FINLAND OF TODAY.*
Fr is decidedly no common event that the best writers and artists of a country should combine together to give to the outside world a description of their own land, and one is tempted to form many idle conjectures as to the raison d'gtre of the handsome volume upon Finland, which has now appeared in an English translation. It is possible that its authors are anxious to remind the rest of Europe that, what- ever its present fortunes may be, Finland still considers itself a nation, and may still, with a legitimate pride, lay claim to a distinct place of its own in the history of European civilisation. The country is desperately poor, a wilderness of wood, stone, and water, in which the oases of arable land are few and far between ; for nearly seven months of every year it lies buried beneath the snow ; its population is of the scantiest, less even than half of that of our own metropolis ; and its past history, one would think, would have been destructive of the progress, even of the very existence, of any nationality. For years it was the scene of the continual struggle between Sweden and Russia, reduced alternately to a atate of vassalage now by one country and now by the other, devastated, depopulated, and drained of all its resources ; and now it only figures on the map as a mere province of the great Empire of Russia. And yet Finland as a nation still survives; still clings to the measure of independence that it has wrung from its Russian conquerors ; and still, in spite of constant en- croachments upon its rights, keeps alive the spirit of a distinct nationality. Though in natural resources one of the poorest of the Russian provinces, it is, as far as its credit is concerned, one of the most prosperous. And the reason may be found in the character of the people themselves, who represent one of the most thrifty and industrious, as well as most patient and enduring, races in Europe. Of their love for their own country, the volume before us is no unworthy sign ; it is im- possible to read it without conceiving a high opinion of the patriotism that has prompted its production.
Since the day in 1809 when Finland became but a part of the Russian Empire, no revolt, no conspiracy against its con- queror has disturbed the course of its national life. For some six or seven centuries the Finns had resisted and suffered the invasions of their Swedish foes, for the greater part of which time they were between two swords and served as a bloodstained shield to Sweden when she carried her aggressions to the gates of Russia. It is hardly surprising that they should recognise to-day that their national safety lies in their fidelity to the great Power to which they are united, and that the last century of their history is rather a matter of self-congratulation than of national grief. More- • Finland of the Nineteenth Century. By FiaLd•h Authors. London: Edward Stamford.
over, it must be remembered that at no time could Finland be said to have enjoyed absolute political separation, and that its present dependence is but a continuation of its past political life. The authors of this work, as might then be expected, have no word to say against the government of the Czar, and, though they expatiate at some length on the constitution of their country and the liberties secured by it, throw out no hint of discontent or impatience with the bondage which overshadows it. As a matter of fact, Russia's dealings with Finland are in very agreeable contrast with her dealings elsewhere ; still, the preservation of the original liberties secured in 1809, has not always been effected without some political struggles on the part of the Finns. The account given by the authors of the industries and commerce of the country shows that the Finn progresses safely, though be progresses slowly. Of the system of public education and the results derived from it, it would be impossible to speak too highly when one remembers the great difficulties to be contended
with. That illiterate children should be as rare as one in thirty, in a country so sparsely populated and so devoid of easy methods of communication as Finland, speaks strongly both for its educational laws and the energy with which they must have been carried out. Of Finnish art and literature, discussed at considerable length by the authors, we can only say that both appear to have reached a very high standard in comparison with their very recent growth. But it is the character of the peasantry which forms the chief factor in the past history of the country, and attracts the most interest in its present condition. Here is a picture of the Finn, drawn by his own countrymen:— "Nature, fate, and tradition have stamped a common mark in the Finnish type of character, which, indeed, varies considerably in the country, but is easily recognised by the foreigner. The general traits of character are hardened, patient, passive strength ; resignation ; perseverance allied to a certain obstinacy ; a slow, contemplative way of thinking ; an unwillingness to become angry, but a tendency, when anger has been aroused, to indulge in unmeasured wrath ; taciturn reticence, alternating with a great flow of words ; an inclination for waiting, deferring, living for the day, interrupted sometimes by unseasonable baste; adherence to the old and well-known, and aversion to everything new ; attention to duty, a law-abiding habit of mind ; love of liberty; hospitality ; honesty ; a predilection for religious medita- tion, revealing itself in true piety, which, however, is apt to have too much respect for the mere letter."
In essentials, a character not differing greatly from that of other races, Highland Scots for instance, whose life is passed in wresting a precarious livelihood from an ungenerous soil and an inclement climate. But where the Finn differs most from the Highlander, or any other similar race, is in a passivity which almost resembles that of an Oriental fatalist, and a rooted disinclination to take any step on his own initia-
tive. As Admiral Von Stedinck said of him, " A Finn wants a petard at his back to make him move." Or as our authors put it, "He is one of the first soldiers in the world, but one of the last arithmeticians ; sees gold at his feet, but cannot make up his mind to pick it up ; remains poor when others become rich." The first origin of the Finnish race is as obscure as that of most northern peoples, but one tradition con- cerning them has survived until a fairly recent date. They have been credited with strange powers of witchcraft, and even to-day Russian peasants may be found who regard a Finn with a certain superstitions distrust.
If the authors had any desire that their work should serve as an advertisement for the attraction of European visitors, they have omitted to discuss some aspects of the country which are perhaps of the most immediate concern to the stranger. Travelling in Finland is a simple matter enough when following the beaten track, and railways, coasting steamers, and lake steamers provide a very com- fortable, if not very speedy, mode of progression. The country roads, however, are not always of the best, and the springless country cart is likely to prove an instrument of torture to people who are only used to more luxurious vehicles. As to the attractions of the country, not even the enthusiasm of the authors can give a just idea of the changing beauties of the sea coast and the pleasure that a yachtsman experiences in threading his way through the labyrinth of islands by which the shore is approached. There is something sombre, almost melancholy perhaps, in the monotony of pine..
forest alternating with stony clearings that make up the prin- cipal scenery of the interior; but nothing can surpass the quiet loveliness of the great lakes, studded with little islands, or the romantic beauty of the rapid rivers. But the chief attrac- tion that the country has to afford to the visitor is that which the latter has for a long time past found in Norway. The fishing is really excellent, though it would be difficult to ascertain that fact from the pages of the book before us. The Englishman, who is always looking out for new fields of sport, might well turn his attention to a country which is not very much more difficult to get at than some of the Norwegian rivers. We should not omit to say that the book contains a wealth of illustrations, and presents a sumptuous appearance which reflects the highest credit upon its Finnish publishers.