Provinces South Of Westerbotten
( Originally Published 1881 )
SOUTH of Westerbotten are the provinces of Angermanland, Medelpad, and Helsingland, situated between 61° and 64° of latitude. They are dotted with beautiful lakes and rivers, and forests cover large areas; the shores are indented with numerous bays and fjords, on the sides of which, near the sea, many picturesque towns and villages are nestled. After wandering among their woods and dales, and paying a visit to their ham lets and farms, we will cross once more the peninsula of Scandinavia from sea to sea, and compare its vegetation with that: of the country farther north.
Angermanland is a beautiful province, and many of its valleys are 'very productive. The Angermanelfven, running through its whole territory, is the deepest river of Norrland and of Sweden, and may be ascended. by steamboats as far as Nyland, a distance of nearly sixty miles, and by small craft to Holm, thirty miles farther.
The most northern place of importance on its coast is the village of Ornskoldsvik, in lat. 63° 15', among the hills at the end of a fjord, with a population of 600 souls. It is coin-posed of one main street, with large and commodious houses, two or three of which are about one hundred and fifty feet in length, and from forty to forty-five feet in width; most rest on well-cut granite foundations, and are painted white or of a light yellow. There are several good stores, a telegraph station, a hotel, and a small public garden.
On the coast south of Ornsköldsvik the scenery increases in beauty, and as far as Sundsvall the coast is the highest in Sweden ; numerous islands dot the sea along the shore, the principal ones being North and South Ulfo, inhabited by a few hundred fishermen.
The principal town and port of the province is Hernosand, on the island of Herno, in lat. 62° 36', with a population of 4700. It is finely situated on the declivity of a hill, and has some handsome residences ; it is the seat of a governor and a bishop, and a court of justice, and its position near the entrance of the river Angerman gives it commercial importance.
Not far from that city is the agricultural school of Nordvik, to visit which, on the 28th day of August, I took passage on board a little steamer. The morning was superb, the water without a ripple, and the air had the peculiar dry, cool property which gives strength to the weary and health to the sick ; a light overcoat was necessary, for the mercury on deck was at 53°. After a sail of over an hour I landed, and found the di-rector of the school waiting for us ; we drove through a lovely country, on an excellent road which skirted the fjord. A light, cool breeze, laden with the fragrance of the pine, the fir, and the wild flowers, blew over us ; birds and butterflies were flying about, and rivulets of clear water ran rippling by us, on their way to the sea : the road was bordered on either side with short grass filled with dandelions in full bloom. As we went up and down hill after hill, fjords, islands, vessels, ' woods, farms, meadows, and cultivated fields came successively into view.
The Nordvik school is an older institution than that of Innertafie, previously described, and is in a much more fertile and more thickly settled district ; horticulture, therefore, has more scope, and experiments with different kinds of grain could be prosecuted with better results on account of its more southern situation.
The farm buildings were commodious, with an immense barn, about two hundred feet long, and broad in proportion. On the ground-floor were the stalls for the cattle, with a gut-ter, from which every particle of manure was conveyed to an adjacent shed, where it was kept from contact with the rain; also, a large space for carriages, carts, ploughs, and other farming implements; on the other side the grain was stacked.
The number of persons under instruction, as at Innertafle, was twelve ; their quarters included a kitchen, a dining room, a study-room, and bedchambers—all remarkably clean. At noon they came to dinner; they were strong, healthy young fellows, with faces reddened by exposure. I found that the students here were more advanced in writing than those of the first schools I had seen, and had received a better preliminary education; and I observed a continual improvement in this respect as I went southward through the richer districts. These young men, by study, work, and thrift, were pre-paring themselves for the life they intended to pursue as tillers of the soil—a noble vocation ; they wanted to raise agriculture to a higher standard, and to keep up with the march of progress.
This school had only sixteen cows, but the breed was rapidly improving in appearance as well as in value. One of the cows had given in a year five hundred imperial gallons of milk, two and a quarter gallons making, on the average, one pound of butter: an accurate account of the quantity of milk given by each cow is kept, especially when the breeds are crossed, in order to ascertain the degree of improvement in the amount and quality of the milk and butter produced.
