Most of the towns are seaports, and seaports are not favourable to improvement. The captains acquire a little superficial knowledge by travelling, which their indefatigable attention to the making of money prevents their digesting; and the fortune that they thus laboriously acquire is spent, as it usually is in towns of this description, in show and good living. They love their country, but have not much public spirit. Their exertions are, generally speaking, only for their families, which, I conceive, will always be the case, till politics, becoming a subject of discussion, enlarges the heart by opening the understanding. The French Revolution will have this effect. They sing, at present, with great glee, many Republican songs, and seem earnestly to wish that the republic may stand; yet they appear very much attached to their Prince Royal, and, as far as rumour can give an idea of a character, he appears to merit their attachment. When I am at Copenhagen, I shall be able to ascertain on what foundation their good opinion is built; at present I am only the echo of it.
In the year 1788 he travelled through Norway; and acts of mercy gave dignity to the parade, and interest to the joy his presence inspired. At this town he pardoned a girl condemned to die for murdering an illegitimate child, a crime seldom committed in this country. She is since married, and become the careful mother of a family. This might be given as an instance, that a desperate act is not always a proof of an incorrigible depravity of character, the only plausible excuse that has been brought forward to justify the infliction of capital punishments.
I will relate two or three other anecdotes to you, for the truth of which I will not vouch because the facts were not of sufficient consequence for me to take much pains to ascertain them; and, true or false, they evince that the people like to make a kind of mistress of their prince.
An officer, mortally wounded at the ill-advised battle of Quistram, desired to speak with the prince; and with his dying breath, earnestly recommended to his care a young woman of Christiania, to whom he was engaged. When the prince returned there, a ball was given by the chief inhabitants: he inquired whether this unfortunate girl was invited, and requested that she might, though of the second class. The girl came; she was pretty; and finding herself among her superiors, bashfully sat down as near the door as possible, nobody taking notice of her. Shortly after, the prince entering, immediately inquired for her, and asked her to dance, to the mortification of the rich dames. After it was over he handed her to the top of the room, and placing himself by her, spoke of the loss she had sustained, with tenderness, promising to provide for anyone she should marry, as the story goes. She is since married, and he has not forgotten his promise.
A little girl, during the same expedition, in Sweden, who informed him that the logs of a bridge were out underneath, was taken by his orders to Christiania, and put to school at his expense.
Before I retail other beneficial effects of his journey, it is necessary to inform you that the laws here are mild, and do not punish capitally for any crime but murder, which seldom occurs. Every other offence merely subjects the delinquent to imprisonment and labour in the castle, or rather arsenal at Christiania, and the fortress at Fredericshall. The first and second conviction produces a sentence for a limited number of years--two, three, five, or seven, proportioned to the atrocity of the crime. After the third he is whipped, branded in the forehead, and condemned to perpetual slavery. This is the ordinary course of justice. For some flagrant breaches of trust, or acts of wanton cruelty, criminals have been condemned to slavery for life time first the of conviction, but not frequently. The number of these slaves do not, I am informed, amount to more than a hundred, which is not considerable, compared with the population, upwards of eight hundred thousand. Should I pass through Christiania, on my return to Gothenburg, I shall probably have an opportunity of learning other particulars.
There is also a House of Correction at Christiania for trifling misdemeanours, where the women are confined to labour and imprisonment even for life. The state of the prisoners was represented to the prince, in consequence of which he visited the arsenal and House of Correction. The slaves at the arsenal were loaded with irons of a great weight; he ordered them to be lightened as much as possible.
The people in the House of Correction were commanded not to speak to him; but four women, condemned to remain there for life, got into the passage, and fell at his feet. He granted them a pardon; and inquiring respecting the treatment of the prisoners, he was informed that they were frequently whipped going in, and coming out, and for any fault, at the discretion of the inspectors. This custom he humanely abolished, though some of the principal inhabitants, whose situation in life had raised them above the temptation of stealing, were of opinion that these chastisements were necessary and wholesome.