly fellowship of life.
In 1783 Mary Wollstonecraft--aged twenty-four--with two of her
sisters, joined Fanny Blood in setting up a day school at Islington,
which was removed in a few months to Newington Green. Early in 1785
Fanny Blood, far gone in consumption, sailed for Lisbon to marry an
Irish surgeon who was settled there. After her marriage it was
evident that she had but a few months to live; Mary Wollstonecraft,
deaf to all opposing counsel, then left her school, and, with help
of money from a friendly woman, she went out to nurse her, and was
by her when she died. Mary Wollstonecraft remembered her loss ten
years afterwards in these "Letters from Sweden and Norway," when she
wrote: "The grave has closed over a dear friend, the friend of my
youth; still she is present with me, and I hear her soft voice
warbling as I stray over the heath."
Mary Wollstonecraft left Lisbon for England late in December, 1785.
When she came back she found Fanny's poor parents anxious to go back
to Ireland; and as she had been often told that she could earn by
writing, she wrote a pamphlet of 162 small pages--"Thoughts on the
Education of Daughters"--and got ten pounds for it. This she gave
to her friend's parents to enable them to go back to their kindred.
In all she did there is clear evidence of an ardent, generous,
impulsive nature. One day her friend Fanny Blood had repined at the
unhappy surroundings in the home she was maintaining for her father
and mother, and longed for a little home of her own to do her work
in. Her friend quietly found rooms, got furniture together, and
told her that her little home was ready; she had only to walk into
it. Then it seemed strange to Mary Wollstonecraft that Fanny Blood
was withheld by thoughts that had not been uppermost in the mood of
complaint. She thought her friend irresolute, where she had herself
been generously rash. Her end would have been happier had she been
helped, as many are, by that calm influence of home in which some
knowledge of the world passes from father and mother to son and
daughter, without visible teaching and preaching, in easiest
companionship of young and old from day to day.
The little payment for her pamphlet on the "Education of Daughters"
caused Mary Wollstonecraft to think more seriously of earning by her
pen. The pamphlet seems also to have advanced her credit as a
teacher. After giving up her day school, she spent some weeks at
Eton with the Rev. Mr. Prior, one of the masters there, who
recommended her as governess to the daughters of Lord Kingsborough,
an Irish viscount, eldest son of the Earl of Kingston. Her way of
teaching was by winning love, and she obtained the warm affection of
the eldest of her pupils, who became afterwards Countess Mount-
Cashel. In the summer of 1787, Lord Kingsborough's family,
including Mary Wollstonecraft, was at Bristol Hot-wells, before
going to the Continent. While there, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her
little tale published as "Mary, a Fiction," wherein there was much
based on the memory of her own friendship for Fanny Blood.
The publisher of Mary Wollstonecraft's "Thoughts on the Education of
Daughters" was the same Joseph Johnson who in 1785 was the publisher
of Cowper's "Task." With her little story written and a little
money saved, the resolve to live by her pen could now be carried
out. Mary Wollstonecraft, therefore, parted from her friends at
Bristol, went to London, saw her publisher, and frankly told him her
determination. He met her with fatherly kindness, and received her
as a guest in his house while she was making her arrangements. At
Michaelmas, 1787, she settled in a house in George Street, on the
Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge. There she produced a little book
for children, of "Original Stories from Real Life," and earned by
drudgery for Joseph Johnson. She translated, she abridged, she made
a volume of Selections, and she wrote for an "Analytical Review,"
which Mr. Johnson founded in the middle of the year 1788. Among the
books translated by her was Necker "On the Importance of Religious
Opinions." Among the books abridged by her was Salzmann's "Elements
of Morality." With all this hard work she lived as sparely as she
could, that she might help her family. She supported her father.
That she might enable her sisters to earn their living as teachers,
she sent one of them to Paris, and maintained her there for two
years; the other she placed in a school near London as parlour-
boarder until she was admitted into it as a paid teacher. She
placed one brother at Woolwich to qualify for the Navy, and he
obtained a lieutenant's commission. For another brother, articled
to an attorney whom he did not like, she obtained a transfer of
indentures; and when it became clear that his quarrel was more with
law than with the lawyers, she placed him with a farmer before
fitting him out for emigration to America. She then sent him, so
well prepared for his work there that he prospered well. She tried
even to disentangle her father's affairs; but the confusion in them
was beyond her powers of arrangement. Added to all this faithful
work, she took upon herself the charge of an orphan child, seven
years old, whose mother had been in the number of her friends. That
was the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, thirty years old, in 1789, the
year of the Fall of the Bastille; the noble life now to be touched
in its enthusiasms by the spirit of the Revolution, to be caught in
the great storm, shattered, and lost among its wrecks.
To Burke's attack on the French Revolution Mary Wollstonecraft wrote
an Answer--one of many answers provoked by it--that attracted much
attention. This was followed by her "Vindication of the Rights of
Woman while the air was full of declamation on the "Rights of Man."
The claims made in this little book were in advance of the opinion
of that day, but they are claims that have in our day been conceded.
They are certainly not revolutionary in the opinion of the world
that has become a hundred years older since the book was written.
At this the Mary Wollstonecraft had moved to rooms in Store Street,
Bedford Square. She was fascinated by Fuseli the painter, and he
was a married man. She felt herself to be too strongly drawn
towards him, and she went to Paris at the close of the year 1792, to
break the spell. She felt lonely and sad, and was not the happier
for being in a mansion lent to her, from which the owner was away,
and in which she lived surrounded by his servants. Strong womanly
instincts were astir within her, and they were not all wise folk who
had been drawn around her by her generous enthusiasm for the new
hopes of the world, that made it then, as Wordsworth felt, a very
heaven to the young.
Four months after she had gone to Paris, Mary Wollstonecraft met at
the house of a merchant, with whose wife she had become intimate, an
American named Gilbert Imlay. He won her affections. That was in
April, 1793. He had no means, and she had home embarrassments, for
which she was unwilling that he should become in any way
responsible. A part of the new dream in some minds then was of a
love too pure to need or bear the bondage of authority. The mere
forced union of marriage ties implied, it was said, a distrust of
fidelity. When Gilbert Imlay would have married Mary
Wollstonecraft, she herself refused to bind him; she would keep him
legally exempt from her responsibilities towards the father,
sisters, brothers, whom she was supporting. She took his name and
called herself his wife, when the French Convention, indignant at
the conduct of the British Government, issue a decree from the
effects of which she would escape as the wife of a citizen of the
United States. But she did not marry. She witnessed many of the
horrors that came of the loosened passions of an untaught populace.
A child was born to her--a girl whom she named after the dead friend
of her own girlhood. And then she found that she had leant upon a
reed. She was neglected; and was at last forsaken. Having sent her
to London, Imlay there visited her, to explain himself away. She
resolved on suicide, and in dissuading her from that he gave her
hope again. He needed somebody who had good judgment, and who cared
for his interests, to represent him in some business affairs in
Norway. She undertook to act for him, and set out on the voyage
only a week after she had determined to destroy herself.
The interest of this book which describes her travel is quickened by
a knowledge of the heart-sorrow that underlies it all. Gilbert
Imlay had promised to meet her upon her return, and go with her to
Switzerland. But the letters she had from him in Sweden and Norway
were cold, and she came back to find that she was wholly forsaken
for an actress from a strolling company of players. Then she went
up the river to drown herself. She paced the road at Putney on an
October night, in 1795, in heavy rain, until her clothes were
drenched, that she might sink more surely, and then threw herself
from the top of Putney Bridge.
She was rescued, and lived on with deadened spirit. In 1796 these
"Letters from Sweden and Norway" were published. Early in 1797 she
was married to William Godwin. On the 10th of September in the same
year, at the age of thirty-eight, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin died,
after the birth of the daughter who lived to become the wife of
Shelley. The mother also would have lived, if a womanly feeling, in
itself to be respected, had not led her also to unwise departure
from the customs of the world. Peace be to her memory. None but
kind thoughts can dwell upon the life of this too faithful disciple
LETTERS WRITTEN DURING A SHORT RESIDENCE IN SWEDEN, NORWAY, AND
Eleven days of weariness on board a vessel not intended for the
accommodation of passengers have so exhausted my spirits, to say
nothing of the other causes, with which you are already sufficiently
acquainted, that it is with some difficulty I adhere to my
determination of giving you my observations, as I travel through new
scenes, whilst warmed with the impression they have made on me.
The captain, as I mentioned to you, promised to put me on shore at
Arendall or Gothenburg in his way to Elsineur, but contrary winds
obliged us to pass both places during the night. In the morning,
however, after we had lost sight of the entrance of the latter bay,
the vessel was becalmed; and the captain, to oblige me, hanging out
a signal for a pilot, bore down towards the shore.
My attention was particularly directed to the lighthouse, and you
can scarcely imagine with what anxiety I watched two long hours for
a boat to emancipate me; still no one appeared. Every cloud that
flitted on the horizon was hailed as a liberator, till approaching
nearer, like most of the prospects sketched by hope, it dissolved
under the eye into disappointment.
Weary of expectation, I then began to converse with the captain on
the subject, and from the tenor of the information my questions drew
forth I soon concluded that if I waited for a boat I had little
chance of getting on shore at this place. Despotism, as is usually
the case, I found had here cramped the industry of man. The pilots
being paid by the king, and scantily, they will not run into any
danger, or even quit their hovels, if they can possibly avoid it,
only to fulfil what is termed their duty. How different is it on
the English coast, where, in the most stormy weather, boats
immediately hail you, brought out by the expectation of
Disliking to sail for Elsineur, and still more to lie at anchor or
cruise about the coast for several days, I exerted all my rhetoric
to prevail on the captain to let me have the ship's boat, and though
I added the most forcible of arguments, I for a long the addressed
him in vain.
It is a kind of rule at sea not to send out a boat. The captain was
a good-natured man; but men with common minds seldom break through
general rules. Prudence is ever the resort of weakness, and they
rarely go as far as they may in any undertaking who are determined
not to go beyond it on any account. If, however, I had some trouble
with the captain, I did not lose much time with the sailors, for
they, all alacrity, hoisted out the boat the moment I obtained
permission, and promised to row me to the lighthouse.
