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Chapter 19

JOURNEY TO GOTTENBURG AND COPENHAGEN.


I never knew a more sudden transition from winter to summer than we experienced on the journey southward from Stockholm. When we left that city on the evening of the 6th of May, there were no signs of spring except a few early violets and anemones on the sheltered southern banks in Haga Park; the grass was still brown and dead, the trees bare, and the air keen; but the harbour was free from ice and the canal open, and our winter isolation was therefore at an end. A little circulation entered into the languid veins of society; steamers from Germany began to arrive; fresh faces appeared in the streets, and less formal costumes--merchants and bagmen only, it is true, but people of a more dashing and genial air. We were evidently, as the Swedes said, leaving Stockholm just as it began to be pleasant and lively.

The steamer left the Riddarholm pier at midnight, and took her way westward up the Mälar Lake to Södertelje. The boats which ply on the Gotha canal are small, but neat and comfortable. The price of a passage to Gottenburg, a distance of 370 miles, is about $8.50. This, however, does not include meals, which are furnished at a fixed price, amounting to $6 more. The time occupied by the voyage varies from two and a half to four days. In the night we passed through the lock at Södertelje, where St. Olaf, when a heathen Viking, cut a channel for his ships into the long Baltic estuary which here closely approaches the lake, and in the morning found ourselves running down the eastern shore of Sweden, under the shelter of its fringe of jagged rocky islets. Towards noon we left the Baltic, and steamed up the long, narrow Bay of Söderköping, passing, on the way, the magnificent ruins of Stegeborg Castle, the first mediæval relic I had seen in Sweden. Its square massive walls, and tall round tower of grey stone, differed in no respect from those of contemporary ruins in Germany.

Before reaching Söderköping, we entered the canal, a very complete and substantial work of the kind, about eighty feet in breadth, but much more crooked than would seem to be actually necessary. For this reason the boats make but moderate speed, averaging not more than six or seven miles an hour, exclusive of the detention at the locks. The country is undulating, and neither rich nor populous before reaching the beautiful Roxen Lake, beyond which we entered upon a charming district. Here the canal rises, by eleven successive locks, to the rich uplands separating the Roxen from the Wetter, a gently rolling plain, chequered, so far as the eye could reach, with green squares of springing wheat and the dark mould of the newly ploughed barley fields. While the boat was passing the locks, we walked forward to a curious old church, called Vreta Kloster. The building dates from the year 1128, and contains the tombs of three Swedish kings, together with that of the Count Douglas, who fled hither from Scotland in the time of Cromwell. The Douglas estate is in this neighbourhood, and is, I believe, still in the possession of the family. The church must at one time have presented a fine, venerable appearance: but all its dark rich colouring and gilding are now buried under a thick coat of white-wash.

We had already a prophecy of the long summer days of the North, in the perpetual twilight which lingered in the sky, moving around from sunset to sunrise. During the second night we crossed the Wetter Lake, which I did not see; for when I came on deck we were already on the Viken, the most beautiful sheet of water between Stockholm and Gottenburg. Its irregular shores, covered with forests of fir and birch, thrust out long narrow headlands which divide it into deep bays, studded with wild wooded islands. But the scenery was still that of winter, except in the absence of ice and snow. We had not made much southing, but we expected to find the western side of Sweden much warmer than the eastern. The highest part of the canal, more than 300 feet above the sea, was now passed, however, and as we descended the long barren hills towards the Wener Lake I found a few early wild flowers in the woods. In the afternoon we came upon the Wener, the third lake in Europe, being one hundred miles in extent by about fifty in breadth. To the west, it spread away to a level line against the sky; but, as I looked southward, I perceived two opposite promontories, with scattered islands between, dividing the body of water into almost equal portions. The scenery of the Wener has great resemblance to that of the northern portion of Lake Michigan. Further down on the eastern shore, the hill of Kinnekulle, the highest land in Southern Sweden, rises to the height of nearly a thousand feet above the water, with a graceful and very gradual sweep; but otherwise the scenery is rather tame, and, I suspect, depends for most of its beauty upon the summer foliage.

