Ethlyn T. Clough.

Norwegian Life online

. (page 1 of 14)
Online LibraryEthlyn T. CloughNorwegian Life → online text (page 1 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock,Josephine Paolucci and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.

Norwegian Life


Edited and Arranged by



An excursion into Norwegian life has for the student all the charm of
the traveler's real journey through the pleasant valleys of the Norse
lands. Much of this charm is explained by the tenacity of the people
to the homely virtues of honesty and thrift, to their customs which
testify to their home-loving character, and to their quaint costumes.
It is a genuine delight to study and visit these lands, because they
are the least, perhaps in Europe, affected by the leveling hand of
cosmopolitan ideas. Go where you will, - to England, about Germany,
down into Italy, - everywhere, the same monotonous sameness is growing
more oppressive every year. But in Norway and Sweden there is still an
originality, a type, if you please, that has resisted the growth of
an artificial life, and gives to students a charm which is even more
alluring than modern cities with their treasures and associations.

The student takes up Norwegian life as one of the subjects which has
been comparatively little explored, and is, therefore replete with
freshness and delight. This little book can not by any means more
than lift the curtain to view the fields of historical and literary
interest and the wondrous life lived in the deep fiords of Viking
land. But its brief pages will have, at least, the merit of giving
information on a subject about which only too little has been written.
Taken in all, there are scarcely half a dozen recent books circulating
in American literary channels on these interesting lands, and for one
reason or another, most of these are unsuited for club people. There
is an urgent call for a comprehensive book which will waste no time
in non-essentials, - a book that can be read in a few sittings and yet
will give a glimpse over this quaint and wondrously interesting corner
of Europe. This book has been prepared, as have all the predecessors
in this series, by the help of many who have written most delightfully
of striking things in Norwegian life. One has specialized in one
thing, while another has been allured by another subject. Accordingly,
"Norwegian Life" is the product of many, each inspired with feeling
and admiration for the one or two subjects on which he has written
better than on any others. Liberty has been taken to make a few
verbal changes in order to give to the story the unity and smoothness
desired, and a key-letter at the end of each chapter refers the reader
to a page at the close where due credits are given.

























A glance at the map will show that the Scandinavian Peninsula, that
immense stretch of land running from the Arctic Ocean to the North
Sea, and from the Baltic to the Atlantic, covering an area of nearly
three hundred thousand square miles, is, next to Russia, the largest
territorial division of Europe. Surrounded by sea on all sides but
one, which gives it an unparalleled seaboard of over two thousand
miles, it hangs on the continent by its frontier line with Russia in
Lapland. Down the middle of this seabound continent, dividing it into
two nearly equal parts, runs a chain of mountains not inappropriately
called K√ґlen, or Keel. The name suggests the image which the aspect of
the land calls to mind, that of a huge ship floating keel upwards on
the face of the ocean. This keel forms the frontier line between the
kingdoms of Norway and Sweden: Sweden to the east, sloping gently from
the hills to the Baltic, Norway to the west, running more abruptly
down from their watershed to the Atlantic.

Norway (in the old Norse language _Noregr_, or _Nord-vegr, i.e_., the
North Way), according to archaeological explorations, appears to have
been inhabited long before historical time. The antiquarians maintain
that three populations have inhabited the North: a Mongolian race and
a Celtic race, types of which are to be found in the Finns and the
Laplanders in the far North, and, finally, a Caucasian race, which
immigrated from the South and drove out the Celtic and Laplandic
races, and from which the present inhabitants are descended. The
Norwegians, or Northmen (Norsemen), belong to a North-Germanic branch
of the Indo-European race; their nearest kindred are the Swedes, the
Danes, and the Goths. The original home of the race is supposed to
have been the mountain region of Balkh, in Western Asia, whence from
time to time families and tribes migrated in different directions. It
is not known when the ancestors of the Scandinavian peoples left
the original home in Asia; but it is probable that their earliest
settlements in Norway were made in the second century before the
Christian era.

The Scandinavian peoples, although comprising the oldest and most
unmixed race in Europe, did not realize until very late the value of
writing chronicles or reviews of historic events. Thus the names of
heroes and kings of the remotest past are helplessly forgotten, save
as they come to us in legend and folk-song, much of which we must
conclude is imaginary, beautiful as it is. But Mother Earth has
revealed to us, at the spade of the archaeologist, trustworthy
and irrefutable accounts of the age and the various degrees of
civilization of the race which inhabited the Scandinavian Peninsula in
prehistoric times. Splendid specimens now extant in numerous museums
prove that Scandinavia, like most other countries, has had a Stone
Age, a Bronze Age, and an Iron Age, and that each of these periods
reached a much higher development than in other countries.

