Copyright
Arthur Reade.

Finland and the Finns online

. (page 6 of 22)
Online LibraryArthur ReadeFinland and the Finns → online text (page 6 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


evening. The scale of these entertainments and the
toasting that goes on recall the great banquets de-
scribed in Scandinavian or Finnish sagas, but one
sometimes would be glad of the minstrelsy which
broke the flow of talk on those occasions. In spite
of Woman's Suffrage the two sexes tend to form
groups separately. The groups once formed are too
apt to become rigid, and there is an opening for a
hostess who would develop the art of making her
guests change places more. The system has the
advantage, however, that if you have once got into
an. interesting conversation with any one you are
not so likely to be interrupted as in England. No one
who has been privileged to enjoy Finnish hos-
pitality can ever forget the warmth and generosity
of it. The same characteristic is beautifully in-
stanced in the Finnish habit of sending flowers.
Flowers here are an expensive luxury and often
fade only too rapidly. One sometimes regrets one's
friends spending their money in such a way, but
the feeling behind it is a fine one and, as an Eng-
lish-woman once remarked to me, recalls the story
of the alabaster box of precious ointment.

It cannot be denied that, as she develops, Finland
is acquiring the vices as well as the virtues of high
civilization. Nearly everybody is anxious to be
modern and like present-day England, France or
Germany, which is a little discouraging to persons
who love Finland as being one of the few European
countries which are not like present-day England,



LIFE IN HELSINGFORS 79

France or Germany, which is a little discouraging to
persons who love Finland as being one of the few
European countries which are not like present-day
England, France and Germany. To the writer it is
painful to see the beginning of financial scandals,
bankruptcies, irresponsible borrowing and lending,
vulgar extravagance, snobbery, living above one's
income, cocksureness, put-you-rightness, and so on,
but others welcome these symptoms as showing that
Finland is getting into line with the Great Powers.
The divorce between the intellectuals and Chris-
tianity is very complete in Helsingf ors, there being
an absolute indifferentism to religious questions.
Among the younger people, the attitude of con-
descension and cocksureness towards Christians is,
perhaps, a little exaggerated; they give the impres-
sion that they have heard of Christians, but hardly
except to meet them out of England and museums.
A charming young lady whose opinion I asked con-
cerning, the "Pilgrim's Progress," which she had
read for an examination, replied, "Myself, I do not
like it, but I think it is very nice for uneducated peo-
ple, who like to read the Bible, and such books." A
professor, however, walking home with the writer
after a jolly supper-party, made the striking admis-
sion: "We Finns are not irreligious because we are
so Abroad-minded, but because we are so narrow-
minded." However this may be and there are
special reasons why religion is temporarily at a dis-
count in Finland there is plenty of idealism in
other directions, such as education, art, music and
patriotism. If the Finns, justly proud of the won-



80 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

derful progress they have made in so short a time,
are a little inclined to exaggerate the actual value
of their achievements in some of these fields, one
may well pardon them. For their patriotism is
usually of an admirable nature. They are prepared
to suffer for their country in a time of crisis, and in
normal times to go on quietly and unostentatiously
working for its sake. At the Paris Exhibition two
famous geographers, a Frenchman and a Russian,
were admiring a map of Finland. "Why is it that
it is better than the others ?" asked one. "Because
every line of it is drawn with love," replied his
friend.

No one who studies life in Finland can fail to
acquire a great respect for the Finnish woman. Her
capacity and energy compel it. Energy, indeed, is a
quality which, in this generation, is far more appar-
ent among the women than the men, and it accounts
a great deal for the Finnish girl's success. This
energy has been generated partly by the new oppor-
tunities which have opened out to women in recent
decades and partly by the hard conditions of Fin-
nish life, thanks to which the girls have been brought
up to do for themselves many things which in other
countries are usually done for them. They have
reaped the advantages of character and will that
such activity brings with it. I know a girl of twen-
ty-three who travelled alone into the heart of the
country in midwinter and settled a builders' strike
on her father's property.