I did not once allow myself to doubt of obtaining a conveyance from
thence round the rocks--and then away for Gothenburg--confinement is
The day was fine, and I enjoyed the water till, approaching the
little island, poor Marguerite, whose timidity always acts as a
feeler before her adventuring spirit, began to wonder at our not
seeing any inhabitants. I did not listen to her. But when, on
landing, the same silence prevailed, I caught the alarm, which was
not lessened by the sight of two old men whom we forced out of their
wretched hut. Scarcely human in their appearance, we with
difficulty obtained an intelligible reply to our questions, the
result of which was that they had no boat, and were not allowed to
quit their post on any pretence. But they informed us that there
was at the other side, eight or ten miles over, a pilot's dwelling.
Two guineas tempted the sailors to risk the captain's displeasure,
and once more embark to row me over.
The weather was pleasant, and the appearance of the shore so grand
that I should have enjoyed the two hours it took to reach it, but
for the fatigue which was too visible in the countenances of the
sailors, who, instead of uttering a complaint, were, with the
thoughtless hilarity peculiar to them, joking about the possibility
of the captain's taking advantage of a slight westerly breeze, which
was springing up, to sail without them. Yet, in spite of their good
humour, I could not help growing uneasy when the shore, receding, as
it were, as we advanced, seemed to promise no end to their toil.
This anxiety increased when, turning into the most picturesque bay I
ever saw, my eyes sought in vain for the vestige of a human
habitation. Before I could determine what step to take in such a
dilemma (for I could not bear to think of returning to the ship),
the sight of a barge relieved me, and we hastened towards it for
information. We were immediately directed to pass some jutting
rocks, when we should see a pilot's hut.
There was a solemn silence in this scene which made itself be felt.
The sunbeams that played on the ocean, scarcely ruffled by the
lightest breeze, contrasted with the huge dark rocks, that looked
like the rude materials of creation forming the barrier of unwrought
space, forcibly struck me, but I should not have been sorry if the
cottage had not appeared equally tranquil. Approaching a retreat
where strangers, especially women, so seldom appeared, I wondered
that curiosity did not bring the beings who inhabited it to the
windows or door. I did not immediately recollect that men who
remain so near the brute creation, as only to exert themselves to
find the food necessary to sustain life, have little or no
imagination to call forth the curiosity necessary to fructify the
faint glimmerings of mind which entitle them to rank as lords of the
creation. Had they either they could not contentedly remain rooted
in the clods they so indolently cultivate.
Whilst the sailors went to seek for the sluggish inhabitants, these
conclusions occurred to me; and, recollecting the extreme fondness
which the Parisians ever testify for novelty, their very curiosity
appeared to me a proof of the progress they had made in refinement.
Yes, in the art of living--in the art of escaping from the cares
which embarrass the first steps towards the attainment of the
pleasures of social life.
The pilots informed the sailors that they were under the direction
of a lieutenant retired from the service, who spoke English; adding
that they could do nothing without his orders, and even the offer of
money could hardly conquer their laziness and prevail on them to
accompany us to his dwelling. They would not go with me alone,
which I wanted them to have done, because I wished to dismiss the
sailors as soon as possible. Once more we rowed off, they following
tardily, till, turning round another bold protuberance of the rocks,
we saw a boat making towards us, and soon learnt that it was the
lieutenant himself, coming with some earnestness to see who we were.
To save the sailors any further toil, I had my baggage instantly
removed into his boat; for, as he could speak English, a previous
parley was not necessary, though Marguerite's respect for me could
hardly keep her from expressing the fear, strongly marked on her
countenance, which my putting ourselves into the power of a strange
man excited. He pointed out his cottage; and, drawing near to it, I
was not sorry to see a female figure, though I had not, like
Marguerite, been thinking of robberies, murders, or the other evil
which instantly, as the sailors would have said, runs foul of a
On entering I was still better pleased to find a clean house, with
some degree of rural elegance. The beds were of muslin, coarse it
is true, but dazzlingly white; and the floor was strewed over with
little sprigs of juniper (the custom, as I afterwards found, of the
country), which formed a contrast with the curtains, and produced an
agreeable sensation of freshness, to soften the ardour of noon.
Still nothing was so pleasing as the alacrity of hospitality--all
that the house afforded was quickly spread on the whitest linen.
Remember, I had just left the vessel, where, without being
fastidious, I had continually been disgusted. Fish, milk, butter,
and cheese, and, I am sorry to add, brandy, the bane of this
country, were spread on the board. After we had dined hospitality
made them, with some degree of mystery, bring us some excellent
coffee. I did not then know that it was prohibited.
The good man of the house apologised for coming in continually, but
declared that he was so glad to speak English he could not stay out.
He need not have apologised; I was equally glad of his company.
With the wife I could only exchange smiles, and she was employed
observing the make of our clothes. My hands, I found, had first led
her to discover that I was the lady. I had, of course, my quantum
of reverences; for the politeness of the north seems to partake of
the coldness of the climate and the rigidity of its iron-sinewed
rocks. Amongst the peasantry there is, however, so much of the
simplicity of the golden age in this land of flint--so much
overflowing of heart and fellow-feeling, that only benevolence and
the honest sympathy of nature diffused smiles over my countenance
when they kept me standing, regardless of my fatigue, whilst they
dropped courtesy after courtesy.
The situation of this house was beautiful, though chosen for
convenience. The master being the officer who commanded all the
pilots on the coast, and the person appointed to guard wrecks, it
was necessary for him to fix on a spot that would overlook the whole
bay. As he had seen some service, he wore, not without a pride I
thought becoming, a badge to prove that he had merited well of his
country. It was happy, I thought, that he had been paid in honour,
for the stipend he received was little more than twelve pounds a
year. I do not trouble myself or you with the calculation of
Swedish ducats. Thus, my friend, you perceive the necessity of
perquisites. This same narrow policy runs through everything. I
shall have occasion further to animadvert on it.
Though my host amused me with an account of himself, which gave me
aim idea of the manners of the people I was about to visit, I was
eager to climb the rocks to view the country, and see whether the
honest tars had regained their ship. With the help of the
lieutenant's telescope, I saw the vessel under way with a fair
though gentle gale. The sea was calm, playful even as the most
shallow stream, and on the vast basin I did not see a dark speck to
indicate the boat. My conductors were consequently arrived.
Straying further, my eye was attracted by the sight of some
heartsease that peeped through the rocks. I caught at it as a good
omen, and going to preserve it in a letter that had not conveyed
balm to my heart, a cruel remembrance suffused my eyes; but it
passed away like an April shower. If you are deep read in
Shakespeare, you will recollect that this was the little western
flower tinged by love's dart, which "maidens call love in idleness."
The gaiety of my babe was unmixed; regardless of omens or
sentiments, she found a few wild strawberries more grateful than
flowers or fancies.
The lieutenant informed me that this was a commodious bay. Of that
I could not judge, though I felt its picturesque beauty. Rocks were
piled on rocks, forming a suitable bulwark to the ocean. "Come no
further," they emphatically said, turning their dark sides to the
waves to augment the idle roar. The view was sterile; still little
patches of earth of the most exquisite verdure, enamelled with the
sweetest wild flowers, seemed to promise the goats and a few
straggling cows luxurious herbage. How silent and peaceful was the
scene! I gazed around with rapture, and felt more of that
spontaneous pleasure which gives credibility to our expectation of
happiness than I had for a long, long time before. I forgot the
horrors I had witnessed in France, which had cast a gloom over all
nature, and suffering the enthusiasm of my character--too often,
gracious God! damped by the tears of disappointed affection--to be
lighted up afresh, care took wing while simple fellow-feeling
expanded my heart.
To prolong this enjoyment, I readily assented to the proposal of our
host to pay a visit to a family, the master of which spoke English,
who was the drollest dog in the country, he added, repeating some of
his stories with a hearty laugh.
I walked on, still delighted with the rude beauties of the scene;
for the sublime often gave place imperceptibly to the beautiful,
dilating the emotions which were painfully concentrated.
When we entered this abode, the largest I had yet seen, I was
introduced to a numerous family; but the father, from whom I was led
to expect so much entertainment, was absent. The lieutenant
consequently was obliged to be the interpreter of our reciprocal
compliments. The phrases were awkwardly transmitted, it is true;
but looks and gestures were sufficient to make them intelligible and
interesting. The girls were all vivacity, and respect for me could
scarcely keep them from romping with my host, who, asking for a
pinch of snuff, was presented with a box, out of which an artificial
mouse, fastened to the bottom, sprang. Though this trick had
doubtless been played the out of mind, yet the laughter it excited
was not less genuine.
They were overflowing with civility; but, to prevent their almost
killing my babe with kindness, I was obliged to shorten my visit;
and two or three of the girls accompanied us, bringing with them a
part of whatever the house afforded to contribute towards rendering
my supper more plentiful; and plentiful in fact it was, though I
with difficulty did honour to some of the dishes, not relishing the
quantity of sugar and spices put into everything. At supper my host
told me bluntly that I was a woman of observation, for I asked him
The arrangements for my journey were quickly made. I could only
have a car with post-horses, as I did not choose to wait till a
carriage could be sent for to Gothenburg. The expense of my journey
(about one or two and twenty English miles) I found would not amount
to more than eleven or twelve shillings, paying, he assured me,
generously. I gave him a guinea and a half. But it was with the
greatest difficulty that I could make him take so much--indeed
anything--for my lodging and fare. He declared that it was next to
robbing me, explaining how much I ought to pay on the road.
However, as I was positive, he took the guinea for himself; but, as
a condition, insisted on accompanying me, to prevent my meeting with
any trouble or imposition on the way.
I then retired to my apartment with regret. The night was so fine
that I would gladly have rambled about much longer, yet,
recollecting that I must rise very early, I reluctantly went to bed;
but my senses had been so awake, and my imagination still continued
so busy, that I sought for rest in vain. Rising before six, I
scented the sweet morning air; I had long before heard the birds
twittering to hail the dawning day, though it could scarcely have
been allowed to have departed.
Nothing, in fact, can equal the beauty of the northern summer's
evening and night, if night it may be called that only wants the
glare of day, the full light which frequently seems so impertinent,
for I could write at midnight very well without a candle. I
contemplated all Nature at rest; the rocks, even grown darker in
their appearance, looked as if they partook of the general repose,
and reclined more heavily on their foundation. "What," I exclaimed,
"is this active principle which keeps me still awake? Why fly my
thoughts abroad, when everything around me appears at home?" My
child was sleeping with equal calmness--innocent and sweet as the
closing flowers. Some recollections, attached to the idea of home,
mingled with reflections respecting the state of society I had been
contemplating that evening, made a tear drop on the rosy cheek I had
just kissed, and emotions that trembled on the brink of ecstasy and
agony gave a poignancy to my sensations which made me feel more
alive than usual.