We were invited to partake of what the host called a country dinner, somewhat unlike those I had before seen. A large bouquet adorned the centre of the table, and the butter was surrounded by beautiful flowers ; at one end was a silver bowl containing powdered sugar, while on the other side a silver holder supported a crystal dish, filled with raspberries just plucked in the garden, and a plain china pitcher was filled: with delicious cream. The meal was chiefly eaten standing, and was a combination of the smorgasbord and dinner on the same table. After eating the dishes composing the smorgâsbord, a delicious vegetable soup, mixed with milk, was served, after which I helped myself, like the rest of the company, to raspberries and cream, thinking that the dinner was over, and . that we had come to the dessert ; but, to my utter astonishment, another course appeared, consisting of some large capercailzies, and after this a pudding. The beverages were milk and beer.
The hostess, who was rather tall in stature, with flaxen hair, soft blue eyes, and fair complexion, wore a light-colored print dress, made high in the neck, and fitting like a glove, with black trimmings, the only adornments being a lace collar and a black velvet ribbon fastened round the throat by a small, gold brooch; a black silk net, through which the hair appeared still more flaxen, completed her toilet. Two maids assisted her, but her personal attention was given exclusively to her guests, upon whom the daintiest dishes were pressed with a soft voice and a charming simplicity of manner.
The traveller sees everywhere proofs of the honesty of the people. Though the house was on the highway, there was not a person visible when I entered the place, all being at work in the fields; the doors had been left wide open, and in the bedrooms watches were hanging on the walls : near the beds the students had hang portraits of their fathers, mothers, sisters, sweethearts, and friends.
A marked improvement in vegetation was apparent ; al-though only eighty miles south of Umeâ, the experimental gardens contained several apple-trees, growing the farthest north of any in Sweden, in about lat. 62° 40'. The fruit was small, but some of the trees, which were yet young, were overladen with it. This hardy species of apple comes from Russia, and is becoming acclimatized in this part of Sweden ; it would probably grow well in the northern section of the United States. There were also several cherry-trees, with ripened fruit ; gooseberries were maturing, strawberries were fine, and the vegetables were far more advanced than any I had previously seen : wheat and flax were cultivated, and the latter is exported. A breed of large horses, used by brewers, is raised in the district.
In the afternoon we took a drive to the hamlet of Nora, about three miles from Nordvik. Leaving the high-road, we passed through a valley, in which were scattered numerous farms, a small river adding to the charm of the landscape. We saw some rich fields of barley and flax—the latter being planted extensively, as linen is woven by the farmers for home use; the reapers were engaged in mowing the barley, while lads and. girls where tying it in bundles. The large snow-ploughs along the road reminded us that this smiling picture was soon to pass away, and that winter would give another aspect to the landscape ; indeed, so great was the change that I did not recognize the place at a later period, when on my way to the far North, and I inadvertently passed the Landtbruks skola without stopping to thank those who had been so kind to me.
The end of our drive was the little Nora lake, near which. stood the church and the parsonage, while in the distance was the residence of the school-master. The red school-house was.' near the road, and thirty or forty log sheds, built close together, were intended to shelter horses from the winter winds and snow-storms while the people were in church.
I was surprised at the great change in temperature; some-times we drove through a warm atmosphere, which was succeeded by a cold wave, and that again by a warm one. The weather grew cooler. At 7 p.m. the mercury stood at 50°, falling at 8 P.M. to 46°, and at 10 P.M. to 44°; though in the afternoon .the temperature had been 59° in the shade, and 114° in the sun.
In the evening the pastor of Nora joined us, and his presence was welcome to all ; for it is one of the characteristics of the Swedish clergy that they mingle in the pleasures of the people among whom their lot is cast, witnessing their simple dances, and enjoying their social gatherings. The clergyman is often seen looking on with a smiling face, happy at the sight. of his merry and contented flock, and he is often considered an integral part of the family. I was always delighted at such scenes ; for it was evident that a good moral influence was thus exerted over both clergyman and people, producing in the latter a pleasant restraining effect, and giving to the former an insight into the heart which no man can have unless he mixes with humanity.
