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Juha Manninen (University of Oulu):


Travel Experiences of the Finn Johan Arckenholtz

in England in 1731


 1. An integral part in the formation of the ideas of the Enlightenment was a small book written by Voltaire, entitled "Letters concerning the English Nation" (1733). Voltaire's visit to England meant for him a trip to the future. It made him able to formulate utopian visions. At the same time, however, a country in the North had adopted institutions that made it more a contemporary with England than any other country in the eighteenth-century. During the first part of the century only two European countries experimented with an early but certainly recognizable parliamentarism: England and Sweden. The Swedish Age of Freedom, as it was called, lasted from 1719 to 1772.

The British Enlightenment was more a struggle with practical problems than an exercise in utopian dreaming. England already had the rights that the French were fighting for. The question was rather, how it all would work in practice. The same goes very much for Sweden. Finland, as a part of Sweden, experienced also this practical and political struggle, although the province seemed to contemporaries to lie in the utmost periphery of Europe.

Johan Arckenholtz (1695-1777) was a Finn, born in Helsinki, and he made a trip to England in 1731. His stay in England, short though it was, had a lasting influence on his views and activities. But also Arckenholtz' immediate impressions expressed in a letter to his French friend abbé Bouqueron are interesting mirrors of the English society and its way of life.

More that ten years Arckenholtz had been a "governour", i.e. a guide and mentor of young Swedish noblemen in their grand tours to different parts of Europe. Since it was not presupposed that a governour should himself be of noble origins, such a task was an opportunity to persons like Arckenholtz, who did not belong to the nobility. Arckenholtz had grown up as a son of the "syndicus" or secretary of the town Helsinki and later on he was a war refugee and student in the central parts of Sweden. He had his name from his grandfathers father, a German furrier, who had wandered to Finland during the Thirty Years' War. Arckenholtz had studied law and history first at the Academy of Turku, then in Uppsala, and with his junior noblemen in Strasbourg, Marburg, Utrecht, and Paris, although he most of all was a self-made-man. He was well acquainted with the various German countries, The Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and France.

Arckenholtz was the first in a long row of Finnish writers and scientists who were looking admiringly towards England in the eighteenth century. Among these were the most radical defenders of the freedom of expression and economic freedom like Peter Forsskċl and Anders Chydenius, but also natural scientists like Pehr Kalm and jurists like Matthias Calonius. The scope and nature of the Finnish Enlightenment as a whole within Sweden are still insufficiently studied.

Bertolt Brecht once said that the Finns are a nation that remains silent in two languages. This does not apply to the eighteenth century, especially not to the Age of Freedom. The Finns gave to the Swedish Enlightenment its radical ferment in a similar way as Scotland produced some of the brightest minds enlightening England at that time. Their radicalism was not one of utopian programmes, but one of practical demands. In the centres, various roads to power could be used in secrecy and protected by secrecy, but openness, freedom and information were of vital importance to the periferies, if they only were developed enough to understand demand them. And here travelling could give decisive impulses.

The losses of the Great Northern War had been catastrophic for Sweden. Still, they can also be seen from another perspective. Because of them, the Swedes initiated a parliamentary - and, in the end: democratic - development. The King would be by now only a King-in-the-Council and the uppermost power should reside in the general estates. The transformation was understood more as a restoration of the people's old rights than a revolution according to some grand design, although it in fact had revolutionary consequences.

Such a process was definitely not easy to manage, but it could have a successful beginning, since it was in the hands of experienced politicians. The Finland-born Arvid Horn, Sweden's first Prime Minister in a fairly modern sense, had been fighting on the side of his King, but he grew sceptical of the usefulness of Sweden's traditional policy of always making alliances only with France. He was very happy with the Hanoveran alliance which included both France and England. And the Hanoveran England became a mecca for a great number of young swedish noblemen and other travellers.

Arckenholtz had spent together with his companion a year in Paris before coming to England. He had made extensive notices of at least eighty books concerning European history, including the history of Britannia. He was collecting observations from the books in the form of an encyclopaedia of the social and political world. With special interest he quoted repeatedly the French translation of Gilbert Burnet's "History of Our Own Time". One of his main guides was thus a well-known Whig. Since his studies in Uppsala Arckenholtz' great master in historical thinking had been Samuel Pufendorf, who had delighted immensely of the Glorious Revolution. Consequently, Arckenholtz did not come to England without expectations aroused by his studies.

