Letters Written During A Short Residence In Sweden, Norway, And Denmark

By Mary Wollstonecraft (1796)

Entry 11129


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Feminism Letters Written During A Short Residence In Sweden, Norway, And Denmark

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(1759 - 1797)

Grandmother of Modern, Western Feminism

Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships at the time, received more attention than her writing. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and her works as important influences. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason. After Wollstonecraft's death, her widower published a Memoir of her life, revealin... (From: Wikipedia.org / Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosoph....)


27 Chapters | 52,188 Words | 302,364 Characters

Mary Wollstonecraft was born on the 27th of April, 1759. Her father—a quick-tempered and unsettled man, capable of beating wife, or child, or dog—was the son of a manufacturer who made money in Spitalfields, when Spitalfields was prosperous. Her mother was a rigorous Irishwoman, of the Dixons of Ballyshannon. Edward John Wollstonecraft—of whose children, besides Mary, the second child, three sons and two daughters lived to be men and women—in course of the got rid of about ten thousand pounds, which had been left him by his father. He began to get rid of it by farming. Mary Wollstonecraft’s first-remembered home was in a farm at Epping. When she was five years old the family moved to another farm, by the ... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Eleven days of weariness on board a vessel not intended for the accommodation of passengers have so exhausted my spirits, to say nothing of the other causes, with which you are already sufficiently acquainted, that it is with some difficulty I adhere to my determination of giving you my observations, as I travel through new scenes, whilst warmed with the impression they have made on me. The captain, as I mentioned to you, promised to put me on shore at Arendall or Gothenburg in his way to Elsineur, but contrary winds obliged us to pass both places during the night. In the morning, however, after we had lost sight of the entrance of the latter bay, the vessel was becalmed; and the captain, to oblige me, hanging out a signal for a pilot, bo... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Gothenburg is a clean airy town, and, having been built by the Dutch, has canals running through each street; and in some of them there are rows of trees that would render it very pleasant were it not for the pavement, which is intolerably bad. There are several rich commercial houses—Scotch, French, and Swedish; but the Scotch, I believe, have been the most successful. The commerce and commission business with France since the war has been very lucrative, and enriched the merchants I am afraid at the expense of the other inhabitants, by raising the price of the necessaries of life. As all the men of consequence—I mean men of the largest fortune—are merchants, their principal enjoyment is a relaxation from business at t... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
The population of Sweden has been estimated from two millions and a half to three millions; a small number for such an immense tract of country, of which only so much is cultivated—and that in the simplest manner—as is absolutely requisite to supply the necessaries of life; and near the seashore, whence herrings are easily procured, there scarcely appears a vestige of cultivation. The scattered huts that stand shivering on the naked rocks, braving the pitiless elements, are formed of logs of wood rudely hewn; and so little pains are taken with the craggy foundation that nothing hike a pathway points out the door. Gathered into himself by the cold, lowering his visage to avoid the cutting blast, is it surprising that the churli... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
The severity of the long Swedish winter tends to render the people sluggish, for though this season has its peculiar pleasures, too much time is employed to guard against its inclemency. Still as warm clothing is absolutely necessary, the women spin and the men weave, and by these exertions get a fence to keep out the cold. I have rarely passed a knot of cottages without seeing cloth laid out to bleach, and when I entered, always found the women spinning or knitting. A mistaken tenderness, however, for their children, makes them even in summer load them with flannels, and having a sort of natural antipathy to cold water, the squalid appearance of the poor babes, not to speak of the noxious smell which flannel and rugs retain, seems a rep... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Had I determined to travel in Sweden merely for pleasure, I should probably have chosen the road to Stockholm, though convinced, by repeated observation, that the manners of a people are best discriminated in the country. The inhabitants of the capital are all of the same genus; for the varieties in the species we must, therefore, search where the habitations of men are so separated as to allow the difference of climate to have its natural effect. And with this difference we are, perhaps, most forcibly struck at the first view, just as we form an estimate of the leading traits of a character at the first glance, of which intimacy afterwards makes us almost lose sight. As my affairs called me to Stromstad (the frontier town of Sweden) in ... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
