Aristocracy and fanaticism seem equally to be gaining ground in England, particularly in the place I have mentioned; I saw very little of either in Norway. The people are regular in their attendance on public worship, but religion does not interfere with their employments.
As the farmers cut away the wood they clear the ground. Every year, therefore, the country is becoming fitter to support the inhabitants. Half a century ago the Dutch, I am told, only paid for the cutting down of the wood, and the farmers were glad to get rid of it without giving themselves any trouble. At present they form a just estimate of its value; nay, I was surprised to find even firewood so dear when it appears to be in such plenty. The destruction, or gradual reduction, of their forests will probably ameliorate the climate, and their manners will naturally improve in the same ratio as industry requires ingenuity. It is very fortunate that men are a long time but just above the brute creation, or the greater part of the earth would never have been rendered habitable, because it is the patient labour of men, who are only seeking for a subsistence, which produces whatever embellishes existence, affording leisure for the cultivation of the arts and sciences that lift man so far above his first state. I never, my friend, thought so deeply of the advantages obtained by human industry as since I have been in Norway. The world requires, I see, the hand of man to perfect it, and as this task naturally unfolds the faculties he exercises, it is physically impossible that he should have remained in Rousseau's golden age of stupidity. And, considering the question of human happiness, where, oh where does it reside? Has it taken up its abode with unconscious ignorance or with the high- wrought mind? Is it the offspring of thoughtless animal spirits or the dye of fancy continually flitting round the expected pleasure?
The increasing population of the earth must necessarily tend to its improvement, as the means of existence are multiplied by invention.
You have probably made similar reflections in America, where the face of the country, I suppose, resembles the wilds of Norway. I am delighted with the romantic views I daily contemplate, animated by the purest air; and I am interested by the simplicity of manners which reigns around me. Still nothing so soon wearies out the feelings as unmarked simplicity. I am therefore half convinced that I could not live very comfortably exiled from the countries where mankind are so much further advanced in knowledge, imperfect as it is, and unsatisfactory to the thinking mind. Even now I begin to long to hear what you are doing in England and France. My thoughts fly from this wilderness to the polished circles of the world, till recollecting its vices and follies, I bury myself in the woods, but find it necessary to emerge again, that I may not lose sight of the wisdom and virtue which exalts my nature.
What a long time it requires to know ourselves; and yet almost every one has more of this knowledge than he is willing to own, even to himself. I cannot immediately determine whether I ought to rejoice at having turned over in this solitude a new page in the history of my own heart, though I may venture to assure you that a further acquaintance with mankind only tends to increase my respect for your judgment and esteem for your character. Farewell!
I have once more, my friend, taken flight, for I left Tonsberg yesterday, but with an intention of returning in my way back to Sweden.
The road to Laurvig is very fine, and the country the best cultivated in Norway. I never before admired the beech tree, and when I met stragglers here they pleased me still less. Long and lank, they would have forced me to allow that the line of beauty requires some curves, if the stately pine, standing near, erect, throwing her vast arms around, had not looked beautiful in opposition to such narrow rules.
In these respects my very reason obliges me to permit my feelings to be my criterion. Whatever excites emotion has charms for me, though I insist that the cultivation of the mind by warming, nay, almost creating the imagination, produces taste and an immense variety of sensations and emotions, partaking of the exquisite pleasure inspired by beauty and sublimity. As I know of no end to them, the word infinite, so often misapplied, might on this occasion be introduced with something like propriety.