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BRITISH AND FOREIGN
A Tour in Sweden in 1838; comprising Observations on the Moral, Political and Economical State of the Swedish Nation. By SAMUEL LAING, Esq., Author of "A Journal of a Residence in Norway." 8vo. London: Longman and Co. 1839.
It was with somewhat eager feelings, fraught with anticipations both of instruction and amusement, that we opened a second work by an author whose former labours had afforded us such unmixed satisfaction. Of Mr. Laing's journal of his three years' residence in Norway, the subject-matter was alone sufficient to excite intense interest in the mind of the political philosopher. The growing power of the people in almost every country in Europe is such as to threaten feudalism with a complete overthrow at no very remote period. It has almost ceased to be a question whether the few or the many shall be the ultimate controlling power. That seems to be decided in favour of the latter in the minds of all observant and thinking men; and the only problem with which the wise politician thinks it worth while to busy himself is, by what steps and by what instruments the peaceable substitution of the pure principles of representative government for the antiquated institutions of the feudal ages can be brought about. Norway exhibits the working of institutions more essentially democratic than those of any other European country,
in a manner calculated to calm the fears of the timid, to encourage the hopes of the sanguine, and to warm the aspirations of the benevolent. This circumstance alone induced us to regard it as a matter of duty rather than of choice, to lay before our readers a species of analytical abridgement, so to speak, of Mr. Laing's former work; at the same time we esteemed it an additional justification for so doing, that the author had brought to the subject a mind replete with benevolence and actuated by the enlarged views which a truly practical philosophy is alone calculated to generate. Of both the author and the book we spoke* in terms of high commendation, which, we must now add, a perusal of the work before us does not dispose us to abate, although the interest which an account of the state of society in Sweden is calculated to excite would scarcely have been sufficient to justify an article, had the work in question preceded instead of followed the more interesting and important Residence in Norway.' Read after the latter work, however, its details become valuable, not from the intrinsic interest which they possess, but rather from the comparison which they enable us to institute between two states of society so diametrically opposite, both as to causes and consequences, as that of Sweden and that of Norway. Facts as to countries so peculiarly circumstanced, and conclusions from such facts, become doubly valuable by being compared and contrasted.
"In Norway and Sweden," says Mr. Laing, in his preface," such inquiries are peculiarly interesting at the present period, because these two nations, although the furthest removed from the agitation of the French Revolution, have, by a singular chance, been affected by it more permanently, and one of them more beneficially, than any others in Europe. Norway received a new and liberal constitution, and has started with the freshness of youth,—a new nation, as it were, called suddenly into life from among the slumbering feudal populations of the north. Sweden received a new dynasty,—and slumbers on amidst ancient institutions and social arrangements of darker ages. Having attempted in a former work to give a sketch of the present social condition of the Norwegian people, I consider it necessary, in order to complete the view of the present moral, political, and economical state of the inhabitants of the Scandinavian peninsula, to undertake the following sketch of the Swedish."
We must here remind the reader that the present work has been produced under circumstances different from, and certainly less advantageous than, the former. The work on Sweden is the result of a single summer's tour,-that on Norway of a three years' residence: the latter accordingly exhibits a more profound acquaintance with the institutions it describes, and of their minute workings, than the former. At the same time it should be remarked, that to an accurate observer who had carefully examined the one country, the examination of the other would be a matter of minor difficulty. It has been somewhat invidiously objected, in favour of the Residence in Norway,' and against the Tour in Sweden,' that in the former case Mr. Laing went to the country, recorded all that was worthy of observation, and afterwards wrote a book; whereas, in the latter case, he went to Sweden expressly to write a book. We cannot understand why a man should produce a worse account of a country because he previously determined to write about it. To us it appears that the circumstance of Mr. Laing having proceeded upon a settled plan, combined with the previous qualifications obtained by his long residence in Norway, goes far to counterbalance the disadvantage of shorter time and limited opportunity. Be this as it may, however, the book is a good book, filled with the marks of a benevolent spirit, and contrasting widely and most refreshingly with the "tours" and "travels" with which the press is wont to teem. In short, we begin by confessing, that with us Mr. Laing is a decided favourite; and we believe the world will be both the better and the wiser for his labours.
In the present work Mr. Laing has pursued the plan adopted in his Residence in Norway,' of setting down his observations in the order in which they occurred; both works seeming to be extracts from more copious journals.
