On the subject of religion they are likewise becoming tolerant, at least, and perhaps have advanced a step further in free-thinking. One writer has ventured to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, and to question the necessity or utility of the Christian system, without being considered universally as a monster, which would have been the case a few years ago. They have translated many German works on education; and though they have not adopted any of their plans, it has become a subject of discussion. There are some grammar and free schools; but, from what I hear, not very good ones. All the children learn to read, write, and cast accounts, for the purposes of common life. They have no university; and nothing that deserves the name of science is taught; nor do individuals, by pursuing any branch of knowledge, excite a degree of curiosity which is the forerunner of improvement. Knowledge is not absolutely necessary to enable a considerable portion of the community to live; and, till it is, I fear it never becomes general.
In this country, where minerals abound, there is not one collection; and, in all probability, I venture a conjecture, the want of mechanical and chemical knowledge renders the silver mines unproductive, for the quantity of silver obtained every year is not sufficient to defray the expenses. It has been urged that the employment of such a number of hands is very beneficial. But a positive loss is never to be done away; and the men, thus employed, would naturally find some other means of living, instead of being thus a dead weight on Government, or rather on the community from whom its revenue is drawn.
About three English miles from Tonsberg there is a salt work, belonging, like all their establishments, to Government, in which they employ above a hundred and fifty men, and maintain nearly five hundred people, who earn their living. The clear profit, an increasing one, amounts to two thousand pounds sterling. And as the eldest son of the inspector, an ingenious young man, has been sent by the Government to travel, and acquire some mathematical and chemical knowledge in Germany, it has a chance of being improved. He is the only person I have met with here who appears to have a scientific turn of mind. I do not mean to assert that I have not met with others who have a spirit of inquiry.
The salt-works at St. Ubes are basins in the sand, and the sun produces the evaporation, but here there is no beach. Besides, the heat of summer is so short-lived that it would be idle to contrive machines for such an inconsiderable portion of the year. They therefore always use fires; and the whole establishment appears to be regulated with judgment.
The situation is well chosen and beautiful. I do not find, from the observation of a person who has resided here for forty years, that the sea advances or recedes on this coast.
I have already remarked that little attention is paid to education, excepting reading, writing, and the rudiments of arithmetic; I ought to have added that a catechism is carefully taught, and the children obliged to read in the churches, before the congregation, to prove that they are not neglected.
Degrees, to enable any one to practise any profession, must be taken at Copenhagen; and the people of this country, having the good sense to perceive that men who are to live in a community should at least acquire the elements of their knowledge, and form their youthful attachments there, are seriously endeavouring to establish a university in Norway. And Tonsberg, as a central place in the best part of the country, had the most suffrages, for, experiencing the bad effects of a metropolis, they have determined not to have it in or near Christiania. Should such an establishment take place, it will promote inquiry throughout the country, and give a new face to society. Premiums have been offered, and prize questions written, which I am told have merit. The building college-halls, and other appendages of the seat of science, might enable Tonsberg to recover its pristine consequence, for it is one of the most ancient towns of Norway, and once contained nine churches. At present there are only two. One is a very old structure, and has a Gothic respectability about it, which scarcely amounts to grandeur, because, to render a Gothic pile grand, it must have a huge unwieldiness of appearance. The chapel of Windsor may be an exception to this rule; I mean before it was in its present nice, clean state. When I first saw it, the pillars within had acquired, by time, a sombre hue, which accorded with the architecture; and the gloom increased its dimensions to the eye by hiding its parts; but now it all bursts on the view at once, and the sublimity has vanished before the brush and broom; for it has been white-washed and scraped till it has become as bright and neat as the pots and pans in a notable house- wife's kitchen--yes; the very spurs on the recumbent knights were deprived of their venerable rust, to give a striking proof that a love of order in trifles, and taste for proportion and arrangement, are very distinct. The glare of light thus introduced entirely destroys the sentiment these piles are calculated to inspire; so that, when I heard something like a jig from the organ-loft, I thought it an excellent hall for dancing or feasting. The measured pace of thought with which I had entered the cathedral changed into a trip; and I bounded on the terrace, to see the royal family, with a number of ridiculous images in my head that I shall not now recall.
The Norwegians are fond of music, and every little church has an organ. In the church I have mentioned there is an inscription importing that a king James VI. of Scotland and I. of England, who came with more than princely gallantry to escort his bride home-- stood there, and heard divine service.