On a terribly cold day in January, 1893, my father received a wire from
Christiania, saying that my brother was dangerously ill there.
After he took his degree, Vaughan had worked with Pasteur in Paris
for some time at the table next Professor Sophus Torop. They thus
became friends, and when my brother wished to complete some original
scientific work of his own, Professor Torop kindly offered him space in
his huge laboratories at Christiania if he cared to use them. Thither
he went. A cut on his hand ended in serious blood-poisoning, and a
terrifying telegram suggesting amputation of the right arm was the
first intimation we had of the illness.
It was afternoon. Someone must go to Norway. Norway in winter! Yes,
Norway covered with snow and ice: its rivers, fjords, waterfalls, and
lakes all frozen: its mountains cloaked with purest snow: its people
swathed in fur.
My father was too tied by his profession to leave. My mother was not
equal to so perilous a journey. My husband was away in Scotland on
business, so I undertook the expedition. It was considered too wild
an undertaking for me, a young woman, to do quite alone, so my people
insisted that my sister, then a little girl, should accompany me.
Three hours later we started, not in the least knowing how we were ever
going to get to Christiania, as the winter was particularly severe,
and for months the great naval station at Kiel had been completely
ice-bound. We had the most exciting time crossing from Kiel to Korsör
in the first boat that had ventured through the ice for twelve weeks,
and so bad did the passage finally become that we were forced to get
out and walk.
Crossing an ice-floe was somewhat interesting and certainly exciting,
and walking on one’s feet from Denmark to Sweden was a queer experience.
Sometimes we stumbled through slush across ice-hummocks between two
and three feet thick. At other times we got into lumbersome ice-boats
and were pulled by sailors with feet properly swathed for the purpose.
Occasionally the boat would slide into an ice-crack, and, though the
passengers remained dry, the wretched men dragging the craft suffered
unexpected cold baths.
We passed encampments on the ice, with people living calmly there,
from whom we learnt that various venturesome travellers, thinking they
could cross the frozen belt without proper guides, had started off on
foot. Then fog or mist overtook them and they lost their way, or, being
fatigued, they sat down to rest and were frozen into their eternal
sleep. Others slipped and lost their lives in the ice-cracks. Two or
three such deaths were matters of weekly occurrence that severe winter.
* * * * *
We were met in Christiania at six o’clock in the morning by Dr. Nansen,
who came to tell us that our brother’s hand had been saved, and though
he was still seriously ill, they hoped all immediate danger was past.
We nursed him and finally took him away to the mountains, where there
was snow ten feet deep, to recoup after his illness.
Our experiences were so delightful that we returned to Norway a
couple of years later for the fun of the thing, and I took a number
of photographs. The Lady Brilliana Harley must have been at my elbow,
I think, as I only did the thing as a joke and to amuse myself at the
time. I had found ski so exciting a sport, I wanted others to know
about its joys. Strange to say, however, no newspaper would take my
photographs of ski. “They had never heard of such a sport, they did not
wish to hear of such a sport—one which would never be the slightest
interest to English people,” and so on. Who would believe this, when,
only fifteen years later, the windows of London sporting outfitters are
filled with _ski_ in the winter months, and great numbers of young men
and women have tried Skilübling themselves? Do not our English people
go out to Switzerland in thousands and tens of thousands every year
for this very purpose? While, after all, Norway is preferable in winter.
When I took up my pen professionally, I pegged away, and I wrote and
wrote and wrote. Other people began to be interested, so I contributed
the first snow-shoe articles to the _Encyclopædia of Sport_, and
newspapers and magazines galore.
At that time in Christiania, and later on when we returned for
snow-shoeing, Society was very simple, but very interesting. Night
after night at parties we met such men as Nansen, Ibsen, Björnson,
Leys the poet, and Ilef Petersen the artist. There were no grand
dinners, just simple little supper-parties, beer and milk being the
chief beverages, with one hot dish and many delicious cold compounds.
The daughter of the house, more or less, waited at table. Everything
was simplicity itself, but brains and talent, wit and humour were
The greatest personality of all this group was undoubtedly Björnson. He
was one of the finest men, both in appearance and brain, that I have
ever met, and I have met many great men.
I made a few notes, remembered much more; and finally, when friends
begged me to write a volume of these travels, I wrote _A Winter Jaunt
to Norway_. It went into two or perhaps three editions, but that was
only as a _hors d’œuvre_. It contained personal chapters upon such
people as Nansen and the latter-day dramatists of Norway, Ibsen and
Björnson. Ibsen had not then the cult that he immediately afterwards
acquired, and it is curious now to read of the hostility which his
writings provoked. Sir Edwin Saunders wrote to me:
“You have gone far to sweeten Ibsen, which is no ordinary
Mr. W. C. Miller, the editor of the _Educational Times_, wrote:
“Some time I propose to try Ibsen again, when, I dare say, I shall
be reviled (once more) almost as if I were advocating robbery and
One appreciates most the compliments of one’s own fellow-countrymen.
