Friendship and domestic happiness are continually praised; yet how little is there of either in the world, because it requires more cultivation of mind to keep awake affection, even in our own hearts, than the common run of people suppose. Besides, few like to be seen as they really are; and a degree of simplicity, and of undisguised confidence, which, to uninterested observers, would almost border on weakness, is the charm, nay the essence of love or friendship, all the bewitching graces of childhood again appearing. As objects merely to exercise my taste, I therefore like to see people together who have an affection for each other; every turn of their features touches me, and remains pictured on my imagination in indelible characters. The zest of novelty is, however, necessary to rouse the languid sympathies which have been hackneyed in the world; as is the factitious behaviour, falsely termed good-breeding, to amuse those, who, defective in taste, continually rely for pleasure on their animal spirits, which not being maintained by the imagination, are unavoidably sooner exhausted than the sentiments of the heart. Friendship is in general sincere at the commencement, and lasts whilst there is anything to support it; but as a mixture of novelty and vanity is the usual prop, no wonder if it fall with the slender stay. The fop in the play paid a greater compliment than he was aware of when he said to a person, whom he meant to flatter, "I like you almost as well as a NEW ACQUAINTANCE." Why am I talking of friendship, after which I have had such a wild-goose chase. I thought only of telling you that the crows, as well as wild-geese, are here birds of passage.
I left Tonsberg yesterday, the 22nd of August. It is only twelve or thirteen English miles to Moss, through a country less wild than any tract I had hitherto passed over in Norway. It was often beautiful, but seldom afforded those grand views which fill rather than soothe the mind.
We glided along the meadows and through the woods, with sunbeams playing around us; and, though no castles adorned the prospects, a greater number of comfortable farms met my eyes during this ride than I have ever seen, in the same space, even in the most cultivated part of England; and the very appearance of the cottages of the labourers sprinkled amidst them excluded all those gloomy ideas inspired by the contemplation of poverty.
The hay was still bringing in, for one harvest in Norway treads on the heels of the other. The woods were more variegated, interspersed with shrubs. We no longer passed through forests of vast pines stretching along with savage magnificence. Forests that only exhibited the slow decay of time or the devastation produced by warring elements. No; oaks, ashes, beech, and all the light and graceful tenants of our woods here sported luxuriantly. I had not observed many oaks before, for the greater part of the oak-planks, I am informed, come from the westward.
In France the farmers generally live in villages, which is a great disadvantage to the country; but the Norwegian farmers, always owning their farms or being tenants for life, reside in the midst of them, allowing some labourers a dwelling rent free, who have a little land appertaining to the cottage, not only for a garden, but for crops of different kinds, such as rye, oats, buck-wheat, hemp, flax, beans, potatoes, and hay, which are sown in strips about it, reminding a stranger of the first attempts at culture, when every family was obliged to be an independent community.
These cottagers work at a certain price (tenpence per day) for the farmers on whose ground they live, and they have spare time enough to cultivate their own land and lay in a store of fish for the winter. The wives and daughters spin and the husbands and sons weave, so that they may fairly be reckoned independent, having also a little money in hand to buy coffee, brandy and some other superfluities.
The only thing I disliked was the military service, which trammels them more than I at first imagined. It is true that the militia is only called out once a year, yet in case of war they have no alternative but must abandon their families. Even the manufacturers are not exempted, though the miners are, in order to encourage undertakings which require a capital at the commencement. And, what appears more tyrannical, the inhabitants of certain districts are appointed for the land, others for the sea service. Consequently, a peasant, born a soldier, is not permitted to follow his inclination should it lead him to go to sea, a natural desire near so many seaports.
In these regulations the arbitrary government--the King of Denmark being the most absolute monarch in Europe--appears, which in other respects seeks to hide itself in a lenity that almost renders the laws nullities. If any alteration of old customs is thought of, the opinion of the old country is required and maturely considered. I have several times had occasion to observe that, fearing to appear tyrannical, laws are allowed to become obsolete which ought to be put in force or better substituted in their stead; for this mistaken moderation, which borders on timidity, favours the least respectable part of the people.