But he was also a keen observer. This is shown by the scetch of his letter to abbé Bouqueron. Unlike Voltaire, Arckenholtz was very much interested in the real life of the Englishmen. Voltaire had used the form of a letter as a literary means to express his views about England, but in Arckenholtz' case we have to do with a real letter. It was dated in October 1731, very soon after Arckenholtz' return back to Stockholm. This letter was buried in the Linköpings Stiftsbibliotek and it has not been used by earlier researchers.

In March 1732, Arckenholtz finished a book-length study about Sweden's interests in its relations with other European states. It was a Pufendorfian analysis of the present-day situation and of its historical roots. By now, Arckenholtz was employed by the Swedish Chancellery which possessed the tasks of a foreign ministry. The manuscript was not planned for publication. It is easy to see that Arckenholtz wanted to make a summary of his learning process during his long absence from his own country. This manuscript is a futher important source to Arckenholtz' picture of England.

2. Abbé Bouqueron was an educated churchman, hard-working writer, who was interested in a variety of things ranging from ancient monuments to languages and practical education. Arckenholtz's first letter from England to Bouqueron was read to a circle of friends of Bouqueron's. This obviously encouraged Arckenholtz to write again, although he did regret that his visit to England had been too short and also pointed out that in Paris Bouqueron would be able to find plenty of those "eccentrics of the magic island" who know everything better than he did.

The letter reveals that England totally confounded Arckenholtz, a seasoned traveller in Europe for more than ten years.

His observations tell about a still agricultural country. "I doubt anybody can find a fresher and greener landscape than in England", he wrote. "The greenness continues long into the winter, and the climate seems to be more temperate than in the norther provinces of France. The mist from the sea, covering this country, is probably the reason for this miracle."

The Hanoverian England was experiencing an agrarian revolution. Some of Arckenholtz's observations are telling: "But, Dear Sir, could you tell me why the cattle have such big and symmetrical horns in England, when in France and in other countries the horns are usually small, badly-formed and insignificant compared to the ones on this island. There has to be a reason. Please, discuss this with the gentlemen of the Academy. I would be very glad to know their opinion. Also, all the animals - horses, cows, sheep - are very fat in England, healthy and big, and they seem to reflect the well-being and happiness on the island."

As a former student of Christian Wolff in Marburg, Arckenholtz was always asking for reasons, i.e. rational explanations.

Arckenholtz did not yet see the industrial revolution which was to begin some decades later. London, however, prompted him to remark that the famous bridge of the capital has more reputation abroad than it deserves. "In my opinion, the big machine that works by fire and satisfies the population's needs for water deserves more attention than the bridge. And I must say that this machine and yours in Marly are the biggest in Europe."

The observer had a good hunch about the importance of the big machine. However, the most important feature of the innovation was not its size but its principle of function. In fact the size was a drawback. The machine must have been the early steam engine developed by Thomas Newcomen.

Still, it was not the happy animals or the big machine that got Arckenholtz's main attention. That was reserved for the Englishmen's everyday lives.

3. A little surprisingly, Arckenholtz started his letter to the French churchman by describing the opening of a dance place in London. According to him, London had the most glorious dancing places in all of Europe.

"Imagine a well-lit dance floor surrounded by tables and stalls, which are full of sweets and refreshments of all sorts. There are also many rooms where people can gamble. ... Some don't seem to care even if they and up losing 5,000 gold coins or even more; some people dance and twist their body when doing the menuet. The rest of the people drink and eat as much as they can, and this is the way they spend all night."

A ticket for this kind of entertainment was fairly expensive, though, and the cost of a simple fancy dress pretty high. The Court had also raised the prices to keep the poorer people away from the party. Not that it had worked. The price of the ticket included all food and drinks, "and, as you all know, there are no limits for the greediness of the English people". Arckenholtz presumed that some people prepared for the party by fasting for the previous days and saving from other everyday expenses. He had seen himself how the clean stalls looked like after a storm had swept through them very soon after the dance place was opened.

The countryside villages also had "a common hall, where young men and women from all estates came together once or twice a week and danced the night away". This is how they got to know each other, and the friendship often led to marriage. It is interesting that Arckenholtz gave attention to the fact that the merriment broke boundaries between the estates.

Such places were maintained by some of the rich gentlemen of the village. He had to do it of his own free will. Otherwise the people would not have respected it. The life of the nobleman, living in the countryside, was sumptuous as such, but he also needed to show that he cared about his own people.

The most charming thing in England, Arckenholtz thought, was the cleanliness of the houses and even of the tiniest of villages. There was always at least one inn where the visitor could have one or two different meat dishes, good bread and strong Portuguese wine. No nation could roast their meat as well as the English people did. Other dishes took some getting used to, however, and soup would appear in the table only after asking for it especially. The people loved various puddings in particular.

There were not so many good hotels in England as in France, but what London had instead were hundreds of pubs, visited by all kind of people. Arckenholtz thought that the pubs, too, brought different social orders closer together. The nobility could do their business in a pub, but there were also shippers, sailors and other ordinary people. "Meat is being roasted from morning till night. I can go in, order a cut I like, and the meat just keeps roasting. ... After a heavy meal it is good to walk."

4. Arckenholtz did not see walking to be without problems. Although the pavements on big streets were in good condition, a pedestrian had to be prepared for bumps. "The Englishmen do not walk like we do. Almost everyone runs like a hunter." Being in hurry was such a strange concept in Europe in those days that Arckenholtz could not find a word for it.

On the other hand, there was a positive side to this need to make contacts fast. The admirable penny-post made Arckenholtz wish that every big city would have one. Letters and small packets were delivered safely and cheaply twice a day, and not only to London but also to many little villages even ten miles away from the capital.

Walking at night, trying to avoid the crowds, was dangerous. Carriages were on the move day and night, and the pedestrian could all too easily be run over in dirty narrow streets in particular. In addition, the streets were littered with thieves when it started to get dark. They would beat their victims unconscious and rob them in silence. If the victim then lost his life, it was a pure accident, because to a robber a robbery without any bloob and resistance was a matter of honour. The most dangerous areas were the villages some miles away from London, with all kinds of people plying their trade.

"If somebody attacks me and I manage to kill him, I will have 20 gold coins from the government. If I get him alive I will have double the money. The poor one knows this in advance and is not surprised. I was there when five or six people were hanged. One or two of them went to their death as calmly as going to bed. I was shocked when the hangman took off the clothes of hanged people, because the relatives could not even pay a small fee for the hanging. It was pitiful to see people staring those naked bodies, not even the women whoeing much concern."

Arckenholtz also followed the work of the court of justice. A judge of one social order heard the cases of his own social class. The hearing was not strict and the sentences were lenient. Torture as a questioning method was almost unknown. It was used only in cases of treason. This, said Arckenholtz, made the English almost "as fortunate as we who do not know things like that..."

Arckenholtz wrote that there were some ancient rights in the legal system that had now lost their meaning but were still used. The law was also interpreted very literally. An Englishman marrying three women did not get a death sentence, because the law only described penalty in a case when he married two women. It was necessary to change the law as specifying "getting married to two or more women".

It was easier than anywhere else to get married in England, which is why many of the marriages were in a bad shape.

Some cases were not brought to court. The poorer people tended to solve the problems on their own in the streets. One of Arckenholtz's descriptions enlightens the social history of boxing: "People get together and surround the quarrelling parties. They discuss the arguments and decide who is right. If the quarrellers do not accept the solution, they need to take off their shirts, and, while punching each other a thousand times, they expect total impartiality from the audience. This kind of fighting, which is called 'boxen', leads to a conciliation. People will leave the place, talking about the event, while the fighters will usually go to the nearest pub and drink some beer or wine together as a mark of perfect agreement."

5. Arckenholtz, familiar with the ideas of Samuel Pufendorf and other theorists of natural law, thought that there must be certain natural rights, which belong to everyone just because he or she is a human being. This notion of human rights assumed new and more concrete substance in Arckenholtz's reflections concerning the national genius of the English people.

He illustrated this by telling a story about the Queen's companion, who was asked to tie the Queen's shoelaces. The lady did not consider these shoelaces more valuable than her own and said briskly: "I have never tied my own shoelaces and even less do I want to do it for someone else, whoever she is."

Arckenholtz said that anywhere this kind of behaviour would be seen as a sign of rudeness and lack of respect, but "in England it is a liberty that is based on the idea of natural equality, which belongs to every sentient person". He added that when a whole nation begins to be raised in accordance with these ideas, the people will see equality as based on human nature itself.

He also told another case, this one about the Lord Mayor of London, who in those days was just a brewer of beer. "The occation of his election is sumptuous. Someone will carry a sword and a crown in front of him. He has the power to shut and open the door in front of the King, and if the King dies without an heir, he will be vice-roy of the whole kingdom. You need to admit that a beer brewer must find even a thought of this very flattering."

The examples came from the top of the society, but Arckenholtz saw an opportunity to extend the attitudes expressed through them to cover the nation. Both the religious and political conditions in England indicated a transition away from a society regulated from above and tightly constricted in different social orders. The conditions revealed a growth of freedom, together with the positive consequences it had, and this is something that Arckenholtz wellcomed enthusiastically.

"An Englishman is a free person, and he wants to take full responsibility of the ideas he believes in. This is why all kinds of sects are tolerated. A big part of the population are members in the Quaker sect. I have seen their ceremony and the way they twist their faces, but I have also heard a very instructive speech by an old lady about the immortality of the soul. I have never seen anything as ridiculous as the women twisting their bodies when standing up to deliver the speech. The Holy Spirit must be quite wonderful to allow itself to be used this way in the fanatic heresy of these old women. Let us wonder at the goodness of God, when He so inexplicably accepts the folly of the people, and let us hate the indignity that a person commits against another human being, sure in the knowledge that he is not his neighbour." Arckenholtz was amazed at the things religion gave rise to, but he did not see intolerance as justified.

British parliamentarism and the system of taxation, too, included principles which made the social groups closer to each other. This was very much appreciated by Arckenholtz. The English 'gentleman' was something else than the French noble 'gentilhomme'. Arckenholtz explained that in England the only real nobility were in fact Members of the Lords and the children of the Dukes and Peers. But the House of Commons also had some members from noble families. And, on the other hand, not every one representing the English people was an aristocrat. "But here we can see something that has a positive effect on the nation, because the families are not kept apart. When all the estates are mixed like this, people will not build walls between them as they do elsewhere." Arckenholtz had also got the impression that in England the common people were more virtuous than the upper classes.

The parliamentary chambers balanced each other and maintained public freedom by opposing the Court. Honours to the Members of Lords were obligatory, but the things that really mattered, such as deciding public expenditure, were the prerogative of the House of Commons. This was the arena for settling the taxes of the nobility and the common people alike.

"The starting point is that in England everybody can own a piece of land and a house. Everybody therefore has to pay taxes. Even so, this pleases the proud nation, because they can make decisions on taxation themselves, and the taxes are proportionate to each and everyone's property. There is not a duke or peer, churhman or burgher who can avoid the taxes. Everybody will pay according to their income." It was certainly well-known to the receiver of the letter that in France the noblemen and higher clergy did not have to pay tax at all.

Arckenholtz continued that because of the reasons mentioned every man who could afford to maintain a farm was called a 'gentleman', even if he was not a real nobleman. "The country is full of these people, and to tell the truth, the man who has an English concept of freedom and who also can use it, deserves the title of a gentleman. He is as much a master of the house as the king in his palace." Also, leaving the Court and starting a peaceful life in the country did not mean the end of life in England as it could mean in some other countries.

Arckenholtz also wrote about the modest income of the clergy compared to the situation in France, about England's ability to equip an effective navy, about the ironic epitaph by Jonathan Swift for the marshal who was killed by Irish rebels, and about the University of Oxford as teaching "the principles of freedom".

6. Soon after writing this letter Arckenholtz analysed Sweden's interests in Europe. He commented again the English freedoms and now also the importance of England for Swedish foreign policy.

In Arckenhoiltz's opinion, it was easy to come up with faults in every state but hard indeed to propose a perfect form of government that would make everybody happy. Utopias had never stood the test of real life. At best, one could talk about the most people in a nation doing well. And the level of happiness was dependent on the form of government.

