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Swedish Literature

sweden, german, period, religious, contributed, century, charles and six

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SWEDISH LITERATURE. The intel lectual life of the North has been at all times more or less dependent on central Europe, es pecially on German and French civilization. Swedish literature shows these influences in a marked degree and has only within the last generation produced writers of distinct origi nality and more than national significance. The mediwval period appears rather meagre as compared with those of Norway and Iceland. Codes of laws, chronicles, legends of saints, adaptations of chivalrous romances and didactic writings: these or similar categories cover a literary activity which is altogether imitative and chiefly of philological interest. Among the historical documents may be mentioned the Erics-chronicle, covering the period from 1230 1320, the New Chronicle (1490) and the so called Small Rhymechronicle which contains some interesting autobiographies of Swedish kings. The most conspicuous religious char acter of the later Middle Ages was Saint Birgitta who, after an extended experience as wife and mother, turned her mind to things spiritual, undertook reforms of all kinds, founded a religious order, came in touch with the leaders of German mysticism and died 1373 in Rome. She contributed to Swedish literature a volume of visions or which in spite of their abstruseness exhibit a remarkable power of imagination. Her personal influence and the activity of the Birgitta order which was centred in Vadstena, can be traced through the whole intellectual life of the North, especially in the direction of building up a national church and encouraging the use of the mother tongue. The ballad literature of the 14th and 15th centuries is not as extensive as that of Denmark or Germany, but corresponds otherwise in subject and form. Many of these lays and ballads wandered evidently from one country to the other and exist in numerous versions. More than 60 have been counted of the famous ballad 'Elveskud> (translated by Herder as Daughters') which describes the dangerous lure of dancing elves. The Swedish ballads have been collected by Geijer and Afzelius as (Svenska folkvisor> (new edition by Bergstrom, 1880).

Swedish thought and literature received a powerful stimulus from the gradual adoption of the Lutheran faith in the course of the 16th century. This movement is closely associated with the names of the brothers Petri, Olavus and Laurentius, and of Laurentius Andreae.

All three of them contributed to the transla tion of the Bible which appeared complete in Upsala in the year 1541 and which for the his tory of the literary language in Sweden may claim a similar position as Luther's translation for German. Apart from a rich controversial literature called forth by the religious move ment, we meet with attempts in the dramatic field, such as treatment of biblical stories, alle gories and school comedies. The most versatile writer of this period is Johan Messenius who, among other things, planned a systematic dramatization of subjects taken from Swedish history but who only completed six of such plays.

The heroic century of Modern Sweden, the age of Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII, proved to be relatively unproductive in the field of literature. The dominant influence of Renaissance poetics throughout the 17th century discouraged spontaneous expression and es tablished in most European countries classicistic standards and a rule of formalism. Sweden reveres her of literature in Georg Stjernhjelm (1598-1672), a stern disciplinarian who aimed at purity of language and formal perfection. He wrote a number of epic and didactic poems of an allegorical character, among them his famous 'Hercules at the Cross road' and distinguished himself besides as a scholar and scientist in many fields. He intro duced a number of classic and romantic metres into Swedish poetry and handled them with re markable skill. His contemporary Gunnar Dahlstjerna employed even the Ottave rime (with six iambic feet) in his patriotic poem and is still appreciated as the author of (Gotha in which Charles XII and Peter the Tsar are the leading Characters. The greatest metrical genius of his age was Johan Runius (d. 1713), while the Finlander Jacob Frese shows more natural poetic talent. Samuel Columbus and Jesper Svedberg contributed some of the most popular Swedish hymns. The anatomist and botanist Olaf Rudbeck (1630-1702) still arouses our smile as the author of the treatise 'Atlantika' in which he tried to prove that Plato's Atlantis was identical with Sweden and that here or nowhere else must have stood the cradle of dvilization. Rudbeck taught at Upsala which under the reign of Queen Christine had be come a great centre of learning and attracted temporarily scholars from all parts of Europe, even men like Descartes, Hugo Grotius and others.

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