Norway at its southern end forms a bold mountainous promontory, about 200 miles wide at its widest part, and 125 miles in length, terminating at Lindesnæs, in lat. 57° 59′. This vast territory is bounded on the west, by the North Sea, and on the south and east by the Skager Rack, whose inner extremity, so to speak, is the Christiania fjord, which runs from north to south. The fjords have not the grandeur of those farther north. The only level lands on the coast of Norway, Listerland, Dalarne, and Jæderen, are found here. At Lister-land three lofty light-houses are in close proximity to each other, and have been built in such a position that to sight them separately is a sign of danger. A high-road skirts the coast from Christiania to Cape Tungnæs, a few miles north of Stavanger, a distance of 500 miles, where the Bukne fjord prevents farther progress. This is a continuation of the high-way which runs along the shores of Sweden and Norway from Haparanda to Christiania, a distance of about 2000 miles. There are numerous rivers, upon whose waters an immense number of logs are floated, for large forests are very common.
The valleys contain some of the best agricultural districts of Norway, whose farming population is very unlike what we have described in the mountains. On the many comfortable farms nearly all the houses are painted white, with old-fashioned Dutch red – tiled roofs. Pianos, books, and periodicals show the culture of the people, whose dwellings are surrounded by orchards and gardens; charming views of sea and country are seen all the way from Christiania to Drammen, and, in fact, along the whole coast the drives are extremely beautiful. The picture representing Hof gives a good idea of the houses of a substantial farm.
On a Sunday the farmers go to church with their families in different fancy carriages and carioles. The men usually wear high silk hats, or felts with broad brims, gray or black in color; in summer they wear linen dusters. The women, in their hats, bonnets, shawls, and jackets, are dressed like farmers wives in England or the United States. After church the people hold their weekly gossip meetings.
Norway is a peculiar country, in that its cities and large towns, with few exceptions, are situated on the coast. These are chiefly interested in the fisheries and the timber trade. Those devoted to the lumber business are built on or near the mouths of rivers and streams which rise among and flow through the part of the country where vast forests are found; while those engaged in the fisheries have been located in the most advantageous geographical position. Some of the towns are rising in importance ; others are standing still, or in their decadence, as the herrings leave this or that part of the coast.
Most of these are built to suit the irregularities of the rock-bound shore or stony hills which enclose them on all sides, and the houses are perched on every jutting rock, producing a singular effect. The cleanness of the streets is remarkable; the houses are of wood and well painted. One misses the pleasure-grounds of the Swedish towns. There are no manufacturing centres, neither great iron industries in Norway. Some of these towns, though small, are very rich ; some of their merchants are millionnaires; they own large numbers of vessels, which are sent to every part of the world the carrying trade of Norway is very extensive. The little town which impressed me the most for its activity was Arendal. A few years before it had been destroyed by fire ; wooden houses had been replaced by stuccoed brick, and the stores had windows of large plate-glass imported from France.
The public peace is kept by a very few policemen, for they are a law-abiding people, and ruffianism and rowdyism are unknown. The configuration of the country precludes the making of railways, except at such an immense cost that it would not be remunerative; but steam communication by water is ample.
Often during the summer months I have met on the steamers a crowd of persons called Lasare (pietists), who were looked upon by the quiet people as a kind of fanatical and emotional religionists. As they come on board they sing their hymns, which they keep up during the passage, on their way to or from some camp-meeting.
Knowing the hospitality of the people, it was my custom, when I saw a house which attracted my attention, to stop my horse before it and go in. I had, after a couple of hours; left Holmestrand, a picturesque village at the base of wooded cliffs, near the water, and had passed the hamlet of Sande, when I came to a fine house, and, alighting, entered the grounds. To my surprise, I was accosted by two young ladies dressed in the latest fashion. I saw at once they were not farmers’ daughters, and excused myself for the unceremonious manner of my approach, and was in the act of retreating, when they begged me to stay.
The house into which I had intruded was the residence of a judge, who was summoned by one of the young ladies, when he gave me a greeting in English. He was somewhat elderly, thin and wiry, with a sunburnt face. He had just left the plough ; for, although a man of learning in his profession, he was not above the doing of hard work on his farm.
In the course of conversation we spoke of the laws of the country, and I listened with great interest to the solemn oath administered to witnesses in Norway, and the impressive, and. elaborate exhortation which accompanies it, in accordance with the 8th article,13th chapter, and 5th book of the laws, showing the religious character of the people, and how sacredly they regard the truth.