The government had to tie all essential parts of political life together and it had to rest on a general basis which created its overall movement. In practice, this perfection could not be created overnight, though, but step by step. It was like refurbishing a house. There would always be something remaining from the old form of government. A country which has been ruled autocratically can get rid of this burden, but it is vain to hope that all traces of the old regime - subordination, secrecy, restrictions on the free expression - will vanish at once.

In the past, the Kings of England had tried to extend their authority, while the estates aimed to protect their freedom. They had also fought each other until they had found a balance based on the freedom of the persons and their property. Very much in the sense of John Locke, Arckenholtz saw the roots of English welfare in the triangle of life, liberty, and property.

No one estate had special privileges that would make it stand before others. When doing business, the nobleman followed the same rules as the minor burgher. Nor was such work considered in any way inferior. A burgher could buy a piece of land, and as a landowner he was under the same obligations as the nobleman. A lord could marry the daughter of an untitled family without a special permission. Nobody was scorned for his social standing, because everyone paid his share of the public expenditure. There was no talk about old and new families. As the first-born son is the sole heir, his brothers could be a goldsmith, a clergyman or a sailor. When the oldest descendant died, then the goldsmith could become one of the members of the House of Lords.

This was the foundation for the trust between all kinds of people, and, according to Arckenholtz, it was based on "the natural equality" between people. Everyone was in the possession of these liberties, but the people were also conscious of the limits of the freedom. It could not be extended further than the nature had intended it for them as human beings. Religion had given people freedom as Christians, laws as subjects. Freedom could not go beyond these limits. If one did cross the boundaries, it would only result in discord, rebellion and oppression, something that English history had already taught to the nation.

Sovereignty was divided between both chambers and also the King. These three powers were united or in any case they should be united by common interests, an aim to the common good. This was evident not so much in speech than in action. In England - according to Arckenholtz -, "the common good is furthered more seriously and eagerly than anywhere else in the world". The results could be seen in the growth of the nation's power and esteem. The Englishmen could make full use of them and they were aware that they differed to a great extent from all other nations and that they were the most happy people on the Earth.


7. Arckenholtz sought the roots of the English mentality in the country's insular existence and in the overall importance of commercial interests for the welfare of the country. England was the most important commercial companion for his own country, but England had, naturally, other interests as well, especially as regarded Russia. In Arckenholtz opinion, England would never support any plans to make Sweden again a big power by defeating Russia, pushing it out of the Baltic sea, but, on the other hand, if Russia would choose to crush Sweden altogether, England could give help to Sweden. Arckenholtz thought that an alliance but an alliance without illusions with England was a most preferable thing for Sweden.

Finland was a part of Sweden and Arckenholtz did not argue from any specific Finnish point of view. But he had seen the recently acquired power of Russia as it had swept over Finland in the Great Nothern War and he had read Jean Rousset de Missy's analysis of the Czar Peter and his achievements in modernicizing his country. Russia had come to the Baltic sea to stay. If Sweden would not realise that it no longer was a big power and if it would try to beat Russia, it was Finland which was the first in the danger zone. Hazarding Finland in the game of making Sweden big again was something that Arckenholtz was not prepared to accept.

Arckenholtz had noticed that the English people were not satisfied with their King's growing power in Germany. Continental responsibilities including the defence of Hanover did not add to the welfare of the country, on the contrary. Englishmen were criticizing that foreign councillors of their Hanoveran King had led them to the madness of wanting to play first violin in the concert of the European nations. This would demand standing presence of troops in Europe and quite unnecessary costs for the nation that already had troubles with its debts. According to Arckenholtz, the vast majority of the nation was speaking so.

The Court could not bend the nation to its will against the will of the nation, not even with corruption, and so the Court would lose its importance in the future. The commercial interests of England were in conflict with plans to rise to number one in the European continent, and, in Arckenholtz opinion, the Englishmen were reasonable enough not to fall into such a trap.

Interest in England was not only an intellectual question. It could be politically a touchy one, depending on the winds of Swedish politics. The Arckenholtz case shows that in England the travelling Swedes and Finns did find important ideas and practices to digest in their own unique political experiment.



I want to thank Mr. Daniel Attias who translated to me Arckenholtz´ letter to Bouqueron.


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