Democratic Norway-Her Sun, Her Scenery And Her Coronation
Norway was so full of attractions at the time of our visit that I am at a loss to know in what order to treat of them.' As those things which are permanent will interest a larger number than the transient ceremonies attending the crowning of a new king, I shall give the preference to the most distinguishing feature of Norway, that which has been interwoven with her name, viz., the midnight sun. Owing to its accessibility and to the fact that its climate is moderated by the influence of the Gulf stream, the coast of upper Norway furnishes the best opportunity which Europeans have to mount the Arctic merry-go-round and view the sun through the whole nightless day. It is a weird experience, this passing from day to day without intervening darkness, and one returns from it somewhat exhausted, for the light tempts him to encroach upon the hours of sleep.
The North Cape, the northernmost point of the continent of Europe, is usually the destination of the tourist, but it is not necessary to go so far to see all that there is worth seeing. There are several towns above the Arctic circle where for several weeks the sun never sinks to the horizon. At Bodo, which is but little more than a day's ride by boat from Trondhjem, the sun is visible at midnight from May 30 to July 11. At Hammerfest, which is the terminus of some of the steamboat lines and which claims to be the northernmost town in the world, the sun does not set between May 13 and July 28, while at Tromso, not quite so far north as Hammerfest, the inhabitants have but ten days less of the midnight sun.
We stopped at Svolvaer, one of the chief fishing stations of the Lofoden Islands, nearly two hundred miles north of the Arctic circle. We arrived about seven in the evening, and would have seen the sun the previous night but for a bank of clouds behind which it passed at about 11:30. Svolvaer nestles at the foot of some snow-crowned peaks which shut out the northern horizon, and it is necessary to go out into the open sea or to climb a mountain to get an uninterrupted view. With our usual good luck we found an English-speaking Norwegian who had studied in the United States, and with him to direct us, we spent a memorable night among the islands.
The channel to the north, known as Raftsund, is one of the most picturesque along the entire coast, and the Troldfjord which leads from it through a rockbound gorge to the outlet of a famous mountain lake, is not surpassed in rugged grandeur. Troldfjord deserves to be described by a poet, for prose can not do it justice. If any of my readers have ever passed through the Royal Gorge in southern Colorado, they may understand me when I say that Troldfjord is a Royal Gorge with its walls widened to a quarter of a mile and lengthened to a mile, and the space between them filled with a transparent sea, whose surface perfectly mirrors every rock and shrub. At the upper end of the fjord is a majestic cascade, the dashing, splashing, foaming outlet of the lake two hundred feet above. Our launch ceased its throbbing and sat swanlike on the fathomless water, while' we feasted our eyes upon a picture so beautiful that darkness hesitates to draw a curtain over its charms.
The mountain, Digermulkollen, selected as an observation point, is on the Raftsund and not far from the Troldfjord. I can not give its height, but when I guessed at it before the ascent, I put it at five or six hundred feet; after ascending it I am satisfied that it is a thou-sand. We timed our trip so as to reach the top at midnight, slaking our thirst from the snowbanks along the trail, and it was the fault of the clouds that we did not see the orb of day—at this season and in this latitude he is orb of the night as well—as he reached the lowest point; but they were kind to us a little later, for through a rift in them we saw the face of old Sol just long enough to be sure that he, like ourselves, was up for all night. Even though the clouds concealed the sun at the witching hour of midnight, the light was the light of day, and I had no difficulty in reading a paper (which truth, as well as loyalty to my own publication,, compels me to say was The Commoner). The fact that we almost missed seeing the sun at all leads me to remark that many make the entire trip without catching a glimpse of it. We were informed that an excursion steamer had gone to the North Cape and back in mist and rain just a few days before. It had not occurred to us in planning our visit to Norway that cloudy weather had to be taken into consideration, but we found that clear nights are the exception rather than the rule, especially during the latter part of the season.
Svolvaer is a quiet place in summer, but during January, February and March its little harbor is full of fishing smacks, for thirty thousand men fish in the waters of the Lofoden Islands. Cod is the principal fish taken and codliver oil is one of the chief products of the islands. Immense quantities of dried fish are shipped to southern Europe, while the fresh and salted fish find a market in the British Isles and Germany.
If one desires to see merely fjords, glaciers, lakes and mountain streams, the southern part of Norway offers a sufficient variety of each. Bergen, the principal city on the west coast, the second city in the country and a former member of the Hanseatic League, is the seaport of this northern Switzerland. With the Sogne Fjord on the north, Hardanger Fjord on the south and west and a chain of lakes almost connecting the two, one can see every variety of scenery in a three days' trip around Bergen. As we had but two days to spend there, we had to miss the northern fjord, but Hardanger, the twenty-one mile ride across the mountains and the railroad from Voss back to Bergen, furnished such a wealth of scenery that another day could hardly have added much to our enjoyment.
