Adolph Burnett Benson.

The Old Norse element in Swedish romanticism online

. (page 1 of 18)
Online LibraryAdolph Burnett BensonThe Old Norse element in Swedish romanticism → online text (page 1 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

137 Ibl









Copyright, 1914

Printed from type, October, 1914



Approved for publication, on behalf of the Department of
Germanic Languages and Literatures of Columbia University.


NEW YORK, October, 1914






Enthusiasm for the Norse saga during the Swedish Romantic
period was not confined to the members of the so-called Gothic
School. The interest in the Viking age spread also to other
groups of poets as well as to some individuals who, like Stag-
nelius, were not identified with any school. As we shall see,
however, they were all, in the ordinary, broad sense, Romantic.
This review, therefore, purports to deal with a number of het-
erogeneous writers, often belonging to entirely different literary
confessions, but all bound together, for us, by a bond of com-
mon interest in Scandinavian antiquity.

The purpose of this study is fourfold: (i) to show clearly
that a genuine interest in Scandinavian antiquity was present
from the beginning in both the new literary tendencies of the
time, (2) to characterize this interest, (3) to collect and ex-
amine all the important literary monuments from 1810 to about
1825 that make use of Scandinavian saga, and (4) to record
conservative opposition to Norse mythology in Sweden during
that period.

The well-known literary chiefs, Tegner, Geijer, and Ling,
will be treated only incidentally in this study, in connection with
specific problems. The present investigation intends to empha-
size the work of the minor "Goths" and of such other Roman-
ticists as are not ordinarily mentioned in connection with the
Old Norse element. Among the latter are the Fosforists.

An appendix has been added, containing brief biographical
data of the most important writers connected with Swedish

Lastly, I wish to express my gratitude to all those who have
contributed in any way to make this investigation possible.

To Professor Calvin Thomas, first of all, I owe a deep debt
for substantial encouragement and for ever-ready assistance,
especially in connection with the final proof-reading.


To Professor Robert Herndon Fife, Jr., of Wesleyan Uni-
versity, who introduced me to the study of Romanticism; to
the late Professor Rudolf Tombo, Jr., to Professor Louis
Auguste Loiseaux, and especially to Professor Arthur F. J.
Remy, I owe more than a pupil's debt to a teacher.

To George Frederick Hummel, A.M., of Brooklyn, N. Y., I
am indebted for a valuable suggestion in connection with the
Introduction; Professor Fletcher Briggs of the Iowa State Col-
lege of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts has furnished a useful
hint; Froken Elna Bengtson of Boras, Sweden, has provided a
list of books for my bibliography ; and Andrew Thomas Weaver,
A.M., of Northwestern Academy, Hannah Senior Nicholson,
B.A., and Marion E. Morton, B.A., recently of the Hanover
(New Hampshire) High School, have assisted in correcting the

I beg to acknowledge also my indebtedness to the Yale Uni-
versity library, where I obtained many of my most valuable

A. B. B.

July, 1914-





Fosforism and Gothism.

The beginnings of interest in the Old Norse element.

The Northern renaissance in England, Germany, France, and
Denmark up to 1810, with list of important publications. The
Norse renaissance in Sweden during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries.


The interest of the Fosforists in Scandinavian Antiquity.
Atterbom : His Gothic contributions to Svensk Litteratur-


The Fosforists in literary criticism.

Fosforos, Poetisk Kalender. Later interest in the saga.
Hammarskjold : His attitude toward Norse myths, and interest

in folklore.

Livijn : Early interest in Norse mythology.
The interest of various minor writers.


Non-Romantic interest in the Norse saga.

Granberg : " Jorund."

Charlotta Eleonora d'Albedyhll : " Gefion."


The theoretical problem of introducing Norse mythology into

Swedish art and poetry.
Foreign treatises on Norse mythology versus the Greek. Grater,

Herder and Oehlenschlager.
Lectures on art by Hammarskjold and Ling.
" Eddornas Sinnebildslara." Character of opposition to Norse


Geijer warns against exaggeration in the use of Norse themes.
The exhibition of national art, 1818. Tegner's views.





Erik Johan Stagneliiis: The Old Norse element as a vehicle

for Romanticism.

The Norse element in the epic " Blenda."
The mythical poem " Gunlog." The tragedies " Wisbur " and

" Sigurd Ring." The fragment " Svegder."


