English Social Reformer
A selection from
LETTERS ON SWEDEN, NORWAY, AND DENMARK
Narrated by Kate Reading
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running time is 12 minutes
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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. Tomorrow we will talk of
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