JOHAN GABRIEL OXENSTIERNA AF KORSHOLM OCH WASA (1750 19/7-1818 29/7)

 

A Biography

 

Presented to the Oxenstiernska Family Foundation

23/8 1997

By David Oxenstierna (Translations of Poetry also by David Oxenstierna)

 

As we study the historic members of the Oxenstierna family, we usually start with their political career and honorific awards.  The greatness of the family was first and foremost political, so it is only natural to focus first on dates and appointments.  Thus when we look up Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna in, for example, Elgenstiernas great biographical work, we read the following facts: born 1750 at Skenäs manor in Vingåker parish, Södermanland, son of major-general Göran Gabriel and countess Sara Gyllenborg (who was a daughter of privy councilor Johan Gyllenborg) and the oldest of four brothers.  He passed the Chancellery Elementary Exam in 1767, served in the chancellery 1767-70, and then with the Swedish embassy in Vienna where he became Secretary in 1772.  Called home to serve in the royal court in 1774, he was appointed a Chamberlain to King Gustaf III, a lord of the realm 1782, and Chief Chamberlain to the King in 1783 (in rank equivalent to lieutenant-general).   1785 he received his first political appointment as ex-officio member of the Privy Council, became a privy councilor in 1786 and President of the Chancellery (roughly equivalent to Chief Minister and Foreign Minister combined) in the same year, only 36 years old.   When the Privy Council was abolished in 1789 he was appointed Chief Marshal to the Queen, and in 1790 he became a Knight of the Order of the Seraphim (equivalent to the Order of the Garter) as well as the Order’s Chancellor.  In the same year he was appointed The King’s Minister in the king’s absence, and finally in 1792 he became Lord High Chamberlain.  He retired in 1801 and died in 1818.  He was one of the 18 founding members of the Swedish Academy in 1986.  He married Lovisa Christina Wachschlager, daughter of one of Sweden’s richest men, the Master of the Royal Household Gustaf Wachschlager.  They had one son, Gustaf Göran Gabriel, who was born in 1793 and died, unmarried, in 1860.

 

Evidently a remarkable career! One could be forgiven for thinking, based on this curriculum vitae, that he carried into the Gustavian age the great oxenstierna political tradition which was first started in the 15th century by Nils and Jöns Bengtson, brought to its greatest heights by Axel Oxenstierna, his brothers, cousins, and not least his son Erik, and then rekindled by the President of the Chancellery Bengt Oxenstierna towards the end of the 17th century before ending during the reign of Charles XII.  Does it not seem that, given all his titles and appointments (of which I have only mentioned a selection) that Johan Gabriel revived the proud old oxenstierna legacy, when the family during the mid-15th and for most of the 17th century dominated Swedish politics?

 

Add to this the fact that Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna was one of the greatest poets of the Gustavian age.  He was known not least as the favorite poet of the royal court, and this during the great flowering of the neo-classical and French influences on Swedish high society!   His poems Skördarne (‘The Harvests’) and Dagens Stunder (‘Book of Hours’) were regarded as perhaps the greatest examples of Gustavian Arcadian poetry, his memorial addresses over Gustavus Adolphus and Gustav III were superb, his diaries are intimate and amiable, and his translation of Milton’s Paradise Lost was widely admired.

 

How well does this picture accord with reality?  Upon closer inspection it becomes evident, in spite of all titles and honours, that Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna was virtually a political nobody, without any influence on Swedish politics.  He was, however, a poetic  genius of historic proportions who was unsurpassed as a representative of the neo-classical, Gustavian nature-poetry school, and who had a far greater influence on the next generation of romantic poets than is commonly assumed.  It is further likely, that Johan Gabriel could have become regarded as one of the greatest Swedish poets of all time.  Most of the contemporary literary circles praised him to the skies, he was the greatest talent of the literary club Utile Dulci, and a central figure in the creation of the Swedish Academy.  His best writing was completed before he was 24 years of age.  His enormous talent made him the favorite poet of the royal court, and the favorite entertainer; Gustav III counted him within his close inner circle of friends.  This points to Johan Gabriel’s talents, but herein lies also the explanation why his life became something of a tragedy.

