The thick sulphureous smoke poured forth from the heaps of cleansed ore, under which the fire was in full activity, and the wind drove it across the road which we must pass. In smoke, and impregnated with smoke, stood building after building: three buildings had been strangely thrown, as it were, by one another: earth and stone-heaps, as if they were unfinished works of defence, extended around. Scaffolding, and long wooden bridges, had been erected there; large wheels turned round; long and heavy iron chains were in continual motion.
We stood before an immense gulf, called "Stora Stoeten," (the great mine). It had formerly three entrances, but they fell in and now there is but one. This immense sunken gulf now appears like a vast valley: the many openings below, to the shafts of the mine, look, from above, like the sand-martin's dark nest-holes in the declivities of the shore: there were a few wooden huts down there. Some strangers in miners' dresses, with their guide, each carrying a lighted fir-torch, appeared at the bottom, and disappeared again in one of the dark holes. From within the dark wooden houses, in which great water-wheels turned, issued some of the workmen. They came from the dizzying gulf—from narrow, deep wells: they stood in their wooden shoes two and two, on the edge of the tun which, attached to heavy chains, is hoisted up, singing and swinging the tun on all sides: they came up merry enough. Habit makes one daring.
They told us that, during the passage upwards, it often happened that one or another, from pure wantonness, stepped quite out of the tun, and sat himself between the loose stones on the projecting piece of rock, whilst they fired and blasted the rock below so that it shook again, and the stones about him thundered down. Should one expostulate with him on his fool-hardiness, he would answer with the usual witticism here: "I have never before killed myself."
One descends into some of the shafts by a sort of machinery, which looks as if they had placed two iron ladders against each other, each having a rocking movement, so that by treading on the ascending-step on the one side and then on the other, which goes upwards, one gradually ascends, and by going on the downward sinking-step one gets by degrees to the bottom. They said it was very easy, only one must step boldly, so that the foot should not come between and get crushed; and then one must remember that there is no railing or balustrade here, and directly outside these stairs there is the deep abyss into which one may fall headlong. The deepest shaft has a perpendicular depth of more than a hundred and ninety fathoms, but for this there is no danger, they say, only one must not be dizzy, nor get alarmed. One of the workmen, who had come up, descended with a lighted pine-branch as a torch: the flame illumined the dark rocky wall, and by degrees became only a faint streak of light which soon vanished.
We were told that a few days before, five or six schoolboys had unobserved stolen in here, and amused themselves by going from step to step on these machine-like rocking stairs, in pitchy darkness, but at last they knew not rightly which way to go, up or down, and had then begun to shout and scream lustily. They escaped luckily that bout.
By one of the large openings, called "Fat Mads," there are rich copper mines, but which have not yet been worked. A building stands above it: it was at the bottom of this that they found, in the year 1719, the corpse of a young miner. It appeared as if he had fallen down that very day, so unchanged did the body seem—but no one knew him. An old woman then stepped forward and burst into tears: the deceased was her bridegroom, who had disappeared forty nine years ago. She stood there old and wrinkled; he was young as when they had met for the last time nearly half a century before.[T]
[Footnote T: In another mine they found, in the year 1635, a corpse perfectly fresh, and almost with the appearance of one asleep; but his clothes, and the ancient copper coins found on him, bore witness that it was two hundred years since he had perished there.]
We went to "The Plant House," as it is called, where the vitriolated liquid is crystallized to sulphate of copper. It grew up long sticks placed upright in the boiling water, resembling long pieces of grass-green sugar. The steam was pungent, and the air in here penetrated our tongues—it was just as if one had a corroded spoon in one's mouth. It was really a luxury to come out again, even into the rarefied copper smoke, under the open sky.
Steaming, burnt-out, and herbless as the district is on this side of the town, it is just as refreshing, green, and fertile on the opposite side of Fahlun. Tall leafy trees grow close to the farthest houses. One is directly in the fresh pine and birch forests, thence to the lake and to the distant blueish mountain sides near Zaether.
The people here can tell you and show you memorials of Engelbrekt and his Dalecarlians' deeds, and of Gustavus Vasa's adventurous wanderings. But we will remain here in this smoke-enveloped town, with the silent street's dark houses. It was almost midnight when we went out and came to the market-place. There was a wedding in one of the houses, and a great crowd of persons stood outside, the women nearest the house, the men a little further back. According to an old Swedish custom, they called for the bride and bridegroom to come forward, and they did so—they durst not do otherwise. Peasant girls, with candles in their hands, stood on each side; it was a perfect tableau: the bride with downcast eyes, the bridegroom smiling, and the young bridesmaids each with a laughing face. And the people shouted: "Now turn yourselves a little! now the back! now the face! the bridegroom quite round, the bride a little nearer!" And the bridal pair turned and turned—nor was criticism wanting. In this instance, however, it was to their praise and honour, but that is not always the case. It may be a painful and terrible hour for a newly-wedded pair: if they do not please the public, or if they have something to say against the match, or the persons themselves, they are then soon made to know what is thought of them. There is perhaps also heard some rude jest or another, accompanied by the laughter of the crowd. We were told, that even in Stockholm the same custom was observed among the lower classes until a few years ago, so that a bridal pair, who, in order to avoid this exposure, wanted to drive off, were stopped by the crowd, the carriage-door was opened on each side, and the whole public marched through the carriage. They would see the bride and bridegroom—that was their right.