The Scandinavian countries are for the first time mentioned by the
historians of antiquity in an account of a journey which Pyteas from
Massilia (the present Marseille) made throughout Northern Europe,
about 300 B.C. He visited Britain, and there heard of a great country,
Thule, situated six days' journey to the north, and verging on the
Arctic Sea. The inhabitants in Thule were an agricultural people who
gathered their harvest into big houses for threshing, on account of
the very few sunny days and the plentiful rain in their regions. From
corn and honey they prepared a beverage (probably mead).

Pliny the Elder, who himself visited the shores of the Baltic in the
first century after Christ, is the first to mention plainly the name
of Scandinavia. He says that he has received advices of immense
islands "recently discovered from Germany." The most famous of these
islands was Scandinavia, of as yet unexplored size; the known parts
were inhabited by a people called _hilleviones_, who gave it the name
of another world. He mentions Scandia, Nerigon, the largest of them
all, and Thule. Scandia and Scandinavia are only different forms of
the same name, denoting the southernmost part of the peninsula, and
still preserved in the name of the province of Scania in Sweden.
Nerigon stands for Norway, the northern part of which is mentioned as
an island by the name of Thule. The classical writers were ignorant
of the fact that Scandinavia was one great peninsula, because the
northern parts were as yet uninhabited and their physical connection
with Finland and Russia unknown. That the Romans were later acquainted
with the Scandinavian countries is evidenced from the fact that great
numbers of Roman coins have been found in excavating, also vessels of
bronze and glass, weapons, etc., as well as works of art, all turned
out of the workshops in Rome or its provinces. There, no doubt,
existed a regular traffic over the Baltic, through Germany, between
the Scandinavian countries and the Roman provinces.

The first settlers probably knew little of agriculture, but made their
living by fishing and hunting. In time, however, they commenced to
clear away the timber that covered the land in the valleys and on the
sides of the mountains and to till the ground. At the earliest times
of which the historical tales or _Sagas_ tell us anything with
regard to the social conditions, the land was divided among the free
peasant-proprietors, or _bonde class_. Bonde, in English translation,
is usually called peasant; but this is not an equivalent; for with the
word "peasant" we associate the idea of inferior social condition to
the landed aristocracy of the country, while these peasants or bondes
were themselves the highest class in the country. The land owned by a
peasant was called his _udal_. By udal-right the land was kept in the
family, and it could not be alienated or forfeited from the kindred
who were udal-born to it. The free peasants might own many thralls or
slaves, who were unfree men. These were mostly prisoners captured by
the vikings on their expeditions to foreign shores; the owner could
trade them away, or sell them, or even kill them without paying any
fine or _man-bote_ to the king, as in the case of killing a free man.
As a rule, however, the slaves were not badly treated, and they were
sometimes made free and given the right to acquire land.

In early days Norway consisted of a great number of small states
called _Fylkis_, each a little kingdom by itself. The free peasants in
a Fylki held general assemblies called _Things_, where laws were made
and justice administered. No public acts were undertaken without the
deliberation of a _Thing_. The _Thing_ was sacred, and a breach of
peace at the _thing-place_ was considered a great crime. At the
_Thing_ there was also a hallowed place for the judges, or "lag-men,"
who expounded and administered the laws made by the _Thing_. Almost
every crime could be expiated by the payment of fines, even if the
accused had killed a person. But if a man killed another secretly,
he was declared an assassin and an outlaw, was deprived of all his
property, and could be killed by any one who wished to do so. The fine
or man-bote was heavier, the higher the rank of the person killed.

The _Thing_ or _Fylkis Thing_ was not made up of representatives
elected by the people, but was rather a primary assembly of the free
udal-born peasant-proprietors of the district. There were leading men
in the _fylki_, and each _fylki_ had one or more chiefs, but they had
to plead at the _Thing_ like other free men. When there were several
chiefs, they usually had the title of _herse_; but when the free men
had agreed upon one chief, he was called _jarl_ (earl), or king. The
king was the commander in war, and usually performed the judicial
functions; but he supported himself upon his own estates, and the free
peasants paid no tax. The dignity of the king was usually inherited
by his son, but if the heir was not to the liking of the people, they
chose another. No man, however clear his right of succession, would
think of assuming the title or power of a king except by the vote of
the _Thing_. There he was presented to the people by a free peasant,
and his right must be confirmed by the _Thing_ before he could exert
any act of kingly power. The king had a number of free men in his
service, who had sworn allegiance to him in war and in peace. They
were armed men, kept in pay, and were called _hird-men_ or court-men,
because they were members of the king's hird or court. If they were
brave and faithful, they were often given high positions of trust;
some were made _lendermen_ (liegemen), or managers of the king's

It is but natural that the ancient Norwegians should become warlike
and brave men, since their firm religious belief was that those who
died of sickness or old age would sink down into the dark abode of Hel
(Helheim), and that only the brave men who fell in battle would be
invited to the feasts in Odin's Hall. Sometimes the earls or kings
would make war on their neighbors, either for conquest or revenge.
But the time came when the countries of the north, with their poorly
developed resources, became overpopulated, and the warriors had to
seek other fields abroad. The viking cruises commenced, and for a long
time the Norwegians continued to harry the coasts of Europe.

