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An essay by Hans Christian Andersen


Title:     Fahlun
Author: Hans Christian Andersen [More Titles by Andersen]

We made our way at length out of the forest, and saw a town before us enveloped in thick smoke, having a similar appearance to most of the English manufacturing towns, save that the smoke was greenish--it was the town Fahlun.

The road now went downwards between large banks, formed by the dross deposited here from the smelting furnaces, and which looks like burnt-out hardened lava. No sprout or shrub was to be seen, not a blade of grass peeped forth by the way-side, not a bird flew past, but a strong sulphurous smell, as from among the craters in Solfatara, filled the air. The copper roof of the church shone with corrosive green.

Long straight streets now appeared in view. It was as deathly still here as if sickness and disease had lain within these dark wooden houses, and frightened the inhabitants from coming abroad; yet sickness and disease come but to few here, for when the plague raged in Sweden, the rich and powerful of the land hastened to Fahlun, whose sulphureous air was the most healthy. An ochre-yellow water runs through the brook, between the houses; the smoke from the mines and smelting furnaces has imparted its tinge to them; it has even penetrated into the church, whose slender pillars are dark from the fumes of the copper. There chanced to come on a thunder-storm when we arrived, but its roaring and the lightning's flashes harmonized well with this town, which appears as if it were built on the edge of a crater.

We went to see the copper mine which gives the whole district the name of "Stora Kopparberget," (the great copper mountain). According to the legend, its riches were discovered by two goats which were fighting--they struck the ground with their horns and some copper ore adhered to them.

From the solitary red-ochre street we wandered over the great heaps of burnt-out dross and fragments of stone, accumulated to whole ramparts and hills. The fire shone from the smelting furnaces with green, yellow and red tongues of flame under a blue-green smoke; half-naked, black-smeared fellows threw out large glowing masses of fire, so that the sparks flew around and about:--one was reminded of Schiller's "Fridolin."

The thick sulphureous smoke poured forth from the heaps of cleansed ore, under which the fire was in full activity, and the wind drove it across the road which we must pass. In smoke, and impregnated with smoke, stood building after building: three buildings had been strangely thrown, as it were, by one another: earth and stone-heaps, as if they were unfinished works of defence, extended around. Scaffolding, and long wooden bridges, had been erected there; large wheels turned round; long and heavy iron chains were in continual motion.

We stood before an immense gulf, called "Stora Stoeten," (the great mine). It had formerly three entrances, but they fell in and now there is but one. This immense sunken gulf now appears like a vast valley: the many openings below, to the shafts of the mine, look, from above, like the sand-martin's dark nest-holes in the declivities of the shore: there were a few wooden huts down there. Some strangers in miners' dresses, with their guide, each carrying a lighted fir-torch, appeared at the bottom, and disappeared again in one of the dark holes. From within the dark wooden houses, in which great water-wheels turned, issued some of the workmen. They came from the dizzying gulf--from narrow, deep wells: they stood in their wooden shoes two and two, on the edge of the tun which, attached to heavy chains, is hoisted up, singing and swinging the tun on all sides: they came up merry enough. Habit makes one daring.

They told us that, during the passage upwards, it often happened that one or another, from pure wantonness, stepped quite out of the tun, and sat himself between the loose stones on the projecting piece of rock, whilst they fired and blasted the rock below so that it shook again, and the stones about him thundered down. Should one expostulate with him on his fool-hardiness, he would answer with the usual witticism here: "I have never before killed myself."

One descends into some of the shafts by a sort of machinery, which looks as if they had placed two iron ladders against each other, each having a rocking movement, so that by treading on the ascending-step on the one side and then on the other, which goes upwards, one gradually ascends, and by going on the downward sinking-step one gets by degrees to the bottom. They said it was very easy, only one must step boldly, so that the foot should not come between and get crushed; and then one must remember that there is no railing or balustrade here, and directly outside these stairs there is the deep abyss into which one may fall headlong. The deepest shaft has a perpendicular depth of more than a hundred and ninety fathoms, but for this there is no danger, they say, only one must not be dizzy, nor get alarmed. One of the workmen, who had come up, descended with a lighted pine-branch as a torch: the flame illumined the dark rocky wall, and by degrees became only a faint streak of light which soon vanished.

We were told that a few days before, five or six schoolboys had unobserved stolen in here, and amused themselves by going from step to step on these machine-like rocking stairs, in pitchy darkness, but at last they knew not rightly which way to go, up or down, and had then begun to shout and scream lustily. They escaped luckily that bout.

By one of the large openings, called "Fat Mads," there are rich copper mines, but which have not yet been worked. A building stands above it: it was at the bottom of this that they found, in the year 1719, the corpse of a young miner. It appeared as if he had fallen down that very day, so unchanged did the body seem--but no one knew him. An old woman then stepped forward and burst into tears: the deceased was her bridegroom, who had disappeared forty nine years ago. She stood there old and wrinkled; he was young as when they had met for the last time nearly half a century before.[T]

[Footnote T: In another mine they found, in the year 1635, a corpse perfectly fresh, and almost with the appearance of one asleep; but his clothes, and the ancient copper coins found on him, bore witness that it was two hundred years since he had perished there.]

We went to "The Plant House," as it is called, where the vitriolated liquid is crystallized to sulphate of copper. It grew up long sticks placed upright in the boiling water, resembling long pieces of grass-green sugar. The steam was pungent, and the air in here penetrated our tongues--it was just as if one had a corroded spoon in one's mouth. It was really a luxury to come out again, even into the rarefied copper smoke, under the open sky.

Steaming, burnt-out, and herbless as the district is on this side of the town, it is just as refreshing, green, and fertile on the opposite side of Fahlun. Tall leafy trees grow close to the farthest houses. One is directly in the fresh pine and birch forests, thence to the lake and to the distant blueish mountain sides near Zaether.

The people here can tell you and show you memorials of Engelbrekt and his Dalecarlians' deeds, and of Gustavus Vasa's adventurous wanderings. But we will remain here in this smoke-enveloped town, with the silent street's dark houses. It was almost midnight when we went out and came to the market-place. There was a wedding in one of the houses, and a great crowd of persons stood outside, the women nearest the house, the men a little further back. According to an old Swedish custom, they called for the bride and bridegroom to come forward, and they did so--they durst not do otherwise. Peasant girls, with candles in their hands, stood on each side; it was a perfect tableau: the bride with downcast eyes, the bridegroom smiling, and the young bridesmaids each with a laughing face. And the people shouted: "Now turn yourselves a little! now the back! now the face! the bridegroom quite round, the bride a little nearer!" And the bridal pair turned and turned--nor was criticism wanting. In this instance, however, it was to their praise and honour, but that is not always the case. It may be a painful and terrible hour for a newly-wedded pair: if they do not please the public, or if they have something to say against the match, or the persons themselves, they are then soon made to know what is thought of them. There is perhaps also heard some rude jest or another, accompanied by the laughter of the crowd. We were told, that even in Stockholm the same custom was observed among the lower classes until a few years ago, so that a bridal pair, who, in order to avoid this exposure, wanted to drive off, were stopped by the crowd, the carriage-door was opened on each side, and the whole public marched through the carriage. They would see the bride and bridegroom--that was their right.

Here, in Fahlun, the exhibition was friendly; the bridal pair smiled, the bridesmaids also, and the assembled crowd laughed and shouted, hurra! In the rest of the market-place and the streets around, there was dead silence and solitude.

The roseate hue of eve still shone: it passed, changed into that of morn--it was the Midsummer time.

[The end]
Hans Christian Andersen's essay: Fahlun