Sweden Literature - The 18th Century

Sweden Literature – The 18th Century


With the death of Charles XII, the times were therefore ripe, even in Sweden, for the Enlightenment, which dominated Swedish intellectual life for a century. With the ever increasing participation of the middle classes in the life of the spirit, culture, for one part, spread, resulting in a contitiuo flourish and flourish of magazines and newspapers (see, among the newspapers, the Dagligt Allehanda founded in 1769; and, among the popular magazines, Den swänska Mercurius, published in 1755); and, on the other hand, it was consolidated, according to the rationality of a more demanding critical awareness. And Sweden had its Muratori in Erik Benzelius, in Johan Ihre – author of the Glossarium suiogothicum– the reformer of the methods of linguistics: the fifteen bibliographic volumes of the Bibliotheca historica sueogothica by Carl Gustav Warmholtz will constitute at the end of the century the conspicuous document of this new direction of historiographic research. But above all the positive sciences received a powerful increase, in which some of the greatest men of that time in Europe excelled: Anders Celsius in astronomy, Samuel Klingestierna in mathematics; Christopher Polhem in physics; Torbern Bergman and Carl Wilhelm Scheele in chemistry; Nils Rosén von Rosenstein in medicine; Carl von Linné in Natural History. With Linné Sweden also had, for the first time, a classic example of scientific prose. And from all this naturally strengthened faith in the power of the human intellect. Only one thing seemed of supreme importance for man: “exercise reason”, as Andreas Rydelius teaches in his popular Nödiga förnuftsövningar. And religious life was also transformed. On the one hand, orthodoxism lost more and more ground in consciences, which became incredulous in the face of the dogmatic nature of the “official doctrine”; and on the other hand the souls more deeply disposed to religiosity sought refuge in themselves, abandoning themselves to their own feelings and their own imagination; so that pietist, herrnhutist movements were continually repeating themselves, without the fury of the state church being able to suffocate them. Once again, that is, that singular phenomenon occurred in history by which precisely in the periods of the most exclusive rationalism the religiosity of individual consciences is exalted in an unlimited and visionary subjectivity: a pupil of Polhem, educated in solid scientific studies, Emanuel Swedenborg accomplished that ”

However, in the “century of the Enlightenment” the influence of a religious experience of such intensity had to remain, for a first moment at least, limited among spirits of exception. The dominant personality in literature was of the opposite temper: Olof Dalin: a writer without flights, but lucid, savory, ductile and varied; who became an eloquent interpreter of all the intellectual ideals of the time; and in the discursive prose of the periodical Then Svenska Argus, moralizing on the model of the Spectator, he educated the mind of his contemporaries in the analytical observation of human facts; and, inspired by Voltaire, he drew from it the anti-ecclesiastical tendencies, the civil pathos (Svenska friheten), the rationalistic concept of progress, the taste for epigrammatic points of esprit. He was also inspired by Swift and the full-bodied style of the ancient saga in the realistic-allegorical Sagan om hästen, by Racine and by the heroic motifs of the ancient saga in the tragedy Brunhilde, by Boileau in the precepts; and – except in the novel, whose best representative was Jakob Henrik Mök under the influence of the English adventure novel and Fénelon ‘s Télémaque, and except in the comedy, in which Gyllenborg surpassed him with Den svenska sprätthöken – marked the orientations of the new style in all fields. A new element was added when the members of the “Tankebyggarerorden” – gathered around Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht – contrasted the Rousseau cult against the substantially Volterian Enlightenment of Dalin. Nordenflycht, “shepherdess of the North”, welcomed “the poetry of passion”, especially in her latest lyrics; G. Br. Gyllenborg learned of his pessimistic consideration of society and the exaltation of nature, and, consolidating his thought on the writings of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, he raised himself from the satire of Verldsföraktaren to the meditative stoicism of hatred; G. Ph. Creutz, more delicate and sensitive, Seasons by Thomson and the sentimental arcadia of the loves of Atis and Camilla flourished with all the graces of his style, in a pastoral poem of exquisite Rococo taste. It is not yet the return of poetry to the immediacy of nature and life; and even the language represented only a further literary refinement of the forms elaborated by Dalin; but sentiment, breaking into the world of poetry, expanded its boundaries (cf. Olof-Berglint, Tal om skaldekonsten, 1761), and the idea that writing meant not following fixed and rigid rules, but having something to say and say it frankly, as Jakob Wallenberg did in the description of his first trip to the Far East (Min son på galejan, 1781).

