What Has Norway for the Traveler?
( Originally Published 1907 )
If he be of Norwegian birth, her charm needs little exposition. She is the mother-land, the background of all his early memories. Her earth and sea and sky in themselves have an indefinable, indestructible hold on his affections.
But what of the vast majority, who are not Norwegian-born? Why should they make any special effort to know Norway?
a. In the first place, it is a land of magnificent natural beauty. No country on earth can surpass the superb dignity of its majestic mountains, their feet set in the deep, still waters of winding fjords and their snow-capped heads among the drifting clouds. No land on the globe has such marvelous wealth of water-falls. Nowhere in the world can one see more picturesque valleys, where nature seems to frown and smile both at once, so closely associated are the idyllic and the terrible. To see Norway is to enlarge our conception of the glory of "this goodly frame the earth," and
"The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains,
Are not these, 0, soul, the vision of Him who reigns ?"
b. It is a land to which every living person of European descent to-day owes a positive debt. This rugged northland has produced epoch-making men. The history of the civilization of Europe, and consequently of America, has been enormously influenced in its form and character by the vigor and practical energy of Norse colonists, who went out from the home-land something like a thousand years ago. To see that home-land means more lively appreciation of our inheritance today from those old benefactors and ancestors of ours.
c. It is a land where one can to-day see with his own eyes stupendous physical processes of world-shaping, still going on—see the compacting of accumulated snows into glacial ice ; the slow descent of the ice-sheets as the lower edges melt ; the action of ice and of running water, disintegrating solid rock and breaking it up into gravel, on which plant-life can feed—a sort of condensed version of age-long chapters in the geologic history of our earth as a whole.
In this one small kingdom the traveler can observe for himself the effect of high elevation and high latitude upon vegetation, thus getting a more vivid notion of what those conditions practically mean than he could obtain from long reading about the same kinds of facts. Such deepened realization of the long, slow processes through which the earth goes in preparation for supporting life, and of the varying conditions under which life is led, inevitably quickens one's sense of the significance of life itself. It makes living mean more, when one thinks how much has to be done just to get the world ready for it.
d. It is on the shores of Norway, or on the Arctic waters north of Norway, that travelers get their only practicable opportunity to peer over the northern rim of the earth, and look at the sun at midnight. No other experience can possibly equal this in giving one an experimental sense of certain astronomical facts. We all learned the facts after a fashion, in our school days, but under ordinary circumstances they never seem quite real. Seeing Norway thus branches out so far that we really almost see the solar system !
e. Norway's literature is exceptionally strong and admirable in its own special lines, and its influence is conspicuously traceable in that of many other lands. The Sagas and Eddas are among the most famous of all medieval stories and poems ; they have furnished ideas for later poets and story-tellers innumerable. It is immensely worth while to know the country that nurtured the race from which those old masterpieces of heroic adventure and splendid poetic imagination sprang. We appreciate and enjoy the literature vastly better when we have some accurate, definite knowledge of the sort of surroundings that helped produce it.
Besides, it is Norway that produced the author whom many critics place at the head of Europe's creative literature during the nineteenth century—Henrik Ibsen. Nearly all his most famous works are based on studies from Norse life and character in varied lights and shades. It is consequently worth while to see the land, and something of the everyday life, of the same kinds of people that Ibsen represents in his dramas. It is true, Ibsen's works have a universal character—they are vastly more than pictures of any one nation's ideals and failures, sins and struggles, hopes and victories ; nevertheless the local color of his world-famous plays and poems is Norwegian, and one cannot enter completely into their spirit without knowing their country.
f. Norway has made brilliant contributions to the world of music. One of the most widely known and loved masters of the violin was a Norwegian—Ole Bull. One of the greatest and most popular composers of the nineteenth century is Edvard Grieg, also a Norwegian. The land that could produce such genius as theirs has charm for their admirers. Perhaps the sight of the wind-swept heights and the roaring cataract, soughing birch, and lapping wave, may suggest some clue to the weird melodies of these Northern masters.
g. Norway is a particularly interesting field for study by one who cares to watch the social development of democratic ideals and principles. A European country that has deliberately abolished its orders of nobility, a land where shrewd, well-educated peasant land-owners control legislation, a land where personal independence of speech and action is guarded with jealous zeal, yet where popular suffrage calls for an hereditary sovereign as chief executive—such a land offers unique conditions for study and speculation.
A clever European traveler once observed : "Some people think that universal suffrage makes Switzer-land free, but universal up and down hill has more to do with it." When one sees the abrupt, precipitous, cut-off-and-shut-away sections of country in which Norwegian people have lived, generation after generation, it is easy to understand how the feeling of Norwegian independence is bred in the bone. When one sees at what immense expenditure of personal toil every bit of material ease and comfort must be wrung from scanty soil or wrested from covetous seas, it be-comes easy to understand that no great amount of glitter and gold lace at court can ever seem to the sturdy Norwegian farmer worth what it costs.
And yet, when the splendid old-time history of the land is recalled among the scenes of its happening, a sympathetic on-looker must appreciate that loyalty to old traditions which still demands a king—a leader set apart from birth for the duties of leadership. The observer will do some new thinking, some fresh comparing of these conditions with his own home conditions. Whatever may be his final conviction in matters of national politics, the traveler will at least better understand the Norwegian theory of a king—a sovereign who, while in absolute accord with twentieth century ideals of popular constitutional government, will embody in himself a complementary ideal, and, freed by his position from the hampering restrictions of dependence on electoral favor, will consecrate the energies of his vigorous manhood to the task of helping to work out the destiny of the nation.