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Chapter 18


As a people, the Swedes are very hospitable, and particularly so toward foreigners. There is perhaps no country in Europe where travellers are treated with so much kindness and allowed so many social privileges. This is fortunate, as the conventionalities of the country are more rigid than the laws of the Medes and Persians. Nothing excites greater scandal than an infraction of the numberless little formalities with which the descendants of the honest, spontaneous, impulsive old Scandinavians have, somehow or other, allowed themselves to be fettered, and were not all possible allowance made for the stranger, he would have but a dismal time of it. Notwithstanding these habits have become a second nature, they are still a false nature, and give a painfully stiff and constrained air to society. The Swedes pride themselves on being the politest people in Europe. Voltaire called them the "Frenchmen of the North," and they are greatly flattered by the epithet. But how much better, to call themselves Swedes?--to preserve the fine, manly characteristics of their ancient stock, rather than imitate a people so alien to them in blood, in character, and in antecedents. Those meaningless social courtesies which sit well enough upon the gay, volatile, mercurial Frenchman, seem absurd affectations when practiced by the tall, grave, sedate Scandinavian. The intelligent Swedes feel this, but they are powerless to make headway against the influence of a court which was wholly French, even before Bernadotte's time. "We are a race of apes," said one of them to me bitterly. Gustavus III. was thoroughly French in his tastes, but the ruin of Swedish nationality in Stockholm was already commenced when he ascended the throne.

Stockholm manners, at present, are a curious mixture of English and French, the latter element, of course, being predominant. In costume, the gentlemen are English, with exaggeration. Nowhere are to be seen such enormously tall and stiff black chimney-pots (misnamed hats), nowhere such straight-cut overcoats, descending to the very heels. You might stick all the men you see into pasteboard cards, like a row of pins, so precisely are they clothed upon the same model. But when you meet one of these grim, funereal figures, he pulls off his hat with a politeness which is more than French; he keeps it off, perhaps, while he is speaking; you shake hands and accept his invitation to enter his house. After you are within, he greets you a second time with the same ceremonies, as if you had then first met; he says, "Tak for sist!" (equivalent to; "thank you for the pleasure of your company the last time we met!") and, after your visit is over, you part with equal formality. At dinner the guests stand gravely around the table with clasped hands, before sitting down. This is repeated on rising, after which they bow to each other and shake hands with the host and hostess. Formerly they used to say "I thank you for the meal," a custom still retained in Denmark and Norway. Not long ago the guests were obliged to make a subsequent visit of ceremony to thank the host for his entertainment, and he was obliged to invite them all to a second dinner, in consequence thereof; so that giving one dinner always involved giving two. Fortunately the obligation was cancelled by the second, or the visits and dinners might have gone on alternately, ad infinitum.

At dinners and evening parties, white gloves and white cravats are invariably worn, and generally white vests. The same custom is observed at funerals, even the drivers of the hearse and carriages being furnished with resplendent white gloves for the occasion. I have a horror of white cravats, and took advantage of the traveller's privilege to wear a black one. I never could understand why, in England, where the boundaries of caste are so distinctly marked, a gentleman's full dress should be his servant's livery. The chimney-pots are no protection to the head in raw or very cold weather, and it required no little courage in me to appear in fur or felt. "I wish I could wear such a comfortable hat," said a Swede to me; "but I dare not; you are a traveller, and it is permitted; but a Swede would lose his position in society, if he were to do so." Another gentleman informed me that his own sisters refused to appear in the streets with him, because he wore a cap. A former English Consul greatly shocked the people by carrying home his own marketing. A few gentlemen have independence enough to set aside, in their own houses, some of the more disagreeable features of this conventionalism, and the success of two or three, who held weekly soirees through the winter, on a more free and unrestrained plan, may in the end restore somewhat of naturalness and spontaneity to the society of Stockholm.