What are these imperious sympathies? How frequently has melancholy
and even misanthropy taken possession of me, when the world has
disgusted me, and friends have proved unkind. I have then
considered myself as a particle broken off from the grand mass of
mankind; I was alone, till some involuntary sympathetic emotion,
like the attraction of adhesion, made me feel that I was still a
part of a mighty whole, from which I could not sever myself--not,
perhaps, for the reflection has been carried very far, by snapping
the thread of an existence, which loses its charms in proportion as
the cruel experience of life stops or poisons the current of the
heart. Futurity, what hast thou not to give to those who know that
there is such a thing as happiness! I speak not of philosophical
contentment, though pain has afforded them the strongest conviction
After our coffee and milk--for the mistress of the house had been
roused long before us by her hospitality--my baggage was taken
forward in a boat by my host, because the car could not safely have
been brought to the house.
The road at first was very rocky and troublesome, but our driver was
careful, and the horses accustomed to the frequent and sudden
acclivities and descents; so that, not apprehending any danger, I
played with my girl, whom I would not leave to Marguerite's care, on
account of her timidity.
Stopping at a little inn to bait the horses, I saw the first
countenance in Sweden that displeased me, though the man was better
dressed than any one who had as yet fallen in my way. An
altercation took place between him and my host, the purport of which
I could not guess, excepting that I was the occasion of it, be it
what it would. The sequel was his leaving the house angrily; and I
was immediately informed that he was the custom-house officer. The
professional had indeed effaced the national character, for, living
as he did within these frank hospitable people, still only the
exciseman appeared, the counterpart of some I had met with in
England and France. I was unprovided with a passport, not having
entered any great town. At Gothenburg I knew I could immediately
obtain one, and only the trouble made me object to the searching my
trunks. He blustered for money; but the lieutenant was determined
to guard me, according to promise, from imposition.
To avoid being interrogated at the town-gate, and obliged to go in
the rain to give an account of myself (merely a form) before we
could get the refreshment we stood in need of, he requested us to
descend--I might have said step--from our car, and walk into town.
I expected to have found a tolerable inn, but was ushered into a
most comfortless one; and, because it was about five o'clock, three
or four hours after their dining hour, I could not prevail on them
to give me anything warm to eat.
The appearance of the accommodations obliged me to deliver one of my
recommendatory letters, and the gentleman to whom it was addressed
sent to look out for a lodging for me whilst I partook of his
supper. As nothing passed at this supper to characterise the
country, I shall here close my letter.
Gothenburg is a clean airy town, and, having been built by the
Dutch, has canals running through each street; and in some of them
there are rows of trees that would render it very pleasant were it
not for the pavement, which is intolerably bad.
There are several rich commercial houses--Scotch, French, and
Swedish; but the Scotch, I believe, have been the most successful.
The commerce and commission business with France since the war has
been very lucrative, and enriched the merchants I am afraid at the
expense of the other inhabitants, by raising the price of the
necessaries of life.
As all the men of consequence--I mean men of the largest fortune--
are merchants, their principal enjoyment is a relaxation from
business at the table, which is spread at, I think, too early an
hour (between one and two) for men who have letters to write and
accounts to settle after paying due respect to the bottle.
However, when numerous circles are to be brought together, and when
neither literature nor public amusements furnish topics for
conversation, a good dinner appears to be the only centre to rally
round, especially as scandal, the zest of more select parties, can
only be whispered. As for politics, I have seldom found it a
subject of continual discussion in a country town in any part of the
world. The politics of the place, being on a smaller scale, suits
better with the size of their faculties; for, generally speaking,
the sphere of observation determines the extent of the mind.
The more I see of the world, the more I am convinced that
civilisation is a blessing not sufficiently estimated by those who
have not traced its progress; for it not only refines our
enjoyments, but produces a variety which enables us to retain the
primitive delicacy of our sensations. Without the aid of the
imagination all the pleasures of the senses must sink into
grossness, unless continual novelty serve as a substitute for the
imagination, which, being impossible, it was to this weariness, I
suppose, that Solomon alluded when he declared that there was
nothing new under the sun!--nothing for the common sensations
excited by the senses. Yet who will deny that the imagination and
understanding have made many, very many discoveries since those
days, which only seem harbingers of others still more noble and
beneficial? I never met with much imagination amongst people who
had not acquired a habit of reflection; and in that state of society
in which the judgment and taste are not called forth, and formed by
the cultivation of the arts and sciences, little of that delicacy of
feeling and thinking is to be found characterised by the word
sentiment. The want of scientific pursuits perhaps accounts for the
hospitality, as well as for the cordial reception which strangers
receive from the inhabitants of small towns.
Hospitality has, I think, been too much praised by travellers as a
proof of goodness of heart, when, in my opinion, indiscriminate
hospitality is rather a criterion by which you may form a tolerable
estimate of the indolence or vacancy of a head; or, in other words,
a fondness for social pleasures in which the mind not having its
proportion of exercise, the bottle must be pushed about.
These remarks are equally applicable to Dublin, the most hospitable
city I ever passed through. But I will try to confine my
observations more particularly to Sweden.
It is true I have only had a glance over a small part of it; yet of
its present state of manners and acquirements I think I have formed
a distinct idea, without having visited the capital--where, in fact,
less of a national character is to be found than in the remote parts
of the country.
The Swedes pique themselves on their politeness; but far from being
the polish of a cultivated mind, it consists merely of tiresome
forms and ceremonies. So far, indeed, from entering immediately
into your character, and making you feel instantly at your ease,
like the well-bred French, their over-acted civility is a continual
restraint on all your actions. The sort of superiority which a
fortune gives when there is no superiority of education, excepting
what consists in the observance of senseless forms, has a contrary
effect than what is intended; so that I could not help reckoning the
peasantry the politest people of Sweden, who, only aiming at
pleasing you, never think of being admired for their behaviour.
Their tables, like their compliments, seem equally a caricature of
the French. The dishes are composed, as well as theirs, of a
variety of mixtures to destroy the native taste of the food without
being as relishing. Spices and sugar are put into everything, even
into the bread; and the only way I can account for their partiality
to high-seasoned dishes is the constant use of salted provisions.
Necessity obliges them to lay up a store of dried fish and salted
meat for the winter; and in summer, fresh meat and fish taste
insipid after them. To which may be added the constant use of
spirits. Every day, before dinner and supper, even whilst the
dishes are cooling on the table, men and women repair to a side-
table; and to obtain an appetite eat bread-and-butter, cheese, raw
salmon, or anchovies, drinking a glass of brandy. Salt fish or meat
then immediately follows, to give a further whet to the stomach. As
the dinner advances, pardon me for taking up a few minutes to
describe what, alas! has detained me two or three hours on the
stretch observing, dish after dish is changed, in endless rotation,
and handed round with solemn pace to each guest; but should you
happen not to like the first dishes, which was often my case, it is
a gross breach of politeness to ask for part of any other till its
turn comes. But have patience, and there will be eating enough.
Allow me to run over the acts of a visiting day, not overlooking the
Prelude a luncheon--then a succession of fish, flesh, and fowl for
two hours, during which time the dessert--I was sorry for the
strawberries and cream--rests on the table to be impregnated by the
fumes of the viands. Coffee immediately follows in the drawing-
room, but does not preclude punch, ale, tea and cakes, raw salmon,
&c. A supper brings up the rear, not forgetting the introductory
luncheon, almost equalling in removes the dinner. A day of this
kind you would imagine sufficient; but a to-morrow and a to-morrow--
A never-ending, still-beginning feast may be bearable, perhaps, when
stern winter frowns, shaking with chilling aspect his hoary locks;
but during a summer, sweet as fleeting, let me, my kind strangers,
escape sometimes into your fir groves, wander on the margin of your
beautiful lakes, or climb your rocks, to view still others in
endless perspective, which, piled by more than giant's hand, scale
the heavens to intercept its rays, or to receive the parting tinge
of lingering day--day that, scarcely softened unto twilight, allows
the freshening breeze to wake, and the moon to burst forth in all
her glory to glide with solemn elegance through the azure expanse.
The cow's bell has ceased to tinkle the herd to rest; they have all
paced across the heath. Is not this the witching time of night?
The waters murmur, and fall with more than mortal music, and spirits
of peace walk abroad to calm the agitated breast. Eternity is in
these moments. Worldly cares melt into the airy stuff that dreams
are made of, and reveries, mild and enchanting as the first hopes of
love or the recollection of lost enjoyment, carry the hapless wight
into futurity, who in bustling life has vainly strove to throw off
the grief which lies heavy at the heart. Good night! A crescent
hangs out in the vault before, which woos me to stray abroad. It is
not a silvery reflection of the sun, but glows with all its golden
splendour. Who fears the fallen dew? It only makes the mown grass
smell more fragrant. Adieu!
The population of Sweden has been estimated from two millions and a
half to three millions; a small number for such an immense tract of
country, of which only so much is cultivated--and that in the
simplest manner--as is absolutely requisite to supply the
necessaries of life; and near the seashore, whence herrings are
easily procured, there scarcely appears a vestige of cultivation.
The scattered huts that stand shivering on the naked rocks, braving
the pitiless elements, are formed of logs of wood rudely hewn; and
so little pains are taken with the craggy foundation that nothing
hike a pathway points out the door.
Gathered into himself by the cold, lowering his visage to avoid the
cutting blast, is it surprising that the churlish pleasure of
drinking drams takes place of social enjoyments amongst the poor,
especially if we take into the account that they mostly live on
high-seasoned provision and rye bread? Hard enough, you may
imagine, as it is baked only once a year. The servants also, in
most families, eat this kind of bread, and have a different kind of
food from their masters, which, in spite of all the arguments I have
heard to vindicate the custom, appears to me a remnant of barbarism.
In fact, the situation of the servants in every respect,
particularly that of the women, shows how far the Swedes are from
having a just conception of rational equality. They are not termed
slaves; yet a man may strike a man with impunity because he pays him
wages, though these wages are so low that necessity must teach them
to pilfer, whilst servility renders them false and boorish. Still
the men stand up for the dignity of man by oppressing the women.
The most menial, and even laborious offices, are therefore left to
these poor drudges. Much of this I have seen. In the winter, I am
told, they take the linen down to the river to wash it in the cold
water, and though their hands, cut by the ice, are cracked and
bleeding, the men, their fellow-servants, will not disgrace their
manhood by carrying a tub to lighten their burden.