There were two or three intelligent and agreeable passengers on board, who showed a more than usual knowledge of America and her institutions. The captain, however, as we walked the deck together, betrayed the same general impression which prevails throughout the Continent (Germany in particular), that we are a thoroughly material people, having little taste for or appreciation of anything which is not practical and distinctly utilitarian. Nothing can be further from the truth; yet I have the greatest difficulty in making people comprehend that a true feeling for science, art, and literature can co-exist with our great practical genius. There is more intellectual activity in the Free States than in any other part of the world, a more general cultivation, and, taking the collective population, I venture to say, a more enlightened taste. Nowhere are greater sums spent for books and works of art, or for the promotion of scientific objects. Yet this cry of "Materialism" has become the cant and slang of European talk concerning America, and is obtruded so frequently and so offensively that I have sometimes been inclined to doubt whether the good breeding of Continental society has not been too highly rated.

While on the steamer, I heard an interesting story of a Swedish nobleman, who is at present attempting a practical protest against the absurd and fossilised ideas by which his class is governed. The nobility of Sweden are as proud as they are poor, and, as the father's title is inherited by each of his sons, the country is overrun with Counts and Barons, who, repudiating any means of support that is not somehow connected with the service of the government, live in a continual state of debt and dilapidation. Count R----, however, has sense enough to know that honest labour is always honourable, and has brought up his eldest son to earn his living by the work of his own hands. For the past three years, the latter has been in the United States, working as a day-labourer on farms and on Western railroads. His experiences, I learn, have not been agreeable, but he is a young man of too much spirit and courage to give up the attempt, and has hitherto refused to listen to the entreaties of his family, that he shall come home and take charge of one of his father's estates. The second son is now a clerk in a mercantile house in Gottenburg, while the Count has given his daughter in marriage to a radical and untitled editor, whose acquaintance I was afterwards so fortunate as to make, and who confirmed the entire truth of the story.

We were to pass the locks at Trollhätta in the middle of the night, but I determined to visit the celebrated falls of the Gotha River, even at such a time, and gave orders that we should be called. The stupid boy, however, woke up the wrong passenger, and the last locks were reached before the mistake was discovered. By sunrise we had reached Lilla Edet, on the Gotha River, where the buds were swelling on the early trees, and the grass, in sunny places, showed a little sprouting greenness. We shot rapidly down the swift brown stream, between brown, bald, stony hills, whose forests have all been stripped off to feed the hostile camp-fires of past centuries. Bits of bottom land, held in the curves of the river, looked rich and promising, and where the hills fell back a little, there were groves and country-houses--but the scenery, in general, was bleak and unfriendly, until we drew near Gottenburg. Two round, detached forts, built according to Vauban's ideas (which the Swedes say he stole from Sweden, where they were already in practice) announced our approach, and before noon we were alongside the pier. Here, to my great surprise, a Custom-house officer appeared and asked us to open our trunks. "But we came by the canal from Stockholm!" "That makes no difference," he replied; "your luggage must be examined." I then appealed to the captain, who stated that, in consequence of the steamer's being obliged to enter the Baltic waters for two or three hours between Södertelje and Söderköping, the law took it for granted that we might have boarded some foreign vessel during that time and procured contraband goods. In other words, though sailing in a narrow sound, between the Swedish islands and the Swedish coast, we had virtually been in a foreign country! It would scarcely be believed that this sagacious law is of quite recent enactment.

We remained until the next morning in Gottenburg. This is, in every respect, a more energetic and wide-awake place than Stockholm. It has not the same unrivalled beauty of position, but is more liberally laid out and kept in better order. Although the population is only about 40,000, its commerce is much greater than that of the capital, and so are, proportionately, its wealth and public spirit. The Magister Hedlund, a very intelligent and accomplished gentleman, to whom I had a letter from Mügge, the novelist, took me up the valley a distance of five or six miles, to a very picturesque village among the hills, which is fast growing into a manufacturing town. Large cotton, woollen and paper mills bestride a strong stream, which has such a fall that it leaps from one mill-wheel to another for the distance of nearly half a mile. On our return, we visited a number of wells hollowed in the rocky strata of the hills, to which the country people have given the name of "The Giant's Pots." A clergyman of the neighbourhood, even, has written a pamphlet to prove that they were the work of the antediluvian giants, who excavated them for the purpose of mixing dough for their loaves of bread and batter for their puddings. They are simply those holes which a pebble grinds in a softer rock, under the rotary action of a current of water, but on an immense scale, some of them being ten feet in diameter, by fifteen or eighteen in depth. At Herr Hedlund's house, I met a number of gentlemen, whose courtesy and intelligence gave me a very favourable impression of the society of the place.

