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power which can reconcile life's ideal element with the physical. Man is called to act according to reason, according to ideas; to throw back the action of the whole exterior world upon them; for on this system has God, as well as man, produced the creation and history of the world. Man has done his part in this either voluntarily or involuntarily; but beyond this, he is called on to exercise a poetic faculty; not only to describe the outer world as a shell, or the inner one as a kernel, but to demonstrate how the kernel pervades its shell, that is, produces action, which is dramatic. The Swede has no purely epic element, and therefore allows his lyrical one, his subjective sentiment and thought, to strike through the epic as a lightning stroke; and thus there is present throughout the whole literature of Sweden no perfect epic, but on the contrary, all its epic is lyrical in its character, from the Folks-Visor to Frithiof.” From this result the following important observations :
“In our country,” says Tegnér, in his Oration over Oxenstjerna, “people for the most part read all the great poets only by fragments. We break up heroic poems into romantic episodes, and tragedies into elegies. It is not here the place to inquire how far we may seek the cause of this in a generally less educated poetic feeling, or perhaps rather in the nation's well-known, and exclusive penchant for the lyrical which compresses the whole poetical world into a few strophes. Does not the cause of this lie, in a great degree, in the nature which surrounds
Are not the hills, with their dales and streams, the lyrics of Nature; or the softer plain-land, with its tranquil floods, its epic ? Many of our mountain chains are actually natural dithyrambics, and man is delighted to poetise in the same tone as that of Nature around him. It appears to me at least remarkable that the ancient
highly poetic hero-life of the proper North rarely expressed itself in anything but a war-song, and first in a more southern climate expanded itself into a more complete epic form. Does not a lyrical character pervade the whole history of Sweden ? Are not the most distinguished representatives of the national mind, as well in ancient as in modern times, rather lyric than epic in their essential features. Be the cause, however, what it may, so much at least is certain, that every poem of great compass is usually judged of amongst us, not as a whole, but by parts; or, what is the same, we look rather at portions than at the totality; and in the parts, again, most at the diction. In this we look for beauties, and overlook the contents in the form."
We do not see that Tegnér's theory, however plausible at a first glance, will account for the difference between the genius of the Swedes and that of the Danes. The latter are almost equally distinguished by their achievements in lyrical, dramatic and epic poetry; and amongst the most eminent masters in these various departments, some are Norwegian, where the country, on Tegnér's principle, is still more mountainously lyrical than in Sweden. We suspect that there must be other and more historical or social causes, and that we shall yet see Sweden develop herself in these directions, as she has of late done so brilliantly in romance. Her literary life appears yet in its dawn. But to return to Lénström:
“ Further—the Swede has no purely lyrical element; cannot long hold fast ideas, and allow them to ripen into a system ; on the contrary, he hates, as something wholly un-Swedish, profound speculations carried forward into all their consequences and circumstances ; hates purely lyrical poetry ; regards its languishing sighs as whining, as ideal pretension and pulverized romance,
which prefers living in the clouds, and has a panic horror of whatever is actual. The lyrical in the Swede cannot support itself; the ideal will not long ally itself to it; it needs a counterpoise; will have solidity, something real.
It is this realism which permeates the whole of our poetry, and expresses itself therein positively, though no one fixes his attention upon it. It is this realism which gives actuality to the Folks-Visor, as a counterpoise to sickly feelings; the same which, in the “Rhyme-Chronicle,” in the pursuit of something real, lost all sentiment; the same which, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, became occasional verse in a prosaic dread of ideal pretension ; and in the eighteenth, took refuge in the courtly topics of the Academy, in the popular life through Bellman, Hallman and Wallenberg ; in burgher life, through Madam Lengren ; in the life of Nature, through Oxenstjerna ; in juvenile life, through Franzén ; in the ancient myths, through Tegnér ; and in the FolkSaga, through Atterbom. All these entertained a horror of empty speculations and airy fantasies; all sought something real, as the fundamental principle of their creations.
“ For this same reason we possess no Drama. Little faculty as we have to create epic poems with their necessary attributes, still less have we to create dramatic characters which are life-like and self-actuating, or to construct a dramatic world in perfect keeping and consistency. Portions of a dramatic and epic world we can construct splendidly; but the whole, the grand requisite, exceeds our power. Thus we come back again, though by another way, to the old result, that the best which we possess is lyrical, pure only in small portions, usually to be found here and there, as a living and beautifying element in our narrative, descriptive and reflective poetry. And it is
hence that Rydquist, in the North's oldest play, observes, that in the people's literature the dramatic and mimic faculty shows itself as good, pure and worthy of esteem; but seldom vivid, and still less rich and strong: it has, moreover, become entangled in its growth, and has stood still at the first stage of discovered vigour, where one finds merely promise, but no fulfilment.”
Lénström, after much more reasoning on this singular national characteristic, shows that, in Gustavus III.'s time, “the only epoch in which the drama made some approach to national," the stage received some tolerable productions; but he adds: “The moment the accidental causes ceased, the effect ceased with them; and in no period, it must be conceded, has the Swedish drama been able to maintain itself.” He infers, therefore, that the defect lies in the position of Sweden in regard to external nature and society, as well in climate and natural disposition as in the modes and views of life there. He quotes also the assertion of Beskow, in his “Reminiscences of Stjernstolpe.” “No literature,” says the Baron von Beskow, “is so poor in comic authors as the Swedish. What is the cause ? The Swedes have no want of the love of fun or of wit. The first requisite for the development of comic genius is freedom, in the esthetic and social meaning. Has no one, then, discovered that this may
have had its influence on our dramatic status? The intolerably heavy esthetic fetters have only in our own day become broken ; but conventionalism, etiquette and the daily circumstances of social life, rule with scarcely less vigour than formerly. We are too serious, people say. On the contrary, we are not serious enough. No one knows how to laugh heartily who does not know how to be truly serious-being dull is a different matter; and that deep seriousness must lie at the foundation of
all classical mirth, is sufficiently shown in the fact, that the most serious and proud of all nations—the English and the Spanish--possess the most splendid comic authors.”
In this quotation Lénström has hit the true secret, and might have spared all the rest of his reasonings. We are persuaded that the one-sided character of Swedish literature neither originates in natural scenery, climate, nor in native capacity for any description of intellectual productiveness, but in the fact, that the old restraints of French taste and French etiquette, notwithstanding the effects of the New School, have not yet been sufficiently cast off. The Swedes have prided themselves on being the French of the North—a fatal pride as it regards literary independence and originality; and one cannot avoid being struck with the wonderful contrast of the free-and-easy, and, so to say, very English bearing in actual life, of the Dane, with the profound bows and stately demeanour of the Swede. The recent and rapid advance of Swedish literature in other provinces than the lyrical, demonstrates that a greater intellectual liberty and a greater consequent literary renown await them.
But our object was here, not so much to trace the causes of the prevailing lyrical character of Swedish mind, as to point out the fact, and to explain on that ground the necessity of our refraining from too much extract. We have said that a great collection of lyrical compositions has the effect of a great collection of miniature paintings. There wants breadth and variety of design besides finish of execution, and therefore they soon tire. We are bound to keep this in view in our selections of specimens from Swedish authors, and that wi have a natural effect of reducing the amount of letterpro
on this literature. For these and the other causes