Adieu, however, to fancy, and to all the sentiments which ennoble our nature. I arrived at Laurvig, and found myself in the midst of a group of lawyers of different descriptions. My head turned round, my heart grew sick, as I regarded visages deformed by vice, and listened to accounts of chicanery that was continually embroiling the ignorant. These locusts will probably diminish as the people become more enlightened. In this period of social life the commonalty are always cunningly attentive to their own interest; but their faculties, confined to a few objects, are so narrowed, that they cannot discover it in the general good. The profession of the law renders a set of men still shrewder and more selfish than the rest; and it is these men, whose wits have been sharpened by knavery, who here undermine morality, confounding right and wrong.
The Count of Bernstorff, who really appears to me, from all I can gather, to have the good of the people at heart, aware of this, has lately sent to the mayor of each district to name, according to the size of the place, four or six of the best-informed inhabitants, not men of the law, out of which the citizens were to elect two, who are to be termed mediators. Their office is to endeavour to prevent litigious suits, and conciliate differences. And no suit is to be commenced before the parties have discussed the dispute at their weekly meeting. If a reconciliation should, in consequence, take place, it is to be registered, and the parties are not allowed to retract.
By these means ignorant people will be prevented from applying for advice to men who may justly be termed stirrers-up of strife. They have for a long time, to use a significant vulgarism, set the people by the ears, and live by the spoil they caught up in the scramble. There is some reason to hope that this regulation will diminish their number, and restrain their mischievous activity. But till trials by jury are established, little justice can be expected in Norway. Judges who cannot be bribed are often timid, and afraid of offending bold knaves, lest they should raise a set of hornets about themselves. The fear of censure undermines all energy of character; and, labouring to be prudent, they lose sight of rectitude. Besides, nothing is left to their conscience, or sagacity; they must be governed by evidence, though internally convinced that it is false.
There is a considerable iron manufactory at Laurvig for coarse work, and a lake near the town supplies the water necessary for working several mills belonging to it.
This establishment belongs to the Count of Laurvig. Without a fortune and influence equal to his, such a work could not have been set afloat; personal fortunes are not yet sufficient to support such undertakings. Nevertheless the inhabitants of the town speak of the size of his estate as an evil, because it obstructs commerce. The occupiers of small farms are obliged to bring their wood to the neighbouring seaports to be shipped; but he, wishing to increase the value of his, will not allow it to be thus gradually cut down, which turns the trade into another channel. Added to this, nature is against them, the bay being open and insecure. I could not help smiling when I was informed that in a hard gale a vessel had been wrecked in the main street. When there are such a number of excellent harbours on the coast, it is a pity that accident has made one of the largest towns grow up on a bad one.
The father of the present count was a distant relation of the family; he resided constantly in Denmark, and his son follows his example. They have not been in possession of the estate many years; and their predecessor lived near the town, introducing a degree of profligacy of manners which has been ruinous to the inhabitants in every respect, their fortunes not being equal to the prevailing extravagance.
What little I have seen of the manners of the people does not please me so well as those of Tonsberg. I am forewarned that I shall find them still more cunning and fraudulent as I advance towards the westward, in proportion as traffic takes place of agriculture, for their towns are built on naked rocks, the streets are narrow bridges, and the inhabitants are all seafaring men, or owners of ships, who keep shops.
The inn I was at in Laurvig this journey was not the same that I was at before. It is a good one--the people civil, and the accommodations decent. They seem to be better provided in Sweden; but in justice I ought to add that they charge more extravagantly. My bill at Tonsberg was also much higher than I had paid in Sweden, and much higher than it ought to have been where provision is so cheap. Indeed, they seem to consider foreigners as strangers whom they shall never see again, and may fairly pluck. And the inhabitants of the western coast, isolated, as it were, regard those of the east almost as strangers. Each town in that quarter seems to be a great family, suspicious of every other, allowing none to cheat them but themselves; and, right or wrong, they support one another in the face of justice.