The next morning, at five o'clock, the steamer Viken, from Christiania, arrived, and we took passage for Copenhagen. After issuing from the Skärgaard, or rocky archipelago which protects the approach to Gottenburg from the sea, we made a direct course to Elsinore, down the Swedish coast, but too distant to observe more than its general outline. This part of Sweden, however--the province of Halland--is very rough and stony, and not until after passing the Sound does one see the fertile hills and vales of Scania. The Cattegat was as smooth as an inland sea, and our voyage could not have been pleasanter. In the afternoon Zealand rose blue from the wave, and the increase in the number of small sailing craft denoted our approach to the Sound. The opposite shores drew nearer to each other, and finally the spires of Helsingborg, on the Swedish shore, and the square mass of Kronborg Castle, under the guns of which the Sound dues have been so long demanded, appeared in sight. In spite of its bare, wintry aspect, the panorama was charming. The picturesque Gothic buttresses and gables of Kronborg rose above the zigzag of its turfed outworks; beyond were the houses and gardens of Helsingör (Elsinore)--while on the glassy breast of the Sound a fleet of merchant vessels lay at anchor, and beyond, the fields and towns of Sweden gleamed in the light of the setting sun. Yet here, again, I must find fault with Campbell, splendid lyrist as he is. We should have been sailing

"By thy wild and stormy steep, Elsinore!"

only that the level shore, with its fair gardens and groves wouldn't admit the possibility of such a thing. The music of the line remains the same, but you must not read it on the spot.

There was a beautiful American clipper at anchor off the Castle. "There," said a Danish passenger to me, "is one of the ships which have taken from us the sovereignty of the Sound." "I am very glad of it," I replied; "and I can only wonder why the maritime nations of Europe have so long submitted to such an imposition." "I am glad, also," said he, "that the question has at last been settled, and our privilege given up--and I believe we are all, even the Government itself, entirely satisfied with the arrangement." I heard the same opinion afterwards expressed in Copenhagen, and felt gratified, as an American, to hear the result attributed to the initiative taken by our Government; but I also remembered the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company, and could not help wishing that the same principle might be applied at home. We have a Denmark, lying between New-York and Philadelphia, and I have often paid sand dues for crossing her territory.

At dusk, we landed under the battlements of Copenhagen. "Are you travellers or merchants?" asked the Custom-house officers. "Travellers," we replied. "Then," was the answer, "there is no necessity for examining your trunks," and we were politely ushered out at the opposite door, and drove without further hindrance to a hotel. A gentleman from Stockholm had said to me: "When you get to Copenhagen, you will find yourself in Europe:" and I was at once struck with the truth of his remark. Although Copenhagen is by no means a commercial city--scarcely more so than Stockholm--its streets are gay, brilliant and bustling, and have an air of life and joyousness which contrasts strikingly with the gravity of the latter capital. From without, it makes very little impression, being built on a low, level ground, and surrounded by high earthen fortifications, but its interior is full of quaint and attractive points. There is already a strong admixture of the German element in the population, softening by its warmth and frankness the Scandinavian reserve. In their fondness for out-door recreation, the Danes quite equal the Viennese, and their Summer-garden of Tivoli is one of the largest and liveliest in all Europe. In costume, there is such a thing as individuality; in manners, somewhat of independence. The Danish nature appears to be more pliant and flexible than the Swedish, but I cannot judge whether the charge of inconstancy and dissimulation, which I have heard brought against it, is just. With regard to morals, Copenhagen is said to be an improvement upon Stockholm.