Taking a boat at Bergen, we devoted eleven hours to winding about through Hardanger Fjord, and every moment presented some new at-traction. These fjords seem to have been formed by a convulsion that opened great cracks in the mountains which line the coast of Norway. In some places the shores are precipitous cliffs, reaching from the water upwards for hundreds of feet, but for most of the way the banks slope back and are covered with stunted pines and undergrowth. Scattered all along the way are innumerable cascades and waterfalls, varying in width from a few inches to many feet. At one place we counted eleven of these in sight at one time, and we were never out of hearing of their music. Some of them are harnessed to little sawmills. At one point the boat halted within a few hundred yards of a great glacier, which is crawling down a mountain gorge, and from whose mouth, as from a fountain, gushes a ceaseless stream. For ages this mass of ice has been slowly moving down from the mountains, and every day tons upon tons melt and disappear, but its losses at its base are made good at its top, and it lives on like the human race, ever dying and yet ever young.
Disembarking at Eide we took a four-hours carriage ride, following a mountain stream to its source, crossing the range at an elevation of a thousand feet and descending along another stream to the lake upon which the village of Voss is situated. From this pointa scenic railroad, which passes through fifty-two tunnels in seventy miles, took us back to Bergen. As might be gathered from what has already been said, Norway does not impress the tourist as a farmer's paradise, although agriculture is first among her industries. The farms, as seen from the routes of travel, seem very diminutive and are usually triangular in form and look like wedges inserted in the cracks of the mountains, Occasionally a valley is broad enough to invite the cultivation of a level piece of land and the invitation was long ago accepted. Potatoes grow well in Norway and are of excellent flavor. On the coast boats they furnished the staple, and sometimes almost the only, vegetable, although the bill of fare often included seven different kinds of fish, nearly as many varieties of cold meat, half as many brands of cheese, besides white, brown and black bread. Rye, barley and wheat are grown in the southern districts and grass everywhere. Owing to the frequent showers and the long days of summer, grass grows very rapidly, but as it is difficult to cure it, the people have adopted a plan which looks peculiar to foreigners. They build frames that look like sections of a fence and the green hay is hung upon the boards or wire as the case may be. The lower rows are protected from the rain by the upper one, and the air has access to all of it.
About three hours drive from Bergen there is a little wooded island on which the great Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull, built a summer home where he was wont to retire at the conclusion of his tours and where at last he died. He was not only a great admirer of American institutions and of the American people in general, but he married an American, and his daughter returns to Norway every year to celebrate May 17, Norway's independence day, at her father's home and with her father's countrymen. The daughter is one of the many connecting links between the two countries, and by her invitation, extended through our consul, Mr. Cunningham, we had the privilege of visiting this historic spot. We were glad to do so, because Ole Bull was not only one of the great musicians of the last century, but he was one of the greatest democrats that Norway has produced—a democrat not in a partisan sense, but in that broader sense in which it describes one who believes in the people, trusts them and labors for their welfare.
There are many public men in Norway worthy of mention, but space forbids an enumeration of them. There is, however, a relic of great historic interest to which I must devote a line. It is the Viking Ship, a thousand years old, now on exhibition at Christiania. It was dug up twenty-five years ago and is fairly well preserved. It gives one an idea of the ships used by those early seamen of the north whose daring exploits make fiction seem tame.
It so happened that we arrived in Norway just in time to attend the coronation of King Haakon VII., and we had our first opportunity to see royalty on parade. The new king is a son of the king of Denmark, and his wife, Queen Maud, is daughter of the king of England. When, last year, Norway withdrew from her union with Sweden, the crown was offered to a son of King Oscar, but the offer was refused, and it is probably not too much to. say that the Norwegians expected it to be re-fused, but they wanted to show that separation was not due to antagonism to the reigning house. It was then tendered to the son of King Frederick and accepted. I shall speak later of the circumstances which explain this selection; it is sufficient at present to say that the new king is a sober, earnest, sensible looking young man of about thirty-five and seems to have made a very favorable impression upon the Norwegian people. By the courtesy of Minister Graves, who represents our country at Stockholm, and who, our minister to Norway not having received his appointment in time, was our nation's special ambassador to attend the coronation, we received invitations to the coronation ceremonies and were presented at court. While the newspaper reports of the coronation may rob what I am about to say of some of its freshness as news, I shall venture to describe what we saw, begging the reader's indulgence if I betray a lack of familiarity with the technical phrases employed on such occasions.
