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NOTES OF A TOUR IN NORTHERN EUROPE.
PART THE FIRST.
SOMEBODY has wisely remarked that the world is like a large book, and that those who remain in one spot resemble an individual who restricts himself to the perusal of a single page. Perhaps this very apt illustration of the advantages of travel may have tempted me into an occasional summer excursion beyond
“ The blue confines of our island home.”
But in these days it is wholly superfluous to set out with any excuses for travelling, since everybody travels more or less, and takes notes into the bargain. When Tom Coryat published his “Crudities” in the seventeenth century, he was regarded as a distinguished man in society (notwithstanding all his eccentricities) because he had seen the Italians use silver forks, and the Germans eat saur kraut; but now one obtains notoriety for not having seen such things, and a great deal more: so, without further prelude, we commit our travelling bag to the deep.
A journey to the North of Europe ought not to be commenced later than the end of June, or the beginning of July, if the tourist be desirous of enjoying the advantages of genial temperature, verdant scenery, and almost uninterrupted daylight; yet, although I was perfectly aware of that fact, I lingered irresolutely until the middle of August before I found myself on board the Hamburgh steamer, only provided with a passport, portmanteau, and companion, - not forgetting some of those excellent introductory billets which Messrs. Herries and Farquhar so liberally furnish to their friends abroad.
Our vessel contained the usual varieties of travellers of nearly all races, climes, ages, and characters. Amongst the rest an English diplomatist, a Queen's messenger, and a scientific lecturer from Edinburgh, who was going on a mission to Stockholm and St. Petersburg for the purpose of illustrating the principles of ventilation and acoustics in the northern capitals. I could not help secretly wishing that he might succeed in his objects
, especially in the latter, so as to clear the autocrat's ears to the voices of Lords Palmerston and Dudley Stewart, freighted with the wrongs of Poland !
At the appointed time our steamer landed all her inmates in good condition at Hamburg; indeed, in ordinary weather, the punctuality of these vessels, from the great power of machinery they have recently adopted, is such, that they may be fairly considered as Old Ocean's timekeepers; and I have no doubt that, on some districts of our coast, the people of the sailing vessels look to the arrival of the various steam-packets for the time of day, much in the same manner as Londoners are in the habit of referring to the general regulator at the Horse Guards. Had steam-boats with their paddles, and railways with their locomotives, been known to the ancients, it is not improbable that the wings of Mercury would have sunk in their heathen god-like favour, and that the classical as well as the practical emblem of speed would now have been an iron chimney crested with dark and flowing plumes of smoke.
I had almost forgotten a little incident which occurred just as our vessel reached the mouth of the Elbe opposite to Cuxhaven, and which created general merriment amongst the passengers. A row-boat, which had come
off from the shore with sundry articles of fresh provision for our steamer, received in return the English mail for Cuxhaven and its neighbourhood. One of our passengers, it appeared, was connected with the Post Office establishment, and being in charge of the mail he required a receipt for it from the Cuxhaven boatmen, which was, of course, regularly delivered to him; but the boat had scarcely left us, too late, however, to rectify the error, when it was discovered that the document, instead of being a receipt for the mail, was in fact a receipt which the steward of the vessel had given to the boatmen a few minutes before for sundry legs of mutton and baskets of vegetables, which they had supplied for the ship's use. The Post Office functionary was horribly disconcerted at the mistake, to the great entertainment of everybody else. If the receipt was in the German language, however, as I suppose it was, there was a reasonable chance that it might be submitted, without much risk of detection, to the usual routine of official examination.
The roughness and discomfort of our voyage across the North Sea gave, no doubt, a zest to the enjoyments of our first evening at Hamburg. Paris itself scarcely offers a more gay and animated evening scene than the fashionable quarter of the city presents. The neighbourhood of the Aloter Zee in particular, brilliantly illuminated, and surrounded by numerous cafés and pavilions, which nightly breathe forth their musical invitations to the gay sons of commerce, and umbrageously enclosed by avenues of trees thronged with pleasure-seeking people, is a scene of almost fairy-like gaiety. On this occasion we were particularly fortunate in having the brightness of a full moon reflected from the smooth surface of the lake, so that after being satiated with music and the aroma of cigars in the cafés, it became quite refreshing to stroll along the less frequented bank of the basin, and to muse on the beauties of the natural and artificial attractions by which we were surrounded.
On leaving the Sun Hotel for Kiel at an early hour of the morning, we met with one of those undesirable marks of distinction which are so frequently bestowed on English travellers, namely, extravagant charges in our bill, which was considerably higher than that of our friendly Danish fellowtraveller, who entered the house along with us, and who had fared exactly like ourselves in all respects, except in the honour of being imposed upon. In Hamburg such marks of attention require to be satisfied in marks currency, a mode which is by no means agreeable to one's feelings either of justice or economy.