Here, in Fahlun, the exhibition was friendly; the bridal pair smiled, the bridesmaids also, and the assembled crowd laughed and shouted, hurra! In the rest of the market-place and the streets around, there was dead silence and solitude.
The roseate hue of eve still shone: it passed, changed into that of morn—it was the Midsummer time.
WHAT THE STRAWS SAID.
* * * * *
On the lake there glided a boat, and the party within it sang Swedish and Danish songs; but by the shore, under that tall, hanging birch, sat four young girls—so pretty—so sylph-like! and they each plucked up from the grass four long straws, and bound these straws two and two together, at the top and the bottom.
"We shall now see if they will come together in a square," said the girls: "if it be so, then that which I think of will be fulfilled," and they bound them, and they thought.
No one got to know the secret thought, the heart's silent wish of the others. But yet a little bird sings about it.
The thoughts of one flew over sea and land, over the high mountains, where the mule finds its way in the mists, down to Mignon's beautiful land, where the old gods live in marble and painting. "Thither, thither! shall I ever get there?" That was the wish, that was the thought, and she opened her hand, looked at the bound straws, and they appeared only two and two bound together.
And where were the second one's thoughts? also in foreign lands, in the gunpowder's smoke, amongst the glitter of arms and cannons, with him, the friend of her childhood, fighting for imperial power, against the Hungarian people. Will he return joyful and unharmed—return to Sweden's peaceful, well-constituted, happy land? The straws showed no square: a tear dwelt in the girl's eye.
The third smiled: there was a sort of mischief in the smile. Will our aged bachelor and that old maiden-lady yonder, who now wander along so young, smile so young, and speak so youthfully to each other, not be a married couple before the cuckoo sings again next year? See—that is what I should like to know! and the smile played around the thinker's mouth, but she did not speak her thoughts. The straws were separated—consequently the bachelor and the old maid also. "It may, however, happen nevertheless," she certainly thought: it was apparent in the smile; it was obvious in the manner in which she threw the straws away.
"There is nothing I would know—nothing that I am curious to know!" said the fourth; but yet she bound the straws together; for within her also there was a wish alive; but no bird has sung about it; no one guesses it.
Rock thyself securely in the heart's lotus flower, thou shining humming-bird, thy' name shall not be pronounced: and besides the straws said as before—"without hope!"
"Now you! now you!" cried the young girls to a stranger, far from the neighbouring land, from the green isle, that Gylfe ploughed from Sweden. "What dear thing do you wish shall happen, or not happen!—tell us the wish!"—"If the oracle speaks well for me," said he, "then I will tell you the silent wish and prayer, with which I bind these knots on the grass straw; but if I have no better success than you have had, I will then be silent!" and he bound straw to straw, and as he bound, he repeated: "it signifies nothing!" He now opened his hand, his eyes shone brighter, his heart beat faster. The straws formed a square! "It will happen, it will happen!" cried the young girls. "What did you wish for?" "That Denmark may soon gain an honourable peace!"
"It will happen! it will happen!" said the young girls; "and when it happens, we will remember that the straws have told it before-hand."
"I will keep these four straws, bound in a prophetic wreath for victory and peace!" said the stranger; "and if the oracle speaks truth, then I will draw the whole picture for you, as we sit here under the hanging birch by the lake, and look on Zaether's blue mountains, each of us binding straw to straw."
A red mark was made in the almanack; it was the 6th of July, 1849. The same day a red page was written in Denmark's history. The Danish soldier made a red, victorious mark with his blood, at the battle of Fredericia.
THE POET'S SYMBOL.
* * * * *
If a man would seek for the symbol of the poet, he need not look farther than "The Arabian Nights' Tales." Scherezade who interprets the stories for the Sultan—Scherezade is the poet, and the Sultan is the public who is to be agreeably entertained, or else he will decapitate Scherezade.
Powerful Sultan! Poor Scherezade!
The Sultan-public sits in more than a thousand and one forms, and listens. Let us regard a few of these forms.
There sits a sallow, peevish, scholar; the tree of his life bears leaves impressed with long and learned words: diligence and perseverance crawl like snails on the hog's leather bark: the moths have got into the inside—and that is bad, very bad! Pardon the rich fulness of the song, the inconsiderate enthusiasm, the fresh young, intellect. Do not behead Scherezade! But he beheads her out of hand, sans remorse.
There sits a dress-maker, a sempstress who has had some experience of the world. She comes from strange families, from a solitary chamber where she sat and gained a knowledge of mankind—she knows and loves the romantic. Pardon, Miss, if the story has not excitement enough for you, who have sat over the needle and the muslin, and having had so much of life's prose, gasp after romance.
"Behead her!" says the dress-maker.