Leaving Nordvik, a drive of three-quarters of an hour brought me to Hornön, where we were ferried across the river to take passage on the steamer which ascends the Angermanelf. The country became more and more picturesque as we sailed up the river, on whose terrace and alluvial soil were numerous farms. In the afternoon we reached Holm, the highest point of steam navigation, where we learned that white frost had occurred for three consecutive nights.
Not far from the landing, on the left bank, is one of the largest farms of Angermanland, where, with true politeness; its owner was waiting to receive us. I was invited to become a guest at the farm-house, a mansion two stories high, about one hundred feet long by forty-five wide, with a sort of Mansard roof. At this farm there were about seven hundred acres of land under cultivation, the principal crop being barley.
On a small island near, containing about one hundred and fifty acres of pasture-land and woods, a herd of cattle belonging to the State had been let loose for the summer; they appeared overjoyed at our presence, running towards us, the goats and sheep joining in the frolic, and we caressed all as we pleased. The animals of a Scandinavian farm are always tame, on account of their being petted and treated with the utmost gentleness.
There were eighteen large out-buildings, separated from each other, as a precaution against fire, which in America would have cost a large amount of money. One of the hässjas was the largest I ever saw, to accommodate the large amount of grain harvested every year. It was one hundred and eighty feet long, and of great height ; and not far from it was an-other, about one hundred and ten feet long, forty broad, and thirty high, which had eleven cross-beams supported by twenty other beams, placed vertically, with a large area in the middle, used as a threshing-floor. This was the first farm I had seen in the North with an ice-house; the ice was not used exclusively as a luxury, but was also employed for dairy purposes, the milk being surrounded by water at a uniform temperature of 42°. This is considered better than to keep the milk in a running spring or in a cold room, the cream never souring and the butter being much better, and is now used on many dairy farms.
After wandering in Angermanland and in Medelpad I entered Helsingland, sailing along its coasts, driving along its shores, and spending some time at its comfortable farms. Its two chief towns are Hudiksvall, a seaport, in lat. 61° 50', with a population of 3700, at the extremity of a fjord; and Soderhamn, in lat. 61° 25', with a population of 6200, not far from the outlet of the river Ljusne, which rises among the mountains of Herjeadal and traverses the whole region. This province abounds in large forests, swamps, and bogs. Inland a number of the inhabitants are descended from the Finlanders. A high-road, passing through this district and Herjeâdal, leads to Reraas, in Norway.
While travelling in this part of the country, one afternoon I halted at Harmânger, near the sea, before a farm, whose buildings formed a square, entered through a porch. On inquiring if I could remain for a few days, I was welcomed, and a maid conducted me to one of the. guests' rooms up-stairs. After a simple repast, I went to the parsonage, where I was kindly received by the pastor, who at that time was preparing the youth of the parish for confirmation ; he was an excellent man, and insisted that I should often take my meals with him and his family. When we went to visit the church he took the key with him. The keys here are always very large, especially those of the churches, the locks of which are often very old. This one was at least a foot long, and of such calibre that, by piercing a hole in the tube, it would have made a very good pistol of large size.
The old church of Harmânger was built of rough stones of different sizes, and, as usual, stood in the midst of the church-yard, enclosed by a stone wall. Two high ladders were resting on the roof, for there had been an addition to the edifice, one part being much older than the other. Near it was a tower about twenty feet square, whose very thick walls were smooth outside, but very rough and unfinished inside, the stones being large and uneven ; no one knew when or by whom it was built, and the pastor said that it dated from heathen times, and was probably used for sacrifices: the en-trance was through a queer-looking stone-roofed porch.
As I wandered among the graves, reading the epitaphs, I could see the simple and strong faith of the people. The following are specimens :
" Farewell ! now will I sleep and live in the home of peace."
"Oh ye be soon welcome to the same good rest. Delightful is the couch of re-pose, and the night is soon passed ; farewell, my heart says. In the heavens we shall meet. Now all my thoughts I turn, oh Jesus Christ, to thee."
"Into thy merciful hands I commit myself. Now I can depart from sorrow, vanity, and want, and forever be with thee, oh Jesus Christ."