The continual taking off of your hat to everybody you know, is a great annoyance to many strangers. A lift of the hat, as in Germany, is not sufficient. You must remove it entirely, and hold it in the air a second or two before you replace it. King Oscar once said to an acquaintance of mine, who was commiserating him for being obliged to keep his hat off, the whole length of the Drottning-gatan, in a violent snow-storm: "You are quite right; it was exceedingly disagreeable, and I could not help wishing that instead of being king of Sweden, I were king of Thibet, where, according to Huc, the polite salutation is simply to stick out your tongue." The consideration extended to foreigners is, I am told, quite withdrawn after they become residents; so that, as an Englishman informed me, Stockholm is much more pleasant the first year than the second. The principle, on the whole, is about the same as governs English, and most American society, only in Sweden its tyranny is more severely felt, on account of the French imitations which have been engrafted upon it.

I do not wish to be understood as saying a word in censure of that genial courtesy which is characteristic of the Swedes, not less of the bonder, or country farmers, than of the nobility. They are by nature a courteous people, and if, throughout the country, something of the primness and formality of ancient manners has been preserved, it the rather serves to give a quaint and picturesque grace to society. The affectation of French manners applies principally to the capital, which, both in manners and morals, can by no means be taken as a standard for the whole country. The Swedes are neither licentious, nor extravagantly over-mannered: the Stockholmers are both. During the whole of our journey to Lapland, we were invariably treated with a courtesy which bordered on kindness, and had abundant opportunities of noticing the general amenity which exists in the intercourse even of the poorest classes. The only really rude people we saw, were travelling traders, especially those from the capital, who thought to add to their importance by a little swaggering.

I recollect hearing of but a single instance in which the usual world-wide rules of hospitality were grossly violated. This occurred to an English traveller, who spent some time in the interior of the country. While taking tea one evening with a prominent family of the province, he happened to make use of his thumb and fore-finger in helping himself to a lump of sugar. The mistress of the house immediately sent out the servant, who reappeared after a short time with another sugar-bowl, filled with fresh lumps. Noticing this, the traveller, in order to ascertain whether his harmless deviation from Swedish customs had really contaminated the whole sugar-bowl, sweetened his second cup in the same manner. The result was precisely the same: the servant was again sent out, and again returned with a fresh supply. The traveller, thereupon, coolly walked to the stove, opened the door, and threw in his cup, saucer, and tea-spoon, affecting to take it for granted that they never could be used again.

Speaking of King Oscar reminds me that I should not fail to say a word about this liberal and enlightened monarch. There is probably no king in Europe at present, who possesses such extensive acquirements, or is animated by a more genuine desire for the good of his kingdom. The slow progress which Sweden has made in introducing needful reforms is owing to the conservative spirit of the nobility and the priesthood, who possess half the legislative power. I do not believe there is a greater enemy to progress than an established church. Oscar is deservedly popular throughout Sweden, and I wish I could believe that his successor will exhibit equal intelligence and liberality. During my stay I saw all the members of the Royal Family frequently, and once had an informal self-presentation to the whole of them. I was descending the stairway of Kahn's Hotel one afternoon, when a tall, black-bearded, Frenchy gentleman coming up, brushed so close to me in the narrow passage that he received the full benefit of a cloud of smoke which I was ejaculating. It was the Crown Prince, as a servant whispered to me, but as my cigar was genuine Havana, and he is said to be a connoisseur of the article, there was no harm done. As I reached the street door a dragoon dashed up, preceding the carriages containing the Royal Family, who were coming to view Professor Enslen's panoramas. First, the Crown Princess, with her children; she bowed gracefully in answer to my greeting. The Princess Eugenia, a lady of twenty-seven, or thereabouts, with a thoroughly cheerful and amiable face, came next and nodded, smiling. With her was the Queen, a daughter of Eugene Beauharnais, a handsome woman for her years, with the dark hair and eyes of her grandmother, Josephine. King Oscar followed, at the head of a company of officers and nobles, among whom was his second son, Prince Oscar, the handsomest young man in Stockholm. He wore his Admiral's uniform, and made me a naval salute as he passed. The King is about medium height, with a symmetrical head, a bold, finely-cut nose, keen, intelligent eyes, and a heavy grey moustache. There was something gallant, dashing, and manly in his air, despite his fifty-seven years. He gave me the impression of an honest, energetic and thoroughly accomplished man; and this is the character he bears throughout Sweden, except with a small class, who charge him with being insincere, and too much under the influence of the Queen, against whom, however, they can find no charge, except that of her Catholicism.