Nicander and Beskow, with special reference to the age of
transition from Norse heathenism to Christianity, as reflected
in the Romantic dramas of these two men.

" Runesvardet." The Old Norse element in Oldur Silfverskagg.

Influence of Fouque and Oehlenschlager. Specific saga sources
in " Runor af Norna-Gest."

Beskow " Hildegard," its Christian and pre-Christian elements.
Comparison with " Runesvardet." The viking type in " Hilde-




(i) For this study in particular. (2) For Swedish Romanti-
cism in general.



Den nordiska renassansen har lika djupa rotter som all annan
europeisk romantik. Anton Blanck : " Den nordiska renassansen."

The term " Romanticism," in its broadest sense, is as vague
in Sweden as elsewhere, and as a literary movement it is im-
possible to fix its boundary in time or to outline its program
with any absolute precision. Nevertheless, beginning about
1810, we can easily detect two main tendencies in Swedish
Romanticism; one was called Fosforism, after the literary
organ Fosforos, and the other we may call Gothism. The
former looked to Greek, Spanish, Italian, and more especially
to German models, while the so-called Gothic School aimed to
have a more exclusively Scandinavian, i.e., "Gothic" character.

Both schools were, in a sense, national ; both strove for origi-
nality and independence, opposed the correct, Gustavian, Acad-
emicians, and looked forward toward a new era in Swedish
letters. The Fosforists lauded the work of their Swedish, as well
as of their German, progenitors and brought many a hitherto
obscure name into greater prominence. Of course the policies
of both schools were reactionary; Fosforists and Goths alike
were dissatisfied with existing conditions and pined for some-
thing new. But what they had in mind turned out to be the
old the medieval or the primitive. As in Germany and Eng-
land, then, Swedish Romanticism was retrospective ; but in Swe-
den medievalism was merely incidental or second-hand; more
often the new pathfinders in Sweden went beyond the Middle
Ages and studied early Oriental religion and philosophy; they
sought for new interpretations of the ancient classics, or, like
the Goths, they limited their attention to the Scandinavian
countries and studied Norse mythology.

The principles of Fosforism had been in the making for at
least a quarter of a century before they finally burst out into


an open revolution about 1810. The most obvious manifesta-
tions of the approaching storm were : an increasing interest in
German and English literature, a growing hostility toward
French models and frequent emphasis on feeling, originality,
and imagination. The preceding century had been the age of
enlightenment in Sweden and the dominating tone had been
entirely French. The Academy of Belles-Lettres (Vitterhets-
Akademien), which had been founded by Queen Louise Ulrika
in 1753, had been reorganized and enlarged in 1786 by Gustavus
III., and was modeled after the French Academy. The Swed-
ish capital, therefore, under the dictatorship of the Swedish
Academy, continued to mold literature according to French rhe-
torical systems. In so doing, it undoubtedly performed a noble
and necessary mission; it gave Swedish literature both style
and form. But with the end of the French Revolution and the
death of Gustavus III. in 1792, many patriots began to feel
that the French style had prevailed long enough; that it was
getting a bit abstract, mechanical, and monotonous, and, there-
fore, undesirable.

One of the first to break with the French taste and to pre-
pare the way for a new literary movement was Thomas Thorild
(1759-1808). He was no creative artist, but an original
thinker, who had a keen appreciation of life and art. In his
controversy with the Academicians Leopold and Kellgren he
gradually disabled the adherents of the Old School and antici-
pated the New by stirring up enthusiasm for Klopstock and
Ossian. As a pupil of Rousseau, Thorild worshipped in him
a " Romantic " favorite, who had escaped the fate of the other
Frenchmen. Bengt Lidner (1757-1793), an irregular, Byronic
type of poet, had already shown his skill in depicting strong
passion and unbridled sentimental feeling. With marked ar-
dency of expression and richness of invention he described the
half -despairing sufferings of the human soul. 1 Another of the
eighteenth century poets, and the greatest of them all, to receive
special recognition by the Romantic School was Karl Michael
Bellman (1740-1795). He was thoroughly original, popular,
and national. His bachanalian poetry showed great genius

i Cf. L. Hammarskjold : " Svenska vitterheten," 2d ed., pp. 402-3.

and depth, and Hammarskjold believed that this " Swedish
Anacreon" had grasped the very essence of the Swedish na-
tional life. 1

