The kingdom of Sweden occupies the eastern and larger part of the Scandinavian peninsula, covering an area of one hundred and seventy thousand six hundred and sixty square miles, with a population of somewhat more than five millions. Sweden is of nearly the same width, from east to west, throughout her whole length. If the country were divided into four equal parts, the southernmost part would correspond to the district of Gothaland, the next to the district of Svealand, consisting of most of what is north of the lakes Venar and Vetter and what is south of the Dal River, while the two remaining parts together would make up the district of Norrland. Gothaland, in ancient times called Sunnanskogs (South of the Woods), consists of the old provinces Scania, Bleking, Smaland and East Gothland by the Baltic, Halland and Bohuslæn by the North Sea, and West Gothland of the interior. Svealand, or Nordanskogs, consists of the provinces Sœdermanland and Upland by the Baltic, south and north of Lake Mælar, respectively, Dal, Vermland and Dalecarlia on the Norwegian frontier, and Nerike and Westmanland of the interior. Norrland consists of the provinces of Gestrikland, Helsingland, Medelpad, Angermanland and Westerbotten by the Gulf of Bothnia, a branch of the Baltic, and Herjedal, Jemtland and the Lapmark on the Norwegian frontier. A great[Pg 6] number of islands form part of the kingdom, of which the two largest, Gothland and Œland, are situated in the Baltic. One-twelfth of the area, or as much as the whole state of Denmark, consists of water.
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Sweden is politically united with Norway and ruled by the same king, these united kingdoms forming the largest realm in Europe next to Russia, Sweden herself ranking as the sixth in size.
Sweden is a country which offers striking varieties in scenery and conditions. In the southernmost province of Scania, an ancient home of culture, the nightingale and the stork dwell in the fertile plains, and the walnut, mulberry and chestnut trees render ripening fruit. Central Sweden is a wooded plateau, rich in rocky hills and inland seas. Although barren lands occupy large areas, these parts are characterized by a loveliness and picturesqueness which are still more pronounced in the northern provinces along the coast. Only in the inner mountainous regions of Norrland is the scenery of real grandeur where the white-capped giants appear in vast groups, or in isolated peaks of six thousand to seven thousand feet in altitude, where a hundred glaciers with glacier rivers, moraines and erosions cover a surface almost as large as the glaciers of Tyrol, and where, in the turbulent course of mighty rivers, are formed tremendous waterfalls, one of them, The Hare’s Leap, being the largest in Europe.
Geologically considered, Sweden is situated around the centre of the ancient Scandinavian land-ice, and in the greater part of the country only two of the geological series, the oldest and the youngest, are represented. Thus the uneven, undulating surface of the Archæan rocks, on which almost the whole country is firmly set, is in general[Pg 7] covered with quaternary deposits of gravel and clay. The mountains are rich in iron ore, the streams and lakes in fish, the woods in game, but the soil, itself of a good quality, unfortunately rich in stones. This last-mentioned circumstance, together with the rather severe climate, which yet is a good deal milder than might be expected, especially in the southern and western parts of the country, makes agriculture, which is the most important industry, profitable only on the extensive plains of Scania, Upland and West and East Gothland. Still barley and rye are cultivated within the Polar Circle, ripening in remarkably short time under the nocturnal light of the Midsummer sun. Dense forests cover Sweden in the very same latitude in which Greenland is clad by eternal ice. The short summers are of a surpassing loveliness. In Norrland there is a Swedish læn, or governmental district, of the size of the State of Ohio, on which, between the 5th of June and the 11th of July, the sun never sets. If the earth was perfectly plain and even one would be able to see the sun above the horizon continually during this period. But these northerly regions are very mountainous, and consequently you will have to climb a high peak in order to see the wonderful sight of a sun which stands still when it should set, and which marks the difference between night and day only by a rolling motion in the horizon. There is no country in the world where so many places for such observation are reached so easily as in Sweden. One may travel the whole distance from the southernmost point of the country to the very base of a mountain, Gellivara, Sweden’s Klondike, from which the midnight sun can be seen for thirty-seven nights in succession. But although the sun itself is visible only from[Pg 8] the mountain peaks above the Polar Circle, the nocturnal light steeps the whole realm in midsummer-night’s dreams of magic colors and reflections.