You will not be surprised to hear that they do not wear shoes or
stockings, when I inform you that their wages are seldom more than
twenty or thirty shillings per annum. It is the custom, I know, to
give them a new year's gift and a present at some other period, but
can it all amount to a just indemnity for their labour? The
treatment of servants in most countries, I grant, is very unjust,
and in England, that boasted land of freedom, it is often extremely
tyrannical. I have frequently, with indignation, heard gentlemen
declare that they would never allow a servant to answer them; and
ladies of the most exquisite sensibility, who were continually
exclaiming against the cruelty of the vulgar to the brute creation,
have in my presence forgot that their attendants had human feelings
as well as forms. I do not know a more agreeable sight than to see
servants part of a family. By taking an interest, generally
speaking, in their concerns you inspire them with one for yours. We
must love our servants, or we shall never be sufficiently attentive
to their happiness; and how can those masters be attentive to their
happiness who, living above their fortunes, are more anxious to
outshine their neighbours than to allow their household the innocent
enjoyments they earn?
It is, in fact, much more difficult for servants, who are tantalised
by seeing and preparing the dainties of which they are not to
partake, to remain honest, than the poor, whose thoughts are not led
from their homely fare; so that, though the servants here are
commonly thieves, you seldom hear of housebreaking, or robbery on
the highway. The country is, perhaps, too thinly inhabited to
produce many of that description of thieves termed footpads, or
highwaymen. They are usually the spawn of great cities--the effect
of the spurious desires generated by wealth, rather than the
desperate struggles of poverty to escape from misery.
The enjoyment of the peasantry was drinking brandy and coffee,
before the latter was prohibited, and the former not allowed to be
privately distilled, the wars carried on by the late king rendering
it necessary to increase the revenue, and retain the specie in the
country by every possible means.
The taxes before the reign of Charles XII. were inconsiderable.
Since then the burden has continually been growing heavier, and the
price of provisions has proportionately increased--nay, the
advantage accruing from the exportation of corn to France and rye to
Germany will probably produce a scarcity in both Sweden and Norway,
should not a peace put a stop to it this autumn, for speculations of
various kinds have already almost doubled the price.
Such are the effects of war, that it saps the vitals even of the
neutral countries, who, obtaining a sudden influx of wealth, appear
to be rendered flourishing by the destruction which ravages the
hapless nations who are sacrificed to the ambition of their
governors. I shall not, however, dwell on the vices, though they be
of the most contemptible and embruting cast, to which a sudden
accession of fortune gives birth, because I believe it may be
delivered as an axiom, that it is only in proportion to the industry
necessary to acquire wealth that a nation is really benefited by it.
The prohibition of drinking coffee under a penalty, and the
encouragement given to public distilleries, tend to impoverish the
poor, who are not affected by the sumptuary laws; for the regent has
lately laid very severe restraints on the articles of dress, which
the middling class of people found grievous, because it obliged them
to throw aside finery that might have lasted them for their lives.
These may be termed vexatious; still the death of the king, by
saving them from the consequences his ambition would naturally have
entailed on them, may be reckoned a blessing.
Besides, the French Revolution has not only rendered all the crowned
heads more cautious, but has so decreased everywhere (excepting
amongst themselves) a respect for nobility, that the peasantry have
not only lost their blind reverence for their seigniors, but
complain in a manly style of oppressions which before they did not
think of denominating such, because they were taught to consider
themselves as a different order of beings. And, perhaps, the
efforts which the aristocrats are making here, as well as in every
other part of Europe, to secure their sway, will be the most
effectual mode of undermining it, taking into the calculation that
the King of Sweden, like most of the potentates of Europe, has
continually been augmenting his power by encroaching on the
privileges of the nobles.
The well-bred Swedes of the capital are formed on the ancient French
model, and they in general speak that language; for they have a
knack at acquiring languages with tolerable fluency. This may be
reckoned an advantage in some respects; but it prevents the
cultivation of their own, and any considerable advance in literary
A sensible writer has lately observed (I have not his work by me,
therefore cannot quote his exact words), "That the Americans very
wisely let the Europeans make their books and fashions for them."
But I cannot coincide with him in this opinion. The reflection
necessary to produce a certain number even of tolerable productions
augments more than he is aware of the mass of knowledge in the
community. Desultory reading is commonly a mere pastime. But we
must have an object to refer our reflections to, or they will seldom
go below the surface. As in travelling, the keeping of a journal
excites to many useful inquiries that would not have been thought of
had the traveller only determined to see all he could see, without
ever asking himself for what purpose. Besides, the very dabbling in
literature furnishes harmless topics of conversation; for the not
having such subjects at hand, though they are often insupportably
fatiguing, renders the inhabitants of little towns prying and
censorious. Idleness, rather than ill-nature, gives birth to
scandal, and to the observation of little incidents which narrows
the mind. It is frequently only the fear of being talked of which
produces that puerile scrupulosity about trifles incompatible with
an enlarged plan of usefulness, and with the basis of all moral
principles--respect for the virtues which are not merely the virtues
I am, my friend, more and more convinced that a metropolis, or an
abode absolutely solitary, is the best calculated for the
improvement of the heart, as well as the understanding; whether we
desire to become acquainted with man, nature, or ourselves. Mixing
with mankind, we are obliged to examine our prejudices, and often
imperceptibly lose, as we analyse them. And in the country, growing
intimate with nature, a thousand little circumstances, unseen by
vulgar eyes, give birth to sentiments dear to the imagination, and
inquiries which expand the soul, particularly when cultivation has
not smoothed into insipidity all its originality of character.
I love the country, yet whenever I see a picturesque situation
chosen on which to erect a dwelling I am always afraid of the
improvements. It requires uncommon taste to form a whole, and to
introduce accommodations and ornaments analogous with the
It visited, near Gothenburg, a house with improved land about it,
with which I was particularly delighted. It was close to a lake
embosomed in pine-clad rocks. In one part of the meadows your eye
was directed to the broad expanse, in another you were led into a
shade, to see a part of it, in the form of a river, rush amongst the
fragments of rocks and roots of trees; nothing seemed forced. One
recess, particularly grand and solemn amongst the towering cliffs,
had a rude stone table and seat placed in it, that might have served
for a Druid's haunt, whilst a placid stream below enlivened the
flowers on its margin, where light-footed elves would gladly have
danced their airy rounds.
Here the hand of taste was conspicuous though not obtrusive, and
formed a contrast with another abode in the same neighbourhood, on
which much money had been lavished; where Italian colonnades were
placed to excite the wonder of the rude crags, and a stone
staircase, to threaten with destruction a wooden house. Venuses and
Apollos condemned to lie hid in snow three parts of the year seemed
equally displaced, and called the attention off from the surrounding
sublimity, without inspiring any voluptuous sensations. Yet even
these abortions of vanity have been useful. Numberless workmen have
been employed, and the superintending artist has improved the
labourers, whose unskilfulness tormented him, by obliging them to
submit to the discipline of rules. Adieu!
The severity of the long Swedish winter tends to render the people
sluggish, for though this season has its peculiar pleasures, too
much time is employed to guard against its inclemency. Still as
warm clothing is absolutely necessary, the women spin and the men
weave, and by these exertions get a fence to keep out the cold. I
have rarely passed a knot of cottages without seeing cloth laid out
to bleach, and when I entered, always found the women spinning or
A mistaken tenderness, however, for their children, makes them even
in summer load them with flannels, and having a sort of natural
antipathy to cold water, the squalid appearance of the poor babes,
not to speak of the noxious smell which flannel and rugs retain,
seems a reply to a question I had often asked--Why I did not see
more children in the villages I passed through? Indeed the children
appear to be nipt in the bud, having neither the graces nor charms
of their age. And this, I am persuaded, is much more owing to the
ignorance of the mothers than to the rudeness of the climate.
Rendered feeble by the continual perspiration they are kept in,
whilst every pore is absorbing unwholesome moisture, they give them,
even at the breast, brandy, salt fish, and every other crude
substance which air and exercise enables the parent to digest.
The women of fortune here, as well as everywhere else, have nurses
to suckle their children; and the total want of chastity in the
lower class of women frequently renders them very unfit for the
You have sometimes remarked to me the difference of the manners of
the country girls in England and in America; attributing the reserve
of the former to the climate--to the absence of genial suns. But it
must be their stars, not the zephyrs, gently stealing on their
senses, which here lead frail women astray. Who can look at these
rocks, and allow the voluptuousness of nature to be an excuse for
gratifying the desires it inspires? We must therefore, find some
other cause beside voluptuousness, I believe, to account for the
conduct of the Swedish and American country girls; for I am led to
conclude, from all the observations I have made, that there is
always a mixture of sentiment and imagination in voluptuousness, to
which neither of them have much pretension.
The country girls of Ireland and Wales equally feel the first
impulse of nature, which, restrained in England by fear or delicacy,
proves that society is there in a more advanced state. Besides, as
the mind is cultivated, and taste gains ground, the passions become
stronger, and rest on something more stable than the casual
sympathies of the moment. Health and idleness will always account
for promiscuous amours; and in some degree I term every person idle,
the exercise of whose mind does not bear some proportion to that of
The Swedish ladies exercise neither sufficiently; of course, grow
very fat at an early age; and when they have not this downy
appearance, a comfortable idea, you will say, in a cold climate,
they are not remarkable for fine forms. They have, however, mostly
fine complexions; but indolence makes the lily soon displace the
rose. The quantity of coffee, spices, and other things of that
kind, with want of care, almost universally spoil their teeth, which
contrast but ill with their ruby lips.
The manners of Stockholm are refined, I hear, by the introduction of
gallantry; but in the country, romping and coarse freedoms, with
coarser allusions, keep the spirits awake. In the article of
cleanliness, the women of all descriptions seem very deficient; and
their dress shows that vanity is more inherent in women than taste.
The men appear to have paid still less court to the graces. They
are a robust, healthy race, distinguished for their common sense and
turn for humour, rather than for wit or sentiment. I include not,
as you may suppose, in this general character, some of the nobility
and officers, who having travelled, are polite and well informed.
I must own to you that the lower class of people here amuse and
interest me much more than the middling, with their apish good
breeding and prejudices. The sympathy and frankness of heart
conspicuous in the peasantry produces even a simple gracefulness of
deportment which has frequently struck me as very picturesque; I
have often also been touched by their extreme desire to oblige me,
when I could not explain my wants, and by their earnest manner of
expressing that desire. There is such a charm in tenderness! It is
so delightful to love our fellow-creatures, and meet the honest
affections as they break forth. Still, my good friend, I begin to
think that I should not like to live continually in the country with
people whose minds have such a narrow range. My heart would
frequently be interested; but my mind would languish for more
The beauties of nature appear to me now even more alluring than in
my youth, because my intercourse with the world has formed without
vitiating my taste. But, with respect to the inhabitants of the
country, my fancy has probably, when disgusted with artificial
manners, solaced itself by joining the advantages of cultivation
with the interesting sincerity of innocence, forgetting the
lassitude that ignorance will naturally produce. I like to see
animals sporting, and sympathise in their pains and pleasures.
Still I love sometimes to view the human face divine, and trace the
soul, as well as the heart, in its varying lineaments.
A journey to the country, which I must shortly make, will enable me
to extend my remarks.--Adieu!
Had I determined to travel in Sweden merely for pleasure, I should
probably have chosen the road to Stockholm, though convinced, by
repeated observation, that the manners of a people are best
discriminated in the country. The inhabitants of the capital are
all of the same genus; for the varieties in the species we must,
therefore, search where the habitations of men are so separated as
to allow the difference of climate to have its natural effect. And
with this difference we are, perhaps, most forcibly struck at the
first view, just as we form an estimate of the leading traits of a
character at the first glance, of which intimacy afterwards makes us
almost lose sight.
As my affairs called me to Stromstad (the frontier town of Sweden)
in my way to Norway, I was to pass over, I heard, the most
uncultivated part of the country. Still I believe that the grand
features of Sweden are the same everywhere, and it is only the grand
features that admit of description. There is an individuality in
every prospect, which remains in the memory as forcibly depicted as
the particular features that have arrested our attention; yet we
cannot find words to discriminate that individuality so as to enable
a stranger to say, this is the face, that the view. We may amuse by
setting the imagination to work; but we cannot store the memory with
As I wish to give you a general idea of this country, I shall
continue in my desultory manner to make such observations and
reflections as the circumstances draw forth, without losing time, by
endeavouring to arrange them.
Travelling in Sweden is very cheap, and even commodious, if you make
but the proper arrangements. Here, as in other parts of the
Continent, it is necessary to have your own carriage, and to have a
servant who can speak the language, if you are unacquainted with it.
Sometimes a servant who can drive would be found very useful, which
was our case, for I travelled in company with two gentlemen, one of
whom had a German servant who drove very well. This was all the
party; for not intending to make a long stay, I left my little girl
As the roads are not much frequented, to avoid waiting three or four
hours for horses, we sent, as is the constant custom, an avant
courier the night before, to order them at every post, and we
constantly found them ready. Our first set I jokingly termed
requisition horses; but afterwards we had almost always little
spirited animals that went on at a round pace.
The roads, making allowance for the ups and downs, are uncommonly
good and pleasant. The expense, including the postillions and other
incidental things, does not amount to more than a shilling the
The inns are tolerable; but not liking the rye bread, I found it
necessary to furnish myself with some wheaten before I set out. The
beds, too, were particularly disagreeable to me. It seemed to me
that I was sinking into a grave when I entered them; for, immersed
in down placed in a sort of box, I expected to be suffocated before
morning. The sleeping between two down beds--they do so even in
summer--must be very unwholesome during any season; and I cannot
conceive how the people can bear it, especially as the summers are
very warm. But warmth they seem not to feel; and, I should think,
were afraid of the air, by always keeping their windows shut. In
the winter, I am persuaded, I could not exist in rooms thus closed
up, with stoves heated in their manner, for they only put wood into
them twice a day; and, when the stove is thoroughly heated, they
shut the flue, not admitting any air to renew its elasticity, even
when the rooms are crowded with company. These stoves are made of
earthenware, and often in a form that ornaments an apartment, which
is never the case with the heavy iron ones I have seen elsewhere.
Stoves may be economical, but I like a fire, a wood one, in
preference; and I am convinced that the current of air which it
attracts renders this the best mode of warming rooms.
We arrived early the second evening at a little village called
Quistram, where we had determined to pass the night, having been
informed that we should not afterwards find a tolerable inn until we
Advancing towards Quistram, as the sun was beginning to decline, I
was particularly impressed by the beauty of the situation. The road
was on the declivity of a rocky mountain, slightly covered with a
mossy herbage and vagrant firs. At the bottom, a river, straggling
amongst the recesses of stone, was hastening forward to the ocean
and its grey rocks, of which we had a prospect on the left; whilst
on the right it stole peacefully forward into the meadows, losing
itself in a thickly-wooded rising ground. As we drew near, the
loveliest banks of wild flowers variegated the prospect, and
promised to exhale odours to add to the sweetness of the air, the
purity of which you could almost see, alas! not smell, for the
putrefying herrings, which they use as manure, after the oil has
been extracted, spread over the patches of earth, claimed by
cultivation, destroyed every other.
It was intolerable, and entered with us into the inn, which was in
other respects a charming retreat.
Whilst supper was preparing I crossed the bridge, and strolled by
the river, listening to its murmurs. Approaching the bank, the
beauty of which had attracted my attention in the carriage, I
recognised many of my old acquaintance growing with great
Seated on it, I could not avoid noting an obvious remark. Sweden
appeared to me the country in the world most proper to form the
botanist and natural historian; every object seemed to remind me of
the creation of things, of the first efforts of sportive nature.
When a country arrives at a certain state of perfection, it looks as
if it were made so; and curiosity is not excited. Besides, in
social life too many objects occur for any to be distinctly observed
by the generality of mankind; yet a contemplative man, or poet, in
the country--I do not mean the country adjacent to cities--feels and
sees what would escape vulgar eyes, and draws suitable inferences.
This train of reflections might have led me further, in every sense
of the word; but I could not escape from the detestable evaporation
of the herrings, which poisoned all my pleasure.
After making a tolerable supper--for it is not easy to get fresh
provisions on the road--I retired, to be lulled to sleep by the
murmuring of a stream, of which I with great difficulty obtained
sufficient to perform my daily ablutions.
The last battle between the Danes and Swedes, which gave new life to
their ancient enmity, was fought at this place 1788; only seventeen
or eighteen were killed, for the great superiority of the Danes and
Norwegians obliged the Swedes to submit; but sickness, and a
scarcity of provision, proved very fatal to their opponents on their
It would be very easy to search for the particulars of this
engagement in the publications of the day; but as this manner of
filling my pages does not come within my plan, I probably should not
have remarked that the battle was fought here, were it not to relate
an anecdote which I had from good authority.
I noticed, when I first mentioned this place to you, that we
descended a steep before we came to the inn; an immense ridge of
rocks stretching out on one side. The inn was sheltered under them;
and about a hundred yards from it was a bridge that crossed the
river, the murmurs of which I have celebrated; it was not fordable.
The Swedish general received orders to stop at the bridge and
dispute the passage--a most advantageous post for an army so much
inferior in force; but the influence of beauty is not confined to
courts. The mistress of the inn was handsome; when I saw her there
were still some remains of beauty; and, to preserve her house, the
general gave up the only tenable station. He was afterwards broke
for contempt of orders.
Approaching the frontiers, consequently the sea, nature resumed an
aspect ruder and ruder, or rather seemed the bones of the world
waiting to be clothed with everything necessary to give life and
beauty. Still it was sublime.
The clouds caught their hue of the rocks that menaced them. The sun
appeared afraid to shine, the birds ceased to sing, and the flowers
to bloom; but the eagle fixed his nest high amongst the rocks, and
the vulture hovered over this abode of desolation. The farm houses,
in which only poverty resided, were formed of logs scarcely keeping
off the cold and drifting snow: out of them the inhabitants seldom
peeped, and the sports or prattling of children was neither seen or
heard. The current of life seemed congealed at the source: all
were not frozen, for it was summer, you remember; but everything
appeared so dull that I waited to see ice, in order to reconcile me
to the absence of gaiety.
The day before, my attention had frequently been attracted by the
wild beauties of the country we passed through.
The rocks which tossed their fantastic heads so high were often
covered with pines and firs, varied in the most picturesque manner.
Little woods filled up the recesses when forests did not darken the
scene, and valleys and glens, cleared of the trees, displayed a
dazzling verdure which contrasted with the gloom of the shading
pines. The eye stole into many a covert where tranquillity seemed
to have taken up her abode, and the number of little lakes that
continually presented themselves added to the peaceful composure of
the scenery. The little cultivation which appeared did not break
the enchantment, nor did castles rear their turrets aloft to crush
the cottages, and prove that man is more savage than the natives of
the woods. I heard of the bears but never saw them stalk forth,
which I was sorry for; I wished to have seen one in its wild state.
In the winter, I am told, they sometimes catch a stray cow, which is
a heavy loss to the owner.
The farms are small. Indeed most of the houses we saw on the road
indicated poverty, or rather that the people could just live.
Towards the frontiers they grew worse and worse in their appearance,
as if not willing to put sterility itself out of countenance. No
gardens smiled round the habitations, not a potato or cabbage to eat
with the fish drying on a stick near the door. A little grain here
and there appeared, the long stalks of which you might almost
reckon. The day was gloomy when we passed over this rejected spot,
the wind bleak, and winter seemed to be contending with nature,
faintly struggling to change the season. Surely, thought I, if the
sun ever shines here it cannot warm these stones; moss only cleaves
to them, partaking of their hardness, and nothing like vegetable
life appears to cheer with hope the heart.
So far from thinking that the primitive inhabitants of the world
lived in a southern climate where Paradise spontaneously arose, I am
led to infer, from various circumstances, that the first dwelling of
man happened to be a spot like this which led him to adore a sun so
seldom seen; for this worship, which probably preceded that of
demons or demigods, certainly never began in a southern climate,
where the continual presence of the sun prevented its being
considered as a good; or rather the want of it never being felt,
this glorious luminary would carelessly have diffused its blessings
without being hailed as a benefactor. Man must therefore have been
placed in the north, to tempt him to run after the sun, in order
that the different parts of the earth might be peopled. Nor do I
wonder that hordes of barbarians always poured out of these regions
to seek for milder climes, when nothing like cultivation attached
them to the soil, especially when we take into the view that the
adventuring spirit, common to man, is naturally stronger and more
general during the infancy of society. The conduct of the followers
of Mahomet, and the crusaders, will sufficiently corroborate my
Approaching nearer to Stromstad, the appearance of the town proved
to be quite in character with the country we had just passed
through. I hesitated to use the word country, yet could not find
another; still it would sound absurd to talk of fields of rocks.