I was sorry to notice, not only in Stockholm, but more or less throughout Sweden, a spirit of detraction in regard to everything Swedish. Whenever I mentioned with admiration the name of a distinguished Swede, I was almost always sure to hear, in return, some disparaging remark, or a story to his disadvantage. Yet, singularly enough, the Swedes are rather sensitive to foreign criticism, seeming to reserve for themselves the privilege of being censorious. No amount of renown, nor even the sanctity which death gives to genius, can prevent a certain class of them from exhibiting the vices and weaknesses of their countrymen. Much the severest things which I heard said about Sweden, were said by Swedes themselves, and I was frequently obliged to rely upon my own contrary impressions, to protect me from the chance of being persuaded to paint things worse than they really are.

Just before leaving Stockholm I made application, through the Hon. Mr. Schroeder, our Minister Resident, and Baron Lagerheim, for the privilege of an interview with the king. A few days previously, however, he had been attacked with that illness which has obliged him to withdraw from the labours of government, and was advised by his physicians to receive no one. He sent me a very kind message, with an invitation to renew my request as soon as his health should be restored. Gentlemen who had opportunities of knowing the fact, assured me that his health broke down under an accumulation of labour and anxiety, in his endeavours to bring the question of religious liberty before the Diet--a measure in which he had to contend with the united influence of the clergy, the House of Peasants, whom the clergy rule to a great extent, and a portion of the House of Nobles. It is not often that a king is in advance of the general sentiment of his people, and in losing the services of Oscar, I fear that Sweden has lost her best man. The Crown Prince, now Prince Regent, is said to be amiably weak in his character, rather reactionary in his views, and very ambitious of military glory. At least, that is the average of the various opinions which I heard expressed concerning him.

After speaking of the manners of Stockholm, I must not close this chapter without saying a few words about its morals. It has been called the most licentious city in Europe, and, I have no doubt, with the most perfect justice. Vienna may surpass it in the amount of conjugal infidelity, but certainly not in general incontinence. Very nearly half the registered births are illegitimate, to say nothing of the illegitimate children born in wedlock. Of the servant-girls, shop-girls, and seamstresses in the city, it is very safe to say that scarcely ten out of a hundred are chaste, while, as rakish young Swedes have coolly informed me, many girls of respectable parentage, belonging to the middle class, are not much better. The men, of course, are much worse than the women, and even in Paris one sees fewer physical signs of excessive debauchery. Here, the number of broken-down young men, and blear-eyed, hoary sinners, is astonishing. I have never been in any place where licentiousness was so open and avowed--and yet, where the slang of a sham morality was so prevalent. There are no houses of prostitution in Stockholm, and the city would be scandalised at the idea of allowing such a thing. A few years ago two were established and the fact was no sooner known than a virtuous mob arose and violently pulled them down! At the restaurants, young blades order their dinners of the female waiters, with an arm around their waists, while the old men place their hands unblushingly upon their bosoms. All the baths in Stockholm are attended by women (generally middle-aged and hideous, I must confess), who perform the usual scrubbing and shampooing with the greatest nonchalance. One does not wonder when he is told of young men who have passed safely through the ordeals of Berlin and Paris, and have come at last to Stockholm to be ruined.[B]

It is but fair to say that the Swedes account for the large proportion of illegitimate births, by stating that many unfortunate females come up from the country to hide their shame in the capital, which is no doubt true. Everything that I have said has been derived from residents of Stockholm, who, proud as they are, and sensitive, cannot conceal this glaring depravity. The population of Stockholm, as is proved by statistics, has only been increased during the last fifty years by immigration from the country, the number of deaths among the inhabitants exceeding the births by several hundreds every year. I was once speaking with a Swede about these facts, which he seemed inclined to doubt. "But," said I, "they are derived from your own statistics." "Well," he answered, with a naïve attempt to find some compensating good, "you must at least admit that the Swedish statistics are as exact as any in the world!"