During our short stay of three days, we saw the principal sights of the place. The first, and one of the pleasantest to me, was the park of Rosenborg Palace, with its fresh, green turf, starred with dandelions, and its grand avenues of chestnuts and lindens, just starting into leaf. On the 11th of May, we found spring at last, after six months of uninterrupted winter. I don't much enjoy going the round of a new city, attended by a valet-de-place, and performing the programme laid down by a guide-book, nor is it an agreeable task to describe such things in catalogue style; so I shall merely say that the most interesting things in Copenhagen are the Museum of Northern Antiquities, the Historical Collections in Rosenborg Palace, Thorwaldsen's Museum, and the Church of our Lady, containing the great sculptor's statues of Christ and the Apostles. We have seen very good casts of the latter in New-York, but one must visit the Museum erected by the Danish people, which is also Thorwaldsen's mausoleum, to learn the number, variety and beauty of his works. Here are the casts of between three and four hundred statues, busts and bas reliefs, with a number in marble. No artist has ever had so noble a monument.

On the day after my arrival, I sent a note to Hans Christian Andersen, reminding him of the greeting which he had once sent me through a mutual friend, and asking him to appoint an hour for me to call upon him. The same afternoon, as I was sitting in my room, the door quietly opened, and a tall, loosely-jointed figure entered. He wore a neat evening dress of black, with a white cravat; his head was thrown back, and his plain, irregular features wore an expression of the greatest cheerfulness and kindly humour. I recognised him at once, and forgetting that we had never met--so much did he seem like an old, familiar acquaintance--cried out "Andersen!" and jumped up to greet him. "Ah," said he stretching out both his hands, "here you are! Now I should have been vexed if you had gone through Copenhagen and I had not known it." He sat down, and I had a delightful hour's chat with him. One sees the man so plainly in his works, that his readers may almost be said to know him personally. He is thoroughly simple and natural, and those who call him egotistical forget that his egotism is only a naïve and unthinking sincerity, like that of a child. In fact, he is the youngest man for his years that I ever knew. "When I was sixteen," said he, "I used to think to myself, 'when I am twenty-four, then will I be old indeed'--but now I am fifty-two, and I have just the same feeling of youth as at twenty." He was greatly delighted when Braisted, who was in the room with me, spoke of having read his "Improvisatore" in the Sandwich Islands. "Why, is it possible?" he exclaimed: "when I hear of my books going so far around the earth, I sometimes wonder if it can be really true that I have written them." He explained to me the plot of his new novel, "To Be, or Not To Be," and ended by presenting me with the illustrated edition of his stories. "Now, don't forget me," said he, with a delightful entreaty in his, voice, as he rose to leave, "for we shall meet again. Were it not for sea-sickness, I should see you in America; and who knows but I may come, in spite of it?" God bless you, Andersen! I said, in my thoughts. It is so cheering to meet a man whose very weaknesses are made attractive through the perfect candour of his nature!

Goldschmidt, the author of "The Jew," whose acquaintance I made, is himself a Jew, and a man of great earnestness and enthusiasm. He is the editor of the "North and South," a monthly periodical, and had just completed, as he informed me, a second romance, which was soon to be published. Like most of the authors and editors in Northern Europe, he is well acquainted with American literature.

Professor Rafn, the distinguished archæologist of Northern lore, is still as active as ever, notwithstanding he is well advanced in years. After going up an innumerable number of steps, I found him at the very top of a high old building in the Kronprinzensgade, in a study crammed with old Norsk and Icelandic volumes. He is a slender old man, with a thin face, and high, narrow head, clear grey eyes, and a hale red on his cheeks. The dust of antiquity does not lie very heavily on his grey locks; his enthusiasm for his studies is of that fresh and lively character which mellows the whole nature of the man. I admired and enjoyed it, when, after being fairly started on his favourite topic, he opened one of his own splendid folios, and read me some ringing stanzas of Icelandic poetry. He spoke much of Mr. Marsh, our former minister to Turkey, whose proficiency in the northern languages he considered very remarkable.


Bayard Taylor