A wise man of the Orient once said:”Tell me your amusements, and I will tell you what you are.” Norway’s self-record in this line is particularly interesting and significant.
Almost every amusement popular in Norway is some form of athletics. From the most far-off ancient times it has been so; Norse youth for hundreds and hundreds of years have found their greatest delight in sports like hunting, swimming, rowing, running, climbing, leaping, snow-shoe racing, ball-playing, wrestling and fencing. Dancingat present one of the most popular amusements of the landcomes under the head of athletic exercises, for though the palace ball-room at Christiania is as sedately dignified as that of Berlin or St. Petersburg, country dances to this day are mighty vigorous exercise, including not a little hilarious competition in high kicking. The amount of it is that the Norse people always have had splendid bodily strength and agility. Their physical development is, of course, kept back to a certain extent by (1) the too frugal diet imposed by necessity in a poor farming country; (2) their prejudice in favor of unventilated houses. In spite of all these drawbacks, the typical Norseman is a fine, sturdy specimen of humanity.
It is interesting to note that the chief indoor game played in old times appears to have been not a game of, mere luck-and-chance, but a genuine wrestling with the brainsa game much like that most intellectually exacting of pastimes known as chess. Away back in the dark ages when Fridthjof’s Saga was written, people living in remote mountain-walled corners of the land kept their wits awake through the long winter twilights matching foresight and shrewdness against foresight and shrewdness over the familiar field of a board divided into squares. The fact is significant of the national love of positive, aggressive activity.
The most widely-known taste of the people in the way of indoor amusements has, however, been in the line of songs and stories. The oldest Northern chronicles were stories of the doings of gods and giants, heroes and kings, handed clown verbally from one generation to another. For centuries the telling of stories and reciting of poems has been one of the chief sources of entertainment in Norway. The old Norse taste for listening to musically rhythmic stories survives to-day in the form of love of music. Concerts as such are seldom given outside the larger towns, but at Christiania, Bergen and other centers of a considerable population, really fine music meets with genuine appreciation, indeed, the town authorities appropriate yearly generous sums in support of concerts of a high artistic order. The whole world of music lovers knows the genius of at least two sons of Norway who made their homes in BergenOle Bull, the famous violinist (died in 1880), and Edvard Grieg, to-day acknowledged one of the greatest of the world’s musical composers.
The Norwegians are distinctly a reading people. Absolute illiteracy is practically non-existent (see p. 289), and it is true to a large extent that the people not only know how to read, but really enjoy reading. The inherited taste for tales of love and adventure finds food in these later days in the form of newspapers, story-books and novels. Bjornson’s stories of Norwegian country life are exceedingly popular; so are the works of the other home-authors. Of course, the literature of Denmark is all open to Norwegian readers, the language being practically identical, and great number of English books are read in translation. The humorous tales of Mark Twain, for ex-ample, are nearly as well known in Norway as in America.
Theatres are found in every town of fair size, and are well patronized; the audiences in Christiania and Bergen have opportunities to hear the plays of their famous countrymen, Ibsen and Bjornson, and also the best dramas of other lands, rendered in translation. The municipality of Christiania grants money every year towards the support of its leading theatre, and Bergen does the same. The result is that Shakespeare and Goethenot to mention men of lesser geniusare well known to cultivated people in King Haakon’s land, just the same as in the lands where English and German are native to the soil.
It must be confessed that for many centuries hard drinking was one of the most popular amusements in Norway. The taste for intoxicating drinks was a natural inheritance from the vigorous, hard-hitting sons of the Viking Age. As always where men “put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains,” the consequences have been disastrous. But popular feeling has awakened to the situation, and now, for a number of years, a strong movement has been exerted to master the evil of excessive indulgence, and with marvelous success.
A system of “local option” is now established, whereby a community with a strong sentiment against drunkenness is enabled to prohibit entirely the local sale of intoxicating drinks. Women with certain property qualifications may vote on a question of liquor sales.
In incorporated towns retail sales may be made only between 8 A. M. and 10 P. M., and by samlags (associations) licensed by vote. The State takes sixty-five per cent. of the profits, the Amt (county or province) ten per cent., and the municipality ten per cent. The accounts are audited by government inspectors. The promoters of the business having no opportunity to make fortunes out of its growth, and, consequently, no incentive to push sales, the volume of business depends only on the appetite of the individual. The funds flowing into town, county and State treasuries are used for the maintenance of hospitals, penal institutions and public works of general utility.
Thus the principle of personal liberty, so jealously guarded by Norsemen, is essentially maintained, and yet the wretched consequences of a laissez faire system are being avoided. The result of this policy is that at the present time the consumption of alcohol in Norway has decreased till it is only 2.2 litres per capita, annually, against
16 litres in France, 10.7 Belgium, 10.1 Denmark, 9.9 Italy, 8.6 Germany, 7.4 Great Britain.