Every person who takes an oath lifts up three fingers; that is, the thumb, the forefinger, and the middle finger. By the thumb is signified, ” God the Father;” by the forefinger,, “God the Son ;” by the middle finger, ” God the Holy Ghost.” The other two fingers are bent down in the hand; the larger of these signifies the soul which lies hidden in man, and the smaller the body of man, because it is littlejust as the body is of small account compared with the son]. The whole hand typifies the one almighty and eternal God and Creator, who made man and all things in heaven and on the earth.
The exhortation or address on this occasion is calculated to make a solemn impression. It begins: -“Whatever person is now so ungodly, corrupt, and hostile to himself as to swear a false oath, or not to keep the oath sworn, sins in such manner as if he were to say, ‘If I swear falsely, then may God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost punish meso that God the Heavenly Father, who created me and all mankind, in his image and his fatherly goodness, grace, and mercy, may not profit rue ; but that I, as a perverse and obstinate transgressor and sinner, may be punished eternally in hell.’ ” It proceeds at considerable length, and with a good deal of repetition, in the same awfully serious strain, and then concludes as follows : ” Whatsoever person swears falsely, it is as if he were to say, ‘If I swear falsely, then may all that I have and own in this world be cursed: cursed be my land, field, and meadow, so that I may never enjoy any fruit or yield from them ; cursed be my cattle, my beasts, my sheep, so that after this day they may never thrive or benefit me ; yes, cursed may I be, and everything that I undertake.’ 0 man reflect on this very carefully, and mark what a dreadfully hard and severe sentence he who swears falsely pronounces upon himself. A pious Christian heart might well be alarmed and tremble when a false oath involves such consequences; when a perjured person takes himself away from God, excludes him-self from all his benefactions, temporal and eternal, separates himself from the whole Christian community, and will be lost and damned, body and soul. Therefore, every Christian should keep himself from false oaths and swearing lightly, forasmuch as his soul’s welfare and salvation are dear to him. May God Almighty grant this to us all, through his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Running through the promontory are several long and interesting valleys, among them Saetersdal, where dwell a remarkable people. From the city of Christiansand, which has a population of about 12,000, a good driving-road goes a little beyond the church of Valle, about 98 miles from the city ; after which a bridle-path leads 23 miles farther, to the Bykle church, whence another extends to the high-road of Thelemarken, or to Stavanger.
A peculiarity of the valleys of the most southern part of Norway is that they run from north to south. In summer the route to Saetersdal can be undertaken partly by water, by small steamers on the Kile and Bygland lakes, at the lower end of which may be found comfortable quarters for the night. The tourist exploring this valley must make up his mind to rough it. Food and accommodations are of the plainest kind, and hosts of fleas of the most voracious species prevent the thin-skinned from sleeping. The Saetersdal people have the reputation of being uncommonly dirty, but I did not find them worse than those of other mountainous districts. They are all alike in the absence of cleanliness, though there are exceptions. Often they sleep on sheepskins, without a particle of clothing on them.
The people of Saetersdal are the tallest and most powerful in Norway, and, I think, of the whole peninsula. I find a statement in one of the annual publications of the Turistfore ¬that the average height of the men, as taken by a gentleman at Osstad as they cache from church, was five feet ten inches. Their costume is very peculiar. The men wear pantaloons which extend to the armpit, and a short vest adorned with silver ornaments. The women have the shortest dresses in Norway, their dark blue-black woollen skirts, adorned at the bottoms with bright borders, reaching just below the knees, generally showing their garters, which are made of bright woollen bands. This costume displays to great advantage their well-shaped limbs, of which they are very proud.
The beholder must not be too prudish when they bend for-ward in cooking or other occupation, for he must often see higher than the garters. The dresses of the women are trimmed with many silver ornaments, large peculiar brooches fasten the upper part, and sometimes belts of copper, of fine workmanship, are seen around the waist.
Here, as in Thelemarken, are seen old houses with piazzas, while some have still the primitive hole in the roof for the es-cape of smoke, as described in Vol. II., Chapter XXV. Here is also found the stabbur (described in the same volume), a structure of peculiar shape. At Osse there are two, with carved door-posts and crosses over them, which in olden times were thought to be a protection against witches.
The inhabitants of Saetersdal in disposition and character are in many respects unlike the Norwegians: They are quarrelsome when under the influence of liquor, and use the knife freely. I know of no part of Norway where the people are more addicted to the use of ardent spirits; but I must say that wherever I have been among them I have been most kindly treated, and many are free from the vice of intemperance.
At Valle I stopped at a farm belonging to my namesake, Paul Paulsen. He could not understand how I could speak Norwegian, and insisted that, if I was not one of his country-men, my father was. On his asking my name, I answered ” Paul.” “Was your father also called Paul?” When I replied in the affirmative the good fellow shouted,” Then you are Paul Paulsen, and surely you are a Norsk” (Norwegian). From Saetersdal I wended my way across the mountains to Thelemarken.