Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig

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1708713Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Volume XI — Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig

GRUNDTVIG, Nikolai Frederik Severin (1783- 1872), the Danish poet, statesman, and divine, was born at Udby on the 8th of September 1783 ; in 1791 he was sent to live at the house of a priest in Jutland, and studied at the free school of Aarhuus until he went up to the uni versity of Copenhagen in 1800. At the close of his uni versity life he made Icelandic his special study, until in 1805 he took the position of tutor in a house on the island of Langeland. The next three years were spent in the study of Shakespeare, Schiller, and Fichte. His cousin, the philosopher Henrik Steffens, had returned to Copen hagen in 1802 full of the teaching of Schelling, and his lectures and the early poetry of Oehlenschlager opened the eyes of Grundtvig to the new era in literature that was commencing. The latter began to essay writing himself, but his first work, On the Songs in the Edda, attracted no attention. Returning to Copenhagen in 1808, he achieved a greater success with his Northern Mythology, and in 1809 with his Decline of the Heroic Life in the North. The boldness of his theological vievs having provoked opposi tion, he retired to a country parsonage for a while, but soon returned to pursue a literary career with extraordinary earnestness. From 1812 to 1817 he published five or six works, of which the Rhyme of Roeskilde is the most remark able. From 1816 to 1819 he was editor of a polemical journal entitled Dannevirke, and in 1818 to 1822 appeared his Danish paraphrases of Saxo Grammaticus and Snorre. During these years he was preaching to an enthusiastic con gregation in Copenhagen, but he accepted in 1821 the country living of Pnesto, only to return to the metropolis the year after. His theological career was, however, presently stopped, for, having in 1825 published a brochure, The Church s Reply, against the popular Dr Clausen, he was publicly prosecuted and fined. For seven years he was forbidden to preach, years which he spent in publishing a collection of his theological works, in paying two visits to England, and in studying Anglo-Saxon. In 1832 he ob tained permission to preach again, and in 1839 he became priest of the workhouse church of Vartou Hospital, a post he continued to hold until his death. In 1837 he published Songs for the Danish Church, a rich collection of spiritual poema; in 1838 he brought out a selection of early Scandi navian verse ; in 1840 he edited the Anglo-Saxon poem of the Phoenix, with a Danish translation. He visited England a third time in 1843. From 1844 until after the first German war Grundtvig took a very prominent part in politics. In 1861 he received the titular rank of bishop, but without a see. He went on writing occasional poems till 1866, and preached in the Vartou every Sunday until a month before his death. He was married thrice, the last time in his seventy-sixth year, and left children by each marriage. He died September 2, 1872. Grundtvig holds a unique position in the literature of his country ; he has been styled the Danish Carlyle. He was above all things a man of action, not an artist ; and the formless vehemence of his writings, which have had a great influence over his own countrymen, is hardly agreeable or intelligible to a foreigner. His spiritual poems are among the best that the North has produced, but they are apt to be too lung. The writings of Grundtvig have not yet been collected in a permanent form, but the best of his poetical works were published in a selection by his eldest son, Svend Grundtvig, the eminent comparative mythologist, in 1869, with a critical memoir by the poet Hostrup, who belongs to the religious body denominated Grundtvigians.