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June 15 , 2008

Peeps at many lands: Sweden (Illustrated)


In one of the most beautiful and romantic districts of Sweden there is one of the oldest copper-mines in the world. It is situated at Falun in Dalecarlia. About 400 years ago a young man might have been seen looking into the open mine. He was full of thought and anxiety, for was not his country in the hands of the Danish King, Christian II., a cruel tyrant? and was not he himself being pursued and driven to seek concealment, as he was a direct descendant of the ancient Kings of Sweden? He had suffered much, but had never given up hope. He stood there thinking of his country’s down-trodden condition, hopeful, trustful, and resolute, resolving to deliver his native land from the foreign yoke. He remembered how the miners had fought in days of old for their country. He would rouse them so that they would do it again. He donned the peasant costume, and became as one of themselves. He worked alongside them in the mines, and soon became a great favourite because of his bright, winning manner. He took every opportunity of speaking to them of the subject that lay nearest to his heart—the freedom of their native land. He told them of the massacre of many nobles at Stockholm, of ladies of rank being thrown into the sea, of boys being whipped to death, and of peasants hanged for the slightest offence at the order of King Christian, the Nero of the North.

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After working in the mine for some time, he was recognized. He then took service with an old college friend, Anders Persson, of Rankhytta, who sympathized with him, but was unable to help him. He sent him to Squire Arendt Persson, who, eager to win the reward offered for Gustavus Vasa’s capture, betrayed him to the Danish soldiers. Arendt’s wife suspected treachery, and let the young man down with a towel from a window in the loft to the snow-covered ground outside, where a trusty servant was waiting with a sledge to convey him to a place of safety. When Persson arrived next morning with soldiers, he found the bird flown.

On another occasion he took refuge in a hut in the forest. The Danes had so entirely encircled the district, that Gustavus seemed completely in their power. A friend, however, hid him in a load of straw, and proceeded towards Rättvik. They were surrounded by Danish soldiers, who stopped the cart and roughly thrust their sharp pikes into the straw. Gustavus was pierced in the side by a spear. The pain was great, but he endured it without a groan. Satisfied he could not be there, the soldiers rode on. Blood, however, was seen on the ground. To account for this, the driver had cut his horse’s leg close down to the hoof.

As soon as he recovered from this wound, he went with renewed vigour and zeal from hut to hut, exhorting the people to rise and throw off the Danish yoke. This led him into great difficulties and great suffering. He was often in want of food, and afraid to ask shelter. At one time he had scarcely a moment to conceal himself under a fallen tree before a party of Danish soldiers galloped up.

At last he made his way to Dalecarlia, where he had made his first venture. The Danish soldiers again got on his track. He rushed to the house of a peasant, and found the wife at her spinning-wheel. When she knew who he was, she put him into a dark cellar underneath the kitchen-floor, and covered the trap-door with a large brewing vat. The soldiers were baffled, and although they were strongly of opinion that Gustavus was there, left without him, but not without having been entertained by the good woman, who had never lost her presence of mind.

Gustavus Vasa, after many trials and disappointments, seemed to think that he must give up his scheme, and resolved to leave the country for Norway. He was away in a lonely spot, and preparing to cross the mountains, when he heard voices calling to him. He turned round, and saw some Dalecarlians on skis, who had been sent by their companions to recall him, as they had resolved to rise against the Danes under his leadership. Gladly he agreed to their request, and returned to Mora, where, on a Sunday after church, he addressed the men, recounting the miseries and sufferings of the land under the Danes. “He has a manly voice, and a winning tongue,” said an old man, “and see the north wind blows. Let us attend to what he says.” The north wind blowing was considered a good omen—a sign that God would be gracious. Gustavus was soon chosen lord and chieftain over Dalecarlia, and the whole realm of Sweden. After he had collected an army of several hundred men, he marched to Falun, seized the property of the Danish and German merchants, and distributed it among his men. Infected by his enthusiasm and encouraged by his early success, the Swedes assembled round his banner in large numbers. The Danes were struck by their courage and hardihood. On one occasion a Danish General asked how a large force of Swedes could be supported in so wild a country. A Swede, hearing the remark, said that the Dalecarlians were content to drink water, and, if need be, eat bread made from the bark of a tree. Thereupon the Dane said: “A people who eat wood and drink water, the devil himself cannot subdue,” much less any other. The Swedes at first were poorly armed, but with bows and arrows, axes, and clubs, used with an intense love of Gustavus and country, they repeatedly defeated the Danes, who, after two years’ hard fighting, were driven out of Sweden. On Midsummer’s Eve, June 23, 1523, Gustavus made a triumphant entry into Stockholm as King. He reigned for thirty years. His memory is fresh to-day in Sweden as the liberator of the country from the Danish yoke.

Another name that is honoured by every true Swede, and by many who are not Swedes, is Gustavus Adolphus I. He is chiefly and justly held in honour because of what he did for the Protestant cause in Europe. The Protestant Princes had lost heart, as they had suffered very much at the hands of Generals Tilly and Wallenstein. Gustavus resolved to go to the aid of the Princes. With only 13,000 Swedes he set sail, but as soon as he reached Germany, large numbers of men joined his army. Emperor Ferdinand, when he heard of his arrival, said: “Oh, we have another little enemy come against us!” His courtiers replied with a laugh, and said: “The Snow King will melt as he approaches the southern sun.” He did not melt, but proved an iron King, as he drove everyone before him. Soon he rallied the Protestant forces, and made his power felt from the Polar Sea to the Alps.

The Emperor’s Generals found in him more than a match. He was cut off, however, very early in life. He was with his devoted men before Lützen preparing for a great battle. As usual, they prepared by worshipping God. They sang the King’s hymn, “Fear not, little flock,” and then engaged in prayer. The next day the King mounted his horse to lead his army. When his officers saw him, he was without his armour. They urged him to put it on. “God is my cuirass,” said the King, and galloped into the thick of the fight. It was a desperate fight, and a critical moment, when his riderless horse was seen rushing madly out of the fray. Gustavus Adolphus was dead. He had died in the hour of victory. He was not only a great man, but also a good man. He believed in God’s willingness to help the right. “To pray often is almost to conquer,” was a favourite saying of his.

Charles XII. was another warrior-King of Sweden, and was one of Europe’s greatest and youngest of soldiers. At the age of fifteen, when most boys are thinking of amusement, he ascended the throne of Sweden after the death of his father, and a few months later took the reins of government into his hand and placed himself at the head of his army. He was possessed of great energy, very courageous—perhaps oftentimes foolhardy—but too ambitious of winning glory. Within twelve months, when he was only nineteen years of age, he had to encounter Denmark, Russia, and Poland. He first so attacked Denmark that the King had to sue for peace. On a November morning, with 8,000 Swedes, he attacked 50,000 Russians under the walls of Narva, and inflicted on them a great defeat. He then dethroned the King of Poland and put another in his place. His hatred of Russia was his downfall. In 1708 he again invaded that country. He spent the winter in an impoverished and hostile land, and when the Czar, Peter the Great, with 70,000 men, attacked him, he had but 23,000 worn-out and destitute men. He was defeated, and fled to Turkey, where he found a refuge; but at the end of 1715 he returned to Sweden. Notwithstanding his reverses, his passion for fighting led him to attack Norway in 1716 and 1718, when he was killed at Frederikshald at the early age of thirty-six.

He is one of the heroes of Sweden. He called upon his men to suffer much, which they did willingly, as they were devoted to him, because of his courage, his sympathy with them, and his ever-cheerful countenance. He, however, exhausted the country, as the wars he carried on drained her of her best blood, and emptied her treasury. From this date Sweden was no longer one of the great military powers. It was of Charles that Dr. Johnson wrote, in his “Vanity of Human Wishes,” the celebrated lines:

“His fall was destin’d to a barren strand,
A petty fortress, and a dubious hand.
He left the name at which the world grew pale
To point a moral or adorn a tale.”

The last of this line of Kings was Charles XIII. He was an old, infirm, and childless man when the question arose who should succeed him. Napoleon Bonaparte was then carrying everything before him, and among his Generals was one Bernadotte, who had risen from the ranks, and proved himself to be one of the greatest powers in France at that time. The Swedes chose him as Crown Prince, very much against Napoleon’s wish, who, no doubt, did not desire to lose so able a General, but at last, probably thinking that Bernadotte would help him in his schemes, said, “Well, go! may our fates be fulfilled.” Bernadotte soon after this took a leading part in Napoleon’s overthrow, and in 1818 ascended the throne of Sweden as Charles XIV. He reigned for twenty-six years, and proved a wise ruler. His great-grandson is the present King.

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