In the meantime, German and English authors were being
read more and more, both in the original and in translation.
An acquaintance with Gellert, Haller, Hagedorn, Holty, Burger,
Jean Paul, Goethe or Schiller led to the study of Tieck, Novalis
and the brothers Schlegel. "Werther" was translated into
Swedish as early as 1786; Klopstock's " Messias," 1789-1792;
Ossian, 1789-1794; translations of Young and Sterne had ap-
peared by 1790, and during the next two decades the German
philosophers Kant, Fichte, and, more particularly, Schelling,
rose rapidly in favor along with the younger group of German
Romanticists. Calderon, Ariosto, Petrarch, Tasso, Dante, Rous-
seau, and Shakespeare receive considerable attention and the
otherwise satirical and unfeeling Clas Livijn was moved to
tears at the reading of " Wilhelm Meister." 2 W. F. Palmblad,
one of the charter members of the new school, likewise melted
into tears at reading Lafontaine's novels and Kotzebue's
dramas. 3

On October 7, 1807, a number of congenial souls, saturated
with enthusiasm for German philosophy and the new German
Romanticism, met in Uppsala and formed the society Musis
Amici. It was really a "new edition" of a similar organization
that had existed from 1803-1806 called " Vitterhetens Vanner "
or "Friends of Belles Lettres," and its leader was the seventeen-
year-old Atterbom, of whom we shall have occasion to speak
later. The following year the name of the society was changed
to " Auroraf orbundet " (a name which explains itself) and,
as the members believed, a more definite outline of its program
was drawn up. The purpose of the Forbund was :

" in accordance with firm and eternal principles, gathered from
Greek and German models, first to ennoble and develop the strength
[of the Forbund], then to work energetically against the depraved
taste [of the time], and finally, at least with a bright ray in the sky

1 Ibid., p. 342.

2 Cf. G. Frunck : Nya skolans forberedelser och forsta utveckling, p. 14.

3 Ibid., p. 39.

of Swedish literature, to indicate the path of the approach of the

sun." 1

From now on we have a militant organization of Romanti-
cists. With a sincere purpose, but in a somewhat vainglorious
style, and often the most unscrupulous polemics, the new group
set out to overthrow the old systems and to infuse the new
Schelling-Tieck-Novalis spirit into Swedish letters.

Beginning with 1810, for about a decade, there raged a feud
between the literary conservatives and radicals, of such inten-
sity and recklessness that it probably outstripped its German
model in this respect. The Academicians, led by P. A. Wall-
mark, voiced their sentiments in the Journal for Litteraturen
och Teatern (after 1813 called Allmdnna Journalen) and the
principal organs of the Aurora forbund were, in the order of
their first appearance: Poly fern (from Polyphemus, the one-
eyed giant who looks straight ahead) ; Fosforos (originally
spelled "Phosphoros") ; Poetisk Kalender; and Svensk Lit-
ter atur-Tidmng. Much has been written on this interesting
controversy. Suffice it to say here that, in aspiration, the radi-
cals, now called Fosforists, were generally right; that both sides
expended a wealth of energy and exhibited great wit in their
polemics, but were often bitter and unjust in their method.
Naturally the battle was most violent at the beginning, as in
Poly fern; Fosforos adopted a less aggressive policy and aimed
to show in original poems and reviews what Polyfem did in
polemics. The chief characteristic of the Polyfem policy was
a satirical, merciless attack on everything French and on every-
body of French sympathies. Hence, the old, rationalistic
school, the Swedish Academy, and its protege, "the 'dry Boi-
leau " Leopold, were criticized beyond all reason. No little
talent was displayed in this struggle, however, and everyone
will find that, for the most part, the polemics of the Fosforists
are far more fascinating than their poems. 2

Toward the end of the feud Tegner, the sponsor of clearness,

1 Ibid., p. 32.

2 Rudolf Hjarne, in " Gotiska forbundet," page 230, calls attention to
the temporary confusion in the literary camp, brought about by the " blind
self-confidence " of the Fosforists, and adds that their poetry " hovered
between heaven and earth without belonging to either."

attacked the vagueness of the Romantic theories, so that after
1820 the Fosforistic School had practically ceased to exist as
a militant institution. But its ideas lived on in its efficient
leader Atterbom, who, during the following decade, was des-
tined to produce the work par excellence of this phase of
Swedish Romanticism, namely, "The Isle of Bliss" (Lyck-
salighetens O). This poem was a long but splendid treat-
ment, in dramatic form, of a Celtic fairy-tale; it was not free
from satirical references to contemporary conditions in art and
society, but it teemed with beautiful lyric passages and con-
tained the philosophical ideas of the movement. But what had
the Fosforists as a body really accomplished, and what had been
the character of their creative achievements ?