 

The fact is that his poems are neither very well known nor well regarded today.  Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna is usually placed in the second ranking of Sweden’s best poets.  Many of his works seem to us difficult, filled with classical allegories, contrived language and really only covers a few subjects, centered around the memories of his youth at the manor Skenäs.  After a remarkably precocious early series of works, his serious poetic production slowed to a crawl at an early age.  He spent most of his adult life rewriting, expanding and making more sophisticated the works of his youth, and the result undoubtedly got worse for the effort.  The light spirit and romantic amicability which characterized his early poems, became with age more stylistic, equipped with old man’s wisdoms, and dressed up in classical allegories.  The nature-loving romantic of great raw talent became with age a poet accessible solely to the sophisticated literary circles in and around the royal court.

 

The key to Johan Gabriel Oxenstiernas tragically ebbing poetic talent lies, to a great extent, in what Martin Lamm calls the “tragedy of great lineage.”   After the reduction the oxenstierna family was quite poor.   He was economically entirely dependent on a hateful civil service career, while his illustrious name and native talent made him a central figure at the royal court.  He was awash in titles, but he was not equal to the responsibilities that came with the positions.  Because of his penury he could not avoid full-time work with court matters and never-ending demands for banal court poetry.  Over time, his poetic genius thus ebbed and died.

 

He was mostly a decorative piece for Gustav III, who worshipped the family name.  Axel von Fersen wrote in 1781: “This name in charge of the Ministry flatters the king’s vanity.  Like Gustavus Adolphus must Gustav III have an Axel Oxenstierna by his side.”  But the king soon realised that Oxenstierna was singularly unsuited for ministerial duties.  He was awkward, impractical, and without organizational skills.  According to contemporaries he was “unsuitable for management.” His inability to organize and to command the respect of his subordinates meant that his arrangements for court festivities often ended in near-disaster.  For example, at the confirmation ceremony of Duke Charles as King, Johan Gabriel was Lord High Chamberlain and was responsible for the arrangements.  General chaos ruled at the entrance march and at the royal palace, and when at last the King upon his entry into the Grand Ballroom had to wait for more than a quarter of an hour to be served, he summoned Oxenstierna and told him that “the King will remember this incidence.”  At the funeral of Gustav III, furthermore, Oxenstierna again was responsible for the arrangements, a task he handled so badly that several contemporaries complained.  Chief Minister Armfelt said at the time, somewhat apologetically, that “he is a man of great genius and a close friend of the King, but more at home with Virgilius and Horatius than with etiquette and ceremony.”

 

He was, however, irreplaceable at Court festivities, and was one Gustav III’s favoured companions.  His light, playful temperament, which was reflected in his malicious bon mots and epigrams, won over the friendship of the King and made Oxenstierna the acknowledged Court wit.  The Gustavian court life consisted of an endless string of receptions, masquerades, theater arrangements, operas, and other drama creations, and in all this he was the irreplaceable central figure.   

 

Judge from the following epigram, created at the spur of the moment when a portrait of the King was given as a gift to the Queen:

 

From her man the Queen Sophie received,

his painting, richly dressed in diamonds way.

But perchance if she had had her stay,

            There’d be less stones thus conceived

            and more in her own tray.

 

Or, upon sighting the bare-necked countess Dohna at Court:

 

What fields of bossom you let us see

our surprise beyond all speech!

Around their space, O Danae,

Can but a giant reach.

In vain thereon with normal hands

to their limits lovers struggle,

unless he meters their great lands

with Reverend Runboms fists a-juggle.