At first the viking expeditions were nothing but piracy, carried on
for a livelihood. The name Viking is supposed to be derived from the
word _vik_, a cove or inlet on the coast, in which they would harbor
their ships and lie in wait for merchants sailing by. Soon these
expeditions assumed a wider range and a wilder character, and
historians of the time paint the horrors spread by the vikings in dark
colors. In the English churches they had a day of prayer each week to
invoke the aid of heaven against the harrying Northmen. In France
the following formula was inserted in the church prayer: "_A furore
Normannorum libera nos, o Domine_!" (Free us, O Lord, from the fury of
the Northmen!)

Gradually the viking life assumed a nobler form. There appear to have
been three stages or periods in the viking age. In the first one the
vikings make casual visits with single ships to the shores of England,
Ireland, France or Flanders, and when they have plundered a town or
a convent, they return to their ships and sail away. In the second
period their cruises assume a more regular character, and indicate
some definite plan, as they take possession of certain points, where
they winter, and from where they command the surrounding country.
During the third period they no longer confine themselves to seeking
booty, but act as real conquerors, take possession of the conquered
territory, and rule it. As to the influence of the Northmen on the
development of the countries visited in this last period, the eminent
English writer, Samuel Laing, the translator of the _Heimskringla_, or
the Sagas of the Norse kings, says:

"All that men hope for of good government and future improvement in
their physical and moral condition - all that civilized men enjoy at
this day of civil, religious, and political liberty - the British
constitution, representative legislation, the trial by jury, security
of property, freedom of mind and person, the influence of public
opinion over the conduct of public affairs, the Reformation, the
liberty of the press, the spirit of the age - all that is or has been
of value to man in modern times as a member of society, either in
Europe or in the New World, may be traced to the spark left burning
upon our shores by these northern barbarians."

The authentic history begins with Halfdan the Swarthy, who reigned
from the year 821 to 860. The Icelander Snorre Sturlason, who, in
the twelfth century, wrote the _Heimskringla_, or Sagas of the Norse
Kings, gives a long line of preceding kings of the Yngling race, the
royal family to which Halfdan the Swarthy belonged; but that part of
the Saga belongs to mythology rather than to history.

According to tradition, the Yngling family were descendants of
Fiolner, the son of the god Frey. One of the surnames of the god was
Yngve, from which the family derived the name Ynglings. King Halfdan
was a wise man, a lover of truth and justice. He made good laws, which
he observed himself and compelled others to observe. He fixed certain
penalties for all crimes committed. His code of laws, called the
Eidsiva Law, was adopted at a common _Thing_ at Eidsvol, where about a
thousand years later the present constitution of Norway was adopted.

One day in the spring of 860, when Halfdan the Swarthy was driving
home from a feast across the Randsfjord, he broke through the ice and
was drowned. He was so popular that, when his body was found, the
leading men in each _Fylki_ demanded to have him buried with them,
believing that it would bring prosperity to the district. They at last
agreed to divide the body into four parts, which were buried in four
different districts. The trunk of the body was buried in a mound at
Stien, Ringerike, where a little hill is still called Halfdan's Mound.
And this Halfdan became the ancestor of the royal race of Norway.

Halfdan's son, Harald the Fairhaired, at the age of ten years
succeeded his father on the throne of Norway, or it afterward proved
to be the throne of United Norway. When he became old enough to marry,
he sent his men to a girl named Gyda, a daughter of King Erik of
Hordaland, who was brought up a foster-child in the house of a rich
_Bonde_ in Valders.

Harald had heard of her as a very beautiful though proud girl. When
the men delivered their message, she answered that she would not marry
a king who had no greater kingdom than a few _Fylkis_ (districts), and
she added that she thought it strange that "no king here in Norway
will make the whole country subject to him, in the same way that
Gorm the Old did in Denmark, or Erik at Upsala." When the messengers
returned to the king, they advised him to punish her for her haughty
words, but Harald said she had spoken well, and he made the solemn vow
not to cut or comb his hair until he had subdued the whole of Norway,
which he did, and became sole king of Norway. The decisive battle was
a naval one in the Hafrsfjord, near the present city of Stavanger.
After this battle, which occurred in 872, when he had been declared
King of United Norway, he attended a feast, and the Earl of More cut
his hair, which had not been cut or combed for ten years, and gave him
the name of Fairhaired. Harald shortly afterward married Gyda.