The coronation took place at Trondhjem, the former capital, a city situated on one of the numerous fjords that indent the western coast. The building selected for the occasion was the Gothic cathedral, the largest in Scandinavia, which was commenced in the eleventh, and completed in the fourteenth century. It is a historic building and belonged to the Bishopric of which Ireland was a part before America was discovered by Columbus. The cathedral has suffered from several fires, and a part of it was in ruins for three centuries. It is now sufficiently re-stored to furnish a larger audience room than is to be found in most cities of the size. Under the dome a circular space was left for the royal party while the visitors were seated, the foreign representatives nearest the center, on raised seats in the nave and transepts. A broad aisle was left, extending from the entrance through the center to the chapel at the other end. Just before time for the king to arrive, a company of white-robed Lutheran priests marched from the chapel to the door, and a stalwart body of men they were. They marched back at the head of the procession, the king following, his crimson, ermine-lined robe trailing many feet behind—or it would have trailed but for the fact that it was carried by four attendants. The king was accompanied by several officers and followed by the standard bearer holding aloft the royal banner. Then came the queen wearing a robe similar to the king's, but it only required three attendants to keep its folds from the floor. She was attended by three maids of honor. The king and queen were escorted to thrones on opposite sides of the aisle, and the representatives of royal families occupied seats next to them. The Prince of Wales sat nearest the queen, next to him Prince Henry' of Germany, and the American ambassador next. Near the king sat Denmark's representative, then Russia's, and next to him the representative from France. There was gold braid galore ; some of the foreign representatives had enough on their clothes to put the Sultan of Sulu to shame. I never before saw so much gold, and I have been wondering since whether there may not be a new yellow peril of which our financiers have little dreamed. Our representatives used less of this ornamentation (they all wore military uniforms) than those of any other country, and the question arises, what is going to become of the honest dollar if, with the spread of the ideas of a republic, the amount of gold braid is decreased and a vast quantity of gold is poured through the mints into the volume of the world's currency? It might so enlarge the volume of money as to make the money changers clamor for the demonetization of gold, and, then the silverites would be called gold bugs for insisting upon the free and unlimited coinage of gold.
After some excellent music, instrumental and vocal, a member of the clergy ascended a pulpit not far from the king and queen and delivered an earnest address. He was a typical Norwegian, powerful of frame and strong of face—such as we might imagine one of the Viking chiefs to have been. Then there was more music, and it may interest the readers to .know that all the music was prepared for the occasion, the words of the cantata being by the pastor of the church, and the hymns being written in the language of the peasants. Finally the king arose, proceeded down the aisle to the chapel and kneeling, received from the bishop the insignia of office, the crown being placed upon his head, a gold chain about his neck, a sceptre in one hand and a golden globe in the other. As soon as he returned to the throne, the queen advanced to the chapel and was likewise invested, and then the premier, Mr. Michelson, proposed a salute to the king and queen. The people responded with earnestness and the exercises were concluded.
I do not expect to witness another coronation, and it will be some satisfaction to remember that the first and only one attended was that of a king whom the people of their own accord selected; for if there is anything more democratic than a republican form of government, it is the fundamental principle that the people have a right to have whatever form of government they desire. Jefferson emphasized this doctrine when the people of France called Napoleon to the throne, and it has Bible sanction as well, for when the children of Israel still demanded a king, even after Samuel explained what a king would do, he was told to let them have their way.
The next day we put on our best clothes and joined the line that passed before the king and queen. It was not a very satisfying experience, but it is worth something to know how such things are done, and I may add, the more an American sees of it, the more he appreciates the simplicity of public life in his own country.
Norway, in spite of the choosing of a king, is the most democratic country in northern Europe. She has no nobility, confers no titles and had to go outside of her own realm to find one of royal birth.. She had her kings and princes in the early days, but one Norwegian statesman explained to us that when they lost their privileges they emigrated to America and went to farming. The choice of a Dane was not strange, if a king was to be chosen from without, for Norway was united with Denmark for more than three centuries, and there has always been a friendly feeling between the two countries. It was expedient, too, under the circumstances, to offer the crown to the son of the Danish king, for this brought Norway's throne into kinship with the thrones of England and Russia, as well as with that of Denmark. In fact, the circumstances and the situation had a good deal to do with the four-to-one vote in favor of a monarchy. When it is remembered that Norway's paramount aim was to secure independence and that this might have been jeopardized by an attempt to establish a republic at the same time, it is really surprising that one-fifth of the people had the courage to vote to plant a republic amid surrounding monarchies. There are many in Norway who prefer a president to a king and who object to having two and a half millions of people taxed nearly two hundred thousand dollars a year to pay the salary of a kingly figurehead, but the monarchists reply that the king's position is purely ornamental and enables the govern-ment to maintain cordial relations with other European countries while the people govern themselves through the storthing. They point out that the king has much less power than our president. While this is true, they forget that a president elected by the people and holding office but four years can be trusted with more executive authority than an hereditary monarch. The storthing has absolute power, and as its members are elected by universal suffrage every three years, and as there is but the one parliamentary body, public sentiment finds prompt expression in the government. It can be truthfully said, therefore, that with the exception of the executive branch of the government, Norway is thoroughly democratic and that the influence of the king is reduced to a minimum.
Norway has a promising future. Her people are hardy and intelligent. Education has been compulsory for fifty years, and it is the country's boast that it spends more per capita on schools than any other country in Europe. Because of Norway's immense shipping interests she demanded a separate consular service, and it was the refusal of Sweden to consent to this that led to the separation. Now that her des-tiny is in the hands of her own people, much is to be expected of her. Her sons and daughters, those who have emigrated to America, as well as those who have remained at home, prove to the world that it is possible for a people to acquire the refinements of civilization without losing their original strength and vigor.
( Originally Published 1907 )
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