There sits a figure in a dressing gown—this oriental dress of the North, for the lordly minion, the petty prince, the rich brewer's son, &c., &c., &c. It is not to be learned from the dressing gown, nor from that lordly look and the fine smile around the mouth, to what stem he belongs: his demands on Scherezade are just the same as the dress-maker's: he must be excited, he must be brought to shudder all down the vertebrae, through the very spine: he must be crammed with mysteries, such as those which Spriez knew how to connect and thicken.
Scherezade is beheaded!
Wise, enlightened Sultan! Thou comest in the form of a schoolboy; thou bearest the Romans and Greeks together in a satchel on thy back, as Atlas sustained the world. Do not cast an evil eye upon poor Scherezade; do not judge her before thou hast learned thy lesson, and art a child again,—do not behead Scherezade!
Young, full-dressed diplomatist, on whose breast we can count, by the badges of honour, how many courts thou hast visited with thy princely master, speak mildly of Scherezade's name! speak of her in French, that she may be ennobled above her mother tongue! translate but one strophe of her song, as badly as thou canst, but carry it into the brilliant saloon, and her sentence of death is annulled in the sweet, absolving charmant!
Mighty annihilator and elevator!—the newspapers' Zeus—thou weekly, monthly, and daily journals' Jupiter, shake not thy locks in anger! Cast not thy lightnings forth, if Scherezade sing otherwise than thou art accustomed to in thy family, or if she go without a suite of thine own clique. Do not behead her!
We will see one figure more—the most dangerous of them all; he with the praise on his lips, like that of the stormy river's swell—the blind enthusiast. The water in which Scherezade dipped her fingers, is for him a fountain of Castalia; the throne he erects to her apotheosis becomes her scaffold.
This is the poet's symbol—paint it:
"THE SULTAN AND SCHEREZADE."
But why none of the worthier figures—the candid, the honest, and the beautiful? They come also, and on them Scherezade fixes her eye. Encouraged by them, she boldly raises her proud head aloft towards the stars, and sings of the harmony there above, and here beneath, in man's heart.
That will not clearly show the symbol:
"THE SULTAN AND SCHEREZADE."
The sword of death hangs over her head whilst she relates—and the Sultan-figure bids us expect that it will fall. Scherezade is the victor: the poet is, like her, also a victor. He is rich, victorious—even in his poor chamber, in his most solitary hours. There, in that chamber, rose after rose shoots forth; bubble after bubble sparkles on the magic stream. The heavens shine with shooting stars, as if a new firmament were created, and the old rolled away. The world does not know it, for it is the poet's own creation, richer than the king's costly illuminations. He is happy, as Scherezade is; he is victorious, he is mighty. Imagination adorns his walls with tapestry, such as no land's ruler owns; feeling makes the beauteous chords sound to him from the human breast; understanding raises him, through the magnificence of creation, up to God, without his forgetting that he stands fast on the firm earth. He is mighty, he is happy, as few are. We will not place him in the stocks of misconstruction, for pity and lamentation; we merely paint his symbol, dip into the colours on the world's least attractive side, and obtain it most comprehensibly from
"THE SULTAN AND SCHEREZADE."
See—that is it! Do not behead Scherezade!
* * * * *
Before Homer sang there were heroes; but they are not known; no poet celebrated their fame. It is just so with the beauties of nature, they must be brought into notice by words and delineations, be brought before the eyes of the multitude; get a sort of world's patent for what they are, and then they may be said first to exist. The elvs of the north have rushed and whirled along for thousands of years in unknown beauty. The world's great highroad does take this direction; no steam-packet conveys the traveller comfortably along the streams of the Dal-elvs; fall on fall makes sluices indispensable and invaluable. Schubert is as yet the only stranger who has written about the wild magnificence and southern beauty of Dalecarlia, and spoken of its greatness.
Clear as the waves of the sea does the mighty elv stream in endless windings through forest deserts and varying plains, sometimes extending its deep bed, sometimes confining it, reflecting the bending trees and the red painted block houses of solitary towns, and sometimes rushing like a cataract over immense blocks of rock.
Miles apart from one another, out of the ridge of mountains between Sweden and Norway, come the east and west Dal-elvs, which first become confluent and have one bed above Balstad. They have taken up rivers and lakes in their waters. Do but visit this place! here are pictorial riches to be found; the most picturesque landscapes, dizzyingly grand, smilingly pastoral—idyllic: one is drawn onward up to the very source of the elv, the bubbling well above Finman's hut: one feels a desire to follow every branch of the stream that the river takes in.
The first mighty fall, Njupeskoers cataract, is seen by the Norwegian frontier in Sernasog. The mountain stream rushes perpendicularly from the rock to a depth of seventy fathoms.
We pause in the dark forest, where the elv seems to collect within itself nature's whole deep gravity. The stream rolls its clear waters over a porphyry soil where the mill-wheel is driven, and the gigantic porphyry bowls and sarcophagi are polished.
We follow the stream through Siljan's lake, where superstition sees the water-sprite swim, like the sea-horse with a mane of green sea-weed, and where the aerial images present visions of witchcraft in the warm summer days.