From this time on, the history of Norway for nearly three hundred
years consists mainly in internecine warfare among the various
claimants of the throne, and the result of all this warfare was not
only to exhaust the material resources of the people, but to drive a
large proportion of the population to make viking excursions to win
land elsewhere, and also to make peaceable settlements in other
countries. Iceland was settled by the leading men of Norway in Harald
the Fairhaired's reign because they would not submit to his rule and
therefore emigrated to a land where they could rule. In 912 Duke Rollo
with a large following conquered Normandy and settled there with many
of his countrymen.

As the result of over three centuries of foreign and domestic war,
Norway and her people and her industries were prostrate when in 1389
Queen Margaret of Denmark claimed the succession to the throne of
Norway for her son Eric of Pomerania. The council of Norway and the
people were willing to accept a union with a more populous country
under a powerful sovereign in order to obtain peace and reestablish
order and prosperity. Norway had not been conquered by Denmark, and
the union was supposed to be equal. The Danish sovereigns, however,
without directly interfering with the local laws and usages of the
people of Norway, filled all the executive and administrative offices
in Norway with Danes; the important commands in the army were also
given exclusively to them. The result was that the interpretation and
execution of the laws of the land were in the hands of foreigners,
and Norway became and remained for four hundred years a province of
Denmark and unable to throw off the yoke because her army was in the
control and command of her oppressor, and her material resources
inadequate to wage successful war against him.

Like Norway, the most that we know of prehistoric times in Sweden we
gather from the early sagas, which are more or less faulty in their
statements, romantic and tragic though they be. Like the Norwegians,
the early Swedes are reported to have migrated from Asia under the
leadership of a chief who called himself Odin. And for centuries under
different kings and queens, the romantic and tragic story of Sweden
goes on to form at last her authentic history. In this brief survey we
can not go into details, and its history is very much the same as that
of Norway, except that Sweden was oftener her own mistress and at
longer intervals.

The sources of Swedish history during the first two centuries of the
Middle Ages are very meager. This is a deplorable fact, for during
that period Sweden passed through a great and thorough development,
the various stages of which consequently are not easily traced. Before
the year 1060, Sweden is an Old Teutonic state, certainly of later
form and larger compass than the earliest of such, but with its
democracy and its elective kingdom preserved. The older Sweden was, in
regard to its constitution, a rudimentary union of states. The realm
had come into existence through the cunning and violence of the king
of the Sviar, who made way with the kings of the respective lands,
making their communities pay homage to him. No change in the interior
affairs of the different lands was thereby effected; they lost their
outward political independence, but remained mutually on terms of
perfect equality. They were united only through the king, who was
the only center for the government of the union. No province had
constitutionally more importance than the rest, no supremacy by one
over the other existed. On this historic basis the Swedish realm was
built, and rested firmly until the commencement of the Middle Ages. In
the Old Swedish state-organism the various parts thus possessed a high
degree of individualized and pulsating life; the empire as a whole was
also powerful, although the royal dignity was its only institution.
The king was the outward tie which bound the provinces together;
besides him there was no power of state which embraced the whole
realm. The affairs of state were decided upon by the king alone, as
regard to war, or he had to gather the opinion of the Thing in each
province, as any imperial representation did not exist and was
entirely unknown, both in the modern sense and in the form of one
provincial, or sectional, assembly deciding for all the others. In
society there existed no classes. It was a democracy of free men, the
slaves and free men enjoying no rights. The first centuries of the
Middle Ages were one continued process of regeneration, the Swedish
people being carried into the European circle of cultural development
and made a communicant of Christianity. With the commencement of the
thirteenth century, Sweden comes out of this process as a medieval
state, in aspect entirely different to her past. The democratic
equality among free men has turned into an aristocracy, with
aristocratic institutions, the hereditary kingdom into an elective
kingdom, while the provincial particularism and independence have
given way to the constitution of a centralized, monopolistic state. No
changes could be more fundamental.

The old provincial laws of Sweden are a great and important
inheritance which this period has accumulated from heathen times. The
laws were written down in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but
they bear every evidence of high antiquity. Many strophes are found in
them of the same meter as those on the tombstones of the Viking Age
and those in which the songs of the Edda are chiefly written. In other
instances the texts consist of alliterative prose, which proves its
earlier metrical form. The expressions have, in places, remained
heathen, although used by Christians, who are ignorant of their true
meaning, as, for instance, in the following formula of an oath, in the
West Gothic law: _Sva se mer gud hull_ (So help me the gods). In lieu
of a missing literature of sagas and poetry, these provincial laws
give a good insight into the character, morals, customs, and culture
of the heathen and early Christian times of Sweden. From the point
of philology they are also of great value, besides forming the
solid basis of later Swedish law. How the laws could pass from one
generation to another, without any codification, depends upon the
fact that they were recited from memory by the justice (_lag-man_

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryEthlyn T. CloughNorwegian Life → online text (page 1 of 14)