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but it infinitely simplifies the Finn's task when he
comes to study the chief languages of West Europe.
It makes easier in every way the business of com-
munication between Finland and the outside world.

Again, the nation will never forget the glory shed
upon it by many illustrious Swedish Finns. For so
small a population they have produced a great num-
ber of remarkable men. The more chauvinistic of
the Finns are fond of saying that all the great men
of Finland, whether they spoke Swedish or not,
were really of Finnish origin, just as the more chau-
vinistic of the Swedes are fond of decrying all
things Finnish. But even admitting the Finnish
contention to be partly true, the number of remark-
able men produced by the Swedish Finns remains a
large one.

In conclusion, it may be well to emphasize two
great effects of the racial struggle, over and above
the general transformation of national life which
has been the theme of this chapter. The first is that
it has brought into Finnish life a healthy element of
competition which, when not carried to excess, has
greatly benefited and helped to develop the country.
The different parties have not merely been at war
with one another, but have also shown a noble
emulation of each other's achievements. As Mr.
J. R. Fisher writes: "Each side was so keen to
prove the advantage of its own language that the


building of schools, the writing of books and the
starting of newspapers received a tremendous im-
petus which has not yet spent itself." Whatever
may be said of Finland, it cannot be denied that the
country is alive and not asleep. Nearly every citi-
zen to-day has a wider interest than that of the mere
home circle and is identified with some cause outside
himself, and this seems due, more than anything
else, to the rivalry of Finns and Swedes. The writer
was once complaining of the extravagance of fac-
tion in Finland to an Englishman resident in Peters-
burg. The latter replied that he would a thousand
times rather have these signs of vigorous life than
the unhealthy quiet of Russia.

The second effect is that the racial struggle has
at times been so bitter as to involve national peril.
Party has been placed before country and atten-
tion diverted from the great issues of national life
to factional quarrels. This has even sometimes been
the case since the Russian peril became imminent.
On the whole, however, the common danger from
Russia has drawn the different parties together, and
there is probably a greater degree of understanding
between them to-day than has ever existed before.
The Swedish and the Young Finnish parties formed
an alliance during the Bobrikoff period under the
title of the Constitutional Party, and many Finns
who were previously very anti-Swedish have come
to realize that oppression of the Swedes would be
most illogical on the part of a race which is itself
protesting against Russian oppression. There are
a growing number of clear-sighted persons of every


party who realize that the time for hatred and dis-
union is over and that an era of reintegration and
co-operative endeavour is overdue ; that to persist in
carrying on internal quarrels at a time when the
very existence of the country is threatened by Rus-
sia would be dangerous in the extreme. Such per-
sons believe that for the good of the country the two
races must work side by side, each developing its
own special qualities and respecting those of the
other. They believe that the common interests of
the parties infinitely outnumber the points of dis-
agreement. They are, in fact, the inheritors of the
best traditions of the National movement.



A HUNDRED years ago Helsingfors was a
mere village. Greatness was thrust upon it
when Alexander I transferred the capital thither
from Abo, moved by the latter 's dangerous prox-
imity to Sweden. The supremacy of Helsingfors
was finally confirmed by the disastrous fire at Abo
in 1827, which, among other things, led to the Uni-
versity being re-established at a new capital. The
town has since increased by leaps and bounds and
will soon have a population of 200,000, four times
as great as that of Abo.

It lies on a rocky peninsula and has three splendid
harbours or fjords. Rarely can one view the open
sea from the lower parts of the town, on account
of the multitude of rocky islands that give the water
the effect of a lagoon. As one looks out to sea there
appears to be an unbroken wall of land enclosing
the water, and only as one approaches the wall does
it break up into separate isles, rocky and forest-
clad, each with a sharp individuality of its own.
While navigation is still open, on every side one sees
boats and steamers brilliantly white in the sunshine,
steam-launches and motor-boats plying between the
islands lying near the town, the bellying sails of
fishing boats gliding, exquisitely graceful, through



narrow channels, and innumerable rowing-boats,
as often as not pulled by sturdy old women. One
gets the impression of a semi-aquatic race, as much
at home on water as on land. To appreciate its
spirit Helsingf ors should be approached by water.