Finnish girls are as a rule anything but shy and
retiring, but their independence and self-sufficiency



LIFE IN HELSINGFORS 81

rarely pass into blatancy or bad manners. They
are quite accustomed to comradeship with men and
a frank interchange of thought, and take such things
as a simple matter of course, in this respect enjoy-
ing a liberty which seems somewhat shocking to old-
fashioned persons both in Finland and abroad.
Both the grave type and the high-spirited type are
common among them, but the former predominates,
and is especially noticeable among those who have
not travelled. Going abroad often seems to loosen
the springs of joy in the Finns. The outer appear-
ance of gravity is frequently deceptive, however,
and causes visitors who are not accustomed to the
phlegm of the Finnish temperament to go away with
a wrong impression. "Do they never laugh and
flirt?'' I once heard an American lady say, in
pained indignation. They do. The fact is that the
Finns of both sexes are usually very slow to express
their feelings. They are capable of being as up-
roariously jolly as other people, but it takes them a
long time to get under way, and you must not hurry
them. The girls you see at their jolliest on festal
occasions, like Christmas, when they display a posi-
tive genius for arranging amusing entertainments
and an ingenuity of invention and a fund of high
spirits that could not easily be surpassed.

While exceptions are numerous, and will doubt-
less become more so as the standard of living rises,
Finnish girls are, on the whole, inclined to be rather
plain in their features. There is, however, a sim-
plicity and energy and healthfulness about them
which make a far pleasanter impression than does a



82 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

too passive and ornamental beauty. They often fail
to do themselves justice through not having learnt
the art of dressing. Simplicity suits them, and com-
plex Paris fashions do not look well in Helsingf ors.
The climate makes it difficult for people to look ele-
gant in winter, and it is in their simple summer
dresses that the girls look best. Many of them are
excellent sportswomen, being adepts in ski-ing, skat-
ing, sailing, rowing and swimming, and it is when
engaged in these pursuits that they are seen to the
greatest advantage. Usually, like the men, they
drop these activities at what seems to an English-
man too early an age. It is pleasant to add that
their enthusiasm for sport does not turn them into
mere sportswomen, but that they combine sport with
intellectual pursuits. Altogether, the Finnish girl
who can manage a sailing-boat, talk half a dozen
languages and discuss sensibly most subjects of
general interest is a type of which any country
might be proud,



CHAPTER V

THE COUNTBY-SIDE

THE writer's experience of the country-side is
that of the town-dweller who retires to spend
the summer there. For three months, beginning
from June, all who can do so leave the towns. Water
is what they make for, whether they go to the sea-
side or to the innumerable islands around the coast
or to the shores of the great inland lakes. Even
those whose professional duties forbid a complete
holiday usually live on islands and only go to town
for their office hours. Fleets of small white-painted
steamers keep up a lively communication between
the archipelago and the mainland.

The exodus to the country is a considerable under-
taking. The villas or rooms to which one repairs
are but scantily furnished, and a large number of
one's household goods have to be conveyed thither.
It is a house removal on a small scale, in which beds
and bedding and cooking utensils figure largely.
One also takes a large supply of groceries and other
edibles, as the fare obtainable in many country dis-
tricts is very limited. Milk and eggs are nearly
always to be had, excellent and in unlimited quan-
tities, but meat is by no means so easily obtained.

83



84 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

One waits until some one kills a calf or a sheep, and
orders according to the state of the thermometer.
Fish one can have if one is fortunate enough to
catch them, or if one can find peasants willing to
sell their own catch. For vegetables one is alloted
a cabbage-patch of one's own. They come up very
quickly, owing to the great length of the summer
days, but it is advisable to post on some seeds to be
planted before one's arrival in the country. It is
usual to bake one's own bread. Sour milk, which is
solidified to the degree of junket, is a favourite sum-
mer dish. Fruit abounds in the shape of wild ber-
ries, but there is usually little garden fruit.

Summer in Finland is a revel of beauty. After
the long grip of winter relaxes, spring comes with a
rush, like a wild creature set free from a leash.
Arriving in the country in early June, one is lifted
up on the rising wave of the summer. If June is
true to her character, the sky and water are deepest
blue and the sun is never lost sight of except for the
brief hour or two when it is quenched by the sea.
This mystical interval is so beautiful that it is hard
to turn from it and sleep. The land is lovely with a
swiftly succeeding pageant of lilacs and fruit-blos-
som and wild roses, and the hills are covered with
the waving foliage and the white stems of delicate
birches, like dancing maidens, and the more mascu-
line beauty of pines and firs. The rock-strewn
meadows are brilliant with wild flowers.

