Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, by Mary Wollstonecraft

Letter XXI.

I have seen Count Bernstorff; and his conversation confirms me in the opinion I had previously formed of him; I mean, since my arrival at Copenhagen. He is a worthy man, a little vain of his virtue a la Necker; and more anxious not to do wrong, that is to avoid blame, than desirous of doing good; especially if any particular good demands a change. Prudence, in short, seems to be the basis of his character; and, from the tenor of the Government, I should think inclining to that cautious circumspection which treads on the heels of timidity. He has considerable information, and some finesse; or he could not be a Minister. Determined not to risk his popularity, for he is tenderly careful of his reputation, he will never gloriously fail like Struensee, or disturb, with the energy of genius, the stagnant state of the public mind.

I suppose that Lavater, whom he invited to visit him two years ago — some say to fix the principles of the Christian religion firmly in the Prince Royal’s mind, found lines in his face to prove him a statesman of the first order; because he has a knack at seeing a great character in the countenances of men in exalted stations, who have noticed him or his works. Besides, the Count’s sentiments relative to the French Revolution, agreeing with Lavater’s, must have ensured his applause.

The Danes, in general, seem extremely averse to innovation, and if happiness only consist in opinion, they are the happiest people in the world; for I never saw any so well satisfied with their own situation. Yet the climate appears to be very disagreeable, the weather being dry and sultry, or moist and cold; the atmosphere never having that sharp, bracing purity, which in Norway prepares you to brave its rigours. I do not hear the inhabitants of this place talk with delight of the winter, which is the constant theme of the Norwegians; on the contrary, they seem to dread its comfortless inclemency.

The ramparts are pleasant, and must have been much more so before the fire, the walkers not being annoyed by the clouds of dust which, at present, the slightest wind wafts from the ruins. The windmills, and the comfortable houses contiguous, belonging to the millers, as well as the appearance of the spacious barracks for the soldiers and sailors, tend to render this walk more agreeable. The view of the country has not much to recommend it to notice but its extent and cultivation: yet as the eye always delights to dwell on verdant plains, especially when we are resident in a great city, these shady walks should be reckoned amongst the advantages procured by the Government for the inhabitants. I like them better than the Royal Gardens, also open to the public, because the latter seem sunk in the heart of the city, to concentrate its fogs.

The canals which intersect the streets are equally convenient and wholesome; but the view of the sea commanded by the town had little to interest me whilst the remembrance of the various bold and picturesque shores I had seen was fresh in my memory. Still the opulent inhabitants, who seldom go abroad, must find the spots were they fix their country seats much pleasanter on account of the vicinity of the ocean.

One of the best streets in Copenhagen is almost filled with hospitals, erected by the Government, and, I am assured, as well regulated as institutions of this kind are in any country; but whether hospitals or workhouses are anywhere superintended with sufficient humanity I have frequently had reason to doubt.

The autumn is so uncommonly fine that I am unwilling to put off my journey to Hamburg much longer, lest the weather should alter suddenly, and the chilly harbingers of winter catch me here, where I have nothing now to detain me but the hospitality of the families to whom I had recommendatory letters. I lodged at an hotel situated in a large open square, where the troops exercise and the market is kept. My apartments were very good; and on account of the fire I was told that I should be charged very high; yet, paying my bill just now, I find the demands much lower in proportion than in Norway, though my dinners were in every respect better.

I have remained more at home since I arrived at Copenhagen than I ought to have done in a strange place, but the mind is not always equally active in search of information, and my oppressed heart too often sighs out —

“How dull, flat, and unprofitable Are to me all the usages of this world: That it should come to this!”

Farewell! Fare thee well, I say; if thou canst, repeat the adieu in a different tone.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30