The sea was boisterous, but, as I had an experienced pilot, I did not apprehend any danger. Sometimes, I was told, boats are driven far out and lost. However, I seldom calculate chances so nicely—sufficient for the day is the obvious evil! We had to steer among islands and huge rocks, rarely losing sight of the shore, though it now and then appeared only a mist that bordered the water’s edge. The pilot assured me that the numerous harbors on the Norway coast were very safe, and the pilot-boats were always on the watch. The Swedish side is very dangerous, I am also informed; and the help of experience is not often at hand to enable strange vessels to steer clear of the rocks, which lurk below the water close to the shore. T... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Though the king of Denmark be an absolute monarch, yet the Norwegians appear to enjoy all the blessings of freedom. Norway may be termed a sister kingdom; but the people have no viceroy to lord it over them, and fatten his dependents with the fruit of their labor. There are only two counts in the whole country who have estates, and exact some feudal observances from their tenantry. All the rest of the country is divided into small farms, which belong to the cultivator. It is true some few, appertaining to the Church, are let, but always on a lease for life, generally renewed in favor of the eldest son, who has this advantage as well as a right to a double portion of the property. But the value of the farm is estimated, and after his po... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Tonsberg was formerly the residence of one of the little sovereigns of Norway; and on an adjacent mountain the vestiges of a fort remain, which was battered down by the Swedes, the entrance of the bay lying close to it. Here I have frequently strayed, sovereign of the waste; I seldom met any human creature; and sometimes, reclining on the mossy down, under the shelter of a rock, the prattling of the sea among the pebbles has lulled me to sleep—no fear of any rude satyr’s approaching to interrupt my repose. Balmy were the slumbers, and soft the gales, that refreshed me, when I awoke to follow, with an eye vaguely curious, the white sails, as they turned the cliffs, or seemed to take shelter under the pines which covered the lit... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I have already informed you that there are only two noblemen who have estates of any magnitude in Norway. One of these has a house near Tonsberg, at which he has not resided for some years, having been at court, or on embassies. He is now the Danish Ambassador in London. The house is pleasantly situated, and the grounds about it fine; but their neglected appearance plainly tells that there is nobody at home. A stupid kind of sadness, to my eye, always reigns in a huge habitation where only servants live to put cases on the furniture and open the windows. I enter as I would into the tomb of the Capulets, to look at the family pictures that here frown in armor, or smile in ermine. The mildew respects not the lordly robe, and the worm ri... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I have once more, my friend, taken flight, for I left Tonsberg yesterday, but with an intention of returning in my way back to Sweden. The road to Laurvig is very fine, and the country the best cultivated in Norway. I never before admired the beech tree, and when I met stragglers here they pleased me still less. Long and lank, they would have forced me to allow that the line of beauty requires some curves, if the stately pine, standing near, erect, throwing her vast arms around, had not looked beautiful in opposition to such narrow rules. In these respects my very reason obliges me to permit my feelings to be my criterion. Whatever excites emotion has charms for me, though I insist that the cultivation of the mind by warming, nay, almo... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I left Portoer, the little haven I mentioned, soon after I finished my last letter. The sea was rough, and I perceived that our pilot was right not to venture farther during a hazy night. We had agreed to pay four dollars for a boat from Helgeraac. I mention the sum, because they would demand twice as much from a stranger. I was obliged to pay fifteen for the one I hired at Stromstad. When we were ready to set out, our boatman offered to return a dollar and let us go in one of the boats of the place, the pilot who lived there being better acquainted with the coast. He only demanded a dollar and a half, which was reasonable. I found him a civil and rather intelligent man; he was in the American service several years, during the Revolu... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I left East Rusoer the day before yesterday. The weather was very fine; but so calm that we loitered on the water near fourteen hours, only to make about six and twenty miles. It seemed to me a sort of emancipation when we landed at Helgeraac. The confinement which everywhere struck me whilst sojourning among the rocks, made me hail the earth as a land of promise; and the situation shone with fresh luster from the contrast—from appearing to be a free abode. Here it was possible to travel by land—I never thought this a comfort before—and my eyes, fatigued by the sparkling of the sun on the water, now contentedly reposed on the green expanse, half persuaded that such verdant meads had never till then regaled them. I ros... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I left Tonsberg yesterday, the 22nd of August. It is only twelve or thirteen English miles to Moss, through a country less wild than any tract I had hitherto passed over in Norway. It was often beautiful, but seldom afforded those grand views which fill rather than soothe the mind. We glided along the meadows and through the woods, with sunbeams playing around us; and, though no castles adorned the prospects, a greater number of comfortable farms met my eyes during this ride than I have ever seen, in the same space, even in the most cultivated part of England; and the very appearance of the cottages of the laborers sprinkled amid them excluded all those gloomy ideas inspired by the contemplation of poverty. The hay was still bringing in... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Christiania is a clean, neat city; but it has none of the graces of architecture, which ought to keep pace with the refining manners of a people—or the outside of the house will disgrace the inside, giving the beholder an idea of overgrown wealth devoid of taste. Large square wooden houses offend the eye, displaying more than Gothic barbarism. Huge Gothic piles, indeed, exhibit a characteristic sublimity, and a wildness of fancy peculiar to the period when they were erected; but size, without grandeur or elegance, has an emphatical stamp of meanness, of poverty of conception, which only a commercial spirit could give. The same thought has struck me, when I have entered the meeting-house of my respected friend, Dr. Price. I am surp... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I left Christiania yesterday. The weather was not very fine, and having been a little delayed on the road, I found that it was too late to go round, a couple of miles, to see the cascade near Fredericstadt, which I had determined to visit. Besides, as Fredericstadt is a fortress, it was necessary to arrive there before they shut the gate. The road along the river is very romantic, though the views are not grand; and the riches of Norway, its timber, floats silently down the stream, often impeded in its course by islands and little cataracts, the offspring, as it were, of the great one I had frequently heard described. I found an excellent inn at Fredericstadt, and was gratified by the kind attention of the hostess, who, perceiving that ... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I set out from Fredericstadt about three o’clock in the afternoon, and expected to reach Stromstad before the night closed in; but the wind dying away, the weather became so calm that we scarcely made any perceptible advances towards the opposite coast, though the men were fatigued with rowing. Getting among the rocks and islands as the moon rose, and the stars darted forward out of the clear expanse, I forgot that the night stole on whilst indulging affectionate reveries, the poetical fictions of sensibility; I was not, therefore, aware of the length of time we had been toiling to reach Stromstad. And when I began to look around, I did not perceive anything to indicate that we were in its neighborhood. So far from it, that when I ... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I was unwilling to leave Gothenburg without visiting Trolhættæ. I wished not only to see the cascade, but to observe the progress of the stupendous attempt to form a canal through the rocks, to the extent of an English mile and a half. This work is carried on by a company, who employ daily nine hundred men; five years was the time mentioned in the proposals addressed to the public as necessary for the completion. A much more considerable sum than the plan requires has been subscribed, for which there is every reason to suppose the promoters will receive ample interest. The Danes survey the progress of this work with a jealous eye, as it is principally undertaken to get clear of the Sound duty. Arrived at Trolhætt&aeli... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
COPENHAGEN. The distance from Elsineur to Copenhagen is twenty-two miles; the road is very good, over a flat country diversified with wood, mostly beech, and decent mansions. There appeared to be a great quantity of corn land, and the soil looked much more fertile than it is in general so near the sea. The rising grounds, indeed, were very few, and around Copenhagen it is a perfect plain; of course has nothing to recommend it but cultivation, not decorations. If I say that the houses did not disgust me, I tell you all I remember of them, for I cannot recollect any pleasurable sensations they excited, or that any object, produced by nature or art, took me out of myself. The view of the city, as we drew near, was rather grand, but withou... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Business having obliged me to go a few miles out of town this morning I was surprised at meeting a crowd of people of every description, and inquiring the cause of a servant, who spoke French, I was informed that a man had been executed two hours before, and the body afterwards burnt. I could not help looking with horror around—the fields lost their verdure—and I turned with disgust from the well-dressed women who were returning with their children from this sight. What a spectacle for humanity! The seeing such a flock of idle gazers plunged me into a train of reflections on the pernicious effects produced by false notions of justice. And I am persuaded that till capital punishments are entirely abolished executions ought to... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I have formerly censured the French for their extreme attachment to theatrical exhibitions, because I thought that they tended to render them vain and unnatural characters; but I must acknowledge, especially as women of the town never appear in the Parisian as at our theaters, that the little saving of the week is more usefully expended there every Sunday than in porter or brandy, to intoxicate or stupify the mind. The common people of France have a great superiority over that class in every other country on this very score. It is merely the sobriety of the Parisians which renders their fêtes more interesting, their gaiety never becoming disgusting or dangerous, as is always the case when liquor circulates. Intoxication is the plea... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I have seen Count Bernstorff; and his conversation confirms me in the opinion I had previously formed of him; I mean, since my arrival at Copenhagen. He is a worthy man, a little vain of his virtue à la Necker; and more anxious not to do wrong, that is to avoid blame, than desirous of doing good; especially if any particular good demands a change. Prudence, in short, seems to be the basis of his character; and, from the tenor of the Government, I should think inclining to that cautious circumspection which treads on the heels of timidity. He has considerable information, and some finesse; or he could not be a Minister. Determined not to risk his popularity, for he is tenderly careful of his reputation, he will never gloriously fa... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I arrived at Corsoer the night after I quitted Copenhagen, purposing to take my passage across the Great Belt the next morning, though the weather was rather boisterous. It is about four-and-twenty miles but as both I and my little girl are never attacked by sea-sickness—though who can avoid ennui?—I enter a boat with the same indifference as I change horses; and as for danger, come when it may, I dread it not sufficiently to have any anticipating fears. The road from Copenhagen was very good, through an open, flat country that had little to recommend it to notice excepting the cultivation, which gratified my heart more than my eye. I took a barge with a German baron who was hastening back from a tour into Denmark, alarmed by... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
I might have spared myself the disagreeable feelings I experienced the first night of my arrival at Hamburg, leaving the open air to be shut up in noise and dirt, had I gone immediately to Altona, where a lodging had been prepared for me by a gentleman from whom I received many civilities during my journey. I wished to have traveled in company with him from Copenhagen, because I found him intelligent and friendly, but business obliged him to hurry forward, and I wrote to him on the subject of accommodations as soon as I was informed of the difficulties I might have to encounter to house myself and brat. It is but a short and pleasant walk from Hamburg to Altona, under the shade of several rows of trees, and this walk is the more agreeable... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
My lodgings at Altona are tolerably comfortable, though not in any proportion to the price I pay; but, owing to the present circumstances, all the necessaries of life are here extravagantly dear. Considering it as a temporary residence, the chief inconvenience of which I am inclined to complain is the rough streets that must be passed before Marguerite and the child can reach a level road. The views of the Elbe in the vicinity of the town are pleasant, particularly as the prospects here afford so little variety. I attempted to descend, and walk close to the water’s edge; but there was no path; and the smell of glue, hanging to dry, an extensive manufactory of which is carried on close to the beach, I found extremely disagreeable. ... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
There is a pretty little French theater at Altona, and the actors are much superior to those I saw at Copenhagen. The theaters at Hamburg are not open yet, but will very shortly, when the shutting of the gates at seven o’clock forces the citizens to quit their country houses. But, respecting Hamburg, I shall not be able to obtain much more information, as I have determined to sail with the first fair wind for England. The presence of the French army would have rendered my intended tour through Germany, in my way to Switzerland, almost impracticable, had not the advancing season obliged me to alter my plan. Besides, though Switzerland is the country which for several years I have been particularly desirous to visit, I do not feel i... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
Private business and cares have frequently so absorbed me as to prevent my obtaining all the information during this journey which the novelty of the scenes would have afforded, had my attention been continually awake to inquiry. This insensibility to present objects I have often had occasion to lament since I have been preparing these letters for the press; but, as a person of any thought naturally considers the history of a strange country to contrast the former with the present state of its manners, a conviction of the increasing knowledge and happiness of the kingdoms I passed through was perpetually the result of my comparative reflections. The poverty of the poor in Sweden renders the civilization very partial, and slavery has retar... (From: Gutenberg.org.)


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