The town was built on and under them. Three or four weather-beaten
trees were shrinking from the wind, and the grass grew so sparingly
that I could not avoid thinking Dr. Johnson's hyperbolical assertion
"that the man merited well of his country who made a few blades of
grass grow where they never grew before," might here have been
uttered with strict propriety. The steeple likewise towered aloft,
for what is a church, even amongst the Lutherans, without a steeple?
But to prevent mischief in such an exposed situation, it is wisely
placed on a rock at some distance not to endanger the roof of the
Rambling about, I saw the door open, and entered, when to my great
surprise I found the clergyman reading prayers, with only the clerk
attending. I instantly thought of Swift's "Dearly beloved Roger,"
but on inquiry I learnt that some one had died that morning, and in
Sweden it is customary to pray for the dead.
The sun, who I suspected never dared to shine, began now to convince
me that he came forth only to torment; for though the wind was still
cutting, the rocks became intolerably warm under my feet, whilst the
herring effluvia, which I before found so very offensive, once more
assailed me. I hastened back to the house of a merchant, the little
sovereign of the place, because he was by far the richest, though
not the mayor.
Here we were most hospitably received, and introduced to a very fine
and numerous family. I have before mentioned to you the lilies of
the north, I might have added, water lilies, for the complexion of
many, even of the young women, seem to be bleached on the bosom of
snow. But in this youthful circle the roses bloomed with all their
wonted freshness, and I wondered from whence the fire was stolen
which sparkled in their fine blue eyes.
Here we slept; and I rose early in the morning to prepare for my
little voyage to Norway. I had determined to go by water, and was
to leave my companions behind; but not getting a boat immediately,
and the wind being high and unfavourable, I was told that it was not
safe to go to sea during such boisterous weather; I was, therefore,
obliged to wait for the morrow, and had the present day on my hands,
which I feared would be irksome, because the family, who possessed
about a dozen French words amongst them and not an English phrase,
were anxious to amuse me, and would not let me remain alone in my
room. The town we had already walked round and round, and if we
advanced farther on the coast, it was still to view the same
unvaried immensity of water surrounded by barrenness.
The gentlemen, wishing to peep into Norway, proposed going to
Fredericshall, the first town--the distance was only three Swedish
miles. There and back again was but a day's journey, and would not,
I thought, interfere with my voyage. I agreed, and invited the
eldest and prettiest of the girls to accompany us. I invited her
because I like to see a beautiful face animated by pleasure, and to
have an opportunity of regarding the country, whilst the gentlemen
were amusing themselves with her.
I did not know, for I had not thought of it, that we were to scale
some of the most mountainous cliffs of Sweden in our way to the
ferry which separates the two countries.
Entering amongst the cliffs, we were sheltered from the wind, warm
sunbeams began to play, streams to flow, and groves of pines
diversified the rocks. Sometimes they became suddenly bare and
sublime. Once, in particular, after mounting the most terrific
precipice, we had to pass through a tremendous defile, where the
closing chasm seemed to threaten us with instant destruction, when,
turning quickly, verdant meadows and a beautiful lake relieved and
charmed my eyes.
I had never travelled through Switzerland, but one of my companions
assured me that I should not there find anything superior, if equal,
to the wild grandeur of these views.
As we had not taken this excursion into our plan, the horses had not
been previously ordered, which obliged us to wait two hours at the
first post. The day was wearing away. The road was so bad that
walking up the precipices consumed the time insensibly; but as we
desired horses at each post ready at a certain hour, we reckoned on
returning more speedily.
We stopped to dine at a tolerable farm; they brought us out ham,
butter, cheese, and milk, and the charge was so moderate that I
scattered a little money amongst the children who were peeping at
us, in order to pay them for their trouble.
Arrived at the ferry, we were still detained, for the people who
attend at the ferries have a stupid kind of sluggishness in their
manner, which is very provoking when you are in haste. At present I
did not feel it, for, scrambling up the cliffs, my eye followed the
river as it rolled between the grand rocky banks; and, to complete
the scenery, they were covered with firs and pines, through which
the wind rustled as if it were lulling itself to sleep with the
Behold us now in Norway; and I could not avoid feeling surprise at
observing the difference in the manners of the inhabitants of the
two sides of the river, for everything shows that the Norwegians are
more industrious and more opulent. The Swedes (for neighbours are
seldom the best friends) accuse the Norwegians of knavery, and they
retaliate by bringing a charge of hypocrisy against the Swedes.
Local circumstances probably render both unjust, speaking from their
feelings rather than reason; and is this astonishing when we
consider that most writers of travels have done the same, whose
works have served as materials for the compilers of universal
histories? All are eager to give a national character, which is
rarely just, because they do not discriminate the natural from the
acquired difference. The natural, I believe, on due consideration,
will be found to consist merely in the degree of vivacity, or
thoughtfulness, pleasures or pain, inspired by the climate, whilst
the varieties which the forms of government, including religion,
produce are much more numerous and unstable.
A people have been characterised as stupid by nature; what a
paradox! because they did not consider that slaves, having no object
to stimulate industry; have not their faculties sharpened by the
only thing that can exercise them, self-interest. Others have been
brought forward as brutes, having no aptitude for the arts and
sciences, only because the progress of improvement had not reached
that stage which produces them.
Those writers who have considered the history of man, or of the
human mind, on a more enlarged scale have fallen into similar
errors, not reflecting that the passions are weak where the
necessaries of life are too hardly or too easily obtained.
Travellers who require that every nation should resemble their
native country, had better stay at home. It is, for example, absurd
to blame a people for not having that degree of personal cleanliness
and elegance of manners which only refinement of taste produces, and
will produce everywhere in proportion as society attains a general
polish. The most essential service, I presume, that authors could
render to society, would be to promote inquiry and discussion,
instead of making those dogmatical assertions which only appear
calculated to gird the human mind round with imaginary circles, like
the paper globe which represents the one he inhabits.
This spirit of inquiry is the characteristic of the present century,
from which the succeeding will, I am persuaded, receive a great
accumulation of knowledge; and doubtless its diffusion will in a
great measure destroy the factitious national characters which have
been supposed permanent, though only rendered so by the permanency
Arriving at Fredericshall, at the siege of which Charles XII. lost
his life, we had only time to take a transient view of it whilst
they were preparing us some refreshment.
Poor Charles! I thought of him with respect. I have always felt
the same for Alexander, with whom he has been classed as a madman by
several writers, who have reasoned superficially, confounding the
morals of the day with the few grand principles on which
unchangeable morality rests. Making no allowance for the ignorance
and prejudices of the period, they do not perceive how much they
themselves are indebted to general improvement for the acquirements,
and even the virtues, which they would not have had the force of
mind to attain by their individual exertions in a less advanced
state of society.
The evening was fine, as is usual at this season, and the refreshing
odour of the pine woods became more perceptible, for it was nine
o'clock when we left Fredericshall. At the ferry we were detained
by a dispute relative to our Swedish passport, which we did not
think of getting countersigned in Norway. Midnight was coming on,
yet it might with such propriety have been termed the noon of night
that, had Young ever travelled towards the north, I should not have
wondered at his becoming enamoured of the moon. But it is not the
Queen of Night alone who reigns here in all her splendour, though
the sun, loitering just below the horizon, decks her within a golden
tinge from his car, illuminating the cliffs that hide him; the
heavens also, of a clear softened blue, throw her forward, and the
evening star appears a smaller moon to the naked eye. The huge
shadows of the rocks, fringed with firs, concentrating the views
without darkening them, excited that tender melancholy which,
sublimating the imagination, exalts rather than depresses the mind.
My companions fell asleep--fortunately they did not snore; and I
contemplated, fearless of idle questions, a night such as I had
never before seen or felt, to charm the senses, and calm the heart.
The very air was balmy as it freshened into morn, producing the most
voluptuous sensations. A vague pleasurable sentiment absorbed me,
as I opened my bosom to the embraces of nature; and my soul rose to
its Author, with the chirping of the solitary birds, which began to
feel, rather than see, advancing day. I had leisure to mark its
progress. The grey morn, streaked with silvery rays, ushered in the
orient beams (how beautifully varying into purple!), yet I was sorry
to lose the soft watery clouds which preceded them, exciting a kind
of expectation that made me almost afraid to breathe, lest I should
break the charm. I saw the sun--and sighed.
One of my companions, now awake, perceiving that the postillion had
mistaken the road, began to swear at him, and roused the other two,
who reluctantly shook off sleep.
We had immediately to measure back our steps, and did not reach
Stromstad before five in the morning.
The wind had changed in the night, and my boat was ready.
A dish of coffee, and fresh linen, recruited my spirits, and I
directly set out again for Norway, purposing to land much higher up
Wrapping my great-coat round me, I lay down on some sails at the
bottom of the boat, its motion rocking me to rest, till a
discourteous wave interrupted my slumbers, and obliged me to rise
and feel a solitariness which was not so soothing as that of the
The sea was boisterous, but, as I had an experienced pilot, I did
not apprehend any danger. Sometimes, I was told, boats are driven
far out and lost. However, I seldom calculate chances so nicely--
sufficient for the day is the obvious evil!
We had to steer amongst islands and huge rocks, rarely losing sight
of the shore, though it now and then appeared only a mist that
bordered the water's edge. The pilot assured me that the numerous
harbours on the Norway coast were very safe, and the pilot-boats
were always on the watch. The Swedish side is very dangerous, I am
also informed; and the help of experience is not often at hand to
enable strange vessels to steer clear of the rocks, which lurk below
the water close to the shore.
There are no tides here, nor in the Cattegate, and, what appeared to
me a consequence, no sandy beach. Perhaps this observation has been
made before; but it did not occur to me till I saw the waves
continually beating against the bare rocks, without ever receding to
leave a sediment to harden.
The wind was fair, till we had to tack about in order to enter
Laurvig, where we arrived towards three o'clock in the afternoon.
It is a clean, pleasant town, with a considerable iron-work, which
gives life to it.
As the Norwegians do not frequently see travellers, they are very
curious to know their business, and who they are--so curious, that I
was half tempted to adopt Dr. Franklin's plan, when travelling in
America, where they are equally prying, which was to write on a
paper, for public inspection, my name, from whence I came, where I
was going, and what was my business. But if I were importuned by
their curiosity, their friendly gestures gratified me. A woman
coming alone interested them. And I know not whether my weariness
gave me a look of peculiar delicacy, but they approached to assist
me, and inquire after my wants, as if they were afraid to hurt, and
wished to protect me. The sympathy I inspired, thus dropping down
from the clouds in a strange land, affected me more than it would
have done had not my spirits been harassed by various causes--by
much thinking--musing almost to madness--and even by a sort of weak
melancholy that hung about my heart at parting with my daughter for
the first time.
You know that, as a female, I am particularly attached to her; I
feel more than a mother's fondness and anxiety when I reflect on the
dependent and oppressed state of her sex. I dread lest she should
be forced to sacrifice her heart to her principles, or principles to
her heart. With trembling hand I shall cultivate sensibility and
cherish delicacy of sentiment, lest, whilst I lend fresh blushes to
the rose, I sharpen the thorns that will wound the breast I would
fain guard; I dread to unfold her mind, lest it should render her
unfit for the world she is to inhabit. Hapless woman! what a fate
But whither am I wandering? I only meant to tell you that the
impression the kindness of the simple people made visible on my
countenance increased my sensibility to a painful degree. I wished
to have had a room to myself, for their attention, and rather
distressing observation, embarrassed me extremely. Yet, as they
would bring me eggs, and make my coffee, I found I could not leave
them without hurting their feelings of hospitality.
It is customary here for the host and hostess to welcome their
guests as master and mistress of the house.
My clothes, in their turn, attracted the attention of the females,
and I could not help thinking of the foolish vanity which makes many
women so proud of the observation of strangers as to take wonder
very gratuitously for admiration. This error they are very apt to
fall into when, arrived in a foreign country, the populace stare at
them as they pass. Yet the make of a cap or the singularity of a
gown is often the cause of the flattering attention which afterwards
supports a fantastic superstructure of self-conceit.
Not having brought a carriage over with me, expecting to have met a
person where I landed, who was immediately to have procured me one,
I was detained whilst the good people of the inn sent round to all
their acquaintance to search for a vehicle. A rude sort of cabriole
was at last found, and a driver half drunk, who was not less eager
to make a good bargain on that account. I had a Danish captain of a
ship and his mate with me; the former was to ride on horseback, at
which he was not very expert, and the latter to partake of my seat.
The driver mounted behind to guide the horses and flourish the whip
over our shoulders; he would not suffer the reins out of his own
hands. There was something so grotesque in our appearance that I
could not avoid shrinking into myself when I saw a gentleman-like
man in the group which crowded round the door to observe us. I
could have broken the driver's whip for cracking to call the women
and children together, but seeing a significant smile on the face, I
had before remarked, I burst into a laugh to allow him to do so too,
and away we flew. This is not a flourish of the pen, for we
actually went on full gallop a long time, the horses being very
good; indeed, I have never met with better, if so good, post-horses
as in Norway. They are of a stouter make than the English horses,
appear to be well fed, and are not easily tired.
I had to pass over, I was informed, the most fertile and best
cultivated tract of country in Norway. The distance was three
Norwegian miles, which are longer than the Swedish. The roads were
very good; the farmers are obliged to repair them; and we scampered
through a great extent of country in a more improved state than any
I had viewed since I left England. Still there was sufficient of
hills, dales, and rocks to prevent the idea of a plain from entering
the head, or even of such scenery as England and France afford. The
prospects were also embellished by water, rivers, and lakes before
the sea proudly claimed my regard, and the road running frequently
through lofty groves rendered the landscapes beautiful, though they
were not so romantic as those I had lately seen with such delight.
It was late when I reached Tonsberg, and I was glad to go to bed at
a decent inn. The next morning the 17th of July, conversing with
the gentleman with whom I had business to transact, I found that I
should be detained at Tonsberg three weeks, and I lamented that I
had not brought my child with me.
The inn was quiet, and my room so pleasant, commanding a view of the
sea, confined by an amphitheatre of hanging woods, that I wished to
remain there, though no one in the house could speak English or
French. The mayor, my friend, however, sent a young woman to me who
spoke a little English, and she agreed to call on me twice a day to
receive my orders and translate them to my hostess.
My not understanding the language was an excellent pretext for
dining alone, which I prevailed on them to let me do at a late hour,
for the early dinners in Sweden had entirely deranged my day. I
could not alter it there without disturbing the economy of a family
where I was as a visitor, necessity having forced me to accept of an
invitation from a private family, the lodgings were so incommodious.
Amongst the Norwegians I had the arrangement of my own time, and I
determined to regulate it in such a manner that I might enjoy as
much of their sweet summer as I possibly could; short, it is true,
but "passing sweet."
I never endured a winter in this rude clime, consequently it was not
the contrast, but the real beauty of the season which made the
present summer appear to me the finest I had ever seen. Sheltered
from the north and eastern winds, nothing can exceed the salubrity,
the soft freshness of the western gales. In the evening they also
die away; the aspen leaves tremble into stillness, and reposing
nature seems to be warmed by the moon, which here assumes a genial
aspect. And if a light shower has chanced to fall with the sun, the
juniper, the underwood of the forest, exhales a wild perfume, mixed
with a thousand nameless sweets that, soothing the heart, leave
images in the memory which the imagination will ever hold dear.
Nature is the nurse of sentiment, the true source of taste; yet what
misery, as well as rapture, is produced by a quick perception of the
beautiful and sublime when it is exercised in observing animated
nature, when every beauteous feeling and emotion excites responsive
sympathy, and the harmonised soul sinks into melancholy or rises to
ecstasy, just as the chords are touched, like the AEolian harp
agitated by the changing wind. But how dangerous is it to foster
these sentiments in such an imperfect state of existence, and how
difficult to eradicate them when an affection for mankind, a passion
for an individual, is but the unfolding of that love which embraces
all that is great and beautiful!
When a warm heart has received strong impressions, they are not to
be effaced. Emotions become sentiments, and the imagination renders
even transient sensations permanent by fondly retracing them. I
cannot, without a thrill of delight, recollect views I have seen,
which are not to be forgotten, nor looks I have felt in every nerve,
which I shall never more meet. The grave has closed over a dear
friend, the friend of my youth. Still she is present with me, and I
hear her soft voice warbling as I stray over the heath. Fate has
separated me from another, the fire of whose eyes, tempered by
infantine tenderness, still warms my breast; even when gazing on
these tremendous cliffs sublime emotions absorb my soul. And, smile
not, if I add that the rosy tint of morning reminds me of a
suffusion which will never more charm my senses, unless it reappears
on the cheeks of my child. Her sweet blushes I may yet hide in my
bosom, and she is still too young to ask why starts the tear so near
akin to pleasure and pain.
I cannot write any more at present. To-morrow we will talk of
Though the king of Denmark be an absolute monarch, yet the
Norwegians appear to enjoy all the blessings of freedom. Norway may
be termed a sister kingdom; but the people have no viceroy to lord
it over them, and fatten his dependants with the fruit of their
There are only two counts in the whole country who have estates, and
exact some feudal observances from their tenantry. All the rest of
the country is divided into small farms, which belong to the
cultivator. It is true some few, appertaining to the Church, are
let, but always on a lease for life, generally renewed in favour of
the eldest son, who has this advantage as well as a right to a
double portion of the property. But the value of the farm is
estimated, and after his portion is assigned to him he must be
answerable for the residue to the remaining part of the family.
Every farmer for ten years is obliged to attend annually about
twelve days to learn the military exercise, but it is always at a
small distance from his dwelling, and does not lead him into any new
habits of life.
There are about six thousand regulars also in garrison at
Christiania and Fredericshall, who are equally reserved, with the
militia, for the defence of their own country. So that when the
Prince Royal passed into Sweden in 1788, he was obliged to request,
not command, them to accompany him on this expedition.
These corps are mostly composed of the sons of the cottagers, who
being labourers on the farms, are allowed a few acres to cultivate
for themselves. These men voluntarily enlist, but it is only for a
limited period (six years), at the expiration of which they have the
liberty of retiring. The pay is only twopence a day and bread;
still, considering the cheapness of the country, it is more than
sixpence in England.
The distribution of landed property into small farms produces a
degree of equality which I have seldom seen elsewhere; and the rich
being all merchants, who are obliged to divide their personal
fortune amongst their children, the boys always receiving twice as
much as the girls, property has met a chance of accumulating till
overgrowing wealth destroys the balance of liberty.
You will be surprised to hear me talk of liberty; yet the Norwegians
appear to me to be the most free community I have ever observed.
The mayor of each town or district, and the judges in the country,
exercise an authority almost patriarchal. They can do much good,
but little harm,--as every individual can appeal from their
judgment; and as they may always be forced to give a reason for
their conduct, it is generally regulated by prudence. "They have
not time to learn to be tyrants," said a gentleman to me, with whom
I discussed the subject.
The farmers not fearing to be turned out of their farms, should they
displease a man in power, and having no vote to be commanded at an
election for a mock representative, are a manly race; for not being
obliged to submit to any debasing tenure in order to live, or
advance themselves in the world, they act with an independent
spirit. I never yet have heard of anything like domineering or
oppression, excepting such as has arisen from natural causes. The
freedom the people enjoy may, perhaps, render them a little
litigious, and subject them to the impositions of cunning
practitioners of the law; but the authority of office is bounded,
and the emoluments of it do not destroy its utility.
Last year a man who had abused his power was cashiered, on the
representation of the people to the bailiff of the district.
There are four in Norway who might with propriety be termed
sheriffs; and from their sentence an appeal, by either party, may be
made to Copenhagen.
Near most of the towns are commons, on which the cows of all the
inhabitants, indiscriminately, are allowed to graze. The poor, to
whom a cow is necessary, are almost supported by it. Besides, to
render living more easy, they all go out to fish in their own boats,
and fish is their principal food.
The lower class of people in the towns are in general sailors; and
the industrious have usually little ventures of their own that serve
to render the winter comfortable.
With respect to the country at large, the importation is
considerably in favour of Norway.
They are forbidden, at present, to export corn or rye on account of
the advanced price.
The restriction which most resembles the painful subordination of
Ireland, is that vessels, trading to the West Indies, are obliged to
pass by their own ports, and unload their cargoes at Copenhagen,
which they afterwards reship. The duty is indeed inconsiderable,
but the navigation being dangerous, they run a double risk.
There is an excise on all articles of consumption brought to the
towns; but the officers are not strict, and it would be reckoned
invidious to enter a house to search, as in England.
The Norwegians appear to me a sensible, shrewd people, with little
scientific knowledge, and still less taste for literature; but they
are arriving at the epoch which precedes the introduction of the
arts and sciences.