The days are spent simply enough. One may
begin by bathing from a hut at the end of the little
wooden pier which belongs to every summer villa.



THE COUNTRY-SIDE 85

Many people bathe several times a day in the hot
weather. No bathing-dress is worn, and there is no
mixed bathing. It is common for groups of farm-
labourers or of farm-girls to go down to bathe of an
evening, and as one rows home towards sunset one
may hear their cries and splashings borne for an
extraordinary distance across the water. Rowing
may be both work and recreation. At noon one may
catch bait for the line one will set at night, and in
the early morning one rows out anxiously to see
what one has caught for breakfast. Among the com-
monest fish are the perch and the gadda, the latter
a kind of salt-water pike. One -may also row out to
watch the sun turn the rocks to crimson and sink
into the rippleless sea, or, again, for a picnic on an
island. On one such picnic we bought quantities of
stromming (the Baltic herring) from two old fisher-
men who might have stepped out of the sagas, then
made a fire and cooked the fish by stringing them on
twigs and holding them near the flames. Fish never
tasted so good before or since.

Yachting is another favourite summer pursuit
and a never-failing source of pleasure amid the belt
of islands around the coast, which offer an infinite
diversity of interest and beauty.

On land there is one's humble garden to attend to
and walking of all kinds walks to the nearest store
to provide for household needs; walks of explora-
tion through the country-side ; walks to farms to buy
butter and eggs; frantic walks when one is baking
and has forgotten the yeast.

In the course of these walks one comes across



86 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

many a characteristic Finnish scene: cottages, all
wooden, and often painted a brilliant red which
blazes in the sunshine and looks cheerful in the win-
ter, nestling under rocky hills or lying close to a
sunny bay, with fishing-nets stretched along the side
walls ; or peasants waiting on the wooden piers for
the uncertain advent of the little steamer, whose
arrival is the event of the day or even of the week ;
or a pine-clad hill from which one sees on either side
an alternation of forest and gleaming water until the
eye becomes weary of distinguishing the successive
stretches of each and looks down to the flower at
one's feet.

When it has taken its fill of the outer beauties of
the country-side, the mind naturally turns to the
human life that has such a fair setting. And with-
out some realization of country life anything like
a true understanding of Finland is impossible. For
agriculture is Finland's staple industry. According
to a report made in 1901, over one and a half mil-
lion persons, or some 71 per cent, of the rural popu-
lation, were engaged in agriculture and its sub-
sidiary occupations, and this would represent about
57 per cent, of the entire population at that time.

The first thing that strikes one is the Finnish
farm. The older farm buildings are of unusual in-
terest. Like most things in the country, they are
made of wood. In the earliest buildings the tree
trunks are still rounded, only the bark having been
removed, while in those of a later date the beams
have been squared. Inside, the walls are not
papered, and in the gaps between the beams knives



THE COUNTEY-SIDE 87

and saws and other implements are placed. The
number of things made of wood, and especially of
birch wood, is amazing, and includes shoes, baskets
of all kinds, knapsacks, halters, brooms and brushes.
In a few old farms moreover, wooden door-bolts and
nails and hinges and pestles and mortars may still
be seen, to say nothing of dishes, cups and saucers.
Birch bark was formerly used in times of scarcity
to mix with bread.

Some of the farms, with a laudable sense of tradi-
tion, have started little museums in which are stored
things of interest in connexion with their history.
To see such a museum is to get a very high idea of
human ingenuity and perseverance. Here you may
trace the development of agricultural implements
from the most primitive models, and see such ob-
jects as a harrow and plough entirely made of wood,
and primitive shafts, ingeniously constructed of
large branches that forked in a convenient shape.
The old Finnish farmers had a remarkably keen eye
for suitably shaped pieces of timber.

