Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

their influence, nor to pass unheeded, when they shall reflect on ourselves. He that means to be a good limner, will be sure to draw after the most excellent copies, and guide every stroke of his pencil by the better pattern that lays before him: so, he that desires that the table of his life may be fair, will be careful to propose the best examples, and will never be content till he equals, or excels them.

Rural Life in Sweden.

LONGFELLOW.

[HENRY WADSWorth LongfeLLOW, the most popular of American poets, was born in 1807 at the town of Portland, Maine. He was educated at Bowdoin College, where—aster he had left it—he was offered a professorship of modern languages. To prepare himself for this post he spent three years and a half on the continent, and, as his translations show us, mastered the principal European languages. Longfellow's chief poems are "Evangeline," "The Golden Legend," "Hiawatha," "Miles Standish," "Tales by a Way. side Inn." Longfellow died 1882.]

There is something patriarchal still lingering about rural life in Sweden, which renders it a fit theme for song. Almost primeval simplicity reigns over that northern land-almost primeval solitude and stillness. You pass out from the gate of the city, and, as if by magic, the scene changes to a wild woodland landscape. Around you are forests of fir. Overhead hang the long fan-like branches, trailing with moss, and heavy with red and blue cones. Underfoot is a carpet of yellow leaves; and the air is warm and balmy. On a wooden bridge you cross a little silver stream; and anon come forth into a pleasant and sunny land of farms. Wooden fences divide the adjoining fields. Across the road are gates, which are opened by troops of children. The peasants take off their hats as you pass; you sneeze, and they cry, "God bless you!" The houses in the villages and smaller towns are all built of hewn timber, and for the most part painted red. The

floors of the taverns are strewed with the fragrant tips of fir boughs. In many villages there are no taverns, and the peasants take turns in receiving travellers. The thrifty housewife shows you into the best chamber, the walls of which are hung round with rude pictures from the Bible; and brings you her heavy silver spoons-an heirloom-to dip the curdled milk from the pan. You have oaten cakes baked some months before, or bread with anise-seed and coriander in it, or perhaps a little pine bark.

Meanwhile the sturdy husband has brought his horses from the plough, and harnessed them to your carriage. Solitary travellers come and go in uncouth one-horse chaises. Most of them have pipes in their mouths, and hanging around their necks in front a leather wallet, in which they carry tobacco, and the great banknotes of the country, as large as your two hands. You meet also groups of Dalekarlian peasant women, travelling homeward, or townward in pursuit of work. They walk barefoot, carrying in their hands their shoes, which have high heels under the hollow of the foot, and soles of birch bark.

Frequent, too, are the village churches standing by the roadsides, each in its own little garden of Gethsemane. In the parish register great events are doubtless recorded. Some old king was christened or buried in that church; and a little sexton, with a rusty key, shows you the baptismal font, or the coffin. In the churchyard are a few flowers, and much green grass; and daily the shadow of the church spire, with its long tapering finger, counts the tombs, representing a dial-plate of human life, on which the hours and minutes are the graves of men. The stones are flat, and large, and low, and perhaps sunken, like the roofs of old houses. On some are armorial bearings; on others only the initials of the poor tenants, with a date, as on the roofs of Dutch cottages. They all sleep with their heads to the westward. Each held a lighted taper in his hand when he died; and in his coffin were placed his little heart-treasures, and a piece of money for his last journey. Babes that came lifeless into the world were carried in the arms of gray-haired old men to the only cradle they ever slept in; and in the shroud of the dead mother

were laid the little garments of the child that lived and died in her bosom. And over this scene the village pastor looks from his window in the stillness of midnight, and says in his heart, "How quietly they rest, all the departed!"

Near the churchyard-gate stands a poor-box, fastened to a post by iron bands, and secured by a padlock with a sloping wooden roof to keep off the rain. If it be Sunday, the peasants sit on the church steps and con their psalm-books. Others are coming down the road with their beloved pastor, who talks to them of holy things from beneath his broad-brimmed hat. He speaks of fields and harvests, and of the parable of the sower, that went forth to sow. He leads them to the Good Shepherd, and to the pleasant pastures of the Spirit-land. He is their patriarch, and, like Melchizedek, both priest and king, though he has no other throne than the church pulpit. The women carry psalm-books in their hands, wrapped in silk handkerchiefs, and listen devoutly to the good man's words; but the young men, like Gallio, care for none of these things. They are busy counting the plaits in the kirtles of the peasant girls, their number being an indication of the wearer's wealth. It may end in a wedding.