"Every traveller," says Mr. Laing, "is placed between two difficulties -that of founding too much and too soon upon trifling, isolated circumstances-and that of postponing his opinions upon them until he has become so accustomed to see them that he makes no observation or opinion about them at all. The latter is the safest course for the traveller, but the worst for the reader; who, if he has before him the circumstances and impressions as they arise, may draw his own conclusions, and adopt no more of the traveller's than he sees fit. I shall therefore take this course, and give
my opinions as they arise, although the circumstances may not always be thought of so general and important a kind as to bear them out."Page 31.
A glance at the map of Northern Europe will show that Sweden enjoys a considerable natural advantage over Norway in its more southerly position, and yet its population stands much lower in the scale of social arrangement. We are tempted to make rather a long extract in this place, contrasting the two countries and the habits of their respective people in some striking particulars.
"This country is certainly of richer soil, better farmed, and in every way-even in the transport by water of its staple product, timber, from the most remote recesses-better adapted for supporting its population than any part of Norway. This part of Sweden also is divided, like Norway, very much among small proprietors. I have passed but one place, at Ihlberg, about 20 miles from hence, which could be called the domain of a large land-owner. Yet it strikes me that there is a great difference here in the condition of the middle and lower classes; and judging from such trifles as one is scarcely willing to avow, as the grounds for an opinion, that their condition is worse in this tract of Sweden. The trifles I judge from are these: the houses, outhouses, and all about them, appear out of repair, as if they had been built twenty or thirty years ago, and never touched since; not one in twenty of the dwelling-houses of these classes has ever been painted, which these wooden walls require. In Norway every little estate, not so large apparently, nor of such good soil in general as these, has the main house, barn, cow-house, and all the valuable offices, painted red, often orange, pink, or some colour which says little for the good taste, but much for the good condition of the peasant, and for his spirit of conservation, keeping in order and in a neat state all his property. I observe that not one house has runs or water-spouts at the roof, and very few porches with benches at the door, for the housefather to sit on and smoke his pipe in the evening. No cottage in Norway is without these appendages. The windows here are broken, the dunghill is not under cover, the collars and bells about the necks of the favourite cows, to direct the cowherd to find the cattle in the woods, are not polished and bright as in Norway. There is a want here of those little outward signs and tokens of a spirit of comfort, of a disposition to have things in order, to repair and renew, from which I infer an inferior state of well-being among the rural population here. These are trifles, but they may indicate the condition of a peasantry as truly as more important circumstances. In this land of wood and iron, the roughness and imperfection of all workmanship in these materials must strike the most unobserving. In the houses on the road at which travellers stop, and which,
window- and door-frames are nailed to the walls with clumsy nails, of which the heads are not sunk into the wood; the floors and ceilings are boarded in the same rough way; the doors are without any handles but the key on one side, and on the other a piece of clumsy iron to pull it open by; and no stoves, but only hearths, in the common rooms. I infer from these circumstances, that many of the useful arts, and a taste for comfort and neatness, are but in a low state in this part of Sweden, notwithstanding the steam-boats and book-shops. My cariole wheels are very much admired wherever I stop; they are no doubt well made, but are such as, in almost every country parish in Norway, are made by the wheelwright for two dollars. Bedsteads are universally used in Norway by the poorest people. They are clumsy to be sure-not unlike seamen's chests in shape-but still they are moveables having a value as furniture. They are taken out to the green before the door in summer, and washed and scoured, and the rugs or skins forming the bedding are hung out all day, as regularly as bedding on board a ship of war. Here the common people sleep in fixed berths in the wall, one tier above another, as in a ship's cabin. This can neither be so clean nor so decent, as, from the much smaller size of the dwellings, there are not always, as in Norway, separate sleeping apartments for men and women. These may be thought very unimportant matters of observation; but they indicate, I conceive, a different degree of developement of civilized habits and modes of living in two countries under circumstances nearly alike, and show, as in the comparative condition of the Scotch and English people, that the best educated and most intelligent may have made the smallest advance in the habits and modes of living that denote civilization. There must be causes altogether independent of education which, in this richer and better educated country, keep back the developement of those habits, as compared with its poorer and more ignorant neighbour."-Pages 31-34.
Nothing can be more just than the general inference which Mr. Laing draws from the facts which he details,-nothing more true than the proposition that the condition of the people will be mainly determined by what is necessary to constitute a decent subsistence. If their own standard be low, so also will be their condition. The only reason why the industrious classes of England are not reduced to Irish wages, is because their notions of the decencies of life are far higher than those of the Irish. If the English should ever be content with chimneyless and drainless mud cabins, with a meal of potatoes, and with the absence of all approach to comfort and cleanliness, Irish wages would assuredly follow. In Mr. Laing's work on Norway this truth was never lost sight of