 

But it would be a considerable mistake to believe that Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna was mainly some kind of court jester, no matter how much his entertaining talents were appreciated by his contemporaries.  Rather, he possessed a weak and sensitive nature-loving soul that abhorred town life, the Court, its superficiality, political intrigues and stress.  In a letter to his wife he once likened his soul to an aspenleaf:  “There is not a breeze too minor,  by which it is not set in movement.”   He constantly longed to return to the country, to the manor Skenäs of his youth, to an Arkadian sentimental idyll where he could dedicate all his time to his poetic genius.  His illustrious name, education and extraordinary ability to entertain the royal court meant, however, that we has overwhelmed by titles and offices which he neither felt merited for nor actually desired.  Johan Gabriel was well aware of his shortcomings: when there was talk about appointing him to President of the Chancellery in 1785, he wrote to his friends Reuterholm and Gyldenstolpe:  “Now a bunch of people are putting me forward again, as they have on other occasions.  This is insane and can never be, as I am not competent for this post.”

His constant dream was to through his civil service career become economically independent, and thereby retire to his Skenäs in order to dedicate himself to poetry and quiet family life.   Instead his time and his poetic talent was consumed by endless court matters and not least never ceasing demands for situational poems, epigrams, and other works of drama, while his personal finances worsened to such a great extent that he could not plan for more than a few days ahead, and even the King had to guarantee a loan from one of Stockholm’s most infamous loan sharks.

 

“The tragedy of great lineage, which would haunt Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna throughout his life, met him already at birth.”  Thus commences Martin Lamm his delightful and sensitive biography of the poet.  His mother Sara Gyllenborg was only 23 when she obeyed her father’s wish to marry the 50-year old colonel Göran Gabrielsson Oxenstierna, commandant of Karlsten fortress.  For the Gyllenborgs, the greatest dynasty civil servants,  it was a realization of the principles of equality among the nobility to marry into the greatest name at the Swedish House of Nobility.    For the Oxenstiernas, who long ago during the reduktion lost their position of power and wealth, it was hardly insulting.  The name Oxenstierna had already obtained a ring of greatness past.

 

Johan Gabriel immortalized in his poems his father as a righteous and kindly landed patriarch, who ended his days as a major-general and died in 1788.  His mother was through her mother’s mother descendant from Erik Dahlberg, from whom Johan Gabriels childhood home Skenäs was inherited. Mother and son were very close.  She remained at Skenäs until her death, frequently cared for by her son.  When she died in 1812, Johan Gabriel found for the first time that his life at Skenäs was empty and cold, and was no longer the idyllic Eden he had loved since early childhood.  Until his mother’s death Skenäs represented all that was near and dear to him in life.  His great dream was always to be able to retire with his family to Skenäs and freely dedicate himself to poetry.  Skenäs is situated on a peninsula shielded on three sides by the little lake Kolsnaren, in the middle of Vingåkers parish south of Lake Hjälmaren.  It is surrounded by an enchantingly beautiful countryside; green leaf-wood groves, lime-trees and majestic oaks, meadows, hop-gardens, and mirror-like lakes.  The manor house buildings itself, build by Erik Dahlberg, consisted of two unpretentious wings.  But they were surrounded by a rococo garden, a park with a summer house and a temple, and further along was the finest landscape that Södermanland could offer.

 

Skenäs was already before Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna a home for the goddess of muses,

its Arkadian idyll dearly loved by the nature-loving poets of the day.  Here penned Johan Runius, Gustaf Fredrik Gyllenborg, and here was Gustaf Philip Creutz moved to write Atis and Camilla.  The center for poetic Skenäs was in Sundängen, a delightful little meadow overgrown with oaks and linden trees to the west of the manor house along the shores of lake Kolsnaren.  Here grew the old lime-tree with knotty branches and multiple trunks, which Gyllenborg celebrated thus:

 

Du gamla Lind! Du bygdens heder,

Som åt vår släkt i fyra leder

Och sist åt oss din skugga räckt!

