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- Poems and Songs - 44/44 -


Note 78. MAY SEVENTEENTH. In memory of the unveiling of Henrik Wergeland's statue in Christiania on the 17th of May, 1881, when Björnson also delivered a great oration. Henrik Arnold Wergeland was born June 17, 1808, in Christiansand, and died August 12, 1845, in Christiania. Though he studied theology, he devoted his life to poetry and politics. His earliest writings, farces and poems, showed powerful, but uncontrolled, genius. His great popularity began in 1829 with his active entrance into public life. He labored for the enlightemnent of his people through his writings and his personal influence in journeyings all over the land, and especially through speeches at political meetings. His chief poetic work, the rationalistic-republican didactic poem, Creation, Man, and Messiah, appeared in 1830. It was severely criticised in a special, polemical writing by Welhaven (see Note 36), who continued his attack on all Wergeland's views and teachings in his Norway's Dawn. Thus arose the Wergeland-Welhaven conflict, which was carried on hotly for many years by their adherents, and contributed much to the intellectual development of the nation. Wergeland was very productive as editor, publicist, and poet. In 1840 he was appointed Keeper of the Archives, and held this government office until his death. In his own time Wergeland was in spirit the head of the radical- national "Peasant party," which was indeed patriotic and democratic, but too narrowly Norwegian, in opposition to all that was Danish, European, foreign. During the years preceding 1881 he had come to be in the constitutional conflict a national hero, the idol of the peasants, as their political power increased. Come now the peasants. In this volume of translations "peasant" is the rendering of the Norwegian word "bonde." The meaning is "farmer," i.e., in general the independrnt owner of land, which he cultivates and on which he lives. In Norway the conditions have for many centuries been more favorable for the "peasant" than in any other European country; this is due to the topography and to the absence of a powerful nobility. At the present time scarcely one- twentieth of the tilled area in Norway is cultivated by tenants. The Norwegian "peasants" have always had great self-consciousness in the best sense, and importance in the political, economic, and social life of the country, especially since the adoption of the democratic Constitution of 1814. Very often the "peasants" have an aristocratic pride in a lineage traced back to ancient "kings," and in their own distinctively "Norse" culture. Österdal's ... chieftain, a peasant of large stature, named Hjelmstad, a radical member of the Storting. The old banner. A flag much used in earlier times as specifically Norwegian, dating back to King Erik (1280-1299), before the union with Demnark, showed on a red ground a lion wearing a golden crown and bearing an axe. As late as 1698 it flew over the fortress Akershus in Christiania. The future, i.e., the independence realized in 1905 through the dissolution of the union with Sweden.

Note 79. FREDERIK HEGEL. This poem is the last in the third edition (1890), for which it seems to have been written. Hegel (1817-1887) was from 1850 the head of the Gyldendal publishing house in Copenhagen. Björnson made his acquaintance in 1860, and, beginning with King Sverre in 1861, Hegel became Björnson's publisher. In 1865 Björnson's influence secured to him Ibsen's works, and later those of Lie and many other Norwegian authors. The cultural dependence of Norway upon Denmark for centuries had prevented the prosperous growth of the publishing business in the former country, whose leading publisher went into bankruptcy soon after 1860. That Björnson thus went to Copenhagen with his books may seem to have been a blow to the cause of Norwegian independence, and to have delayed the rise of a thriving, stable business, but on the other hand Björnson's action and influence contributed greatly to establish for perhaps half a century a certain dominance of the Norwegian spirit in all Scandinavia. For Björnson personally, as his correspondence with Hegel shows, it was certainly a great good fortune to gain Hegel as his publisher and later as his friend. This Hegel was to all his authors in the most faithful, self-sacrificing way, and no less their valued financial adviser.

Note 80. OUR LANGUAGE. Written in defense of the Norwegian-Danish speech of the cultured classes and of the cities in Norway, the result of development and tradition through several centuries, the so-called Riksmaal (language of the kingdom) or Bymaal (city-language). This, and with it the higher spiritual interests of the nation, seemed to Björnson to be endangered by the agitation in behalf of the Landsmaal (rural language). The Landsmaal arose from a movement after 1814, to make Norway independent of Denmark in language also. The rural dialects were regarded as more purely Norwegian; on them and the Old Norse as a basis was constructed somewhat artificially this standard rural language. It has been gradually perfected, and is now, in fact, spoken and written a good deal. Björnson advocated rather the natural process of making the language of the country more national by gradually introducing dialect words and reforming the orthography. He thought that the Riksmaal thus modified alone could preserve, increase, and transmit the treasures of culture. Hald=Fredrikshald, see Note 5. Holberg, see Note 19. Kierkegaard. Sören Aaby Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was the most subtle and profound thinker produced by Denmark, with a prose style noble, poetic, and eloquent. His writings deal with religion, ethics, and esthetics, and present his individual, ideal conception of Christianity. Wergeland, see Note 78.


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