I will endeavour to describe a village wedding in Sweden. It shall be in summer time, that there may be flowers, and in a southern province, that the bride may be fair. The early song of the lark and of chanticleer are mingling in the clear morning air, and the sun, the heavenly bridegroom with golden locks, arises in the east, just as our earthly bridegroom, with yellow hair, arises in the south. In the yard there is a sound of voices and trampling of hoofs, and horses are led forth and saddled. The steed that is to bear the bridegroom has a bunch of flowers upon his forehead, and a garland of corn-flowers around his neck. Friends from the neighbouring farms come riding in, their blue cloaks streaming to the wind; and finally the happy bridegroom, with a whip in his hand, and a monstrous nosegay in the breast of his black jacket, comes forth from his chamber; and then to horse and away towards the village, where the bride already sits and waits.

Foremost rides the spokesman, followed by some half-dozen village musicians. Next comes the bridegroom between his two groomsmen, and then forty or fifty friends and wedding guests, half of them perhaps with pistols and guns in their hands. A kind of baggage-waggon brings up the rear, laden with food and drink for these merry pilgrims. At the entrance of every village stands a triumphal arch, adorned with flowers, and ribands, and evergreens; and, as they pass beneath it, the wedding guests fire a salute, and the whole procession stops; and straight from every pocket flies a black-jack, filled with punch or brandy. It is passed from hand to hand among the crowd; provisions are brought from the waggon, and, after eating and drinking and hurrahing, the procession moves forward again, and at length draws near the house of the bride. Four heralds ride forward to announce that a knight and his attendants are in the neighbouring forest, and pray for hospitality. "How many are you?" asks the bride's father. "At least three hundred," is the answer; and to this the last replies, "Yes; were you seven times as many, you should all be welcome; and in token thereof receive this cup." Where upon each herald receives a can of ale; and soon after the whole jovial company comes storming into the farmer's yard, and, riding round the maypole, which stands in the centre, alight amid a grand salute and flourish of music.

In the hall sits the bride, with a crown upon her head and a tear in her eye, like the Virgin Mary in old church paintings. She is dressed in a red bodice and kirtle, with loose linen sleeves. There is a gilded belt around her waist; and around her neck strings of golden beads, and a golden chain. On the crown rests a wreath of wild roses, and below it another of cypress. Loose over her shoulders falls her flaxen hair; and her blue innocent eyes are fixed upon the ground. O thou good soul! thou hast hard hands, but a soft heart. Thou art poor. The very ornaments thou wearest are not thine. They have been hired for this great day. Yet thou art rich, rich in health, rich in hope, rich in thy first, young, fervent love. The blessing of Heaven be upon thee! So thinks the parish priest, as he joins

together the hands of bride and bridegoom, saying in deep solemn tones, "I give thee in marriage this damsel, to be thy wedded wife in all honour, and to share the half of thy bed, thy lock and key, and every third penny which you two may possess, or may inherit, and all the rights which Upland's laws provide, and the holy King Erik gave."

The dinner is now served, and the bride sits between the bridegroom and the priest. The spokesman delivers an oration after the ancient custom of his fathers. He interlards it well with quotations from the Bible, and invites the Saviour to be present at this marriage-feast, as He was at the marriage-feast of Cana of Galilee. The table is not sparingly set forth. Each makes a long arm, and the feast goes cheerly on. Punch and brandy pass round between the courses, and here and there a pipe is smoked, while waiting for the next dish. They sit long at table; but, as all things must have an end, so must a Swedish dinner. Then the dance begins. It is led off by the bride and the priest, who perform a solemn minuet together. Not till after midnight comes the last dance. The girls form a ring around the bride, to keep her from the hands of the married women, who endeavour to break through the magic circle, and seize their new sister. After long struggling they succeed; and the crown is taken from her head and the jewels from her neck, and her bodice is unlaced, and her kirtle taken off, and, like a vestal virgin, clad all in white, she goes,—but it is to her marriage-chamber, not to her grave; and the wedding guests follow her with lighted candles in their hands. And this is a village-bridal.

Nor must I forget the suddenly changing seasons of the northern clime. There is no long and lingering spring, unfolding leaf and blossom one by one; no long and lingering autumn, pompous with many-coloured leaves and the glow of Indian summers. But winter and summer are wonderful, and pass into each other. The quail has hardly ceased piping in the corn, when winter, from the folds of trailing clouds, sows broadcast over the land snow, icicles, and rattling hail. The days wane apace. Ere long the sun hardly rises above the horizon, or does

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »