Select orations, and other important papers, relative to the Swedish Academy/2
Neque quemquam magis decet, vel meliora scire, vel plura
DELIVERED BY HIS SACRED MAJESTY
ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE
MARCH 20, 1786.
To promote the welfare of my kingdom, has ever been my first object; to increase the glory of the Swedish name, my warmest wish. The fame of our country has long been diffused throughout Europe by our victorious arms: but, whilst its splendor has dazzled our eyes, it has too frequently excited sorrow in our hearts. Another species of fame is still reserved for our attainment, that which attends upon Literature and the the cultivation of the Liberal Arts — a fame which bids defiance to the ravages of time, and despises the transient celebrity of conquest. This is an excellence, however, which can only be acquired in seasons of public tranquillity. The spark of genius is indeed not unfrequently elicited by the rude conflicts of the warring elements; but in seasons of tumult and desolation, it is speedily smothered and expires. Extinguished by the tempests of war, the sacred embers of genius must be fostered into flame by the gentle zephyr of peace. While, however, the blessing of peace contributes to the prosperity and happiness of a state, still it must be confessed that it too frequently creates in the minds of men a barbarous indolence, and damps the ardour of that genius, which, under more favourable circumstances, would have enlightened and adorned the country in which it was produced. Such indeed is the nature of man, that he can be animated only by action, and must have strong motives to excite his mental powers. A state of tranquillity, so essential to human happiness, has a wonderful tendency to enervate the understanding, unless mankind are impelled to utility by the most powerful motives, and are prevented by the prospect of fame from sinking into a lethargic slumber, equally dangerous to individuals and to the community at large.
That emulation and energy, which are excited by the sciences and literature, are, during a season of tranquillity, the only means of preserving in the mind that ardour which prompts men to serve their country, and in every threatening danger to rescue it from ruin.
Unless, however, our language be cultivated in foreign countries, the merit of the best compositions will be little known; nor, until it be reduced to the œconomy of settled laws, is such a cultivation possible. Without good writers, a language will never rise into estimation; and, without established rules, it cannot be written with propriety.
For the accomplishment of these important purposes, I have this day founded an institution and I appoint you, gentlemen, to establish laws for the construction of the Swedish language, and to raise to perfection that structure, of which I have at this time only laid the basis.
To effect this, it is requisite that science, genius, learning, and taste, should all concur: but these are seldom united in one person. It became necessary, therefore, to establish a society, composed of members who felt an ardent attachment to polite literature, and who had devoted their lives to its cultivation; of men who, by extensive learning, had formed their judgments on the knowledge of ages; men who, in the highest offices of state, or in the common intercourse of social life, had from their infancy refined their taste, by that accuracy which their high offices require, and by the variety of characters which they have had an opportunity of examining; men who, of necessity, must attend to precision of language, to an accurate choice of words, and who, of course, must acquire that delicacy of sentiment, which appropriates to each term its exact meaning, and fixes the limits to which in its application it ought to be confined.
If such a society can accomplish the great object which I have in view, what may we not expect from the institution which I now establish, composed, as it is, of members so respectable? I esteem it no trivial glory, that, under my reign, so many noblemen of distinction, and men of eminence in the world of letters, have concurred in an enterprise, which promises to reflect so much honour on the Swedish language, and from which they will one day derive immortal fame. What may not the present age expect from an institution, illuminated in its origin by such a constellation of genius? But how much more important is the judgment of posterity? that posterity for whom you are to exert your talents; who, neither dazzled by the false glare of partial commendation, nor deceived by the cloud of contemporary censure, will see, with a distinguishing eye, the real value of each man's abilities; of that posterity, who, in the annals of the academy, will perceive the same names, which the records of the kingdom have consigned to the page of history; who will observe, that the first of the Swedish senators, the first among the founders of a learned society, is also the first member of this academy—a place which he occupies not only as an admirer of the liberal arts, but as a most accurate judge of every thing connected with taste and polite literature.
Next to him may justly be mentioned, as a deserving member of a learned society, a senator now absent, who, animated in the career of learning by that patriotic ardour which illustrates every action of his life, unites to the beauty of style the utmost delicacy of taste, and upon whose talents I mould still further enlarge, did I not apprehend that the tribute of gratitude, which truth demands at my hands, would be thought a studied encomium upon him, to whom I am indebted for my education.
