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Chapter 28

THE RETURN TO DARKNESS.--NORWEGIAN CHARACTER.


I do not intend to trace our return, step by step, down the Norwegian coast. The splendid weather which prevailed during our upward voyage, enabled us to see all the interesting points, leaving only those parts which we missed in the few hours devoted to sleep, to give a little novelty to our return. During the whole trip we had not a drop of rain,--the rarest good fortune in these latitudes,--and were therefore twice enabled to enjoy, to the fullest extent, the sublime scenery of the Lofoden Isles and the coast of Nordland. This voyage has not its like in the world. The traveller, to whom all other lands are familiar, has here a new volume of the most wonderful originality and variety, opened to him. The days are illuminated pages, crowded with pictures, the forms and hues of which he can never forget. After I returned to the zone of darkness, and recovered from the stress and tension of three weeks of daylight, I first fully appreciated the splendours of the arctic sun. My eyes were still dazzled with the pomp of colour, and the thousand miles of coast, as I reviewed them in memory, with their chaos of island-pyramids of shattered rock, their colossal cliffs, their twisted fjords, and long fjeld-levels of eternal snow, swam in a sea of saffron and rosy light, in comparison with which the pale blue day around me seemed dull and dead. My dream of the North, in becoming a reality, has retained the magical atmosphere of dreams, and basks in the same gorgeous twilight which irradiates the Scandinavian sagas.

I was particularly struck during the return, with the rapid progress of summer--the flying leaps with which she clears her short course. Among the Lofodens, the potatoes were coming into blossom, and the rye and barley into head; the grass was already cut, in many places, and drying on poles, and the green of the woods and meadows showed the dark, rich character of southern lands. Owing to this rapidity of growth, all the more hardy varieties of vegetables may be successfully cultivated. Mr. Thomas informed me that his peas and beans at Kaafjord (lat. 70° N.) grew three inches in twenty-four hours, and, though planted six weeks later than those about Christiania, came to maturity at the same time. He has even succeeded in raising excellent cauliflowers. But very few of the farmers have vegetable gardens, and those which I saw contained only radishes and lettuce, with a few useful herbs. One finds the same passion for flowers, however, as in Northern Sweden, and the poorest are rarely without a rose or a geranium in their windows.

Pastor Hvoslef, who was again our fellow-traveller for a few hours, gave me some interesting information concerning the Lapps. They are, it seems, entitled to the right of suffrage, and to representation in the Storthing, equally with the Norwegians. The local jurisdiction repeats on a small scale what the Storthing transacts on a large one, being entirely popular in its character, except that the vogts and länsmen (whose powers are somewhat similar to those of our judges and country magistrates) are not elected. But each district chooses from among its inhabitants a committee to confer upon and arrange all ordinary local matters. These committees, in turn, choose persons to constitute a higher body, who control the reciprocal relations of the several districts, and intervene in case of difficulties between them. The system is necessarily simpler and somewhat more primitive in its character than our local organisations in America; but it appears at present to answer every purpose. The heavy responsibility resting upon judges in Norway--the severity of the checks and penalties by which their probity is insured--probably contributes to make the administration of the laws more efficacious and easy. The Lapps are not a difficult people to govern, and much of the former antagonism between them and the poorer classes of the Norwegians has passed away. There is little, if any, amalgamation of the two races, nor will there ever be, but there is probably as little conflict between them as is compatible with the difference of blood.

At Tromsöe, a tall, strong, clerical gentleman came on board, who proved to be the noted Pastor Lamers, one of the first if not the very first Clergyman in Norway, who has refused to receive the government support--or, in other words, has seceded from the Church, as a State establishment, while adhering to all its fundamental doctrines. It is the first step towards the separation of Church and State, which must sooner or later come, in Norway and in Sweden. He has a congregation of three hundred members, in Tromsöe, and is about organising a church at Gibostad, on the island of Senjen. He has some peculiar views, I believe, in relation to the baptism of children, and insists that the usual absolution dealt out by the Pastors is of no effect without full confession and the specification of particular sins--but in other respects he is entirely orthodox, retaining even the ceremonial of the Eucharist. This, in the Lutheran church of Norway, comes so near to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, that one cannot easily perceive any difference. Instead of bread, an unleavened wafer is administered to the communicants, the priest saying, as he gives it, "This is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ." Mr. Forrester, a devout admirer of the Church, which he thinks identical with that of England in all its essentials, says, "The Lutherans reject the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation, but they hold that of a spiritual and ineffable union of the divine nature with the elements, the substance of which remains unchanged. This is called consubstantiation." Verily, the difference between tweedledum and tweedledee--one being as absurd as the other.

No one, coming from a land where all sects stand upon an equal footing, and where every church must depend for existence on its own inherent vitality, can fail to be struck with the effete and decrepit state of religion in Sweden and Norway. It is a body of frigid mechanical forms and ceremonies, animated here and therewith a feeble spark of spiritual life, but diffusing no quickening and animating glow. I have often been particularly struck with the horror with which the omission of certain forms was regarded by persons in whom I could discover no trace of any religious principle. The Church has a few dissensions to combat; she has not been weakened by schism; but she is slowly ossifying from sheer inertia. The Reformation needs to be reformed again, and perhaps the tardy privileges granted to the Haugianer and Läsare--the northern Methodists--may result in producing a body of Dissenters large enough to excite emulation, action, and improvement. In Norway, the pastors have the best salaries and the easiest places of all government officials. Those who conscientiously discharge their duties have enough to do; but were this universally the case, one would expect to find the people less filthy, stupid, and dishonest than they are in many parts of the country. A specimen of the intelligence of one, who is now a member of the Storthing, was communicated to me by a gentleman who heard it. The clergyman advocated the establishment of telegraph lines in Norway, "not for the sake of sending news," said he, "that is of no consequence. But it is well known that no wolf can pass under a telegraph wire, and if we can get lines put up throughout the country, all the wolves will be obliged to leave!" Of course, I do not mean to assert that the Norwegian clergymen, as a body, are not sincere, zealous, well-informed men. The evil lies rather in that system which makes religion as much a branch of government service as law or diplomacy; and which, until very recently, has given one sect an exclusive monopoly of the care of human souls.

I had a strong desire to converse with Pastor Lamers in relation to the stand he has taken, but he was surrounded by a crowd of persons during his stay on board, and no opportunity presented itself. The sensation which his presence produced, showed that there are restless elements at work in the mind of the people. The stony crust is beginning to heave and split at last. Even the deck-passengers gathered into little groups and talked earnestly. Two gentlemen near me were discussing the question of an Established Church, one contending, that a variety of sects tended only to confuse, perplex, and unchristianise the uneducated, unthinking class, while the other asserted that this very class adhered most tenaciously to whatever faith had been taught them. At this moment a woman standing near us exclaimed: "There were false prophets in all times, and there are false prophets now! We must beware of them!"--the earnestness of her speech affording a good comment on the argument just produced. Whatever may be the popular opinion concerning the course of Pastor Lamers, I could not but notice the marked respect displayed by every one who approached him.

In passing Hindöe we saw two magnificent golden eagles wheeling around one of the loftiest cliffs. The wind blew strongly from the south-west, increasing until we had what sailors call a dry gale in crossing the West Fjord, but it abated the next day and by the late twilight we recrossed the arctic circle. This night there was great rejoicing on board, at the discovery of a star. We had not seen one for a month, and some of the passengers coming from Finmark had been more than two months in daylight. While we were all gazing upon it as upon some extraordinary phenomenon, a flood of yellow lamp-light suddenly streamed through the cabin skylight. The sky was still brilliant with sunset in the north, but it was dark enough to see to sleep. We could not yet cover ourselves all over, even as with a cloak; still there was a shelter and friendly covering for the helpless body. Our sleep became sound and regular, and its old power of restoration was doubly sweet, since we had known what it was to be deprived of it.

