1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bellman, Karl Mikael

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BELLMAN, KARL MIKAEL (1740-1795), Swedish poet, son of a civil servant, was born at Stockholm on the 4th of February 1740. When quite a child he developed an extraordinary gift of improvising verse, during the delirium of a severe illness, weaving wild thoughts together lyrically and singing airs of his own composition. When he was nineteen he became clerk in a bank and afterwards in the customs, but his habits were irregular and he was frequently in great distress, particularly after the death of his patron, Gustavus III. As early as 1757 he published Evangeliska Dödstankar, meditations on the Passion from the German of David von Schweidnitz, and during the next few years wrote, besides other translations, a great quantity of poems, imitative for the most part of Dalin. In 1760 appeared his first characteristic work, Månan (The Moon), a satirical poem, which was revised and edited by Dalin. But the great work of his life occupied him from 1765 to 1780, and consists of the collections of dithyrambic odes known as Fredmans Epistlar (1790) and Fredmans Sånger (1791). Fredman and his friends were well-known characters in the Stockholm pot-houses, where Bellman had studied them from the life. No poetry can possibly smell less of the lamp than Bellman’s. He was accustomed, when in the presence of none but confidential friends, to announce that the god was about to visit him. He would shut his eyes, take his zither, and begin apparently to improvise the music and the words of a long Bacchic ode in praise of love or wine. Most of his melodies are taken direct, or with slight adaptations, from old Swedish ballads, and still retain their popularity. Fredman’s Epistles bear the clear impress of individual genius; his torrents of rhymes are not without their method; wild as they seem, they all conform to the rules of style, and among those that have been preserved there are few that are not perfect in form. A great Swedish critic has remarked that the voluptuous joviality and the humour of Bellman is, after all, only “sorrow clad in rose-colour,” and this underlying pathos gives his poems their undying charm. His later works, Bacchi Tempel (The Temple of Bacchus) (1783), eight numbers of a journal called Hvad behagas? (What you Will) (1781), in 1780 a religious anthology entitled in a later edition (1787) Zions Hogtid (Zion’s Holiday), and a translation of Gellert’s Fables, are comparatively unimportant. He died on the 11th of February 1795. Much of Bellman’s work was only printed after his death, Bihang till Fredmans Epistlar (Nyköping, 1809), Fredmans Handskrifter (Upsala, 1813), Skaldestycken (“Poems,” Stockholm, 1814) being among the most important of these posthumous works. A colossal bronze bust of the poet by Byström (erected by the Swedish Academy in 1829) adorns the public gardens of Stockholm, and a statue by Alfred Nyström is in the Hasselbacken, Stockholm. Bellman had a grand manner, a fine voice and great gifts of mimicry, and was a favourite companion of King Gustavus III.

The best edition of his works was published at Stockholm, edited by J.G. Carlén, with biographical notes, illustrations and music (5 vols., 1856-1861); see also monographs on Bellman by Nils Erdmann (Stockholm, 1895) and by F. Niedner (Berlin, 1905).