To unite, in an advanced age, the most social temper of mind and the most elegant taste for composition, with the direction of a political department, which requires more industry than abilities, more accuracy than genius—a department which appears even calculated to extinguish these qualities, is a singular circumstance, a circumstance which proves more powerfully than any encomium, how much that senator, to whom I now allude, is likely to ornament and instruct the academy. The effects of his genius, preserved in the transactions of the kingdom, have already procured him a reputation, which, however, he is desirous of sharing with this society.
No person, however, can have a better title to become a member of an institution, destined to purify the Swedish language, than a nobleman who has so frequently addressed the general assemblies of the kingdom; who, with so elegant an arrangement, so luminous a perspicuity, and so irresistible an energy, has so often delivered his sentiments to his fellow-citizens. You revive, my worthy nobles, those times of ancient Rome, when the most distinguished citizens united the culture of the liberal arts with the highest offices in the republic; when, with the same voice with which they enforced the interest of their country, and with the same hand that signed the decrees of the senate, they enlightened their fellow-citizens, and not only adorned their language by the elegance of their own writings, but established its permanency on the certain foundation of unerring rules. What, indeed, is the purity of a language? What is the beauty of style? Is it not the expressing of clear thoughts in concise, strong, and perspicuous terms, to which ambiguous meanings cannot be assigned, and which exhibit sentiments in the same correct form in which they rise upon the mind? Does not every man perceive the advantage which the public would derive from this accuracy, in whatever most essentially regards the interest and peace of society? If treaties, conventions, and laws, were expressed in fixed, indisputable, and acknowledged terms, they would be no longer exposed to that obscurity, that doubt, those perpetual explanations, which often, to illustrate an obscure passage, entirely alter the wisest ordinances; and how many examples have we of the inconveniences which such explanations introduce! Our own annals will sufficiently exemplify this assertion.
With you, my worthy nobles, those gentlemen are this day united, who have both enriched and embellished the Swedish language; and in the midst of an assembly, whose talents are consecrated to the eulogy of the national heroes and benefactors, and whose anniversary festival is to be celebrated on the birth-day of the great Gustavus-Adolphus, how can that man be forgotten, whose name will ever be inseparably united with that of the illustrious hero, whose death he has with such pathetic elegance lamented? a poet, who combines the truest accuracy of taste, with those graces of style, which his natural sensibility, his well-known probity, and his amiable talents for conversation, have enabled him to acquire.
That accomplished scholar, who adorns with such elevated language those papers which issue from that office of the state which is under his administration, and who, in obedience to my commands, has written, with such truth and eloquence, the life of an aged and illustrious knight, who, commencing his career of glory under the Alexander of of the North, grew grey, and ended his days in my court: such an author has certainly the best claim to a distinguished seat in a society, the object of which is eloquence.
The poet, who, in so animated a strain, has celebrated the victories of Charles-Gustavus; whose writings, for more than twenty years, have adorned the Swedish language; by becoming a member of this society, certainly confers upon it more honour than he receives.
The interest of the academy could not have been better consulted, than by intrusting it to his care, who is the sacred depository of my future hope, and that of the nation; whose agreeable manner of communicating knowledge, whose extensive learning, and acquaintance with elegant literature, have gained him the esteem of foreigners, and have introduced him to that high confidential station which he now occupies.
To write history with truth and perspicuity, requires courage as well as learning; to render it elegant and useful, requires intelligence, philosophy, and taste. How extensive then are the claims of that member,<ref<Mr. de Botin, Counsellor to the Exchequer; author os a work entitled A Sketch of the History of the Swedish Nation; and of another On the Swedish Language, considered with regard to Conversation and Writing.</ref> and what assistance may we not expect from his superior talents, who has already so far promoted the object for which the academy is instituted?