We sail on the stream from Siljan's lake, under the weeping willows of the parsonage, where the swans assemble in flocks; we glide along slowly with horses and carriages on the great ferry-boat, away over the rapid current under Balstad's picturesque shore. Here the elv widens and rolls its billows majestically in a woodland landscape, as large and extended as if it were in North America.
We see the rushing, rapid stream under Avista's yellow clay declivities: the yellow water falls like fluid amber in picturesque cataracts before the copper-works, where rainbow-coloured tongues of fire shoot themselves upwards, and the hammer's blows on the copper plates resound to the monotonous, roaring rumble of the elv-fall.
And now, as a concluding passage of splendour in the life of the Dal-elvs, before they lose themselves in the waters of the Baltic, is the view of Elvkarleby Fall. Schubert compares it with the fall of Schafhausen; but we must remember, that the Rhine there has not such a mass of water as that which rushes down Elvkarleby.
Two and a half Swedish miles from Gefle, where the high road to Upsala goes over the Dal-elv, we see from the walled bridge, which we pass over, the whole of that immense fall. Close up to the bridge, there is a house where the bridge toll is paid. There the stranger can pass the night, and from his little window look over the falling waters, see them in the clear moonlight, when darkness has laid itself to rest within the thicket of oaks and firs, and all the effect of light is in those foaming, flowing waters, and see them when the morning sun stretches his rainbow in the trembling spray, like an airy bridge of colours, from the shore to the wood-grown rock in the centre of the cataract.
We came hither from Gefle, and saw at a great distance on the way, the blue clouds from the broken, rising spray, ascend above the dark-green tops of the trees. The carriage stopped near the bridge; we stepped out, and close before us fell the whole redundant elv.
The painter cannot give us the true, living image of a waterfall on canvas—the movement is wanting; how can one describe it in words, delineate this majestic grandeur, brilliancy of colour, and arrowy flight? One cannot do it; one may however attempt it; get together, by little and little, with words, an outline of that mirrored image which our eye gave us, and which even the strongest remembrance can only retain—if not vaguely, dubiously.
The Dal-elv divides itself into three branches above the fall: the two enclose a wood-grown rocky island, and rush down round its smooth-worn stony wall. The one to the right of these two falls is the finer; the third branch makes a circuit, and comes again to the main stream, close outside the united fall; here it dashes out as if to meet or stop the others, and is now hurried along in boiling eddies with the arrowy stream, which rushes on foaming against the walled pillars that bear the bridge, as if it would tear them away along with it.
The landscape to the left was enlivened by a herd of goats, that were browsing amongst the hazel bushes. They ventured quite out to the very edge of the declivity, as they were bred here and accustomed to the hollow, thundering rumble of the water. To the right, a flock of screaming birds flew over the magnificent oaks. Cars, each with one horse, and with the driver standing upright in it, the reins in his hand, came on the broad forest road from Oens Brueck.
Thither we will go in order to take leave of the Dal-elv at one of the most delightful of places, which vividly removes the stranger, as it were, into a far more southern land, into a far richer nature, than he supposed was to be found here. The road is so pretty—the oak grows here so strong and vigorously with mighty crowns of rich foliage.
Oens Brueck lies in a delightfully pastoral situation. We came thither; here was life and bustle indeed! The mill-wheels went round; large beams were sawn through; the iron forged on the anvil, and all by water-power. The houses of the workmen form a whole town: it is a long street with red-painted wooden houses, under picturesque oaks, and birch trees. The greensward was as soft as velvet to look at, and up at the manor-house, which rises in front of the garden like a little palace, there was, in the rooms and saloon, everything that the English call comfort.
We did not find the host at home; but hospitality is always the house-fairy here. We had everything good and homely. Fish and wild fowl were placed before us, steaming and fragrant, and almost as quickly as in beautiful enchanted palaces. The garden itself was a piece of enchantment. Here stood three transplanted beech-trees, and they throve well. The sharp north wind had rounded off the tops of the wild chesnut-trees of the avenue in a singular manner: they looked as if they had been under the gardener's shears. Golden-yellow oranges hung in the conservatory; the splendid southern exotics had to-day got the windows half open, so that the artificial warmth met the fresh, warm, sunny air of the northern summer.
That branch of the Dal-elv which goes round the garden is strewn with small islands, where beautiful hanging birches and fir-trees grow in Scandinavian splendour. There are small islands with green, silent groves; there are small islands with rich grass, tall brackens, variegated bell-flowers, and cowslips—no Turkey carpet has fresher colours. The stream between these islands and holms is sometimes rapid, deep, and clear; sometimes like a broad rivulet with silky-green rushes, water-lilies, and brown-feathered reeds; sometimes it is a brook with a stony ground, and now it spreads itself out in a large, still mill-dam.
Here is a landscape in Midsummer for the games of the river-sprites, and the dancers of the elves and fairies! Here, in the lustre of the full moon, the dryads can tell their tales, the water-sprite seize the golden harp, and believe that one can be blessed, at least for one single night like this.