 

Both Gyllenborg and his nephew and poetic brother-in-arms Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna loved to imagine the old lime-tree as the home for Sundängens protective spirit, whom they with increasing intensity summoned, the more they felt age and everyday hassles quelling their poetic inspiration.  A babbling brook passed through Sundängen on its way down from a miniature lake.  There was a “dark grove” in which Johan Gabriel remembered his first amorous encounters with Themir, who in real life was a housemaid at Skenäs but whom he until old age retained as a symbol of idealized love.  But his favorite place was down by the sea-shore, where he each evening would lean against a flat piece of rock in the shadow of a few old oaks and record the events of the day and his commentary on them.

 

Skenäs and its idyllic surroundings was central to virtually all his poetry.  Here he observed the changing hours of the day and the shifting seasons, with their different colours, forms and moods.  Here he partakes with predilection in the joys and worries of the local peasants.  He describes an idealized world of happy shepherds, riotous harvest-feasts, and an ever-present romantic tension; a veritable Arkadian Eden.   Accusing him for not being a realist, for viewing the peasants from the prism of a manor house window,   

however, misses the point.  Johan Gabriel was a neo-classical nature-lover who first and foremost tried not to describe but evoke feelings with a poetic paintbrush.  It is feelings that dominate his poetry.  Whilst his contemporaries Kellgren and Bellman may be more accessible for today’s audience with more direct language, shorter strophes and fewer allegories, Johan Gabriel’s poetry possesses a musical quality which aims at creating moods rather than describing.  Listen to the following verses from Natten (‘The Night”) out of Dagens Stunder:

 

Emottag, stilla Natt, mitt väsen i din hägnad!

Bekymrets likaväl som glädjens fägnad,

åt jordens varelser förkunna fridens bud.

Tag fästets tron igen, som lämnas dig av solen,

sträck ut din kaducé från en till andra polen,

            och världens vila bjud!

 

I kvällens sista spår, som släcks för jordens öga,

går natten äntlig opp.  På rymden av det höga

två björnar dra dess vagn i himlens öppna vidd,

och kring dess våta tak, varav hon överhöljes,

hon med en dyster vakt av mörkrets bilder följes,

            kring hennes intåg spridd.

 

Inbillningarnas tropp, de falska syners härad,

och oron som bedrar och villan som förfärar,

och skrämslan, fyllande med spöken dunkla skyn,

och vålnadernas dans i midnattstimmans möte,

och skuggor, hotande ur sina gravars sköte,

            vidskeplighetens syn.

 

Av deras härar följd, för dem hon lagar stiftar,

i mörkblå skuggors dräkt, den månens silver skiftar,

hon på sitt svarta hår en krans av stjärnor bär,

och ömsom från sin tron på söderns pol och norden

med vidden av sin famn omfattar halva jorden,

            som i dess lydnad är.

 

Då svepas på en gång i mörkrets dävna täcken

den rymd, där solen lyst, och den, där falska Näcken

befaller hotande, med treuddsgaffelns makt,

den skog, vars dunkla höjd mot skyarna försvinner,

och fälten, där man mer ej någon lämning finner

            av alla färgers prakt.

 

Hon sänder Sömnen ut.  Hans nattens intåg följde

och själv i hennes famn, där skuggan honom höljde,

låg som ett menlöst barn i vänlig dvala sänkt.

Hans hjärtas milda frid är i hans anlet målad,

och på hans friska hy, av ungdomen bestrålad,

            är hälsans purpur stänkt.

 

Men snart, förskingrande den trötthet honom tvingar,

han över jorden far på daggbestänkta vingar

av dimman drypande, som höljts ur Lethes älv.

Förgätenhetens lugn i alla känslor gjutes,

och mänskan i hans band, där hon med vällust slutes,

            begär sitt fängsel själv.

 

Så syns det gudabarn, som himlen fordom sände,

när äntlig, ömkande de dödligas elände,

han ägnade en tröst åt deras plågors tid.

Då sändes sömnen ner, av aftonrodnan buren,

följd av hugsvalelsen och hälsad av naturen

            och varelsernas frid.

 

Natten is perhaps the foremost of Johan Gabriel’s pure abstract poems, wherein his pronounced mystical orientation and love of mythology is given full accord.  He was a neo-classical thinker who adored the mythological allegories and circumlocutions.  Even in his more prosaic work, the great Skördarne (“The Harvests”), which describes in detail the various harvests carried out by the “shepherds” around Skenäs, he insists on elaborate euphemisms.    Thus bees become “thy assiduous honey-troop”; sheep are called “wool’s tender flock”; to take a bath is “cool summer’s fires in Naiads’ embrace”; a ship is “fir’s ripe forest, by axe compos’d,”  and so on.  But sometimes the strophes become so artificial that they become dry, and Johan Gabriel’s poetic flair turns heavy.  For example the rye-mowing is thus described in Skördarne:

 

Thy curv’d steel, whose edge the dense growth cuts,

splits the very air, which by its touches wails,

and screeches ‘midst the hay, the dry straw curtails.

 

The criticism often raised against him is that his language is so convoluted it does not please.  In a way this is also a tragic irony.  Johan Gabriel, the nature-lover who ever longed away from dirty, hectic Stockholm wished no more than singing the praises of his beloved Södermanland-landscape around Skenäs.  In his youth his language was lighter, airier and perhaps more enchanting.  But over the years his classic literary education and maybe his aristocratic instincts gained the upper hand.  He become a personification of erudite poetic elegance.  Only academics and the educated circles of the royal court knew to appreciate his poetry - and in ways more than one these very folks were people he sought to evade.

 

The main two elements characteristic of Johan Gabriels poetry were thus a deep love for nature expressed in emotionally melodic Arcadian sentiments, but also richly dressed in mythological allegories and a circumluted language.   He lived the transition between neo-classicism and romanticism; Martin Lamm calls him a post-classicist and perhaps the first Swedish romantic.  He was a typical representative for the generation that could only relate reality when dressed up in Arkadian lustre.  But it was precisely to evoke these beautiful emotions that countryside’s realities were so enchantingly dressed up; banal everyday life was not a suitable subject for Johan Gabriel’s Rosseauesque nature-reverie. 

 

A third element was Nordic archaic symbolism.  Johan Gabriel was deeply rooted in his native countryside and his Skenäs, and here lay a rich store of antiquities for a romantic.  Vingåker (his parish) once was called Vikingakir (Viking-abode) and was believed to have been the home of the vikings when they returned in the winter after plundering far afield.  In the vicinity of Skenäs lay the steep, spruceclad Uvberget (“eagle-owl mountain”), which Johan Gabriel in his 1805 diary thus described: “There one finds remains of an old encircling wall, which they say was a viking-nest, and trolls and treasures too.”  Here the sea-captains of yore had carried their plundered treasures.  Here they sat on benches during mid-winter sacrifices, passing the rune-inscribed mead-horn round and round whilst the bards with harps sang to their victories.   He thought he saw the graves, where vikings now rested dressed in wartime armour:

 

....dessa ekars skog i Vikingarnas länder,

Som, växt ur kämpars mull och med sin vida rot

I deras gravar fäst vid ättehögens fot,

Vid jordens midnattstid i skydd av sina grenar,

Bland grifteeldars sken emellan runans stenar,

Ser deras vålnader från skuggors tysta värld

Ur högen resas än och skaka sina svärd?

 

He was probably the first Swedish author with the love of medieval times which everywhere in Europe now proclaimed romanticism’s arrival.  His archaic passion also expressed itself in an instinctive patriotism and frequent longing for home whenever he was not at his beloved Skenäs.  It was that sentimental love of country that decorated many of his poems with archaic symbolisms, and these had a very great impact on the next generation’s poets.  Amongst others Skördarne was an inspiration for Tegnér’s very well known Svea.  Johan Gabriel also wrote Disa which become regarded as the perhaps the foremost Gustavian archaic poem.

 

Johan Gabriel’s instinctive patriotism also came to fore during probably the only instance when his actions had a political impact.  When Gustav III went to war against Russia in 1788 Oxenstierna was allowed for the first time to accompany the King’s on a foreign trip.  He had then already been President of the Chancellery (Chief and Foreign Minister) for two years!  It was not a new-found confidence in Oxenstiernas statesmanship which brought this on.  The King’s campaign was dressed up to evoke Gustavus Adolphus actions, and naturally Oxenstierna was required to complete the picture.  For the first time Johan Gabriel felt he was at the center of events.  After the failed attack on Fredrikshamns the king sank into a deep depression, to such a degree he only thought of how to abdicate the throne with royal honour intact.  The well-being of the country concerned him not - or so thought Oxenstierna.  He had obtain the indelible expression that the king was incapable to manage Sweden’s business and release the country from its crisis.  For the first time as President of the Chancellery he felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders.  He put now into motion a plan which aimed to force the king to make peace, through an agreement within the House of Holstein which would create a defensive alliance between Sweden, Denmark and Russia.   The King eventually did recover his hope and his courage and quite without Johan Gabriels help, so the plan came to naught and indeed put Oxenstierna in temporary disfavour.  But Johan Gabriel had displayed a sentimental patriotism, a dreamy love of country which evidenced a strong moral courage to act with no regard for personal advantage or safety.  During this time Johan Gabriel was strongly engaged in the matters of state, but it was to be both the first and last time his actions was of political import.

 

Johan Gabriel’s sentimental patriotism not only coloured his language, but also motivated him to write some of his finest works.  While stationed in Vienna 1770-74 he suffered from permanent and unrelenting homesickness.  During this period he wrote Skördarne, Morgonen (“Morning”) and Natten.  Throughout the following 20 years they were constantly rewritten and expanded, and usually grew worse for the effort.  One of the tragic aspects of Johan Gabriel’s life was his pronounced aristocratic disposition, which cared little for publishing his creations.  Thus the poems of his youth went public decades past the writing, ever rewritten with stylistic zeal.  The originals from Vienna were discovered (in the archives of Wernberg) not before this century, and published in the 1960s.  His youthful talent is abundantly in evidence.  We recognize in Skördarne the bay near Skenäs, where girls are frolicking in summer waters:

 

To bays nearby youthful girls they race,

to cool summer’s fires in Naiads’ embrace:

Around silent waves that bathe the sandy white

A wall of huddled trees protect the shallow bight

And opens their circle with round shadowy peace   

To Midday-Sun’s eye and southern wind’s breeze

 

And we hear time and again his wish to return to the country to live the good simple life as a peasant side by side with his beloved:

 

Hur lycklig vore jag, om i Naturens rike

Mitt öde unnat mig att vara eder like:

Om Hilldur till Er näjd med mig sin tillflykt tog.

Jag skulle i vårt tjäll, vid brynet av en skog,

Er enfald få igen och edra nöjen äga.

 

With few exceptions his great works of poetry did not improve with all the alterations.  One of the exceptions is the metamorphosis in the fifth song of Skördarne.  The lovers Ophion and Eurynome, a mermaid concealed as a shepherdess have been separated by a sea rising beyond safe levels.  Ophion sees Eurynome far out in the water, and throws himself recklessly into the waves to die with her.  But he finds an oak-tree in the water, and swims on it out to Eurynome.  Now occurs the great miracle.  The oak metamorphosizes:

 

I rundning av en båt, som klyver böljans lopp

Hon vidgar ut sin stam, och hennes forna topp

Till bildning av en mast på nytt sin spira höjer:

I sammanvridna tåg hon sina kvistar böjer;

Och lövet, som förut dess krona har betäckt,

I segel hopaväxt, rörs än av vädrets fläkt.

 

Ophion now realizes he has tried to save the life of a goddess.  Eurynome acknowledges, and invites him to share her divinity.  And now rises from the deep blue sea her revered father, “The Old Ocean”:

 

Bland böljans underdjur och Thetis Gudatropp;

Som följa, simmande emellan Havets möjor,

I deras spridda hår och deras ljusblå slöjor,

Den vagn av pärlor byggd på hjul utav kristall,

Där Havenas Monark på bäddar av korall,

Emot sin treudd stödd, är av Delfiner dragen

Så plöja böljans väg, av deras stjärtar slagen,

Och spruta henne opp i vattenkonsters språng,

Vid ljud av Tritons horn och vid Sireners sång.

Med vördnad Asurns fält, förgyllt av solens lågor,

Sig jämnar för hans fart och sänker sina vågor.

 

These lines are the cream of Skördarne.  None less than Tegnér opined that they were “verses scribed in heaven .”

 

During his time in Vienna Johan Gabriel also wrote Den Naturliga Gudaläran (“The Natural Religion”) or Oskuldens Religion (“Innocence’s Religion”) as it was originally called.  It is priceless for understanding his world view.  The second half of the 18th century was a religious period of transition.  Among the aristocracy it was good form to laugh at priests and make travesty of biblical language.  For many this implied no lack of faith.   But for some these doubts attacked their central beliefs and created a crisis of faith.  Johan Gabriel belonged to this group, which usually accepted as the alternative a “natural” religion.  They rejected the Revelations around which the church was built, and instead constructed their faith on a higher being and the after-life.  Their beliefs were argued on rational grounds and borrowed heavily from deism, whilst the moral convictions arose from a warmhearted sentimentality which borrowed from Christianity.   Rousseau was their foremost prophet on the Continent, and in Sweden Oxenstierna become the first proclaimer.   It was an abstract and clouded religion of sentimental emotions which was rather better at pointing out the absurd in the ceremonies of the established Church than preaching a new faith.  Oxenstiernas writings became for many in the next Swedish generation a personification of man’s own love of virtue; it is really his own sentimentality the poet worshipped in his poetry. Den Naturliga Gudaläran had a considerable impact - it was perhaps Oxenstiernas most influential work. Tegnér declared himself ecstatically inspired.

 

This “natural religion” suited Johan Gabriel’s spirit well, but it hardly addressed his inner crisis of faith.  After Den Naturliga Gudaläran he wrote Ode till Hoppet (“Ode to Hope”) and Ode till Ödet (“Ode to Faith”). Ode till Ödet rejects, with extraordinary passion, the belief that the world is governed by a benevolent and forgiving Providence, which he had so warmly proclaimed in Den Naturliga Gudaläran.  Free will is “an empty fiction.”  This depressingly bleak view of life could be balanced, as expressed in Ode till Hoppet, only by personal virtue and by “hope.”  Hope, argued Oxenstierna, is built around illusions and is what can make life endurable, no matter how illusory.  These illusions are more valuable than anything else in our lives; they “gild man’s prison.” 

 

Hoppet and Ödet might be reconciled with Den Naturliga Gudaläran, but they evidence to strongly rooted faith.  Johan Gabriel continued throughout his life to search for alternatives.  This partly explains why he became one of the most enthusiast adherents of the Gustavian Freemasons, which counted amongst its members Gustav III, Duke Karl, Reuterholm, and Gyldenstople.  Freemasonry rooted him to concrete issues, whilst the rousseauesque deism was too abstract.  He participated in numerous seances, apparently successful in conjuring up forebears and the like.  He accepted uncritically the magic tricks of Gustavian freemasonry, and even according to his brothers-in-faith he was thoroughly duped Gustav the Third’s charlatans.  Perhaps the explanation lies within Ode till Hoppet: illusions is practically all men can put their faith to.  Johan Gabriel simply refused to lose the many beautiful memories experienced through the brotherhood of freemasonry. 