Most of the towns are seaports, and seaports are not favourable to
improvement. The captains acquire a little superficial knowledge by
travelling, which their indefatigable attention to the making of
money prevents their digesting; and the fortune that they thus
laboriously acquire is spent, as it usually is in towns of this
description, in show and good living. They love their country, but
have not much public spirit. Their exertions are, generally
speaking, only for their families, which, I conceive, will always be
the case, till politics, becoming a subject of discussion, enlarges
the heart by opening the understanding. The French Revolution will
have this effect. They sing, at present, with great glee, many
Republican songs, and seem earnestly to wish that the republic may
stand; yet they appear very much attached to their Prince Royal,
and, as far as rumour can give an idea of a character, he appears to
merit their attachment. When I am at Copenhagen, I shall be able to
ascertain on what foundation their good opinion is built; at present
I am only the echo of it.
In the year 1788 he travelled through Norway; and acts of mercy gave
dignity to the parade, and interest to the joy his presence
inspired. At this town he pardoned a girl condemned to die for
murdering an illegitimate child, a crime seldom committed in this
country. She is since married, and become the careful mother of a
family. This might be given as an instance, that a desperate act is
not always a proof of an incorrigible depravity of character, the
only plausible excuse that has been brought forward to justify the
infliction of capital punishments.
I will relate two or three other anecdotes to you, for the truth of
which I will not vouch because the facts were not of sufficient
consequence for me to take much pains to ascertain them; and, true
or false, they evince that the people like to make a kind of
mistress of their prince.
An officer, mortally wounded at the ill-advised battle of Quistram,
desired to speak with the prince; and with his dying breath,
earnestly recommended to his care a young woman of Christiania, to
whom he was engaged. When the prince returned there, a ball was
given by the chief inhabitants: he inquired whether this
unfortunate girl was invited, and requested that she might, though
of the second class. The girl came; she was pretty; and finding
herself among her superiors, bashfully sat down as near the door as
possible, nobody taking notice of her. Shortly after, the prince
entering, immediately inquired for her, and asked her to dance, to
the mortification of the rich dames. After it was over he handed
her to the top of the room, and placing himself by her, spoke of the
loss she had sustained, with tenderness, promising to provide for
anyone she should marry, as the story goes. She is since married,
and he has not forgotten his promise.
A little girl, during the same expedition, in Sweden, who informed
him that the logs of a bridge were out underneath, was taken by his
orders to Christiania, and put to school at his expense.
Before I retail other beneficial effects of his journey, it is
necessary to inform you that the laws here are mild, and do not
punish capitally for any crime but murder, which seldom occurs.
Every other offence merely subjects the delinquent to imprisonment
and labour in the castle, or rather arsenal at Christiania, and the
fortress at Fredericshall. The first and second conviction produces
a sentence for a limited number of years--two, three, five, or
seven, proportioned to the atrocity of the crime. After the third
he is whipped, branded in the forehead, and condemned to perpetual
slavery. This is the ordinary course of justice. For some flagrant
breaches of trust, or acts of wanton cruelty, criminals have been
condemned to slavery for life time first the of conviction, but not
frequently. The number of these slaves do not, I am informed,
amount to more than a hundred, which is not considerable, compared
with the population, upwards of eight hundred thousand. Should I
pass through Christiania, on my return to Gothenburg, I shall
probably have an opportunity of learning other particulars.
There is also a House of Correction at Christiania for trifling
misdemeanours, where the women are confined to labour and
imprisonment even for life. The state of the prisoners was
represented to the prince, in consequence of which he visited the
arsenal and House of Correction. The slaves at the arsenal were
loaded with irons of a great weight; he ordered them to be lightened
as much as possible.
The people in the House of Correction were commanded not to speak to
him; but four women, condemned to remain there for life, got into
the passage, and fell at his feet. He granted them a pardon; and
inquiring respecting the treatment of the prisoners, he was informed
that they were frequently whipped going in, and coming out, and for
any fault, at the discretion of the inspectors. This custom he
humanely abolished, though some of the principal inhabitants, whose
situation in life had raised them above the temptation of stealing,
were of opinion that these chastisements were necessary and
In short, everything seems to announce that the prince really
cherishes the laudable ambition of fulfilling the duties of his
station. This ambition is cherished and directed by the Count
Bernstorff, the Prime Minister of Denmark, who is universally
celebrated for his abilities and virtue. The happiness of the
people is a substantial eulogium; and, from all I can gather, the
inhabitants of Denmark and Norway are the least oppressed people of
Europe. The press is free. They translate any of the French
publications of the day, deliver their opinion on the subject, and
discuss those it leads to with great freedom, and without fearing to
displease the Government.
On the subject of religion they are likewise becoming tolerant, at
least, and perhaps have advanced a step further in free-thinking.
One writer has ventured to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, and to
question the necessity or utility of the Christian system, without
being considered universally as a monster, which would have been the
case a few years ago. They have translated many German works on
education; and though they have not adopted any of their plans, it
has become a subject of discussion. There are some grammar and free
schools; but, from what I hear, not very good ones. All the
children learn to read, write, and cast accounts, for the purposes
of common life. They have no university; and nothing that deserves
the name of science is taught; nor do individuals, by pursuing any
branch of knowledge, excite a degree of curiosity which is the
forerunner of improvement. Knowledge is not absolutely necessary to
enable a considerable portion of the community to live; and, till it
is, I fear it never becomes general.
In this country, where minerals abound, there is not one collection;
and, in all probability, I venture a conjecture, the want of
mechanical and chemical knowledge renders the silver mines
unproductive, for the quantity of silver obtained every year is not
sufficient to defray the expenses. It has been urged that the
employment of such a number of hands is very beneficial. But a
positive loss is never to be done away; and the men, thus employed,
would naturally find some other means of living, instead of being
thus a dead weight on Government, or rather on the community from
whom its revenue is drawn.
About three English miles from Tonsberg there is a salt work,
belonging, like all their establishments, to Government, in which
they employ above a hundred and fifty men, and maintain nearly five
hundred people, who earn their living. The clear profit, an
increasing one, amounts to two thousand pounds sterling. And as the
eldest son of the inspector, an ingenious young man, has been sent
by the Government to travel, and acquire some mathematical and
chemical knowledge in Germany, it has a chance of being improved.
He is the only person I have met with here who appears to have a
scientific turn of mind. I do not mean to assert that I have not
met with others who have a spirit of inquiry.
The salt-works at St. Ubes are basins in the sand, and the sun
produces the evaporation, but here there is no beach. Besides, the
heat of summer is so short-lived that it would be idle to contrive
machines for such an inconsiderable portion of the year. They
therefore always use fires; and the whole establishment appears to
be regulated with judgment.
The situation is well chosen and beautiful. I do not find, from the
observation of a person who has resided here for forty years, that
the sea advances or recedes on this coast.
I have already remarked that little attention is paid to education,
excepting reading, writing, and the rudiments of arithmetic; I ought
to have added that a catechism is carefully taught, and the children
obliged to read in the churches, before the congregation, to prove
that they are not neglected.
Degrees, to enable any one to practise any profession, must be taken
at Copenhagen; and the people of this country, having the good sense
to perceive that men who are to live in a community should at least
acquire the elements of their knowledge, and form their youthful
attachments there, are seriously endeavouring to establish a
university in Norway. And Tonsberg, as a central place in the best
part of the country, had the most suffrages, for, experiencing the
bad effects of a metropolis, they have determined not to have it in
or near Christiania. Should such an establishment take place, it
will promote inquiry throughout the country, and give a new face to
society. Premiums have been offered, and prize questions written,
which I am told have merit. The building college-halls, and other
appendages of the seat of science, might enable Tonsberg to recover
its pristine consequence, for it is one of the most ancient towns of
Norway, and once contained nine churches. At present there are only
two. One is a very old structure, and has a Gothic respectability
about it, which scarcely amounts to grandeur, because, to render a
Gothic pile grand, it must have a huge unwieldiness of appearance.
The chapel of Windsor may be an exception to this rule; I mean
before it was in its present nice, clean state. When I first saw
it, the pillars within had acquired, by time, a sombre hue, which
accorded with the architecture; and the gloom increased its
dimensions to the eye by hiding its parts; but now it all bursts on
the view at once, and the sublimity has vanished before the brush
and broom; for it has been white-washed and scraped till it has
become as bright and neat as the pots and pans in a notable house-
wife's kitchen--yes; the very spurs on the recumbent knights were
deprived of their venerable rust, to give a striking proof that a
love of order in trifles, and taste for proportion and arrangement,
are very distinct. The glare of light thus introduced entirely
destroys the sentiment these piles are calculated to inspire; so
that, when I heard something like a jig from the organ-loft, I
thought it an excellent hall for dancing or feasting. The measured
pace of thought with which I had entered the cathedral changed into
a trip; and I bounded on the terrace, to see the royal family, with
a number of ridiculous images in my head that I shall not now
The Norwegians are fond of music, and every little church has an
organ. In the church I have mentioned there is an inscription
importing that a king James VI. of Scotland and I. of England, who
came with more than princely gallantry to escort his bride home--
stood there, and heard divine service.
There is a little recess full of coffins, which contains bodies
embalmed long since--so long, that there is not even a tradition to
lead to a guess at their names.
A desire of preserving the body seems to have prevailed in most
countries of the world, futile as it is to term it a preservation,
when the noblest parts are immediately sacrificed merely to save the
muscles, skin, and bone from rottenness. When I was shown these
human petrifactions, I shrank back with disgust and horror. "Ashes
to ashes!" thought I--"Dust to dust!" If this be not dissolution,
it is something worse than natural decay--it is treason against
humanity, thus to lift up the awful veil which would fain hide its
weakness. The grandeur of the active principle is never more
strongly felt than at such a sight, for nothing is so ugly as the
human form when deprived of life, and thus dried into stone, merely
to preserve the most disgusting image of death. The contemplation
of noble ruins produces a melancholy that exalts the mind. We take
a retrospect of the exertions of man, the fate of empires and their
rulers, and marking the grand destruction of ages, it seems the
necessary change of the leading to improvement. Our very soul
expands, and we forget our littleness--how painfully brought to our
recollection by such vain attempts to snatch from decay what is
destined so soon to perish. Life, what art thou? Where goes this
breath?--this _I_, so much alive? In what element will it mix,
giving or receiving fresh energy? What will break the enchantment
of animation? For worlds I would not see a form I loved--embalmed
in my heart --thus sacrilegiously handled? Pugh! my stomach turns.
Is this all the distinction of the rich in the grave? They had
better quietly allow the scythe of equality to mow them down with
the common mass, than struggle to become a monument of the