Immediately on leaving Hamburg we entered Denmark, and, on reaching the first custom-house barrier, were obliged to submit to an examination of our baggage, an operation, however, which was conducted in a gentle and very unexceptionable manner. Amongst the passagiers of the mail-post was one of the Joe Millers of Hamburg, who, on being asked at the customhouse whether he had any thing contraband about him, confessed that his limbs were full of rheumatism, and as he was determined not to pay any duty, he begged that the officer would be pleased to stop it. Our humorous friend was a picture-dealer of Hamburg, and amused us not a little; but my ignorance of German prevented me froin profiting much by his quaint remarks, as it was only the more striking things he gave utterance to which I could prevail on my companion to interpret for me.
This dealer in paintings and curiosities was en route for Copenhagen, for the purpose of attending the sale of a large gallery belonging to a nobleman in that city; and as we were proceeding through the fertile district of Holstein, he occasionally condescended, on approaching any portion of the
landscape more verdant, or better wooded than usual, to compliment nature by comparing the scene to the productions of Claude Lorraine or Ruysdael. He appeared to me to be a person peculiarly adapted for his vocation, and quite capable of converting, in so far as the authority of his personal assertion could do so, any daub into a chef d'ouvre of art.
After having devoted the greater part of his life to the fine arts, our odd fellow-traveller informed us that he was now about to devote his ingenuity to the more useful arts of life, having made an extraordinary discovery of some mysterious substance, valueless in itself, but which, by the application of a few handfuls to the heath-covered moors of Holstein, would make them abound in fertility, and rich in productiveness; and all that this gentleman's modesty required was, that the King of Denmark should place at his disposal some half a million of dollars, for the purpose of making an experiment. It was quite in vain that his fellow-travellers endeavoured to argue against the probability of such a result being produced by such simple
Our “ Sir Oracle” had so often succeeded in passing off landscape daubs for Claude Lorraines, that he seemed to be confidently persuaded that he could exercise a similar power of transmutation over the worthless heaths of Holstein.
The country through which we passed between Hamburg and Kiel is moderately wooded, and apparently as productive as a light sandy soil can be reasonably expected to be found. The fields are very generally divided by bushy untrimmed hedges, and towards Kiel the country assumes an aspect of variety and fertility, which might even bear a comparison with some of the better districts of England. Kiel itself is pleasantly situated on a beautiful inlet of the Baltic, presenting a surface of tranquillity as calm and pellucid as an Italian lake. The population of Kiel is estimated at 10,000; and its University, which has a respectable reputation, is that principally resorted to by the youth of Holstein, who here receive their academic instruction in the German language.
The steam-vessel which plies between Kiel and Copenhagen is furnished with comfortable accommodation for a moderate number of passengers, and is fitted up with English engines, which are under the management of a Scotch engineer.
The chalky cliffs of the Island of Moen, near which we passed, appeared with a bright morning sun shining on them quite dazzling; these cliffs are at intervals separated from each other by wooded glens, which form an agreeable relief to the glare of their whiteness
, and in some places their chalky projections assume a variety of fanciful forms. The superstitious legends of the country allot one of these cliffs to the spectre sea king of this district as a throne; and even further relate, that in stormy weather he and his royal brother of the opposite island of Barnholm were wont to career over the ocean, amidst the strife of elements, mounted on sea chargers, with breath of flame, and speed rivalling that of lightning. These ocean potentates have, however, I am afraid, abdicated their ancient thrones, since those democratic usurpers, steam and the schoolmaster, have of late been so much abroad on both sea and shore. Copenhagen is certainly admirably situated for a commercial and naval depót; but when considered as a capital, it seemed to me wanting in elevation, and that aspect of importance, as approached from the sea, which it is desirable a regal residence should possess. After having passed by the strong Three Crown Battery, which played so conspicuous and to British life so fatal a part during our attack on the city in 1801, we were speedily landed from the steam-vessel on the Customhouse quay, where our luggage was treated with all reasonable delicacy. The
placid tone in which one or two of the Danish gentlemen who were on board the steam-vessel spoke to me of both our unprovoked attacks on their capital, was certainly such as to prove either most forgiving dispositions on their parts, or an excessive degree of politeness towards our feelings as strangers and visitors. Indeed, some of their remarks would almost have led me to suppose that they considered it an honour to have been attacked by our great sea lion, Lord Nelson; and one young gentleman repeated to me, with as much apparent enjoyment as any English midshipman could have exhibited, the anecdote of his lordship having placed the telescope to his sightless eye, in order to avoid seeing the signal of recal which the admiral in command had made.