Our fellow-passengers, after leaving Carlsoe, where the young Englishmen stopped to hunt, were almost exclusively Norwegian, and this gave us further opportunities of becoming acquainted with some peculiarities of the national character. Intelligent Norwegians, especially those who have travelled, are exceedingly courteous, gentlemanly, and agreeable persons. The three officers on board were men of unusual intelligence and refinement, and we considered ourselves fortunate in having their company during the entire voyage. The landhand lare, or country merchants, and government officials of the lower ranks, exhibit more reserve, and not unfrequently a considerable amount of ignorance and prejudice. Perhaps the most general feature of the Norwegian character is an excessive national vanity, which is always on the alert, and fires up on the slightest provocation. Say everything you like, except that Norway in any respect is surpassed by any other country. One is assailed with questions about his impressions of the scenery, people, government, &c.--a very natural and pardonable curiosity, it is true, and one only demands in return that his candour be respected, and no offence taken. This, however, is rarely the case. If there is no retaliatory answer on the spot, you hear a remark days afterwards which shows how your mild censure has rankled in the mind of the hearer. My friend was asked by a passenger whether he did not think the women of Finmark very beautiful. It was impossible to answer in the affirmative: the questioner went off in high dudgeon, and did not speak to him again for several days.

In the Varanger Fjord, we had pretty freely expressed our impressions of the desolate coast. Afterwards on returning past the grand cliff scenery of Nordkyn, we were admiring some bold formation of the rocks, when a Norwegian came up and said, in a tone of angry irony: "Ah, you find a little to admire at last, do you? You find some beauty in our country, after all?" So in regard to the government. The Norwegians may be justly proud of their constitution, which is as republican in its character as our own. There is so much in the administration of the government which every one must heartily commend, that they should be less sensitive in regard to minor faults. This sensitiveness, however, is partly accounted for, when we remember that for four hundred years Norway was a Danish province, and that only forty-three years ago she leaped at once from subjection to a freedom such as no other country in Europe enjoys. The intense pride and self-glorification of the people resembles that of a youth who for the first time assumes a dress-coat and standing collar. King Oscar, on his accession to the throne, gave the country a separate national flag, and nowhere does one see such a display of flags. All over the land and all along the shores, the colours of Norway are flying.

Jealousy of Sweden and dislike of the Swedes are inherited feelings, and are kept alive by a mutual prejudice on the part of the latter people. One cannot but smile a little at the present union of Sweden and Norway, when he finds that the countries have separate currencies, neither of which will pass at its full value in the other--separate tariffs, and of course Custom-house examinations between the two, and, if the Norwegians had their way, would have separate diplomatic representatives abroad. Yet the strength of Norway is undoubtedly in her alliance with Sweden: alone, she would be but a fourth-rate power. Enough has been done to satisfy her national feeling and secure her liberties against assault, and it is now time that this unnecessary jealousy and mistrust of a kindred race should cease. The Swedes have all the honesty which the Norwegians claim for themselves, more warmth and geniality of character, and less selfish sharpness and shrewdness. Mügge tells a story of a number of Swedes who were at a dinner party in Paris, where the health of "the King of Sweden and Norway" was proposed and drunk with great enthusiasm. One glass was observed to be untouched. It belonged to a Norwegian, who, when called upon for an explanation, said: "I cannot drink such a toast as this, but I will drink the health of the King of Norway, who is also King of Sweden!"

One cannot find fault with a people for their patriotism. I have always admired that love of Gamle Norge which shines through Norwegian history, song, and saga--but when it is manifested in such ridiculous extremes, one doubts the genuineness of the feeling, and suspects it of being alloyed with some degree of personal vanity. There are still evils to be eradicated,--reproaches to be removed,--reforms to be achieved, which claim all the best energies of the best men of the country, and positive harm is done by concealing or denying the true state of things.


Bayard Taylor