On the other side of Oens Brueck is the main stream—the full Dal-elv. Do you hear the monotonous rumble? it is not from Elvkarleby Fall that it reaches hither; it is close by; it is from Laa-Foss, in which lies Ash Island: the elv streams and rushes over the leaping salmon.
Let us sit here, between the fragments of rock by the shore, in the red evening sunlight, which sheds a golden lustre on the waters of the Dal-elv.
Glorious river! But a few seconds' work hast thou to do in the mills yonder, and thou rushest foaming on over Elvkarleby's rocks, down into the deep bed of the river, which leads thee to the Baltic—thy eternity.
* * * * *
Reader, do you know what giddiness is? Pray that she may not seize you, this mighty "Loreley" of the heights, this evil-genius from the land of the sylphides; she whizzes around her prey, and whirls it into the abyss. She sits on the narrow rocky path, close by the steep declivity, where no tree, no branch is found, where the wanderer must creep close to the side of the rock, and look steadily forward. She sits on the church spire and nods to the plumber who works on his swaying scaffold; she glides into the illumined saloon, and up to the nervous, solitary one, in the middle of the bright polished floor, and it sways under him—the walls vanish from him.
Her fingers touch one of the hairs of our head, and we feel as if the air had left us, and we were in a vacuum.
We met with her at Danemora's immense gulf, whither we came on broad, smooth, excellent high-roads, through the fresh forest. She sat on the extreme edge of the rocky wall, above the abyss, and kicked at the tun with her thin, awl-like legs, as it hung in iron chains on large beams, from the tower-high corner of the bridge by the precipice.
The traveller raised his foot over the abyss, and set it on the tun, into which one of the workmen received him, and held him; and the chains rattled; the pulleys turned; the tun sank slowly, hovering through the air. But he felt the descent; he felt it through his bones and marrow; through all the nerves. Her icy breath blew in his neck, and down the spine, and the air itself became colder and colder. It seemed to him as if the rocks grew over his head, always higher and higher: the tun made a slight swinging, but he felt it, like a fall—a fall in sleep, that shock in the blood. Did it go quicker downwards, or was it going up again? He could not distinguish by the sensation.
The tun touched the ground, or rather the snow—the dirty trodden, eternal snow, down to which no sunbeam reaches, which no summer warmth from above ever melts. A hollow sound was heard from within the dark, yawning cavern, and a thick vapour rolled out into the cold air. The stranger entered the dark halls; there seemed to be a crashing above him: the fire burned; the furnaces roared; the beating of hammers sounded; the watery damps dripped down—and he again entered the tun, which was hoven up in the air. He sat with closed eyes, but giddiness breathed on his head, and on his breast; his inwardly-turned eye measured the giddy depth through the tun: "It is appalling," said he.
"Appalling!" echoed the brave and estimable stranger, whom we met at Danemora's great gulf. He was a man from Scania, consequently from the same street as the Sealander—if the Sound be called a street (strait). "But, however, one can say one has been down there," said he, and he pointed to the gulf; "right down, and up again; but it is no pleasure at all."
"But why descend at all?" said I. "Why will men do these things?"
"One must, you know, when one comes here," said he. "The plague of travelling is, that one must see everything: one would not have it supposed otherwise. It is a shame to a man, when he gets home again, not to have seen everything, that others ask him about."
"If you have no desire, then let it alone. See what pleases you on your travels. Go two paces nearer than where you stand, and become quite giddy: you will then have formed some conception of the passage downward. I will hold you fast, and describe the rest of it for you." And I did so, and the perspiration sprang from his forehead.
"Yes, so it is: I apprehend it all," said he: "I am clearly sensible of it."
I described the dirty grey snow covering, which the sun's warmth never thaws; the cold down there, and the caverns, and the fire, and the workmen, &c.
"Yes; one should be able to tell all about it," said he. "That you can, for you have seen it."
"No more than you," said I. "I came to the gulf; I saw the depth, the snow below, the smoke that rolled out of the caverns; but when it was time I should get into the tun—no, thank you. Giddiness tickled me with her long, awl-like legs, and so I stayed where I was I have felt the descent, through the spine and the soles of the feet, and that as well as any one: the descent is the pinch. I have been in the Hartz, under Rammelsberg; glided, as on Russian mountains, at Hallein, through the mountain, from the top down to the salt-works; wandered about in the catacombs of Rome and Malta: and what does one see in the deep passages? Gloom—darkness! What does one feel? Cold, and a sense of oppression—a longing for air and light, which is by far the best; and that we have now."
"But nevertheless, it is so very remarkable!" said the man; and he drew forth his "Hand-book for Travellers in Sweden," from which he read: "Danemora's iron-works are the oldest, largest, and richest in Sweden; the best in Europe. They have seventy-nine openings, of which seventeen only are being worked. The machine mine is ninety-three fathoms deep."