 

How to summarize Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna?  His lack of will-power meant he could not or would not involve himself in the political events which through his lineage he was surrounded by.  His destitution oppressed him throughout his life.  After inheriting Wernberg from a distant female relative in 1797, he founded in 1798 “a small house which God willing will be my sanctuary, in a few years.”  He wrote further that “It will be of wood, lies protected, surrounded by water and leaf-forest and is enough to house myself, my wife, my son and Virgilius.”  But when the house was finished he was compelled to let it.

 

He was a weak and enchanting personality of poetic genius.  With his sensitivity, mysticism and love of nature’s moods he leaned closer to the advancing romanticism than to the rousseauesque revolutionaries.  His pronounced aristocratic disposition worked inwards and towards the refinement of his personality.  When his peaceful, melancholy love of nature is at its warmest,  it appears to us as love of home, of hearth, as a belief in the innate ability of dead objects to preserve for him moods of yore, and as a recognition of each individual’s duty to his past.  And it is perhaps here that Johan Gabriel made his greatest contribution.  Through his cult of home and hearth and childhood memories he opened one of the richest veins in future Swedish poetry.

 


SOURCES:

 

Frykenstedt, Holger. J.G. Oxenstierna.  Skördarne, en proviens- och motivundersökning.  Stockholm Studies in History of Literature, no. 6 (1961).

 

______________,       Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna och Finland. 

Helsingfors: Tilgmanns tryckeri 1972.  (Särtryck ur Skrifter utgivna av Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland).

 

______________,       Poetens Historia.  Carl August Ehrensvärd och

Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna, konstellation i vänskapens och poesins tecken.  Stockholm, 1969.  (Nationalmusei Skriftelser 16.)

 

Lamm, Martin.  J.G. Oxenstierna - En Gustaviansk Natursvärmares Liv och Dikt.  Stockholm:

                                    Hugo Greber, 1910.

 

Oxenstierna, Johan Gabriel, ed. Konung Gustav IIIs skrifter. 1806.

 

______________, Det förlorade paradiset. Översättning, “The        Paradise Lost” av John Milton.

 

______________, Skördarne. Skaldedikt i tre sånger (1772-1773).

Den första, hitills otryckta versionen efter författarens originalmanuskript, jämte Kellgrens anmärkningar. Inledning av Holger Frykenstedt. Efterskrift och noter av Sven G. Hansson. Stockholm: Sällskapet Bokvännerna, 1957.

 

______________, Stockholm: Johan Pehr Lindh (övers.) 1796. (190 sidor).

 

______________, Dagboksanteckningar....Åren 1769-1771.

Svenska Litteratursällskapet, 1881.

 

______________, Ljuva Ungdomstid. Dagbok 1766-1768.

Fyris-Tryck, Uppsala (Bokgillet), 1965.

 

______________,       Journal för året 1780.  Författarens original-

manuskript, för första gången utgivet, av Holger Frykenstedt.  Lund: Gleerup, 1967.

 

______________, Arbeten. Vol I, II, III, IV, V.

Stockholm, 1805-1826.

 

______________, Caracterer, portraiter och epigrammer samlade

utan ordning af tiden, och som jag igenfunnit dem på lappar.  Utgivna med anmärkningar och kommentarer av Holker Frykenstedt, Stockholm: Bonniers, 1956.

 

______________, Dagens stunder.  Poeme I fyra sånger....Den

första, hitills otryckta versionen efter författarens originalmanuskript med en inledning av Holker Frykenstedt. Stockholm, 1962. {KB}

 

 

______________, Journal. Skenäs 1805 (Journal för mitt och

Göstas vistande på Skenäs 1805). Efter författarens original-manuskript, för första gången utgivet av Holker Frykenstedt [med porträtt].  Stockholm, 1964.

 

Schuck, J.H.E.; Levertin, O.  Mitt Minne (J.G. Oxenstierna.). Svenska memoarer och bref,

                        vol.1 1900.