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Gustav Vasa House - Expo Paris 1867

Gustav Vasa House at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Not far from the Izba, we notice another house almost as original, but much less elegant.

My guide stops me and says:
"This is the house of Gustav Vasa. "
Doesn't this name alone form the whole preface of Swedish history?
Very few of us know what it was like before him. Among his successors, there are only two truly famous names, that of Gustavus Adolphus, the modest conqueror, and that of the victor of Narva, Charles XII.

These two kings made of the small Swedish nation a great army of heroes; but the result of so much glory was the exhaustion and ruin of this noble Sweden transformed into barracks.

Charles XII was only a great soldier. Gustavus Vasa conquered his kingdom like our popular Henry IV, gave it laws and created the nation. His name is not only glorious in Sweden, the whole world knows it, except perhaps for the workmen who built the humble dwelling of the fugitive prince in the Park. Did not one of them answer us:
"I do not know Mr. Vasa. "

This house is the one he lived in at Fahlun, a simple mining worker; it is distinguished only by the extreme simplicity of a real peasant's hut.

Like the Russian Izba, it is built with beams, but square beams covered with planks cut like fish scales.

The gallery that adorns the first floor completely surrounds it and is reached by a winding staircase placed outside; the roof does not pretend to rival the dome of the Invalides, for it is modestly armoured with moss and lichen.

Gustavus Vasa had been pursued for several years by the tireless emissaries of the king-bishop Christian II. He had wandered without shelter or bread, sometimes sleeping in a woodcutter's abandoned hut, sometimes spending three days and three nights in the Siberian cold under a bridge, to escape the hunters of men who hunted him like a bandit or rather like a wild beast.

The young outlaw, who was later to make his name immortal, finally found in Fahlun, the black city of the miners, an asylum where he could, if not rest like a sybarite, at least stop to catch his breath.

It was in this poor wooden house that, after sixteen hours of arduous underground work, the wages of which enabled him not to die of hunger, Gustave dreamed in the evening of the means of emancipating his country and restoring to it a glorious independence.

It was there that he learned the horrible details of the infamous tragedy known as the Bloodbath, the execution of his generous father, the imprisonment of his mother and sister, and later their appalling torture. It is known that these noble women were thrown into the sea in sacks which they had been forced to sew themselves.

It was from this window, no doubt, that the miner of Fahlun wrote, in an attempt to awaken their patriotism, to all those courtiers of his childhood, who did not even deign to answer him. He was thus learning the hard science of the human heart.

It was there, at last, that Peterson, an old officer retired to Fahlun, recognised the young prince who had more than once led the victorious charges of the Swedish cavalry, - it was there that, hiding under the mask of the loyal soldier the joy of the traitor who is going to sell his friend, he conjured Gustavus to accept the hospitality of his lodgings.

King Christian's hawks would indeed have seized their prey, thanks to this wretch, if his wife Drina Peterson had not warned the prince of her husband's bargain and saved by an admirable stratagem this heroic head promised to the executioner.

There is no stain on the face of Gustavus Vasa; He is not a hero of secret memoirs, - and in order to know some intimate and personal details of his life, it was necessary to interrogate the scattered but still vivid memories of the simple men with whom he spent in obscurity the most beautiful years of his serious youth, - those miners of Fahlun, so proud to have counted this great man among their companions, - those Dalecarlian peasants who have lovingly preserved the old house which was his refuge and where they claim that his soul still comes to wander during certain nights.

Gustavus' thoughts must often have turned to the farmhouse, when the heavy cares of royalty were joined by the sorrows of his sad union with Princess Catherine of Saxe-Lauenbourg, and later by those caused by the disharmony of his four sons, none of whom was worthy of this great heritage of glory.

As brilliant as Gustav Vasa's public life was, his private life has remained a mystery. Although a writer and poet, he revealed nothing of the secrets of his heart to the world. Sweden was incarnated in him, and the man's personality was absorbed in this avatar.

There is not the slightest trace in his writings of an amorous correspondence, such as that of his descendant Gustavus Adolphus with the beautiful Ebba Brahe. He did not leave in his verses a single line marked by that passionate tenderness which inspired the protector of the reformation to write this famous stanza:
I love and I want to love, I want to wait again
The look I crave, the happiness I implore.
By praying to you always, I hope to move you.
It is from you that the evil that devours me comes,
Only you can help me and heal me.

Gustavus Vasa's poetry does not melt away into elegiac mollowness; it bursts forth like a fanfare.

Swedish people," he says in an exhortation in verse addressed to his subjects, "put your trust in God! walk according to his laws! invoke him in your heart.... Love and honour your country. Be firm like the mountain that resists the waves of the sea. If your enemies threaten you, be strong like the rock that nothing can shake.... The God who separated the land and the waters has put a barrier between Sweden and Denmark: it is enough. Let us remain within our limits on both sides, without asking for anything more. "

These verses paint the character of the hero well.

In the next song, entitled Gustavus I and the Dalecarlians, the relationship between the king and his subjects is expressed with ancient simplicity.

Gustavus goes to Delcarlia, and says to the peasants:
"The Christian king is in front of Srockolm castle, drinking beer and wine.

- Listen, my Delcarlians, to what I propose! Will you follow me to Stockholm and beat the Danes with me? "

The Dalecarlians reply, "We have fought before; we remember it well." But Gustavus says to them, "We will call upon God the Father who is in heaven, and all will be well. "

The Dalecarlians immediately change their minds.

They say to Gustav: "If you want to be our leader, young and old, we will follow you. The arrow hits the squirrel and the grouse on the trees. The same will happen to Christian the executioner.

- I will gladly be your leader," replies King Gustav, "if you will faithfully rally under my blue banner. "

Let us therefore greet with respect the old little wooden house from which this sublime call for national independence came. We prefer it to those triumphant porticoes, bloodied by political tragedies. It has been the asylum of male virtues and of noble martyrdom. It has kept the life of an honest, patriotic and disinterested prince. It can look with a smile at the most magnificent palaces in the world.

The interior of Gustave Wasa's house.

In the first pages of this publication, we described this historic thatched cottage, which the peasants of Dalarna still surround with their veneration, and which sheltered, in the hours of exile and proscription, one of the brilliant figures of modern times. It was under this humble roof of moss and lichen that Wasa dreamed of the independence of his country; it was from this miner's hut that he was soon to rise up and drive out the executioner Christian II, to give Sweden its freedom and its franchises, and to engrave his glorious name in the great book of history.

You already know the exterior of this famous house. It is similar in every way to the house that is still standing in Falhun today.

The same cannot be said for the interior. The Swedish commission thought of using the two rooms that form the ground floor. The main room is below the landing. You enter through an entrance that is all decked out with flags, whose fantastic animals are reminiscent of times of barbarism. You go down a few steps and you find yourself in the middle of a world of objects of all shapes and natures, grouped together in no apparent order, and whose variety at first catches the eye.

After a moment of astonishment, the eyes become accustomed to this chaos and each part of this varied exhibition regains its value and interest.

The walls are lined with huge fishing nets woven with rope, the extreme fineness of which in no way detracts from their solidity. From far and wide, these thousand fishing gears stand as trophies, the use of which Parisian fishermen do not even know. Sweden has managed to make an important industry and a considerable resource out of what is in some countries only a hobby or a luxury.

Alongside this fishing gear, one should notice the beautiful furs that are found in the Palace, on the backs of Dalarna's peasants. Here, they are topped with reindeer antlers, and recall this vigorous and beautiful animal, so sober, so fast, so useful in these regions where winter makes the maintenance of horses difficult and expensive.

Around the room are arranged numerous farming implements, ploughs, straw-axes, sowers, harrows, sieves, etc., etc. Sweden, too intelligent not to understand the need to develop its agriculture, struggles energetically against a cold climate, a soil that is not very fertile, hard, dry, and which it must enrich by dint of natural fertilisers, salts, etc., before asking it for any production. The exhibition of agricultural instruments bears witness to unceasing efforts that have already been crowned with success. Among the ploughs, several have won awards. One of them, a three-irons plough, very light, easy to drive, and which seems to be intended for shallow and sloping grounds, received a silver medal. All this would perhaps seem quite modest next to the powerful machines of Billancourt. But these few instruments, placed in the house of the founder of Sweden, indicate the progressive march of this nation and are like a tribute to the sovereign who first made of these so barren, so threatened regions an independent and industrious country.

Agricultural products are few and far between. An agronomist displays a few cereals harvested on ungrateful land, but which a continuous cultivation has gradually transformed. The land is about two hundred metres above sea level. The grain is small, tight, hard, but it is very full and the flour is tasty. Sweden owes its naval ropes to agriculture. It exhibits a rich collection of ropes woven with great skill, from the whip as big as a pin to the cable that supports anchors. Several awards have been given to the ropes, bronze medals and honourable mentions. A silver medal was awarded to a model of a gymnasium, which, with its expensive wooden portico, ropes, ladders, etc., and its red velvet-covered trestles, makes a rather singular effect amidst the ploughs, fishing utensils and pottery.

Sweden exhibits pottery which, in terms of fineness of paste and execution, can compete with ours. One of its terracottas and its brown and yellow earthenware were awarded a prize. With the help of triangular terracotta tiles, alternately black and white, which are intended to make a mosaic tile, a sort of broad base has been formed on which a number of somewhat disparate objects have been arranged. Such as a model of a fisherman's house, household utensils, models of boats, clay column shafts, etc.

The products of the mines should not be forgotten. The soil of Sweden, so resistant to the efforts of agriculture, so poor in cereals and fodder plants or vegetables, is rich in copper and coal mines mainly. At the door of this house, blocks of copper ore testify to the considerable resources that Sweden can find in its soil. In the interior, some samples of slag have been arranged in such a way as to enable the public to appreciate this material, which the progress of industry is making so valuable every day.

On the pedestal of bricks and tiles stands a statue which I had at first taken to be a representation of some Scandinavian deity. But the more I look, the more I am convinced that this god sitting on a block of rock, and holding the famous trident, is simply a Neptune of some kind.

In the absence of the god Thor or some other of his colleagues, I would have liked, instead of this banal statue, that of Gustave Wasa.

Was it not an act of gratitude to represent him as the genius of Sweden, and to gather at his feet the products of agriculture, of industry, of human labour, as a tribute to his devotion to this country which he wanted to make so great?

I have walked through the large room of Gustave Wasa's house, and it would seem that there is nothing left to do but to follow the public through the door that opens onto the Park. But alongside these rather modest products, Sweden has reserved a room for a more interesting exhibition perhaps.

As you walk towards the house, instead of climbing the few steps that lead to the entrance, stop in front of a door that is level with the grounds. A single word above the door tells you the purpose of this room. This is a primary school.

Sweden has understood the importance of education in developing the intelligence and faculties of the working classes. It is thanks to reading, to the notions spread by the teachers, that old prejudices, routine and false ideas must disappear.

The workers will learn to use the machines entrusted to them, the farmers will apply to their work the knowledge they will acquire in special courses. It is under the influence of this modest but sufficient light that the manual professions will rise and take on a more modern and scientific appearance.

Primary education has not yet acquired in Sweden the extent that it has in Germany. This is a matter of time. It is sufficient today that it be so organised as to prepare good pupils. The sight of educated young people, the superiority which their knowledge gives them over their comrades in the workshops and factories, is this not the most powerful motive for emulation? Is it not also the best mode of popularisation?

Primary education in Sweden includes reading, writing, arithmetic, religious instruction, drawing and singing. In some schools, practical agronomy is also taught during the winter.

The model school room is laid out like the rooms that the government has created in several provinces. At the back, a table on a platform is for the teacher. Along the walls are maps and charts for demonstration and reading. Spheres and various similar instruments, compass boxes, etc., are placed on shelves for the use of the teacher or the pupils. Finally, on other shelves are placed dictionaries and books of frequent use, drawing models, albums, etc.
Each pupil has a separate table and bench. The table, arranged in the form of a desk, contains a drawer and a shelf for the pupil's books and notebooks. Each child is thus isolated, and supervision is easier. The seats are given according to the ability or the work of the pupils. The places closest to the teacher are considered the best. This classification varies every fortnight, and the pupils find it a powerful source of emulation.

In some provinces, in addition to the schools founded by the government, the towns have created new ones which they subsidise to a sufficient extent to ensure that the fee charged to each pupil is insignificant.

Primary education is thus progressing in Sweden. Supported by the government on the one hand, and by the dedication of the people on the other, it is gradually penetrating the most backward regions; two or three generations will come, and Ton will perhaps no longer have any illiterate Swedes.

The school house exhibited by Sweden won a gold medal. Will Sweden see, in this high award given to this interesting exhibition, the importance which minds attach today to everything that tends to improve the moral condition of man? Will she also see that education must be, in her hands, the powerful lever by means of which she will be able to take, in the councils of Europe, the place which the extent of her territory, her mineral and forestry wealth, and her maritime situation seem to destine her?

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée