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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 trifes 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 va. luable 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, being privileged, must belong to the more respectable of this class, the 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 Nor. way, 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 edu. cated 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 and we ourselves have endeavoured to enforce it as a maxim
of practical application on more than one occasion. On the same subject we are enabled to lay before our readers an extract from the Report of one of the assistant Hand-loom Commissioners, which although printed has not yet been made public.
“ The children at the Sunday-school were exceedingly well dressed, and their marked cheerfulness showed that they were under teachers who had a real interest in their welfare. I was informed that the establishment of this school, accommodating as it does a large proportion of the children of the village, has had a very striking effect upon the appearance of the population. In order to send their children in a decent condition to the Sunday-school, they make considerable sacrifices-greater sacri. fices indeed than they were formerly in the habit of making : if this merely induced a taste for cleanliness in the children, it would be something; but it does more; the parents do not like to appear in a worse condition than their children, and they accordingly attend more to their own personal appearance. This begets industry, prevents wastefulness of expenditure, and tends continually to elevate the notions of the people as to what constitutes a decent subsistence. This is the very first condition of improvement. As long as the industrious classes are satisfied with the mere satisfaction of their physical wants, so long will they be in a degraded condition. To preach contentment to a potatoe-fed people, is to preach perpetual degradation. No people can be morally raised until they cease to be contented with a low condition; and I looked upon the remarkably neat appearance of the children of the Wortley School, as a strong piece of evidence of the improving notions of the population as to the decencies of life.”
The only part of Mr. Laing's remarks with which we have any fault to find, is the narrow sense he gives to the term education. We shall not tire the reader with a long discussion respecting the definition of the term, but shall merely observe, that in speaking of the superior education of the Swedes, Mr. Laing must allude to ordinary school knowledge-reading, writing, &c.—whilst we should be disposed to extend the term to those very “ habits and modes of living which denote civilization,” and in which the Norwegians stand so much above the Swedes.
Among the most conspicuous causes of social improvement, Mr. Laing very properly places that habit of self-reliance which a participation in political power invariably generates. Speaking of certain improvements which a lapse of forty years had produced in the neighbourhood of Hamburgh, he says,“ These are improvements—but they are the work of the government, not of the people. It is the ruling principle of the governments of the continent, at present to do every thing for the people, and nothing by them. Roads, diligences, steam vessels, schools, savings' banks,—all, as well as the laws, emanate from or are controlled by government; and even ordinary branches of private industry, such as mines, iron foundries, salt works, are subject to the inspection and regulation of government functionaries; and all trades and handicrafts are exercised under licence. The consequence of this principle of interference in all things is, that the people remain in a state of pupilage, are trained to an inert dependence on their governments for all things, like that of the soldier on his officer, and do nothing for themselves. They trust to government, not to their own industry and exertion, for every improvement. What the governments do in this enlightened age is generally well done, and really beneficial to the people; but the hand of government cannot be applied to their mode of living, their supply of useful articles in their households, their manners, habits, morals, and, in short, to all that is most important in their social condition. Improvement in these must proceed from a spirit of improvement among the people themselves; and this spirit is kept down and extinguished by the principle of the interference of government in all things, even in branches of private industry. I saw here this morning, by the side of a new steam vessel just fitted out by government, or with its permission and privilege, a canoe, not a boat, but a canoe formed apparently out of a hollowed trunk of a large tree, and, as a work of art, in no respect superior to the omiak of the Esquimaux, paddled by two women with shovels at the prow and stern, and conveying a party of peasants across the bay. Government may copy the beneficial improvements of other countries, but cannot penetrate beneath the surface, and effect any improvement in the condition of the mass of the people, with all its efforts, not even in the most necessary of arts, that of their ordinary transport by water. The canoe exists by the side of the steam vessel, barbarism by the side of civilized appearances, because government does everything, and allows the people no interest or voice in what is done. The principle and spirit of a government has more influence than its acts upon the well-being and social condition of a country. This principle of doing everything for the people, and nothing by them, keeps a nation behind in real civilization, notwithstanding the external appearances its government may display*."-Pages 7–9.
*“ But it seems to be with nations as with individuals—it is not what is done for people, but what people do for themselves, that acts upon their character and condition. From being altogether passive, and having no voice in their own affairs, the Danish people, with all those fine institutions of their govern. ment, are in the same state nearly as in 1660. In the practice of the useful arts, in activity, industry and well-being, they are two centuries behind those nations, with whom, in numbers and natural advantages of soil, climate and situation, they may be fairly compared,—the Scotch, the Dutch, or the Belgian people."-- Pages 13, 14.