Just then the bells sounded from below: it was the signal that the time of labour for that day was ended. The hue of eve still shone on the tops of the trees above; but down in that deep, far-extended gulf, it was a perfect twilight. Thence, and out of the dark caverns, the workmen swarmed forth. They looked like flies, quite small in the space below: they scrambled up the long ladders, which hung from the steep sides of the rocks, in separate landing-places: they climbed higher and higher—upwards, upwards—and at every step they became larger. The iron chains creaked in the scaffolding of beams, and three or four young fellows stood in their wooden shoes on the edge of the tun; chatted away right merrily, and kicked with their feet against the side of the rock, so that they swung from it: and it became darker and darker below; it was as if the deep abyss became still deeper!
"It is appalling!" said the man from Scania. "One ought, however, to have gone down there, if it were only to swear that one had been. You, however, have certainly been down there," said he again to me.
"Believe what you will," I replied; and I say the same to the reader.
* * * * *
That capital fellow, Charles Dickens, has told us about the swine, and since then it puts us into a good humour whenever we hear even the grunt of one. Saint Anthony has taken them under his patronage, and if we think of the "prodigal son," we are at once in the midst of the sty, and it was just before such a one that our carriage stopped in Sweden. By the high road, closely adjoining his house, the peasant had his sty, and that such a one as there is probably scarcely its like in the world. It was an old state-carriage, the seats were taken out of it, the wheels taken off, and thus it stood, without further ceremony, on its own bottom, and four swine were shut in there. If these were the first that had been in it one could not determine; but that it was once a state-carriage everything about it bore witness, even to the strip of morocco that hung from the roof inside, all bore witness of better days. It is true, every word of it.
"Uff," said the occupiers within, and the carriage creaked and complained—it was a sorrowful end it had come to.
"The beautiful is past!" so it sighed; so it said, or it might have said so.
We returned here in the autumn. The carriage, or rather the body of the carriage, stood in its old place, but the swine were gone: they were lords in the forests; rain and drizzle reigned there; the wind tore the leaves off all the trees, and allowed them neither rest nor quiet: the birds of passage were gone.
"The beautiful is past!" said the carriage, and the same sigh passed through the whole of nature, and from the human heart it sounded: "The beautiful is past! with the delightful green forest, with the warm sunshine, and the song of birds—past! past!" So it said, and so it creaked in the trunks of the tall trees, and there was heard a sigh, so inwardly deep, a sigh direct from the heart of the wild rose-bush, and he who sat there was the rose-king. Do you know him! he is of a pure breed, the finest red-green breed: he is easily known. Go to the wild rose hedges, and in autumn, when all the flowers are gone, and the red hips alone remain, one often sees amongst these a large red-green moss-flower: that is the rose-king. A little green leaf grows out of his head—that is his feather: he is the only male person of his kind on the rose-bush, and he it was who sighed.
"Past! past! the beautiful is past! The roses are gone; the leaves of the trees fall off!—it is wet here, and it is cold and raw!—The birds that sang here are now silent; the swine live on acorns; the swine are lords in the forest!"
They were cold nights, they were gloomy days; but the raven sat on the bough and croaked nevertheless: "brah, brah!" The raven and the crow sat on the topmost bough: they have a large family, and they all said: "brah, brah! caw, caw!" and the majority is always right.
There was a great miry pool under the tall trees in the hollow, and here lay the whole herd of swine, great and small—they found the place so excellent. "Oui! oui!" said they, for they knew no more French, but that, however, was something. They were so wise, and so fat, and altogether lords in the forest.
The old ones lay still, for they thought; the young ones, on the contrary, were so brisk—busy, but apparently uneasy. One little pig had a curly tail—that curl was the mother's delight. She thought that they all looked at the curl, and thought only of the curl; but that they did not. They thought of themselves, and of what was useful, and of what the forest was for. They had always heard that the acorns they ate grew on the roots of the trees, and therefore they had always rooted there; but now there came a little one—for it is always the young ones that come with news—and he asserted that the acorns fell down from the branches: he himself had felt one fall right on his head, and that had given him the idea, so he had made observations, and now he was quite sure of what he asserted. The old ones laid their heads together. "Uff," said the swine, "uff! the finery is past! the twittering of the birds is past! we will have fruit! whatever can be eaten is good, and we eat everything!"
"Oui! oui!" said they altogether.
But the mother sow looked at her little pig with the curly tail.
"One must not, however, forget the beautiful!" said she.
"Caw! caw!" screamed the crow, and flew down, in order to be appointed nightingale: one there should be—and so the crow was directly appointed.
"Past! past!" sighed the Rose King, "all the beautiful is past!"
It was wet; it was gloomy; there was cold and wind, and the rain pelted down over the fields, and through the forest, like long water jets. Where are the birds that sang? where are the flowers in the meadows, and the sweet berries in the wood?—past! past!
A light shone from the forester's house: it twinkled like a star, and shed its long rays out between the trees. A song was heard from within; pretty children played around their old grandfather, who sat with the Bible on his lap and read about God, and eternal life, and spoke of the spring that would come again: he spoke of the forest that would renew its green leaves, of the roses that would flower, of the nightingales that would sing, and of the beautiful that would again be paramount.
But the Rose King did not hear it; he sat in the raw, cold weather, and sighed:
And the swine were lords in the forest, and the mother sow looked at her little pig, and his curly tail.