Drunkenness is a leading vice among the Swedes, as we had daily evidence. Six years ago the consumption of brandy throughout the kingdom was nine gallons for every man, woman, and child annually; but it has decreased considerably since then, mainly through the manufacture of beer and porter. "Bajerskt öl" (Bavarian beer) is now to be had everywhere, and is rapidly becoming the favourite drink of the people. Sweden and the United States will in the end establish the fact that lager beer is more efficacious in preventing intemperance than any amount of prohibitory law. Brandy-drinking is still, nevertheless, one of the greatest curses of Sweden. It is no unusual thing to see boys of twelve or fourteen take their glass of fiery finkel before dinner. The celebrated Swedish punch, made of arrack, wine, and sugar, is a universal evening drink, and one of the most insidious ever invented, despite its agreeable flavor. There is a movement in favor of total abstinence, but it seems to have made but little progress, except as it is connected with some of the new religious ideas, which are now preached throughout the country.

I have rarely witnessed a sadder example of ruin, than one evening in a Stockholm café. A tall, distinguished-looking man of about forty, in an advanced state of drunkenness, was seated at a table opposite to us. He looked at me awhile, apparently endeavoring to keep hold of some thought with which his mind was occupied. Rising at last he staggered across the room, stood before me, and repeated the words of Bellman:

"Så vandra våra stora män' Från ljuset ned til skuggan."[C]

A wild, despairing laugh followed the lines, and he turned away, but came back again and again to repeat them. He was a nobleman of excellent family, a man of great intellectual attainments, who, a few years ago, was considered one of the most promising young men in Sweden. I saw him frequently afterwards, and always in the same condition, but he never accosted me again. The Swedes say the same thing of Bellman himself, and of Tegner, and many others, with how much justice I care not to know, for a man's faults are to be accounted for to God, and not to a gossiping public.


[B] The substance of the foregoing paragraph was contained in a letter published in The New-York Tribune during my travels in the North, and which was afterwards translated and commented upon by the Swedish papers. The latter charged me with having drawn too dark a picture and I therefore took some pains to test my statements, both by means of the Government statistics, and the views of my Swedish friends. I see no reason to change my first impression: had I accepted all that was told me by natives of the capital, I should have made the picture much darker. The question is simply whether there is much difference between the general adoption of illicit connections, or the existence of open prostitution. The latter is almost unknown; the former is almost universal, the supply being kept up by the miserable rates of wages paid to female servants and seamstresses. The former get, on an average, fifty rigsdaler ($13) per year, out of which they must clothe themselves: few of the latter can make one rigsdaler a day. These connections are also encouraged by the fact, that marriage legitimates all the children previously born. In fact, during the time of my visit to Stockholm, a measure was proposed in the House of Clergy, securing to bastards the same right of inheritance, as to legitimate children. Such measures, however just they may be so far as the innocent offspring of a guilty connection are concerned, have a direct tendency to impair the sanctity of marriage, and consequently the general standard of morality.

This, the most vital of all the social problems, is strangely neglected. The diseases and excesses which it engenders are far more devastating than those which spring from any other vice, and yet no philanthropist is bold enough to look the question in the face. The virtuous shrink from it, the vicious don't care about it, the godly simply condemn, and the ungodly indulge--and so the world rolls on, and hundreds of thousands go down annually to utter ruin. It is useless to attempt the extirpation of a vice which is inherent in the very nature of man, and the alternative of either utterly ignoring, or of attempting to check and regulate it, is a question of the most vital importance to the whole human race.

[C] "Thus our great men wander from the light down into the shades."

Bayard Taylor