« PreviousContinue »
Another obvious cause of demoralisation in Sweden is the influence of the example of a dissolute court, amidst a poor and idle population. The diffusion of the spirit of the old French court, of the frivolity, gaiety, expense, gallantry, gaming, and extravagant importance attached to the cultivation of the fine above the useful arts, which characterised what was called the age of Louis XIV., was encouraged by the Swedish monarchs, particularly Gustavus III., although evidently unsuitable to the resources and to the natural character of the nation. The Swedes laboured to be lively, and attained the distinction of being called the French of the North. This spirit of imitation outdid what it copied in the worst points, and was not confined to the court circles or the higher classes; but as these became impoverished and reduced in means to the level of the middle class, it was carried downwards into those orders of the community in whom frivolity, gaming, profligacy, inordinate passion for amusement, false estimate of human action and character, are not to be called weaknesses or foibles only, but are vices interfering with moral duties. Time and common sense have sifted the dross from what was of value in the philosophy and literature of the age of Louis XIV.; but the moral taint of its manners remains still in many countries, and particularly in Sweden.
The political profligacy, also; the total want of principle in public affairs, which characterises so many of the highest class of the Swedes in the transactions of the last fifty years, must naturally
have worked downwards, and deteriorated the classes below. The assassination of Gustavus III. by a conspiracy, not of ignorant fanatics, but of men of the higher and educated class; the open delivery for a price, of the fortresses and troops in Finland to the enemy by their commanding of ficers-men of the highest class, who, without even a pretext of principle, sold their military trusts for dollars; the deposition, not only of the individual monarch, whom for seventeen years they had acknowledged, but of his dynasty, while with singular inconsistency they retained the dynasty in the person of the usurper, his uncle, Charles XIII., for money or for safety to themselves; the murder of Count Fersen, effected by the mob, but permitted, if not instigated, by men of high rank; the sale (for it was a sale) of the succession of the crown of their native race of kings to a foreigner, and the apathy and want of principle of the great majority of the higher class, in suffering these things to be done before their eyes by a band of political intriguers, of no property or real weight in the country; are events within this half century which cannot be matched from the history of the same class, the noble, the educated, the influential class,in any other country. It is not surprising that the moral character of this people should be the lowest in Europe, with its highest class so totally devoid of political principle, public spirit, or sense of right.
Another cause I conceive to be, that although Luther's reformation found the minds of men in
part of Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, and Scotland, prepared for it, and demanding a form of christianity more intellectual, more addressed to the understanding, and less to the senses, than that of the Roman Catholic church, the public mind in Sweden was in no such advanced The change was the act of government, connected, apparently, with the policy of the new dynasty, and supported by an enlightened few, and by the inferior resident clergy not averse to be relieved from celibacy and other restraints; but the public mind appears to have been in a state of apathy in that age on religious concerns. sects, schisms, preachings, meetings, publications, indicate such a ferment in the public mind here at the time of the Reformation, as in England, Scotland, and other countries. The resident Catholic clergy became, with few exceptions, Lutheran, and a few ceremonies less, a little difference in church forms, were all the changes which the mass of the people saw; for the public mind was not advanced so far as to appreciate the difference of doctrine. Gustavus I. always denied that he had introduced a new doctrine, and at the beginning of John III.'s reign, says Geyer, the people did not know but that they were still Catholics, singing Swedish mass. The country is too extensive, and too thinly peopled, even at the present day, for the effective diffusion of religious knowledge, or the spread of zeal, by preachings or the press. As far as regards the influence of religion on morals and conduct in private life, I conceive the Reformation
has not worked beneficially in Sweden. It found the public mind dormant, and sensible to nothing in religion but the external observances of a ceremonial church, and was superinduced on it in that state, and in that state it remains. In no country are the exterior forms and decencies of public worship better attended to. The churches are substantial, and not merely well kept up, but even decorated inside and outside; and there is a kind of competition between parishes for erecting elegant structures for public worship. The clergy are fairly endowed, well lodged, and in general on good terms with their flocks; they are also well educated men, and form a body of great power in the state, the chamber of clergy being one of the constituent parts of the diet. Yet, with all these exterior signs of a religious state of the public mind, and with all the means of a powerful church establishment, unopposed by sect or schism, to make it religious, it is evident, from the official returns of crime, that in no Christian community has religion less influence on the state of public morals. The just inference is, that no spirit truly religious has ever been generally kindled in this country; that the Reformation, as far as regards the moral condition of the Swedish people, has done harm rather than good, for it has merely substituted one ceremonial church for another; and that which it supplanted, if considered apart from religious doctrine or sentiment, and merely as an establishment for the check of immorality in private conduct, by its observances and rules, was, of the two, the more
effective system of moral police over a rude and ignorant people. Rude and ignorant as the Irish Catholic population are, their priesthood keeps them free from such a list of heavy crimes as Lutheran Sweden presents from her rural population alone, in numbers little exceeding 2,735,000 souls. This is the list of their crimes in twelvemonths, 1836:
1 case of incendiarism......
28 cases of murder ......
4 cases of poisoning......... 9 cases of violent robbery 13 cases of bestiality 1176 cases of theft
2080 cases of assault.
7 cases of perjury.
1 person concerned. 30 persons concerned. 11 persons concerned. 8 persons concerned. 14 persons concerned. 13 persons concerned. 1271 persons concerned.
I omit the crimes which may be conventional or police transgressions; such as 190 cases of cutting wood unlawfully, 32 of improper behaviour during divine service; and only extract from the Gazette the number of those cases which are heavy crimes in all communities, and afford grounds for an estimate of the comparative moral condition of different countries. In 1835, capital punishment was inflicted on 16 individuals, and in 1836, on 21; and in 1835, the number condemned to chains for life was 574; in 1836, 592. In England, in 1835, the executions were 34, and in 1836, only 17: the capital convictions in 1835 were 523, and in 1836, only 494.*
* At the close of 1836, the county jails in Sweden contained 13,209 prisoners, besides 284 children living with their parents