The altar is old, of wood painted and gilded, and over it is a representation of an angel with clasped hands and golden hair, surrounded by clouds, on the top of which is seated a lamb, holding between the forelegs a cross: the lower part of the angel is partly hidden by rays. On the left is a full-size representation of the Saviour, with ghastly wounds in his side, who holds scales, in one of which is a bleeding heart, in the other a sword. On the right is a representation of a female figure, holding in one hand a cross, and in the other the Bible; at the bottom of the cross is an anchor: under her feet stands a child (to illustrate darkness), and not far off an over-turned jar, containing gold pieces. Over two windows are cherubim, one with a trumpet and a crown, and another with a. palm-leaf and trumpet. There is also a large cross, upon which is an ugly representation of Christ crucified, covered with blood. These pictures date from before the Reformation, but the pulpit is modern. Old slabs stand in front of the altar, on one of which is the date MDC.: XXII., and on the other 1669-1691, with inscriptions in Latin.
Here I met with old Scandinavian names: Erik, Carin, Brita, Olof, Lars, Ingre (Iuger), Ingrid, which were very rare further North.
The poor of this parish were taken care of in a very peculiar manner. While chatting at one of the houses an old man entered, dressed in a suit of new clothes, and wearing a high . silk hat, and was bidden to take a seat: when, upon inquiry, it was whispered in my ear that he was a pauper, I could hardly believe it. In some parishes the people prefer to have no poor-houses, as there are very few paupers. Each person who has to be supported has to prove before the Haradsting that he is too old or infirm to work; then he goes and remains six days on every farm of the parish. I was surprised to see how kindly they were treated—in many instances like visitors—having better food than that daily used by the family, and a good bed : and so they go from one farm to another. They are well cared. for, for it would be a great disgrace if the report should spread that Farmer So-and-so was hard-hearted to the poor. It sometimes happens that a man is not fully able to provide for his wants, from imbecility or other cause ; in that case the authorities of the parish make arrangements with some of the farmers to pay a fixed sum annually, stipulating what kind of labor the man may undertake, which is generally to tend the sheep or cows, split wood, draw water, or, in a word, make himself useful in a small way.. They think this system less demoralizing than that of the poor-house; but it is sometimes attended with great inconvenience, for I saw in one instance a person so old and imbecile that he was not far removed from the brute in slovenliness, and caused much discomfort to the families who had to take care of him in their turn.
A little farther north you enter the picturesque parish of Jattendal.
On a Sunday morning, as I came to the church at Njutânger, I saw near the gate, just outside of the burial-ground, a coffin containing a dead child ; the lid had not been put on, so that the neighbors and friends might take a look at the departed : the body was literally surrounded with flowers. In a group near by were several girls and women dressed in black, with white aprons, cuffs, and collars; they were the nearest relatives, and their dress was a sign of deep mourning. Some lads —the pall-bearers—wore a white muslin band around their arms above the elbow; two men had each a little bunch of flowers in their button-holes. After awhile the clergyman came in his robes, and the service of the dead began ; the men stood sorrowfully on one side, the women on the other. At the end of the ceremony the clergyman cast three spadefuls of earth over the coffin, and then went into the church for the performance of the ordinary services.
We will now leave Helsingland on our way towards Jemtland, and thence to Norway.
In Helsingland, as well as in other provinces of the North, the cultivation of flax is common, and the women are expert in the manufacture of linen. Here many of the homes of the peasantry are pictures of thrift, which delights the eyes of the stranger, who is reminded forcibly of the by-gone days of his own land.
Entering a house, I found myself in the large room, and saw two old-fashioned large looms—the same kind that has been in use for generations—and at one of these a daughter was weaving linen; near her on a chair lay a large roll of fine cotton cloth, which had been woven by a sister for dresses for the family. She was an expert, and could manufacture twelve almar (24 feet) a day. At the other loom the mother was weaving a coarse woollen stuff for the winter clothing of her husband and boys, who were to have new suits on Christmas. Two of the younger daughters were busy at the spinning.-wheels, while the servant-girl was carding wool.
We will now leave Helsingland on our way towards Jemtland, and thence to Norway.