The complete unity of life and poetry came only with Bellman. Wine and love constitute the central motifs of his lyrics, but, beyond the intoxication – between the wave of music that invests him and the high festivity of the fantasies – a profoundly serious feeling of the mystery of life shines through. through the whimsical playfulness of his inspirations. It is a poem of such sincerity that Bellmann will forever remain the poet dearest to the hearts of the Swedish people, almost a mythical incarnation of their way of feeling poetry. But it was precisely for this reason that the general evolution of literature could not reach in one leap the positions that Bellman had anticipated with his creative genius. The keen interest that King Gustavus showed in art and poetry undoubtedly had fruitful repercussions in the cultural consciousness of the time: it was King Gustavus who created the Svenska Akademien in 1786, following the example of the Académie française; and it was also his initiative that Sweden owed the most powerful impetus that its theater had hitherto had: not only did he listen, in the field of opera, to the suggestions of the Italian Abbot Michelessi, who lived in Stockholm from 1771 until the death (1773); not only did he call from Paris, for the prose theater, the actor J.-M. Monvel who became the educator and trainer of young Swedish actors; but he himself composed or wrote in a first edition a good number of plays and comedies, which “his poets” discussed with him or reworked, by his order, in verse. The theater ceased to be entertainment: it affirmed “royally” its dignity as an art: it became an instrument of education for the people and the exaltation of national sentiment. On the other hand, however, precisely due to the new climate created by the royal protection, the Rococo of French taste, the Enlightenment rationalism and the pseudoclassicism received a new reinforcement; and the most representative poets of “official literature” – JH Kellgren with his sensuality, his worldly graces and his robust civility; G. af Leopold with his courtly elegance, his emphasis and the epigrammatic points of his moral attitudes; JG Oxenstierna with his meditative analytic poetry of night and nature – are typical figures of the purest eighteenth century. GG Adlerbeth himself, who accompanied King Gustavus on his trip to Italy in 1783, but he drew from it an enrichment of ideas and culture, but not a substantial renewal of taste. It is the Rococo-Neoclassical world, of which Algarotti was the typical interpreter in Italy, placed by Adlerbeth, at the suggestion of Michelessi, and it can be understood, even alongside Euripides.

According to THEMOTORCYCLERS.COM, the latent forces of renewal thus operated outside the dominant taste. And the vehement obstinate controversy between Thorild and Leopold – which ended only with the new situation that arose after the tragic death of the king – shows how strong the resistance was. Th. Thorild, poet of the ardent, passionate, exalted life, was forced to seek refuge and peace in Germany, where he remained until his death. B. Lidner, a sensitive and imaginative spirit, accustomed from his Herrnhutistic origins to the “voluptuousness of tears”, consumed his strength in the friction between the harshness of reality and the ecstasies of sentiment. But nothing could stop the natural course of time. The new aesthetic thought – which matured especially in Germany – was now also penetrating Sweden from all sides. HG Porthan propagated the new concept of poetry as an expression of the soul of the peoples; JF Nexter investigated the ethnic structure of the peoples of the North in contrast to those of the South, pointing out the repercussions also in the particular nature of their literatures. Among the English they translated Young, Gray, Shaftesbury, and, among the Germans, Klopstock, Gessner, Goethe (Werther). He raved about the Werther ; Shakespeare “discovered” himself. Herder’s and Schiller’s ideas acted as leaven; and antiquity too, in CA Ehrenswärd’s Journey to Italy, appeared in a new light, according to Winckelmann’s ideas. Finally B. Höjier, a professor at Upsala, not only became an interpreter of the neo-humanistic spirituality of the Weimar poets, but also of critical and idealistic philosophy. A magazine – the Literaturtidning (1795-97), which was followed in 1797 by the Journal för svensk Litteratur – arose in the service of new ideas. The same men ancien régime they ended up feeling the influence of the new spirit. Kellgren elevated the hymn to the creative power of the imagination illuminated by love. Oxenstierna translated the Badger. And above all the new poetry was conditioned by this new atmosphere at the turn of the century. In Anna Maria Lenngren’s genre paintings, inspiration springs with simplicity from the emotion of the heart and from the personal observation of the composite and fluid intimacy of human facts. And the melodious poetry of Bro. Michael Franzén already knows all the sweetness of the soft abandonment to the fluctuating waves of sentiment and the colorful seductions of the imagination.

Sweden Literature - The 18th Century