The older houses were chimneyless and the smoke
escaped out of a hole in the roof. Consequently the
upper half of the walls was stained a dark colour,
and when the rooms were cleaned the part above
the smoke-line was left unscrubbed and is clearly
demarcated from the rest. Light came only from
the fireplace and the pare, a long thin piece of resin-
ous wood which was fastened to the wall at one end
and lit at the other. But such old houses are now
but little used as habitations.

The outbuildings are also of great interest. They



88 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

include houses for storing food of all kinds, clothes
and agricultural implements. In the old days, be-
fore private distilling was made illegal, each farm
had its own distillery also. Then there are huts in
which old bachelors and old maids kept their belong-
ings and partly lived, and finally the cow-houses,
stables and pigsties. Above many of the stables is
a loft, used as a storeroom in the winter and a sleep-
ing-place for the girls of the farm in the summer.
It is reached by a ladder or outer staircase. Other
things that strike the eye are the little patch on
which the farmer formerly grew his own tobacco,
the well with its pine trunk for dipping the bucket,
and the fences formed by pieces of wood placed
slantwise and supported at intervals by posts.

Most essential of all the farm-buildings, however,
is the bath-house. It is the first of them all to be
built and serves as a home until the dwelling-house
is ready. In one corner is the fireplace, made of
great stones. Near the roof is a broad shelf on
which the bathers lie. Sometimes there is a second
shelf used for malting. There is usually a small
opening, which can be closed by a sliding panel,
through which fuel can be thrown in. In some old
bath-houses there is a second hole, known as the
wolf -hole, through which the farmer in old days kept
watch at night on the wolves which might come
prowling around and shot them if he got the
chance. When the time for bathing comes, the
stones are heated to a very high temperature, hot
water is thrown on them and the house is filled with
steam. You soap yourself, sit on the shelf, beat



THE COUNTRY-SIDE 89

yourself, or are beaten by the old bath-woman, with
birch twigs, approach or keep away from the fire-
place according to your ability to stand intense heat,
and, finally, red as a tomato, plunge into the open
air. If it is summer this is a simple matter, but even
in winter the Finns run naked from the bath-house
to the farm, and very often take a roll in the snow
into the bargain.

The Finnish bath was, and still is, largely a
family concern, the two sexes taking it in common
and nudity seeming to have no terrors for them.
It is curious to note, however, that when bathing in
sea or lake men and women bathe separately. The
explanation is, perhaps, that the bath-house is a
kind of temple, the bath-woman its priestess, and
the bath of the nature of a ritual. The church and
the bath-house are holy places, says a Finnish pro-
verb. The place has grave and lofty associations of
another kind also. It is to the bath-house that the
mother retires when a child is about to be born, and
the temperature is made as high as possible in order
to ease her delivery ; to it, also, sick people are taken
as to a hospital. There is a Finnish proverb to the
effect that if the bath-house and brandy cannot help
a man, death is near at hand. The bath is, more-
over, a custom hallowed by great antiquity. Livy,
during his exile among the Sarmatians in Dacia,
describes the bathing customs prevalent there, and
the description corresponds closely to the Finnish
bath of to-day. Thus sentiment allies itself with
custom in excluding from this sacrament of nudity
any idea of licence.



90 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

While the Finnish bath remains unchanged, the
farms are being considerably modified. They still
remain picturesque, however, partly owing to the
excellent custom of staining the outside of the newer
buildings a brilliant red. And, in spite of modern
inventions and the importation of agricultural ma-
chinery, they continue to be very largely self-sup-
porting. This is partly due to the difficulties of
communication in Finland. Usually the farms lie
far apart and are often separated by great stretches
of forest and water. There is no town at hand to
which you can easily repair when you want any-
thing, so that the country-side has had to develop
and maintain a large number of small industries.
Not only do country-folk still continue in many
parts to build their own dwelling-places, but they
also construct much of the furniture in them and
make many of the implements used on their farms.
The long winter evenings are the great time for
such pursuits. In the old days the household used
to gather round the open fire, the only source of
light by which continuous work could be done after
dusk. One can imagine the scene. Now, of course,
lamps are everywhere used. The men do a great
deal of carpentering, making buckets, spoons, cups,
baskets, shafts for their carts, etc. What some of
them can do with the aid of nothing but an axe is
astounding, their dexterity with this tool being de-
lightful to watch. Another common tool is the Fin-
nish knife, which every peasant carries at his belt;
it is used for every purpose imaginable, whether
good or evil. The women do a great deal of spin-




*'



THE COUNTEY-SIDE 91

ning, weaving, knitting and dyeing. The clothes of
the family are to a great extent made by them,
though of recent years manufactured stuffs have
become commoner. It is a delightful thing to see
the peasant women spinning and weaving, and their
work lasts better than the manufactured article.
Some of them add to the family earnings by selling
their productions.

