Forest Life: A Fisherman’s Sketches in Norway & Sweden – by Rev. Henry Newland (Sp Coll Z1-d.25)
This post is part of a monthly series by the Graduate Trainees of Archive Services and Special Collections, highlighting items and collections we have been working on during our traineeships.
Earlier this year, Special Collections hosted a visit from the Wargentin bibliophile society of Sweden. In honour of this, we put together a display of some of the most notable material we hold. We also individually selected a few items for display which have a Swedish connection, and it was one of these pieces which caught my eye and inspired me to look a little further…
Sketches in Norway and Sweden! Are they fact or fiction? Are they to be instructive
or simply entertaining? … there will be a little of both – p. 1
It was the lovely spine of this item which first caught my attention, as well as the potential for beautiful illustrations of Scandinavian forests and creatures.
The author is Rev. Henry Newland (1795-1862), Vicar of Westbourne and a supporter of the Tractarian, or Oxford, movement. The novel was published in 1859 by G. Routledge & Co. and is something of a follow up to an earlier book by Newland, entitled The Erne: its Legends and its Fly-fishing.
Despite the attractive binding that first interested me, this item is in fact from ‘Routledge’s Cheap Series’. These books, which are also known as ‘yellow-back’, were inexpensive novels published in Britain during the second half of the 19th century. They were marketed as entertaining reads, aiming themselves at a new class of reader. Routledge &Co. is notable as being one of the first publishers to produce these books, in a series known as the ‘Railway Library’. These were small and inexpensive publications, intended to be read on train journeys.
In an address to ‘The Public’ at the beginning of the book, Newland introduces his reader to the humorous tone of the novel:
I have frequently heard you remark, in that quaint and pithy manner so peculiarly your own, that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” If you should happen to find the book which I here present to your notice to be really of such a character as your friend Jack … I am afraid I cannot plead this very sensible observation of yours as my excuse; for … I have enjoyed quite as much play as is good for me – p. III
It is a tone which continues throughout the book, establishing it firmly as a playful read, the kind of which Routledge’s cheap series specialised in.
Within the context of Special Collections, this book can be seen as representing the Imagined Geographies section of our novel collection; a set of texts which reflect the 19th century interest in travel and exploration. The term ‘imagined’ does not denote made-up stories, but rather the perception of spaces created by writings and the visual arts.
Part fiction, part fact, this novel presents itself as travel anecdotes taken from Newland’s own experiences. He is keen to detail all aspects of his journey, and despite the novel not being a ‘high-brow’ read, Newland remains preoccupied with creating a tangible atmosphere for the reader, at times displaying a capacity for beautiful scene setting:
At the time the Walrus dropped her anchor, all seemed still and lonely as if no sound had ever awakened the silence of the harbour. The chain cable, as it rattled through the hawse-hole, had even a startling effect, so solitary, so unusual was the sound. The place seemed as if it had been uninhabited since creation – p.49
What a modern reader cannot distance themselves from however, is that as much as a travel journal, this is a hunting one. Unsurprisingly, given that it is over 150 years old, the novel is far from being in line with popular contemporary sentiment:
One of the bear cubs… was dispatched by a blow of a hatchet, and the other was shot… a full grown bear did not live ten minutes … the she-bear had taken to the water… then a long shot from Bjornstjerna took effect, she rolled over – p.375-376
This disrespect toward the magnificent animals of Sweden and Norway is not the only aspect that a modern reader must approach with a certain stoicism and sense of absurdity. Especially those of us living in Glasgow, as we certainly do not find ourselves immune from Newland’s scorn!
of all the men that had been picked up, drunk, in the course of the preceding year … in Glasgow alone, there were nearly fifteen thousand – that is to say, one out of every twenty-two of the whole population – p. 108-109
For various reasons therefore, a contemporary reader must be equipped of a strong stomach when delving into Newland’s ideas of ‘entertainment’. However, this narrative represents a fascinating insight into 19th century English perceptions of ‘other’ (be they Swede or Scot) and signifies just one of the reasons that you shouldn’t forget about the novels we have here in Special Collections.
If you would like to consult our novel collection for yourself, or anything else from our collections, you can make an appointment with us by email or just pop in!
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