Gathered into himself by the cold, lowering his visage to avoid the cutting blast, is it surprising that the churlish pleasure of drinking drams takes place of social enjoyments amongst the poor, especially if we take into the account that they mostly live on high-seasoned provision and rye bread? Hard enough, you may imagine, as it is baked only once a year. The servants also, in most families, eat this kind of bread, and have a different kind of food from their masters, which, in spite of all the arguments I have heard to vindicate the custom, appears to me a remnant of barbarism.
In fact, the situation of the servants in every respect, particularly that of the women, shows how far the Swedes are from having a just conception of rational equality. They are not termed slaves; yet a man may strike a man with impunity because he pays him wages, though these wages are so low that necessity must teach them to pilfer, whilst servility renders them false and boorish. Still the men stand up for the dignity of man by oppressing the women. The most menial, and even laborious offices, are therefore left to these poor drudges. Much of this I have seen. In the winter, I am told, they take the linen down to the river to wash it in the cold water, and though their hands, cut by the ice, are cracked and bleeding, the men, their fellow-servants, will not disgrace their manhood by carrying a tub to lighten their burden.
You will not be surprised to hear that they do not wear shoes or stockings, when I inform you that their wages are seldom more than twenty or thirty shillings per annum. It is the custom, I know, to give them a new year's gift and a present at some other period, but can it all amount to a just indemnity for their labour? The treatment of servants in most countries, I grant, is very unjust, and in England, that boasted land of freedom, it is often extremely tyrannical. I have frequently, with indignation, heard gentlemen declare that they would never allow a servant to answer them; and ladies of the most exquisite sensibility, who were continually exclaiming against the cruelty of the vulgar to the brute creation, have in my presence forgot that their attendants had human feelings as well as forms. I do not know a more agreeable sight than to see servants part of a family. By taking an interest, generally speaking, in their concerns you inspire them with one for yours. We must love our servants, or we shall never be sufficiently attentive to their happiness; and how can those masters be attentive to their happiness who, living above their fortunes, are more anxious to outshine their neighbours than to allow their household the innocent enjoyments they earn?
It is, in fact, much more difficult for servants, who are tantalised by seeing and preparing the dainties of which they are not to partake, to remain honest, than the poor, whose thoughts are not led from their homely fare; so that, though the servants here are commonly thieves, you seldom hear of housebreaking, or robbery on the highway. The country is, perhaps, too thinly inhabited to produce many of that description of thieves termed footpads, or highwaymen. They are usually the spawn of great cities--the effect of the spurious desires generated by wealth, rather than the desperate struggles of poverty to escape from misery.
The enjoyment of the peasantry was drinking brandy and coffee, before the latter was prohibited, and the former not allowed to be privately distilled, the wars carried on by the late king rendering it necessary to increase the revenue, and retain the specie in the country by every possible means.
The taxes before the reign of Charles XII. were inconsiderable. Since then the burden has continually been growing heavier, and the price of provisions has proportionately increased--nay, the advantage accruing from the exportation of corn to France and rye to Germany will probably produce a scarcity in both Sweden and Norway, should not a peace put a stop to it this autumn, for speculations of various kinds have already almost doubled the price.
Such are the effects of war, that it saps the vitals even of the neutral countries, who, obtaining a sudden influx of wealth, appear to be rendered flourishing by the destruction which ravages the hapless nations who are sacrificed to the ambition of their governors. I shall not, however, dwell on the vices, though they be of the most contemptible and embruting cast, to which a sudden accession of fortune gives birth, because I believe it may be delivered as an axiom, that it is only in proportion to the industry necessary to acquire wealth that a nation is really benefited by it.
The prohibition of drinking coffee under a penalty, and the encouragement given to public distilleries, tend to impoverish the poor, who are not affected by the sumptuary laws; for the regent has lately laid very severe restraints on the articles of dress, which the middling class of people found grievous, because it obliged them to throw aside finery that might have lasted them for their lives.