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This is the spot, of the whole water journey, the most impressed on my memory. Why? That question need not be answered. The tall towers of Linkoping rose to view on the opposite bank, and at Norsholm, near to this, was the estate of that faithful old ecclesiastical hero, its bishop, Hans Brask, who so long resisted the encroachments of the great Gustavus Vasa, and whom the Swedes call a robber; but whose honest, brave, and faithful adherence to what he believed was truth, I astonish them by admiring.
The coast of the Baltic, which we pursue a long way before coming to sweet Malaren, is most curious: it ought to be seen in a map to give one any idea of it. Such a curious and interesting place, which bears no affinity to any notion we have of the sea, is called Skaregord in Swedish, which means a crowd of rocky islands, larger and smaller, bare and fir-wooded, through which the channel is marked out by poles and sticks, and sometimes by whitening the half sunken rocks. The passage is slow and cautious, but, to me, pleasing. We pass over a Vik, or arm of the Baltic, amid scenery which scarcely lets one believe the water is that of the salt sea.
Another watering-place of Sweden is reached, the "water-drinking Sodertelje; a pretty place, and a very narrow canal; the latter supposed to be the successor of one originally cut by the celebrated Viking Olof, the pirate and saint of Norway.
Then we round a fine promontory, and we are in the Malar—my dearly-loved Malar! There is King Erik's hat; the iron hat set up on that rock which mariners, in old time, used to petition for a fair wind, because St. Erik, they say, could make, a fair wind by simply waving his hat; and it is only in these hardened times that captains and crews have ceased even to bow to it in passing.
And at that midsummer time we entered Lake Malar—beautiful Malar! The waters were clear as crystal, sparkling as diamonds; the wooded islets were all doubly seen, reflected, reversed beneath the lake, which was broken by our keel only. Beautiful Malar! I have grown more intimate with you now; many a time have I been with you since; in summer time and winter time have I sailed, or walked over your waters, and have not decided in which way I liked you best. In either extreme, most decidedly, rather than midway—not in autumn, nor in spring. There are one hundred and fourteen islands, large and small, in its' course of seventy
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five miles. The wooded banks, contracting much., bring closer at intervals the luxuriant verdure; for leaf trees—as the Swedes emphatically term all trees that are not fir or pine—are here abundant, and dreary is the scene where they mingle not in the unchanging fir forests. Here their lighter green is mixed with the giant firs and rocks, which, opening at short intervals, disclose a pretty, snug-looking, red wooden house, with white or green painted windows, looking warm and comfortable and picturesque among green pastures and dark fir trees. And then come nice villas, wooden ones, of all colours and shades; then a handsome house or two, which are not wooden; and then rise up towers and spires, and a great massive building, and they cry out "The Palace!" The Building of Stockholm. And so, seated on her seven islands, instead of seven hills, appears the Venice of the North, which its inhabitants prefer, as if in burlesque, to call the "Paris of the North."
No! to Venice, naturally, some resemblance may be made out; to Paris, artificially, none.
Yet the natural resemblance to the former is but a faint one; it consists chiefly in both being the children of water. But Stockholm wants the charming uniqueness of the true Venice, the only Venice; which, unlike any city of the earth, springs forth from the sea, without apparently a foot of land to rest upon. Stockholm, on the contrary, chiefly built on islands as it is, is clearly seen, even at a distance, to be partly elevated on a high rocky site, partly to descend even to the water's edge. The water here is bordered with trees, roeks, hills, and turf banks, covered with flowers. Venice rises from her bed of waters, undistinguished by a tree, a rock, a glimpse of solid land. But if it were not for this peculiarity of Venice, the water-approach to the northern capital might well compete the palm of beauty with the now mournful widow of the Adriatic.
Now, that most disagreeable practice, still maintained here, takes place; the startling gun rings sharply out to tell all Stockholm we are coming—the firing from boats never ceases in summer; when it does stop, you may know the water is closed.
Now, in the midsummer-tide, we land in the brightness of evening; the many-windowed, large, and very long white houses are flashing in radiancy almost incredible; the spire on the top of Eiddarholmen Church is only seen to upraise on its summit a cross of blazing gold; for its light form is indistinguishable in the radiancy: the whole town is sun-illuminated; up from the water's edge, up to the scattered, rising, and unequally placed houses on Soder heights. Stockholm, rising from the wooded lake at one side, and the green-waved Baltic at the other, should be first seen, as it is now, when the declining sun is flashing back from houses, churches, and towers, its gloriously-burnished rays on the dazzled spectator; presenting, from its watery and wooded position, a sight almost unequalled for beauty, and an air of splendour which is lent to it for the moment.
And thus did I land at Stockholm, so long, so very long ago I Four years ago!
Let me return, let me leave the midsummer tide; I am now in the autumn of 1851.
Ack! say the Swedes, when anything goes wrong; and so I say when I attempt to show the miserable reverse of my sun-illumined picture. But, pray, do not believe, or be influenced by the accounts which any traveller may give of a place he sees in rain, cold, wet, dreariness, and after spending some days with little he could eat, and three nights without a bed to sleep on.