Read CHAPTER XXXIII of The Land of Thor , free online book, by J. Ross Browne, on


I must say that of all the customs prevailing in the different parts of Europe, not excepting the most civilized states of Germany, this one of making the women do all the heavy work strikes me as the nearest approximation to the perfection of domestic discipline. The Diggers of California and the Kaffres of Africa understand this thing exactly, and no man of any spirit belonging to those tribes would any more think of performing the drudgery which he imposes upon his wife and daughters than a German or Norwegian. What is the use of having wives and children if they don’t relieve us of our heavy work? In that respect we Americans are very much behind the times. We pay such absurd devotion to the weakness of woman that they rule us with a despotism unknown in any other country. Their smiles are threats, and their tears are despotic manifestoes, against which the bravest of us dare not rebel. It is absolutely horrible to think of the condition of servitude in which we are placed by the extraordinary powers vested in, and so relentlessly exercised by, the women of America. I, for one, am in favor of a revival of the old laws of Nuremberg, by which female tyranny was punished. By a decree of the famous Council of Eight, any woman convicted of beating her husband or otherwise maltreating him was forced to wear a dragon’s head for the period of three days; and if she did not, at the expiration of that date, ask his pardon, she was compelled to undergo a regimen of bread and water for the space of three weeks, or until effectually reduced to submission. Something must be done, or we shall be compelled sooner or later to adopt a clause in the Constitution prohibiting from admission the State of Matrimony. What would the ladies do then? I think that would bring them to their senses.

Not only in the matter of domestic discipline, but of business and pleasure, are the people of Europe infinitely ahead of us. In France many of the railway stations are attended by female clerks, and in Germany the beer-saloons are ornamented by pretty girls, who carry around the foaming schoppens, having a spare smile and a joke for every customer. Of opera-singers, dancers, and female fiddlers, the most famous are produced in Europe. The wheeling girls of Hamburg, who roll after the omnibuses in circus fashion, are the only specimens in the line of popular attractions that I have not yet seen in the streets or public resorts of New York.

What would be thought of half a dozen of these street acrobats rolling down Broadway or the Fifth Avenue? Doubtless they would attract considerable attention, and probably turn many a good penny. I fancy the Bowery boys would enjoy this sort of thing. A pretty girl of sixteen or seventeen, with her crinoline securely bundled up between her ankles, wheeling merrily along after an omnibus at the rate of five miles an hour, would be an attractive as well as extraordinary spectacle. For my part, I would greatly prefer it to our best female lectures on phrenology or physiology. I think a girl who can roll in that way must be possessed of uncommon genius. The wheeling boys of London are but clumsy spectacle compared with this. No man of sensibility can witness such a sight without regarding it as the very poetry of motion.

But this digression has led me a little out of the way. I was on the road to Djerkin. A sharp pull of half a mile up the hill brought me to the door of the station, where I was kindly greeted by the family. Descending from my cariole a little stiff after the last long stage, I entered the general sitting-room, where there was a goodly assemblage of customers smoking and drinking, and otherwise enjoying themselves. The landlady, however, would not permit me to stop in such rude quarters, but hurried me at once into the fine room of the establishment. While she was preparing a venison steak and some coffee, I took a survey of the room, which was certainly ornamented in a very artistical manner. The sofa was covered with little scraps of white net-work; the bureau was dotted all over with little angels made of gauze, highly-colored pin-cushions, and fanciful paper boxes and card-stands. The walls were decorated with paintings of cows, stags, rocks, waterfalls, and other animals, and gems of Norwegian scenery, the productions of the genius of the family the oldest son, a Justice of the Peace for the District, now absent on business at Christiania. They were very tolerably executed. The old lady was so proud of them that she took care to call my attention to their merits immediately upon entering the room, informing me, with much warmth of manner, that her son was a highly respectable man, of wonderful talents, who had held the honorable position of Justice of the Peace for the past ten years, and that there was something in my face that reminded her of her dear boy. In fact, she thought our features bore a striking resemblance only Hansen had rather a more melancholy expression, his wife having unfortunately died about three years ago (here the poor old lady heaved a profound sigh). But I could judge for myself. There was his portrait, painted by a German artist who spent some months at this place last summer. I looked at the portrait with some curiosity. It was that of a man about forty years of age, with a black skull-cap on his head, a long queue behind, and a pair of spectacles on his nose his face very thin and of a cadaverous expression; just such a man as you would expect to find upon a justice’s bench of a country district in Norway. Was it possible I bore any resemblance to this learned man? The very idea was so startling, not to say flattering, that I could hardly preserve my composure. I mumbled over something to the effect that it was a good face for scenic purposes; but every time I tried to acknowledge the likeness to myself the words stuck in my throat. Finally, I was forced to ask the landlady if she would be so kind as to bring me a glass of brandy-wine, for I was afraid she would discover the internal convulsions which threatened every moment to rend my ribs asunder. While she was looking after the brandy-wine I made a hasty copy of the portrait, and I now leave it to the impartial reader to decide upon the supposed resemblance. It may be like me, but I confess the fact never would have impressed itself upon my mind from any personal observation of my own countenance taken in front of a looking-glass.

There was something so genial and cozy about the inn at Djerkin that I partially resolved to stop all night. At dinner-time the landlord made his appearance steaming hot from the kitchen. I no longer hesitated about staying. I am a great believer in the physiognomy of inns as well as of landlords. Traveling through a wild country like Norway, where there is little beyond the scenery to attract attention, the unpretending stations by the wayside assume a degree of importance equaled only by the largest cities in other countries. The approach, the aspect of the place, the physiognomy of the house, become matters of the deepest interest to the solitary wayfarer, who clings to these episodes in the day’s journey as the connecting links that bind him to the great family of man. I claim to be able to tell from the general expression of an inn, commencing at the chimney-top and ending at the steps of the front door, exactly what sort of cheer is to be had within whether the family are happily bound together in bonds of affection; how often the landlord indulges in a bout of hard drinking; and the state of control under which he is kept by the female head of the establishment; nay, I can almost guess, from the general aspect of the house, the exact weight and digestive capacity of mine host; for if the inn promise well for the creature comforts, so will the inn-keeper. And what can be more cheering to a tired wayfarer than to be met at the door by a jolly red-faced old fellow

His fair round belly with fat capon lined

beefsteaks in the expression of his eye; his bald pate the fac-simile of a rump of mutton; plum-puddings and apple-dumplings in every curve of his chin; his body the living embodiment of a cask of beer supported by two pipes of generous wine; the whole man overflowing with rich juices and essences, gravies, and strong drinks a breathing incarnation of all the good things of life, whom to look upon is to feel good-natured and happy in the present, and hopeful for the future; such a man, in short, as mine host of the Golden Crown, whose portrait I have endeavored to present.

If there be any likeness between myself and the son, it certainly does not extend to the father. He carries in his hands a steaming hot plum-pudding; he is a model landlord, and delights in feeding his customers. His voice is greasy like his face. When he laughs it is from his capacious stomach the sounds come. His best jokes are based upon his digestive organs. He gets a little boozy toward evening, but that is merely a hospitable habit of his to prove that his liquors are good. You commit yourself at once to his keeping with a delightful consciousness that in his hands you are safe. He is not a man to suffer an honest customer to starve. Nature, in her prodigality, formed him upon a generous pattern. Whatever does other people good likewise does him good. May he live a thousand years mine host of the Golden Crown! and may his shadow never be less!