Nearly all the needs of the peasant have to be met
in the simple way described. The women may still
be seen making potato flour, and candles are still
made at home, more often than bought. Candle-
making takes place after the autumn slaughtering,
when the dead animals are salted and the spare fat
is put aside for the purpose. Naturally the candles
do not come out quite as smooth and regular as
those one purchases in shops. Each little village
or big farm has, moreover, its own workshop, to
which representatives of the different handicrafts
come annually, by appointment, to supply the needs
of the community. Then the shoemaker comes and
settles down in the workshop to make as many pairs
of boots and shoes as the people will require for a
twelvemonth. The harness-maker comes and re-
pairs old harness and makes new sets, which will
have to last till he comes again a year hence, and
similarly with the other craftsmen. Indeed, the
farm workshop, which becomes in turn a tailor's
shop, a saddler's, a cobbler's, and half a dozen
other trades, is a great feature of country life.

The farmers are usually comfortably off, have a
considerable degree of education and culture, and



92 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

tend to be conservative. Their properties have
often been held by the family for a great number of
generations. There is among them a considerable
amount of class-consciousness and they have little
social intercourse with the agricultural labourers.
Their farms are frequently very attractive and their
hospitality is most generous. The great kitchens,
with splendidly polished copper kettles and utensils,
are not easily forgotten. Much of the life of the
house takes place in the kitchen, and usually sev-
eral large rooms are unoccupied except in the sum-
mer, when they are let for a very small rent to town-
folk who come to the country for their holidays.
Nevertheless, the lot of the Finnish farmer is not
an easy one. The winter, as we saw, lasts from
about five months in the south to about eight months
in the north of Finland, and frosts are by no means
uncommon as late as May and as early as August.
Further, the greater part of the land surface is,
and probably will remain, unsuitable for cultivation.
According to the Agricultural Report published in
1901, only 8.6 per cent, of the land was cultivated,
and nearly half of this amount ranks as pasture-
land. There is reason to believe, however, that the
cultivated area can be at least doubled or trebled.
Moreover, as we saw in the introductory chapter,
there are many circumstances which modify the
harshness of the climate, and even in the north,
where the summer is shortest, things grow surpris-
ingly well, owing to the fact that summer days are
so long and light. The most productive soil is the
clay land of Osterbotten and the southwest, where



THE COUNTRY-SIDE 93

rye grows excellently. In the interior sandy soil
prevails, together with vast stretches of marsh-land
and moor-land. Wheat is but little grown, rye, corn
and oats being of far greater importance. The fol-
lowing table shows the relative harvests of these
three grains at different periods during the forty-
five years between 1860 and 1905 ;

Eye Corn Oats

1861-5 ' ... 48.9 26.6 24.5

1881-5 40.7 21-4 37.9

1901-5 33.3 14.8 51.9

Eye is grown up to the 66th degree of latitude, but
oats do not grow well after the 65th degree. The
decrease in rye is due to its sensitiveness to frost,
which caused farmers very large losses and made
them look to the rearing of cattle as a safer and
more profitable investment. This in its turn led to
a demand for more fodder; hence the large exten-
sion of the land under oats. A further consequence
was a greatly increased cultivation of hay, clover,
turnips and also potatoes. The need of rye for
making bread has been met by importation. The
money value of the harvest of 1907, a representative
year, was estimated at 162 million marks, of which
rye accounted for 53 millions, corn for 19 millions,
potatoes and other roots for 34 millions.

If we turn from the growing of crops to the rais-
ing of cattle, we find that horned cattle and horses
are the most important, and among the former, cows
naturally take the first place. The number of cows


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryArthur ReadeFinland and the Finns → online text (page 6 of 22)