1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hallgrímsson, Jónas

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HALLGRÍMSSON, JÓNAS (1807-1844), the chief lyrical poet of Iceland, was born in 1807 at Steinsstaðir in Eyjafjarðarsýsla in the north of that island, and educated at the famous school of Bessastaðr. In 1832 he went to the university of Copenhagen, and shortly afterwards turned his attention to the natural sciences, especially geology. Having obtained pecuniary assistance from the Danish government, he travelled through all Iceland for scientific purposes in the years 1837-1842, and made many interesting geological observations. Most of his writings on geology are in Danish. His renown was, however, not acquired by his writings in that language, but by his Icelandic poems and short stories. He was well read in German literature, Heine and Schiller being his favourites, and the study of the German masters and the old classical writers of Iceland opened his eyes to the corrupt state of Icelandic poetry and showed him the way to make it better. The misuse of the Eddic metaphors made the lyrical and epical poetry of the day hardly intelligible, and, to make matters worse, the language of the poets was mixed up with words of German and Danish origin. The great Danish philologist and friend of Iceland, Rasmus Rask, and the poet Bjarni Thórarensen had done much to purify the language, but Jónas Hallgrímsson completed their work by his poems and tales, in a purer language than ever had been written in Iceland since the days of Snorri Sturlason. The excesses of Icelandic poetry were specially seen in the so-called rímur, ballads of heroes, &c., which were fiercely attacked by Jónas Hallgrímsson, who at last succeeded in converting the educated to his view. Most of the principal poems, tales and essays of Jónas Hallgrímsson appeared in the periodical Fjölnir, which he began publishing at Copenhagen in 1835, together with Konráð Gíslason, a well-known philologist, and the patriotic Thómas Saemundsson. Fjölnir had in the beginning a hard struggle against old prejudices, but as the years went by its influence became enormous; and when it at last ceased, its programme and spirit still lived in Ný Félagsrit and other patriotic periodicals which took its place. Jónas Hallgrímsson, who died in 1844, is the father of a separate school in Icelandic lyric poetry. He introduced foreign thoughts and metres, but at the same time revived the metres of the Icelandic classical poets. Although his poetical works are all comprised in one small volume, he strikes every string of the old harp of Iceland.  (S. Bl.)