"There will always be some, who have a sense for the beautiful!" said the mother sow.
* * * * *
Nature's treasures are most often unveiled to us by accident. A dog's nose was dyed by the bruised purple fish, and the genuine purple dye was discovered; a pair of wild buffalos were fighting on America's auriferous soil, and their horns tore up the green sward that covered the rich gold vein.
"In former days," as it is said by most, "everything came spontaneously. Our age has not such revelations; now one must slave and drudge if one would get anything; one must dig down into the deep shafts after the metals, which decrease more and more;—when the earth suddenly stretches forth her golden finger from California's peninsula, and we there see Monte Christo's foolishly invented riches realized; we see Aladdin's cave with its inestimable treasures. The world's treasury is so endlessly rich that we have, to speak plain and straightforward, scraped a little off the up-heaped measure; but the bushel is still full, the whole of the real measure is now refilled. In science also, such a world lies open for the discoveries of the human mind!
"But in poetry, the greatest and most glorious is already found, and gained!" says the poet. "Happy he who was born in former times; there was then many a land still undiscovered, on which poetry's rich gold lay like the ore that shines forth from the earth's surface."
Do not speak so! happy poet thou, who art born in our time! thou dost inherit all the glorious treasures which thy predecessors gave to the world; thou dost learn from them, that truth only is eternal,—the true in nature and mankind.
Our time is the time of discoveries—poetry also has its new California.
"Where does it exist?" you ask.
The coast is so near, that you do not think that there is the new world. Like a bold Leander, swim with me across the stream: the black words on the white paper will waft you—every period is a heave of the waves.
* * * * *
It was in the library's saloon. Book-shelves with many books, old and new, were ranged around for every one; manuscripts lay there in heaps; there were also maps and globes. There sat industrious men at little tables, and wrote out and wrote in, and that was no easy work. But suddenly, a great transformation took place; the shelves became terraces for the noblest trees, with flowers and fruit; heavy clusters of grapes hung amongst leafy vines, and there was life and movement all around.
The old folios and dusty manuscripts rose into flower-covered tumuli, and there sprang forth knights in mail, and kings with golden crowns on, and there was the clang of harp and shield; history acquired the life and fullness of poetry—for a poet had entered there. He saw the living visions; breathed the flowers' fragrance; crushed the grapes, and drank the sacred juice. But he himself knew not yet that he was a poet—the bearer of-light for times and generations yet to come.
It was in the fresh, fragrant forest, in the last hour of leave-taking. Love's kiss, as the farewell, was the initiatory baptism for the future poetic life; and the fresh fragrance of the forest became sweeter, the chirping of the birds more melodious: there came sunlight and cooling breezes. Nature becomes doubly delightful where a poet walks.
And as there were two roads before Hercules, so there were before him two roads, shown by two figures, in order to serve him; the one an old crone, the other a youth, beautiful as the angel that led the young Tobias.
The old crone had on a mantle, on which were wrought flowers, animals, and human beings, entwined in an arabesque manner. She had large spectacles on, and beside her lantern she held a bag filled with old gilt cards—apparatus for witchcraft, and all the amulets of superstition: leaning on her crutch, wrinkled and shivering, she was, however, soaring, like the mist over the meadow.
"Come with me, and you shall see the world, so that a poet can have benefit from it," said she. "I will light my lantern; it is better than that which Diogenes bore; I shall lighten your path."
And the light shone; the old crone lifted her head, and stood there strong and tall, a powerful female figure. She was Superstition.
"I am the strongest in the region of romance," said she,—and she herself believed it.
And the lantern's light gave the lustre of the full moon over the whole earth; yes, the earth itself became transparent, as the still waters of the deep sea, or the glass mountains, in the fairy tale.
"My kingdom is thine! sing what thou see'st; sing as if no bard before thee had sung thereof."
And it was as if the scene continually changed. Splendid Gothic churches, with painted images in the panes, glided past, and the midnight-bell struck, and the dead arose from the graves. There, under the bending elder tree, sat the mother, and swathed her newly-born child; old, sunken knights' castles rose again from the marshy ground; the drawbridge fell, and they saw into the empty halls, adorned with images, where, under the gloomy stairs of the gallery, the death-proclaiming white woman came with a rattling bunch of keys. The basilisk brooded in the deep cellar; the monster bred from a cock's egg, invulnerable by every weapon, but not from the sight of its own horrible form: at the sight of its own image, it bursts like the steel that one breaks with the blow of a stout staff. And to everything that appeared, from the golden chalice of the altar-table, once the drinking-cup of evil spirits, to the nodding head on the gallows-hill, the old crone hummed her songs; and the crickets chirped, and the raven croaked from the opposite neighbour's house, and the winding-sheet rolled from the candle. Through the whole spectral world sounded, "death! death!"
"Go with me to life and truth," cried the second form, the youth who was beautiful as a cherub. A flame shone from his brow—a cherub's sword glittered in his hand. "I am Knowledge," said he: "my world is greater—its aim is truth."