The city makes all the impression of a captial. It
has spacious streets and is laid out in a dignified
manner. There are fine parks and piazzas, restau-
rants and theatres, churches and public buildings.
It has also the feeling and atmosphere of a capital,
the cosmopolitanism, the gaiety, the entertainments,
the rush of life, the rapid growth, the complexity
of interest.

Architecturally the town is an extraordinary mix-
ture of styles. It was fortunate in its early days
in being planned by the talented German architect,
C. L. Engel, who also designed some fine classical
buildings, such as the University and Senate House,
of which the city is justly proud. Some of the prin-
cipal streets show strong German influence; in
others Finnish peasant architecture lingers in low
wooden buildings ; in others, again, are striking ex-
amples of modern Finnish architecture. In the lat-
ter it is hard to decipher any definite style. Often
they are fantastic and seem to have a touch of Asia-
tic feeling in them, as if the granite would like to
break into Japanese or Chinese shapes were it only
more pliable. This bizarre effect is heightened by
the grotesque heads with which some of the build-
ings are ornamented, and in which the granite seems
to have achieved independent life and to leer at the
passer-by. Many of the houses are extravagant and


ill-proportioned, but a few attain to a surprising
dignity and beauty. Of most it may be said that
they are alive and that the architect was really aim-
ing at something. The interiors of certain build-
ings, notably several banks, are admirable. The
Finnish architects also excel in designing summer
villas, of which many enchanting examples are
within easy reach of Helsingf ors.

One misses in Helsingfors old buildings and old
traditions. Electric trams, electric light, an excel-
lent telephone service, beautiful parks, do not make
up for the lack of historical associations such as
cling round the ancient towns of Abo, Viborg, Borga
and others, bringing with them a sense of rest and
old-world peace. The most delightful and old-world
thing that exists in Helsingfors is likely soon to be
abolished, namely, the open-air market. This is
held every morning on a great open space close to
the quays of the principal harbour. On one side of
you are stalls with all kinds of produce, on the other
side are boats from which neighbouring peasants
sell fish and vegetables. Here one usually sees real
animation and colour, features too often lacking in
Finnish life. Why Finnish artists do not use the
beautiful opportunity the Helsingfors market offers
them I cannot understand. The market is also asso-
ciated with the good old custom of the housewife,
perhaps accompanied by her servant, coming down
to do her own marketing. It is delightful to see
ladies of one's acquaintance doing this, and one
looks forward with apprehension to the day when
snobbery will render it no longer possible. The mar-


ket is especially exciting when the autumn sail-
fleet comes in to sell provisions for the winter.
Then one buys potatoes, cabbages and carrots in
great quantities and kegs of salted fish, apples both
for cooking and eating, and usually also a few
luxuries, such as a pot of honey. Another great day
in the market is when the ice breaks up, and one
fine morning, on the way into town, one sees the
long expected sight of masts and rigging along the
harbour quay.

People coming from Petersburg justly commend
the cleanness of Helsingfors. They also speak of it
as a good and cheap place for shopping. This is,
however, an impression hardly shared by any one
coming from England. Fresh vegetables can only
be obtained in winter at prohibitive prices, except-
ing of course the most common vegetables, such as
cabbages and carrots. Meat is not more expensive
than in England, but the quality is very inferior,
and nearly everything else costs more, and often
double or treble as much. The high tariff is largely
to blame. Tea which in England costs Is. 6d. or Is.
8d. a pound is sold here for 6s. 8d. a pound. For the
same reason one has to pay at a very high rate for
groceries of all kinds. Clothes, again, are extremely
expensive. Not only the tariff but also high rents
make things dear. The average rent per room is
about 20. This is due partly to the fact that Hels-
ingfors is growing fast and lies on a not very large
peninsula, but also to the violent speculation that
has been going on in land and building, forcing
prices up. There can be no doubt, also, that busi-


ness firms expect too high profits, and the public
has not yet awaked to the idea of protecting itself.

What with high rents and high prices, Helsingf ors
is not an ideal place to keep house in on a small in-
come. Nor is it freer than other places from the
servant problem. The writer's own experience in
this regard has been unusually fortunate, he having
been blessed with a peasant girl who has inspired
him with a profound respect for the qualities and
capacities of her race and class. Many people, how-
ever, complain bitterly of the independence of their
servants and their inconvenient habit of staying
out till the early hours of the morning. It is true
that the new wine of Social Democracy has rather
gone to the heads of the servant class, but one may
doubt if the fault is exclusively on one side. In
the older houses the accommodation for servants is
often rather deficient, according to English ideas,
and servants' wages range lower than with us,
though they are rising.

In spite of its summer beauty, Helsingf ors is de-
signed as a winter town. All the houses are pro-
vided with double windows, and in winter these are
fastened up with cotton-wool and gummed paper to
keep out the draught. Only one window in each
room is left so that it can be opened sometimes,
alas! even this exception is not made. Wood is
burned, there being no coal supply, and the stoves
are of the continental type, usually reaching to the
roof. In spite of the abundance of timber, wood is
dear. A high tribute is due to the effectiveness and
economy of the Finnish system of heating. In spite


of the very low temperature in the winter, I have
never suffered so little from the cold as in Finland.
In November and December the days shorten with
extraordinary rapidity, and one seems to descend
into a black bottomless ditch. One longs for the snow
to stay, but it usually falls and melts several times
before Christmas. Nevertheless the sea is usually
frozen by the New Year, and soon one begins to
ascend the ditch on the other side. After the drear-
iness of the autumn the season of Christmas and the
New Year comes as a great relief. There is much
good cheer, though not of a kind one is accustomed
to in England. The Christmas ham is a great in-
stitution; it is served on a great dish encircled by
half a dozen dainties, like a big ship surrounded by
tenders. Another and, to the foreigner, less pleas-
ing feature of Christams fare is the so-called lut-
fisJc. It is stockfish prepared in some peculiar way
and accompanied by a mass of pepper and salt to
counteract its insipidity and sliminess. But it ranks
as a great delicacy and the taste can be acquired.
Christmas is indelibly associated in Finland with
sealing-wax, as all Christmas parcels are fastened
up by means of it. The Christmas-tree is a sine qua
non for every household, whether there are chil-
dren or not. Often such trees are quite small and
stand on a table. For a day or two before Christ-
mas the great square outside the railway station is
a mass of fir-trees of all sizes and shapes. As they
are constantly being moved, one is reminded of
Macbeth and how Birnam wood moved on Dun-
sinane. Trees cost from fourpence upwards, and


people either carry them home themselves or hire
some one else to do so, or take them home in a sleigh.
For days afterwards one's rooms have a delicious
scent of the forest. Father Christmas is also a
familiar figure in Finland. In appearance he is not
very unlike our own friend, but he bears the name
Jul-Bocken i.e., Yule Goat. He rings the house
bell, and on entering is welcomed with acclamation.
He usually carries with him a basket full of presents
for the company. With each present is a little poem
or a few lines of prose conveying compliments to the
person for whom it is intended or making fun of his
foibles. These the Yule Goat reads aloud amid
shrieks of laughter and the person addressed comes
forward for his Christmas-box. One can imagine a
Yule Goat, filled with a desire to reform people or to
pay off old scores, telling some deadly home-truths
to the company. Such an one, however, is not likely
to be chosen for the office.

When the sea is frozen the real joys of winter
begin. The ice becomes the scene of a vigorous life.
Koads marked by fir-trees are staked out on it be-
tween the town and the neighbouring islands, and
carts, cabs and automobiles make a lively traffic
upon them. Whole battalions of Eussian soldiers
may be seen drilling on the vast white expanse of
snow and ice, whilst Russian battleships are ice-
bound in the harbour. One has a delicious shock of
surprise the first time one sees this life on the frozen
sea. With it, too, comes all the joy of winter sport,
for which Helsingf ors is most happily situated. At
least five great skating rinks are cleared in the har-


hours. They are frequently flooded at night in
order that the ice may be smooth and glassy, and
men go round filling up the cracks with water, as if
they were oiling a machine. Bands play there of an
evening, and the rinks are brilliantly lit by electric
light. At this time the spectacle is delightful, but
the rinks are often too crowded with small children
for comfort. One prefers to watch the adept figure-
skaters in the enclosed part of the rink. Had the
Greeks skated, the world would surely have been
enriched by some wonderful pieces of statuary. It
occasionaly happens that the sea is frozen before
the snows comes. This is the ideal time for skating,
for then one is not confined to a rink but can range
at will among the bays and islands and enjoy a
delicious sense of freedom. Then, too, one may
see people practising the perilous art of sailing on

Even more delightful than skating, on account of
this very freedom, is ski-ing. As Finland is not a
mountainous country the skis are made in a differ-
ent way from those used in Norway and Switzer-
land, being considerably longer. They are not at-
tached to the foot, which is merely slipped through
a strap, so that in falling one's foot is usually re-
leased. The people of Helsingfors are very fond of
ski-ing over the frozen sea. There is something
most exhilarating in going forward across the vast
shining plain of snow and ice, with a cloudless sky
above one. Good ski-runners can go at a consider-
able pace across the level, and if they find it mo-
notonous can make for some of the numerous islands


for variety. But few things call up the sense of
infinity so strongly as leaving the islands behind
one and ski-ing across the open sea. Often, how-
ever, people prefer to ski in the country, where there
is a constant succession of little hills and valleys.
Here the full beauty of winter woods becomes ap-
parent. This is especially so if one happens to go
on a morning when every tiniest twig has been
rimed. Then the scene is like fairyland or recalls
the delicate spray of fruit-blossom in the spring.
But on any clear day the trees laden with snow are
a noble and inspiring sight.

Tobogganing is but little indulged in, owing to
the absence of high hills, and is practically con-
fined to children, who seize every available slope for
it. A sledge, usually containing a seat in the mid-
dle, and called a sparkstotting , is used both by chil-
dren and grown-ups by the latter for the convey-
ance of goods. It is propelled by pushing with one
foot, while the other rests on one of the runners.

Most thrilling of all winter sports, however, is
ice-yachting. It is not without its dangers. The
man in charge seems to behave very much as he
would on board a small sailing-yacht, but the pas-
senger 's experience is very different. You lie flat
on your stomach and are hurled through the air at
the speed of an express train. The scenery shoots
past you at a dizzy pace. The runners on either
side are like the paws of some huge animal and are
lifted high when the wind is strong, descending on
the ice again with a shattering crash. You rush
with fearful impetus at a rocky cliff and, when de-


struction seems certain, swerve round with the ease
of a lizard. At times it feels as if you were about
to fly, the yacht taking little leaps, like an aeroplane
before it leaves the ground, and seeming a creature
of the air tugging at some restraining chain.

A heavy price has to be paid before one passes
from winter to spring, April being especially trying.
All around the ice and snow are melting, and both
sea and land look dirty and depressing. The roads
are unspeakable, except a very few ; for although the
snow is carted from the main streets after each
snow-fall and piled up into a mountain in some con-
venient place, yet a thick pavement of ice and snow
always remains on the road until it melts, or is
broken up by men with pickaxes and removed in
carts. Moreover, the combination of sunshine,
warmth and thaw, coming after the tension of a
Northern winter, causes an intolerable feeling of
drowsiness to afflict one and makes good work ex-
tremely difficult. Finally, however, spring emerges,
like a beautiful butterfly, shedding its dirty chrys-
alis. It is expected of the winter that it shall have
disappeared by the first of May. The expectation
is not always fulfilled, and snowstorms have been
known to mar the day, but, whatever the weather,
May Day is celebrated as the coming of spring.
The different student choirs sing in the public
parks, speeches are delivered, many signs of carni-
val are seen, and the day is given over to jollity.
And although from a spectacular point of view the
festival is not very striking, there can be no two
opinions about the gaiety of the atmosphere.