The Swedish people are of Teutonic stock and have lived in the land they still inhabit for at least four thousand years, during this entire period not having assimilated other nationalities, or at least to no extent worth mentioning, so that the Swedish nation is of an origin far purer than any other at present existing.
The kingdom of Sweden is the most ancient of the states still extant in Europe, for all historical monuments prove that the Swedes have kept to about their present territory, perfectly independent of foreign nations, probably for a long time divided into lesser communities, but for the past twelve hundred years united in one single realm. The languages spoken in the Scandinavian North belong to the Teutonic family of Indo-European languages, and seem to have been one and almost homogeneous up to the time of the Viking Age (about 700-1060), when various dialects commence to be distinguished. The old uniform language has been preserved in Northern loanwords in the Finnish and Lap languages and in about one hundred of the oldest Runic inscriptions. The early Old Swedish, from the Viking Age to somewhat later than 1200, did not differ much from the Old Norse (the Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic), while the difference from the Old Danish was almost imperceptible. The sources for the study of this language period are about two thousand later Runic inscriptions and nearly one hundred Old Swedish loanwords, almost all proper names, in the Russian language. The classical period of Old Swedish falls between 1200 and about 1350. Its most important monuments are the provincial laws and a manuscript collec[Pg 9]tion of saintly legends, called Codex Bureanus. The language of this period offers a number of dialects, of which only one, the Gutnic, is strictly defined. In the next period of Old Swedish, from 1350 to the Reformation, a universal language for the whole country is distinguished. The so-called Oxenstiern manuscripts and Codex Bildstenianus are the chief sources of our knowledge of this language period, mostly of religious contents. Modern Swedish dates from the Reformation, its later period being counted from the publication of the state law in 1734. The Swedish language seems to be based chiefly upon the dialect of Sœdermanland, with influences from other dialects. Among the Scandinavian languages, Swedish ranks next to the Icelandic in point of purity, and is the foremost of them all in point of beauty.
The Swedes are a hardworking, industrious and intelligent race, not fully conscious of their own rich endowment and slow to push their individual claims. In moments of danger and distress, this people give evidence of an active heroism, which offers a great contrast to their usual quiet and peaceful demeanor. The Swedish nation is endowed with an unusual inventive power, which has placed it in the first rank of scientific research, having produced a quota of initiative spirits, as originators, founders and innovators of sciences, which is considerably larger than that of any other modern country, in proportion to the population. The national temperament is, like the soil, composed of extremes. With the serene quiet and almost sullen tranquillity goes a patience of extraordinary endurance which, when it gives in, surprises by the passion which takes its place. To the melancholy trait in the Swedish character is contrasted a great desire for the pleasures of life and exuberant animal spirits. Under a quiet surface, the Swede conceals a rapid[Pg 10] comprehension and an almost morbid sensitiveness, sometimes causing people of other nationalities to judge him slow of intellect or perfidious, when he is only slow of action or indisposed to show his feelings. The most valuable inheritance from his ancestors is his moral courage, while the ancient Northern trait of self-restraint is often carried to an extreme. Akin to both is his dignity. He possesses great musical and improvisatorial gifts which complete his lyric-rhetorical temperament.
There are some 6,000 Laplanders and some 20,000 Finns living in the furthest North, and foreigners to the number of about 20,000 dwell in Sweden, mostly Norwegians, Finns and Danes. More than 99 per cent of the population consists of native Swedes, and 99.9 per cent belong to the Lutheran state church or the Protestant denominations.
The principal towns are Stockholm, the capital, with 300,000 inhabitants, enchantingly beautiful in situation, on the mainland and islands at the outlet of Lake Mælar into the Baltic; Gothenburg, with 120,000 inhabitants, the chief commercial centre, at the mouth of the Gotha River, by the North Sea; Malmœ, with 60,000 inhabitants, in Scania, by the Sound. The university towns of Upsala, in Upland, and Lund, in Scania, have 25,000 and 17,000 inhabitants, respectively.