The liberal politicians of Denmark, of which number we had one rather distinguished person as a fellow-passenger from Kiel, appear to consider the independence of their country not entirely secure from the powerful and still increasing Colossus of the North, and they evidently regard England as the natural protector of their liberties in the event of a collision. Should the nationality of Denmark, however, be hereafter assailed, of which there is certainly at present no prospect, I am disposed to suspect that the attack is more likely to come from Prussia, to which the Danish territory of Holstein lies in such tempting proximity. But, in times of peace, Denmark occupies so very insignificant a place in European politics, that the recollection of even her existence seems chiefly to arise from the large national debt which she owes (principally, I believe, to English subjects), and by the black mail, as it may not improperly be called, which she continues to levy on the other powers of Christendom, under the denomination of Sound dues. To these unenviable sources of notoriety may, however, be added one claim yielding unalloyed honour, namely, that of her having given birth to the most illustrious of living sculptors, Thorwaldsen.
In consequence of the extent of the Danish debt, and the somewhat profuse expenditure of his present majesty in military matters, the taxation of the country is necessarily high; and one of the landed aristocracy of the kingdom, whose general intelligence gave considerable weight to his authority, assured me that Denmark is, in proportion to its wealth (or perhaps we ought to say its poverty), more highly taxed than any other country of Europe.
My informant was, indeed, himself a victim of the system alluded to, and offered as an illustration of it the fact of his being annually compelled to pay to the Government, as a land-tax, a sum equal to 500l. sterling; which amount, considered as an impost, bore, I fear, a somewhat undue proportion to his net income. He also complained, with some reason, of being compelled to pay this taxation in money, while his rents were received in grain and other produce, which is frequently unsaleable. An excursion through Denmark might thus, I conceive, tend, if any evidence could do so, to convince some insatiable English landlords of the peculiar advantages of their position, in not only having three fourths of the general taxation of their country borne by its commercial and manufacturing classes, but also in having it in their power, according to the present constitution of the three kingdoms, to levy solely for their own pecuniary benefit a still greater and more grievous tax on the industry of these very classes, under the ingeniously evasive title of a corn law. Thus, while the landowners of Denmark and Holstein would be most unfeignedly thankful for permission to supply our English cities with their wheat at 258. per quarter, and to receive manufactures in exchange for it, our own landowners have, by an interested system of legislation, succeeded in enacting a law which practically declares
that 50s. is the minimum price at which the people shall be fed. If we consider, therefore, the landed aristocracy of Britain, as they themselves claim to be considered, in the light of the most humane and conscientious class of the community, it is to be presumed that the motive for such an enactment could only proceed from some erroneous notions of political economy, leading them to dread some great physical or moral evils to the community as the inevitable result of its repeal. What those evils" are, whether cholera, or immorality, repletion, or rebellion, has not hitherto been explained; but I do
not remember to have met with the expression of any opinion in either Dr. Combe's “Physiology," or Dr. Smith's “Theory of Moral Sentiments," that any such evils were likely to arise from the simple circumstance of food being moderate in price. On the contrary, it might be most logically argued, that many of the worst evils which afflict humanity are more likely to be cured than caused by the cheapness and abundance of the necessaries of life. As our landed legislators indignantly disclaim having been actuated by interested motives in regard to their corn law enactments, they are surely bound to show, on what newly devised system of justice it is that the people of England are, and have so long been, compelled to pay double prices, as compared with those of other countries, for all the descriptions of home-grown food which they consume. It is, however, strongly to be suspected, that any process of reasoning, by which they may have arrived at a conviction that such a state of things is according to the immutable laws of justice, is only susceptible of being appreciated through the mental vision of a landowner, and therefore it may be in vain for others to attempt its analysis.
It was singular enough to observe how very often the Danish gentlemen I met in travelling, endeavoured to impress on my not unwilling ear their opinion of the mutual advantages that would result both to England and Denmark, by an unrestricted exchange of the grain of Holstein for the manufactured productions of Britain.
Though I am unable to state either the precise amount of the Danish debt, or the extent of the taxation which is so loudly complained of, yet I may, without impropriety, mention some general remarks which were made to me on these subjects by natives of the country, which sufficiently prove that neither is inconsiderable. One of these gentlemen, holding a high position in the public service of the kingdom, assured me that the people only submitted to the existing rate of taxation from the desire that his present majesty, Frederick VI., might not be annoyed in his old age, and while suffering from bad health, by any public convulsion; but that on his demise, more stringent and economical conditions would certainly be imposed on his successor. Another informant, a nobleman of Holstein, was of opinion that the king ought to declare the nation bankrupt forthwith, but for the circumstance of the public debt being chiefly owing to British subjects, which he imagined would of necessity involve Denmark in a war with England. On iny remarking that the British Government never resented in that manner the non-payment of either debts or dividends owing to her subjects by foreign governments, he seemed much pleased with the discovery, and the unexpected facility with which the king might in consequence release the nation from its foreign engagements. Such is the loose sense of public faith which a Holstein noble, of an apparently amiable disposition, exhibited on the subject of the national honour — a sentiment happily so sacred in England, that no one could profess to disregard its dictates without at the same time losing personal character.
When nations continue almost annually to contract fresh loans during a