During the winter months Helsingfors enjoys a
rich intellectual life and one cannot fail to be struck
by the intellectual abilities of the Finns one meets
in society. Many distinguished foreign scholars are
invited by the University to give public lectures
every winter, and many famous musicians give con-
certs here on the way to or from Petersburg. In-
deed, there is almost a superfluity of good concerts.
It is pleasant to add that by going to the People's
House you can often hear for sixpence or even
threepence the same concert which in the University
Hall would cost half a crown or four shillings. Thus
the best music can be heard by the poorer people as
by the rich. The theatres are well managed and
keep the public in touch with dramatic movements
all over Europe. British plays are popular. A
large number of Shaw's have been produced, and
three of Galsworthy's, to say nothing of Shake-
speare. The theatres are of course repertory the-
atres, as is usual on the Continent. All the seats are
reserved and there is no need to stand outside the
pit or gallery door in the rain and cold, as in Lon-
don. The Finnish Theatre is a fine building, with
better cloakroom accommodation than most Lon-
don theatres.

In Helsingfors one is kept perpetually aware of
the fact that Finland is a country with two lan-
guages, and, in the official world, to some extent, of
three. The street signs are up in Finnish, Swedish
and Eussian, and each of these languages is repre-
sented by its own theatre. At an opera performance
one sometimes hears three different languages from


the stage, which is disconcerting until one gets used
to it. Students at the University have to pass an
entrance examination which includes a knowledge of
both Finnish and Swedish. Shpp assistants have
constantly to pass from one language to the other.
There are Finnish newspapers and Swedish ones.
Programmes for entertainments of all kinds are
usually printed in both languages, and so on.

Of Russia one is not very much aware outwardly,
except for the presence of Russian warships and
Russian troops. The fortress of Sveaborg, on its
seven islands, on one of which Dostoyevsky was im-
prisoned, lies right opposite the town, guarding the
approach to it; the north harbour is usually full
of Russian ships of various kinds, and the town
contains many large barracks. The Russian soldiers
look good-natured men, rather down-trodden and
not too clean or well-fed ; the best regiments are not
sent here, however. The officers make a rather
pleasant impression in that there is a complete lack
of "side" about them. Of the Russian officials in
Finland, however, only an optimist could speak
hopefully. Most of them are simply i l on the make, ' '
and their chief function, apart from feathering their
nests, seems to be the bringing of discredit upon
the nation they misrepresent. Between the Rus-
sians and the Finns there is, in these dark days, no

If Russia is not conspicuous to the eye in Hels-
ingfors, she is never absent from the mind. She
is a gloomy background, casting a shadow upon
every gay thought, a pestilential vapour poisoning


the country's life, a dark cloud that never lifts.
One can never get right away from the Russian
question. There is hardly a well-to-do family in
Helsingfors which has not the threat overhanging
it that one of its members may not come into con-
flict with the Russian-made law and be summarily
incarcerated in a Russian prison. It has already
happened to many, and will happen to many more
before better days dawn.

Society in Helsingfors falls into two main grooves
the Swedish-speaking people and the Finnish-
speaking people. They mix little and do not speak
very nicely of each other. Both are delightful and
interesting, so long as they keep off party politics,
when they tend to become bitter and self-righteous.
This is the inevitable aftermath of the racial strug-
gle, yet one cannot help regretting that such nice
people should not know each other better. Between
Swedish and Finnish circles there is not very much
essential difference ; that is to say, one does not find
radically different conceptions of life or of values.
As regards externals, the Finns have copied in
most respects the customs of the Swedes. In the
houses of the latter there is apt to be more wealth,
refinement and formality, in the former more dem-
ons trativeness and less constraint.

People in Finland are exteremely hospitable and
entertain lavishly. The usual hour for dinner is
five or six, if one is inviting guests, otherwise about
four. As a rule the second part of the evening is
the most pleasurable, as the Finns take a long time
to get warmed up. Conversation is rarely broken


by music or recitation, but a great variety of foods
and drinks are handed round in the course of the

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Online LibraryArthur ReadeFinland and the Finns → online text (page 5 of 22)