In spite of strenuous opposition the Fosforists had returned
from the battlefield with a victory for Swedish culture. And
it was natural that they should; they had nothing to lose and
everything to gain. By their zealous encouragement of Ger-
man literature and philosophy a wholesome spirit, more akin
to the Scandinavian temperament, had been infused. Some
members of the Old School, to be sure, had known the German
classics before the Romantic School was born; but, barring a
few translations, they seem to have kept their knowledge mostly
to themselves. The Fosforists, on the other hand, stirred up
things by publicly proclaiming the value of the new gospel.
Fosforism, like many aspects of Romanticism in Germany,
stood for a deeper meaning and spirituality in life and letters ;
it stood for the irrational, for the eternal and infinite, for the
identity of nature and spirit, for the divinity of art and poetry,
for mystical longing, for freedom and religiosity. Sweden is
indebted to Fosforism for a profound, healthy, quickening im-
pulse to both her literature and her literary criticism, and for
inaugurating the serious study of esthetics.

The failings of the Fosforists were numerous and serious,
and an impartial critic must often deal, therefore, with theo-
retical aspirations rather than with actual, positive accomplish-
ments. No original masterpiece was produced within Fosfor-
istic circles until several years after the polemic storm had
passed away ; that is, not until Fosforism, in its more restricted


sense, had disappeared. Here and there, indeed, a lyrical gem
made its appearance. Hedborn had a gift for the picturesque
and wrote some choice hymns, the consumptive Per Elgstrom
was an excellent colorist, and his poems revealed an elegiac,
melancholy, or mystic style; but these were not great poets.
Neither did Hammarskjold, the law-giving Friedrich Schlegel
of Swedish Romanticism, exhibit any marked creative ability.
He was too busy mapping out programs, ridiculing French
taste, and attacking Alexandrines to do anything really original,
and Palmblad's literary contributions were mostly reviews and
translations. Atterbom, the life-long leader and the greatest
of the Fosforists, was the most prolific writer, but his poetry
was often obscure and his best work, mentioned above, did not
appear until he was a middle-aged man. We see, then, that
Fosforistic activity was largely polemic and negative in its char-
acter; beyond this it was imitative, critical, and metaphysical.
To what extent the Fosforists, and other poets who actively
sympathized with them, were influenced by German Romanti-
cism, may best be seen by calling attention to a few additional
features of the Swedish movement. The Schlegels, Tieck,
Novalis, and the classical German authors are lauded to the
skies and quoted as authorities at every opportunity. The
atmosphere is full of Stimmungspoesie with constant reference
to the invisible or infinite. Odndlighet (Unendlichkeit) is the
prevailing keynote in the Romantic poetry of Sweden. As in
Germany, much of it was unintelligible, and this is particularly
noticeable in the earliest poems of Atterbom, as in some
strophes of the Prolog to Fosforos. Moonlight, twilight, dark-
ness, and night appealed also to the Uppsala youngsters, and
rich coloring was a common phenomenon. Johan David Va-
lerius (1776-1852) was criticized for moralizing his drinking
songs, showing a tendency toward the "Lucinde" system of
morality; and here and there we discover a strong poetic
sympathy for the Holy Virgin and Catholicism. Spanish and
Italian authors were studied and translated, and this led to
experimentation in all kinds of Southern verse-forms. The
terza-rima and canzone were introduced in the spirit of oppo-
sition to Alexandrines, and sonnets were written by the score.

The November number ofFosforos for 1810 opens with twenty
sonnets by Atterbom.