But the foreigner is charming, so frank and free, so naïve. How could
a young writer be otherwise than pleased to receive this letter from a
“How well you bring out the poetry of winter in your Norway book!
I think you are more of a poet than you know of yourself. I think,
too, that you are a born story-teller. I never knew anyone seize
so quickly and unerringly the spirit of those Icelandic tales. I
believe you could modernise one of the Sagas so as to make it as
interesting to a modern reader as a novel. I have an unbounded
belief in you.
Even as I write, the vision of Ibsen’s simple home, his plebeian wife,
and the old man seated at his desk with his little dolls laid out
before him, comes floating over the space of years.
A most unromantic figure, surely! though at the end of his life Ibsen
formed an attachment for a young girl which was tenfold returned
by her. He was, notwithstanding the rough exterior, an amorous old
gentleman, fond of squeezing ladies’ hands and whispering pretty things
into their ears, so I was not so surprised as some of his admirers on
this side seem to have been.
He was hardly dead before a little book appeared in German, its title
being _Ibsen. With Unpublished Letters to a Friend_, by Georg Brandes.
The friend was the girl. There were twelve letters, including a set of
album verses and the dedication of a photograph. The romance came about
in this wise.
In the late summer of 1889 Ibsen and his family spent a holiday in the
Tyrolese watering-place Gossensass, where they made the acquaintance
of a young Viennese girl who was also staying there. She was eighteen
years of age, the poet sixty-one; but that wide disparity did not
prevent a warm friendship springing up between them, which apparently
was cultivated more assiduously on her side than on his, and was
eventually brought to a close, as far as overt manifestations were
concerned at any rate, by his decision. On separating, the dramatist
gave her a copy of his photograph, on the back of which was written:
“To the May sun of a September life—in the Tyrol; 27-9-89.—HENRIK
By the following February Ibsen was already troubled in his mind over
the development which the friendship was taking. He wrote:
“Long, very long, have I let your last dear letter lie, read it
and read it again, without sending you an answer. Please accept my
most heartfelt thanks in a few words. And henceforward, till we
see one another personally, you will hear from me by letter little
and seldom. Believe me—it is better so. It is the only right thing
to do. I feel it a matter of conscience to put a stop to this
correspondence with you, or, at any rate, to restrict it…. You
will understand all this as I have meant it. And if we meet again
I will explain exactly. Till then and for ever you remain in my
thoughts. And that all the more if this troublesome letter-writing
causes no disturbance. A thousand greetings.
In spite of Ibsen’s entreaties his young friend continued to send him
letters, and a little present accompanied one of them at the close of
1890. He replied:
“I have safely received your dear letter. Also the bell with the
lovely picture. I thank you for them from my heart. My wife, too,
thinks the picture is very well painted. Soon I will send you my
new play. Receive it in friendship—but in silence.
“Your ever devoted
That was the end of the letter-writing. They never saw one another
again after the meeting in the Tyrol, and from then the Viennese girl
kept silence. Only once did she break it—on the poet’s seventieth
birthday, in 1898, when she sent him a congratulatory telegram. Three
days later she received from him a photograph, on the back of which was
“The summer in Gossensass was the happiest, the most beautiful in
my life. Hardly dare to think of it. And yet must always—always.”
So Love came tapping at the window of the old gentleman who had
described Youth knocking at the door.
_A Winter’s Jaunt to Norway_ the papers unanimously described as
“lively” and “breezy,” and its proud parent began to feel as if she had
discovered the home of the winds.
A few years later the solid meal followed—the notes were served up as
soup, re-served as fish for the papers, and took more solid form as
meat for the magazines. Memory was called upon in all kinds of ways
and on all kinds of Scandinavian subjects as puddings for the Press,
so these little trips for pleasure became invested capital and bore
good interest. I became an authority on Northern lands, and for years
was written to, or telegraphed to, or ’phoned to for copy on like
subjects. I was asked to review somebody else’s Norway book; to join a
Norwegian Club; to supply someone with a teacher of Norsk literature,
and be interviewed for “galleries” of travellers or sportswomen. One
gentleman, whom I unfortunately did not see, but of whose industry I
remain an unceasing admirer, wrote an admirable four-column interview
with me, entirely from his own imagination.
It always pays to master something well, and it is strange how one
comes across things again and again through life. When I had been very
ill in 1909, and was ordered to Woodhall Spa for a course of baths, the
delightful Bath-chair man who conveyed me to the pump-room, suddenly
exclaimed, “Excuse me, ma’am, but are you the Mrs. Alec Tweedie that
“Yes,” I replied.