And there was a brightness all around; the spectral images paled; it did not extend over the world they had seen. Superstition's lantern had only exhibited magic-lantern images on the old ruined wall, and the wind had driven wet misty vapours past in figures.
"I will give thee a rich recompense. Truth in the created—truth in God!"
And through the stagnant lake, where before the misty spectral figures rose, whilst the bells sounded from the sunken castle, the light fell down on a swaying vegetable world. One drop of the marsh water, raised against the rays of light, became a living world, with creatures in strange forms, fighting and revelling—a world in a drop of water. And the sharp sword of Knowledge cleft the deep vault, and shone therein, where the basilisk killed, and the animal's body was dissolved in a death-bringing vapour: its claw extended from the fermenting wine-cask; its eyes were air, that burnt when the fresh wind touched it.
And there resided a powerful force in the sword; so powerful, that the grain of gold was beaten to a flat surface, thin as the covering of mist that we breathe on the glass-pane; and it shone at the sword's point, so that the thin threads of the cobweb seemed to swell to cables, for one saw the strong twistings of numberless small threads. And the voice of Knowledge seemed over the whole world, so that the age of miracles appeared to have returned. Thin iron ties were laid over the earth, and along these the heavily-laden waggons flew on the wings of steam, with the swallow's flight; mountains were compelled to open themselves to the inquiring spirit of the age; the plains were obliged to raise themselves; and then thought was borne in words, through metal wires, with the lightning's speed, to distant towns. "Life! life!" it sounded through the whole of nature. "It is our time! Poet, thou dost possess it! Sing of it in spirit and in truth!"
And the genius of Knowledge raised the shining sword; he raised it far out into space, and then—what a sight! It was as when the sunbeams shine through a crevice in the wall in a dark space, and appear to us a revolving column of myriads of grains of dust; but every grain of dust here was a world! The sight he saw was our starry firmament!
Thy earth is a grain of dust here, but a speck whose wonders astonish thee; only a grain of dust, and yet a star under stars. That long column of worlds thou callest thy starry firmament, revolves like the myriads of grains of dust, visibly hovering in the sunbeam's revolving column, from the crevice in the wall into that dark space. But still more distant stands the milky way's whitish mist, a new starry heaven, each column but a radius in the wheel! But how great is this itself! how many radii thus go out from the central point—God!
So far does thine eye reach, so clear is thine age's horizon! Son of time, choose, who shall be thy companion? Here is thy new career! with the greatest of thy time, fly thou before thy time's generation! Like twinkling Lucifer, shine thou in time's roseate morn.
* * * * *
Yes, in knowledge lies Poetry's California! Every one who only looks backward, and not clearly forward, will, however high and honourably he stands, say, that if such riches lie in knowledge, they would long since have been made available by great and immortal bards, who had a clear and sagacious eye for the discovery of truth. But let us remember that when Thespis spoke from his car, the world had also wise men. Homer had sung his immortal songs, and yet a new form of genius appeared, to which a Sophocles and Aristophanes gave birth; the Sagas and mythology of the North were as an unknown treasure to the stage, until Oehlenschlaeger showed what mighty forms from thence might be made to glide past us.
It is not our intention that the poet shall versify scientific discoveries. The didactic poem is and will be, in its best form, always but a piece of mechanism, or wooden figure, which has not the true life. The sunlight of science must penetrate the poet; he must perceive truth and harmony in the minute and in the immensely great with a clear eye: it must purify and enrich the understanding and imagination, and show him new forms which will supply to him more animated words. Even single discoveries will furnish a new flight. What fairy tales cannot the world unfold under the microscope, if we transfer our human world thereto? Electro-magnetism can present or suggest new plots in new comedies and romances; and how many humorous compositions will not spring forth, as we from our grain of dust, our little earth, with its little haughty beings look out into that endless world's universe, from milky way to milky way? An instance of what we here mean is discoverable in that old noble lady's words: "If every star be a globe like our earth, and have its kingdoms and courts—what an endless number of courts—the contemplation is enough to make mankind giddy!"
We will not say, like that French authoress: "Now, then, let me die: the world has no more discoveries to make!" O, there is so endlessly much in the sea, in the air, and on the earth—wonders, which science will bring forth!—wonders, greater than the poet's philosophy can create! A bard will come, who, with a child's mind, like a new Aladdin, will enter into the cavern of science,—with a child's mind, we say, or else the puissant spirits of natural strength would seize him, and make him their servant; whilst he, with the lamp of poetry, which is, and always will be, the human heart, stands as a ruler, and brings forth wonderful fruits from the gloomy passages, and has strength to build poetry's new palace, created in one night by attendant spirits.
In the world itself events repeat themselves; the human character was and will be the same during long ages and all ages; and as they were in the old writings, they must be in the new. But science always unfolds something new; light and truth are everything that is created—beam out from hence with eternally divine clearness. Mighty image of God, do thou illumine and enlighten mankind; and when its intellectual eye is accustomed to the lustre, the new Aladdin will come, and thou, man, shalt with him, who concisely dear, and richly sings the beauty of truth, wander through Poetry's California.