1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Geijer, Erik Gustaf

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GEIJER, ERIK GUSTAF (1783–1847), Swedish historian, was born at Ransäter in Värmland, on the 12th of January 1783, of a family that had immigrated from Austria in the 17th century. He was educated at the university of Upsala, where in 1803 he carried off the Swedish Academy’s great prize for his Äreminne öfver Sten Sture den äldre. He graduated in 1806, and in 1810 returned from a year’s residence in England to become docent in his university. Soon afterwards he accepted a post in the public record office at Stockholm, where, with some friends, he founded the “Gothic Society,” to whose organ Iduna he contributed a number of prose essays and the songs Manhem, Vikingen, Den siste kämpen, Den siste skalden, Odalbonden, Kolargossen, which he set to music. About the same time he issued a volume of hymns, of which several are inserted in the Swedish Psalter.

Geijer’s lyric muse was soon after silenced by his call to be assistant to Erik Michael Fant, professor of history at Upsala, whom he succeeded in 1817. In 1824 he was elected a member of the Swedish Academy. A single volume of a great projected work, Svea Rikes Häfder, itself a masterly critical examination of the sources of Sweden’s legendary history, appeared in 1825. Geijer’s researches in its preparation had severely strained his health, and he went the same year on a tour through Denmark and part of Germany, his impressions from which are recorded in his Minnen. In 1832–1836 he published three volumes of his Svenska folkets historia (Eng. trans. by J. H. Turner, 1845), a clear view of the political and social development of Sweden down to 1654. The acute critical insight, just thought, and finished historical art of these incomplete works of Geijer entitle him to the first place among Swedish historians. His chief other historical and political writings are his Teckning af Sveriges tillsånd 1718–1772 (Stockholm, 1838), and Feodalism och republikanism, ett bidrag till Samhällsförfattningens historia (1844), which led to a controversy with the historian Anders Fryxell regarding the part played in history by the Swedish aristocracy. Geijer also edited, with the aid of J. H. Schröder, a continuation of Fant’s Scriptores rerum svecicarum medii aevi (1818–1828), and, by himself, Thomas Thorild’s Samlade skrifter (1819–1825), and Konung Gustaf III.’s efterlemnade Papper (4 vols., 1843–1846). Geijer’s academic lectures, of which the last three, published in 1845 under the title Om vår tids inre samhällsforhållanden, i synnerhet med afseende på Fäderneslandet, involved him in another controversy with Fryxell, but exercised a great influence over his students, who especially testified to their attachment after the failure of a prosecution against him for heresy. A number of his extempore lectures, recovered from notes, were published in 1856. He also wrote a life of Charles XIV. (Stockholm, 1844). Failing health forced Geijer to resign his chair in 1846, after which he removed to Stockholm for the purpose of completing his Svenska folkets historia, and died there on the 23rd of April 1847. His Samlade skrifter (13 vols., 1840–1855; new ed., 1873–1877) include a large number of philosophical and political essays contributed to reviews, particularly to Litteraturbladet (1838–1839), a periodical edited by himself, which attracted great attention in its day by its pronounced liberal views on public questions, a striking contrast to those he had defended in 1828–1830, when, as again in 1840–1841, he represented Upsala University in the Swedish diet. His poems were collected and published as Skaldestycken (Upsala, 1835 and 1878).

Geijer’s style is strong and manly. His genius bursts out in sudden flashes that light up the dark corners of history. A few strokes, and a personality stands before us instinct with life. His language is at once the scholar’s and the poet’s; with his profoundest thought there beats in unison the warmest, the noblest, the most patriotic heart. Geijer came to the writing of history fresh from researches in the whole field of Scandinavian antiquity, researches whose first-fruits are garnered in numerous articles in Iduna, and his masterly treatise Om den gamla nordiska folkvisan, prefixed to the collection of Svenska folkvisor which he edited with A. A. Afzelius (3 vols., 1814–1816). The development of freedom is the idea that gives unity to all his historical writings.

For Geijer’s biography, see his own Minnen (1834), which contains copious extracts from his letters and diaries; B. E. Malmström, Minnestal öfver E. G. Geijer, addressed to the Upsala students (June 6, 1848), and printed among his Tal och esthetiska afhandlingar (1868), and Grunddragen af Svenska vitterhetens häfder (1866–1868); and S. A. Hollander, Minne af E. G. Geijer (Örebro, 1869). See also lives of Geijer by J. Hellstenius (Stockholm, 1876) and J. Niekson (Odense, 1902).