On this occasion, it is impossible to forget those two poets; of whom, the one has, with so much elegance, introduced the heroes of Homer and Euripides on the Swedish stage, and who has expressed, with such exquisite sensibility, the passion of Cora and Alonzo; the other, who, with all the energy of poetry, has invoked from the grave, if we may be allowed the expression, the patriotic spirit of Gustavus Vasa, has exhibited that illustrious hero, who more than two centuries ago rescued our ancestors from the galling yoke of civil and religious bondage, and brought him before our eyes, once more to receive the glad homage of the Swedish people.
Two respectable prelates, whom I have not the satisfaction of seeing upon this occasion, have a just claim to be ranked amongst the members of this assembly; the one, at a period when history was a mere chronicle, has recorded, in a manly style, the exalted actions of Gustavus Ericson, and vindicated his son from the unjust aspersions with which his memory was stained; the other has, with all the graces of eloquence, inculcated divine truth, and, by fulfilling, in the most exemplary manner, the duties of his important station, has essentially improved the language, and refined the taste of the nation.
From writers thus eminent, the Swedish language may expect a new and glorious æra. The object which we have in view, is not unworthy the attention of those, who have sacrificed the whole of their time to the highest offices of the state. Nor am I destitute of other arguments, to justify an institution, which in itself possesses the utmost utility. I am not unconscious that there are some persons, who regard literature and the liberal arts as destitute of utility, as a species of luxury, which, being calculated only for the amusement of an effeminate people, ought to be banished from a manly and martial nation. Yet, what are the rewards to which the valiant aspire, if not to an immortal reputation? What probability is there that the deserving soldier would sacrifice his ease, and endure the invidious slander of his contemporaries, were he not supported by the hope, that an enlightened posterity would render justice to his fame? But how could this expectation be indulged, if no men of genius existed, to deliver down to futurity the eulogy of heroes? And, to an elegant mind, what duty more delightful, what occupation more worthy the leisure of the statesman, than to revive the memory of illustrious patriots? Who can more truly estimate the merit of human actions, and more justly represent them, than they, who, from their infancy, have studied purity of language; or than they, who, from a long acquaintance with the highest offices of state, have gained an intimate knowledge of the art of government?
To honour the memory of great characters, is to exhort their descendants to resemble them; it is to proclaim — Warriors, judges, statesmen, citizens! you who have inherited the names of heroes, or have succeeded to their rank, behold the tribute of gratitude which they receive from posterity, and render yourselves, if possible, worthy of equal honours: your names must appear before the tribunal of future ages; let not their lustre be obscured through your degeneracy; it is in your power to render them equally renowned.
Such is the important trust which I now commit to your care. I have endeavoured to discharge my duty: it remains for you to fulfil yours. While you contemplate with attention the records of past ages, you will take care to keep in view the judgment of the future; and this consideration will not a little enable you to deserve their applause.
- The senator Count Hopken, one of the first founders of the Academy of Sciences at Stockholm in 1739, and first member of that of the Belles Lettres when instituted in 1753.
- The senator Count C. F. Scheffer.
- The senator Count Hermansson, who was twice President of the Exchequer.
- The senator and field-marshal Count A. Fersen, who has been three times Speaker to the Diet.
- The senator Count T. G. Oxenstierna, First Lord of the Bedchamber to his Majesty; Grand Master of her Majesty's Household; author of an Ode on the death of Gustavus-Adolphus, and of many other pieces of great merit.
- Mr. de Schröderheim, Secretary of State; author of an Eulogy on Count Lieven, Secretary and Marshal of the kingdom.
- Count G. F. Gyllenborg, author of an Epic Poem entitled The March over the Bält, of The Man-Hater, and many other valuable works.
- Mr. de Rosenstein, Counsellor to the Grand Council of the Royal Chancery, tutor to the Prince Royal.
- Mr. Adlerbeth, Secretary to the King; author of the Tragedy of Iphigenia in Aulis, with choruses, performed in 1776; and of the Opera of Cora and Alonzo, represented in 1782.
- Mr. Kellgren, private Secretary to the King, and author of the Lyric Tragedy of Gustavus Vasa, performed in 1786, with great success.
- Dr. Celsius, Bishop of Lund, author of The Histories of Gustavus I. and of Eric XIV.
- Dr. Vingard, Bilhop of Gothenburgh, no less celebrated for his Sermons on various subjects, than for his Funeral Oration on the Death of the late Queen Dowager.