“I wondered if you were immediately I heard your name,” he said,
“because I owe you a lot, ma’am.”
“Owe me?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “seven or eight years ago there was a sale near here
and a lot of books were sold. I bought a dozen old copies of _Murray’s
Magazine_ for a shilling, and a shilling meant a good deal to me in
those days, but reading meant more. In them I read articles by you on
Nansen, Björnson, and those Norwegian fellows, and I got so interested
in Norwegian literature and the North Pole that I have read everything
about them I have been able to lay my hands on ever since. The Squire
has been awfully good in lending me his books on Arctic travel, and if
it had not been for you I should never have begun to take an interest
in such things.”
It was really quite touching. How little one knows when one takes up
one’s pen what good or ill those inky scratches may do.
On the heels of _A Winter’s Jaunt to Norway_, written for pleasure,
came _Wilton, Q.C., or Life in a Highland Shooting-Box_, written for
gain, which _The Times_ was kind enough to praise for its _instruction_
as well as amusement, saying the author appeared to have a sound
knowledge of all varieties of the chase. This was the outcome of those
sporting articles in the _Queen_ written when I used to follow the
guns with my husband. It was followed by a booklet on _Danish versus
English Butter-making_, reprinted from the _Fortnightly Review_. This
subject interested me so greatly that it was most cheering to find
the big “dailies” taking up with zest my lecture to our slack farmers
at home. A leading article in the _Daily Telegraph_ said, “Those of
our readers who wish to learn how the thrifty, hardy, and industrious
Danes have grown rich during the last quarter of a century we refer to
Mrs. Alec Tweedie’s instructive exegesis.” And the _Review of Reviews_
affirmed, “It is a discourse much needed in the present day by our
agriculturists.” But I am running too far ahead. Life is often ruled by
chance, and that Danish subject which brought so much _kudos_ at the
time was taken up by chance because of a stray remark at a big dinner
Apropos of the simplicity of life in Norway, it was rather amusing
to note the despair and worry caused over the dress allowance of the
maids-of-honour appointed to attend upon the young English Princess,
who had, in 1906, but recently taken her seat upon the throne of Norway.
It was decided that a certain amount of Court etiquette must be kept
up. Accordingly, a high official from the Court of St. James’s went
over to Christiania to see what could be done. It is a rule that a
maid-of-honour should be paid a sum sufficient to dress upon, a sum
which in England amounts to £300 a year, although a maid-of-honour
is no longer given a thousand pounds as a marriage portion; all she
carries away is her badge, with permission to wear it as a brooch since
it is no longer required as an Order.
Being anxious to make all arrangements as satisfactorily as possible
the Englishman visited a well-known gentleman in the capital, who had
several daughters and went much into Society. Touching the subject, he
asked, “What would be a reasonable figure for a Norwegian girl to dress
upon?” and explained his reason for wishing to know.
“Well,” said the likewise exalted Scandinavian official, “I have three
daughters, and as they go out a good deal, and I am particular that
they should always look nice, I am afraid I am a little extravagant in
their allowance and give them each twenty-five pounds a year.”
“Twenty-five pounds a year!” exclaimed the Britisher, amazed.
“Well, you see,” continued the Norwegian, evidently fearing that his
visitor was shocked at the magnitude of the amount, “an ordinary young
lady here would dress on fifteen or seventeen pounds a year, and, of
course, some people do think the allowance I give my daughters somewhat
The Englishman, evidently more surprised, proceeded to explain that a
_dame-d’honneur_ would have to dress more expensively than an ordinary
young lady; besides, there would be an occasional visit to London, or
some other capital, when new clothes would be required.
So these two good, kind creatures put their heads together, and,
hovering between the hundred pounds offered by the Britisher and the
fifty suggested by the Norwegian, decided that seventy-five pounds a
year would be ample.
Norway was amazed at the magnitude of the sum. For a young lady to have
seventy-five pounds a year to put upon her back was astounding. But
the young ladies soon discovered that they were expected to dress for
dinner every night, a social custom unknown in their experience; and
before the year had run out, they had learnt that their allowance was
as little as they could clothe themselves upon as maids-in-waiting to
the Queen of Norway.
It was pleasant, when I paid my last visit to Norway in 1910, to
hear how popular our English Princess and her Danish husband had made
Norway is poor, but delightful.
Life on lentils and beans can be quite pleasant; but perhaps the
proletariat may deny us even these luxuries.
Demos may decree that all men and women not employed on manual labour
are “waste products,” and to work or to die will be demanded of them,
work being to Demos a purely physical action.