In their hostility to French forms, the Fosforists often went
to the other extreme, and they have been severely criticized for
being literary slaves of Germany. There proved to be no ulti-
mate danger in this relation, however, for, in the first place,
the Fosforists did not succeed in fulfilling all their most radical
promises. Then, too, there are differences between the Ger-
man parent and its Swedish offspring showing a certain inde-
pendence, and that some of the foreign Romantic seed had
fallen by the wayside, so far as absolute imitation was con-
cerned. Original productions among the younger Swedish
Romanticists were almost exclusively lyrical, not only in con-
tent but also in form. "Wilhelm Meister" was hailed with
joy in Sweden as well as in Germany, but it produced no imi-
tation of its genre in Sweden. Sweden had no formless
Romanpoesie in the narrow sense of the term ; though Swedish
poetry teemed with apotheoses of its own art, we find no enthu-
siast like Ofterdingen and no peripatetic and almost fanatic
"knight of the moon " like Franz Sternbald. In some of these
respects, it seems to me, Swedish Romanticism became more
sober and sensible than that of Germany, though it may have
been due to a lack of genius that this type of the novel was not
developed. As already observed, Swedish Romanticists were
not theoretically opposed to a freer morality, but practically
they led as regular lives as other people and had no such do-
mestic troubles as some of their German masters. Elgstrom
died young through no fault of his own, but Atterbom and
Hedborn lived long and happy lives in wedlock. None of the
Fosforists joined the Catholic Church, though Hammarskjold
and Atterbom were both much impressed by it.

Interest in Scandinavian antiquity formed only one part of
the pretentious Fosforistic program and, as this review is in-
tended to show, this was often subjective and allegorical. The
Goths, however, confined themselves to this one part and aimed
to make it objective, a fresh and living phenomenon in Swedish
culture. It will be in order, therefore, to describe briefly the
history and characteristics of the Gothic School.


The Gothic School (Gotiska Forbundet) was founded in
the beginning of the year 1811. The members of this brother-
hood met and adopted a constitution on February 16. "A
morally patriotic thought," or spirit, was to be the kernel of
the Society, and paragraph 3 of the statutes provided that every
Brother should consider himself " absolutely in duty bound to
investigate the sagas and chronicles of the old Goths," mean-
ing by the " Goths," the old Norse ancestors ; hence the name
of the movement. 1 Its leader was the chancery-clerk Jakob
Adlerbeth, trained in love for his fatherland from early youth.
Men of any profession, possessing some striking " Gothic "
qualification, were eligible to membership, though authors and
artists were especially desired. Eventually new members were
elected to the number of one hundred. As in the case of the
Fosforists, the enthusiasm was greatest at the start; the year
1811 is both the beginning and the culmination of the general
interest in the society. Sixteen meetings were held the first
year, thirteen the second, but after 1825 no more than five
meetings were ever held in any one year. But the activity con-
tinued with considerable force for about a dozen years after
the founding of the Forbund, and during this time ten volumes
of its literary organ, Iduna, appeared. After the formal disso-
lution of the society in 1844 there appeared an eleventh and
last number in 1845.

The " Gothomania," as it was sometimes called at first, was
characterized, like Fosforism, by one-sidedness and exaggera-
tion. Scandinavian antiquity was to be resuscitated, not only
in art and poetry, but, to a certain extent, in life ; not only was
Icelandic literature to be studied, but, whenever possible, the
viking customs were to be revived. Naturally the Goths took
the initiative at their regular meetings. Each Gothic Brother
first adopted the name of some heathen forefather, and was
supposed, within three months after his election to member-
ship, to give a discourse on his ancestral namesake to the mem-
bers of the society. This pagan name was used in address,
both at the meetings and in private correspondence among the
members. Thus Tegner became Bodvar Bjarke ; J. P. Lef ren,

i See Hjarne: Gotiska forbundet, pp. n and 15.


Guttorm; D. Nordin, Sigfried; P. H. Ling, Bosi; Adlerbeth,
Rolf; J. H. Wallman, Helge; and Geijer, Einar Tambaskjal-
ver. Tremendous enthusiasm, not to say boisterousness, pre-
vailed at all gatherings, and the character, courage, manliness
of the original inhabitants of Sweden were constantly empha-
sized. The members drank mead, both out of individual horns
and out of a common vessel called " Bragebagaren" (theBrage-
cup) and saluted each other in appropriate heroic terms.
Sometimes the meetings were held out of doors ; then stones
were carried together and placed in a circle to represent a
primitive Norse Thing or court. At the reading of poems with
national or patriotic themes, or upon hearing the results of
investigations in the Swedish past, the Brothers gave unbounded
applause. At times they waxed sentimental; it is said that
Geijer in reading Tegner's "Nore" had to stop for tears. 1

The literary leaders of the Gothic movement were Tegner,
Ling, and Geijer. The first two took an active part in the
management of the society, but after a time Ling resigned his

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryAdolph Burnett BensonThe Old Norse element in Swedish romanticism → online text (page 1 of 18)