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From Swedish Life in Town and Country by Oscar Gustaf von Heidenstam, 1911.

It is a bright summer evening, the 26th of July, and the streets of Stockholm leading out to the park of Djurgȧrden are crowded. The small steamers cutting across the harbour, and the tramcars running in rapid succession along Strandvägen, are full; the "taxometer" cabs fly past at a high pace, their drivers showing a not disinterested concern to get their passengers quickly to their destination; cyclists, men and women, scud by on the cycle path in close files, while the sidewalk along the houses facing the sea and the avenue of trees skirting the edge of the water are alive with gay crowds.

All Stockholm, that is, the Stockholm which is not out of town for the summer, at chateau, manor, or villa, the Stockholm of simple and hardworking folk, the small functionary and employee, the shopkeeper, the clerk and the seamstress, the petit bourgeois and the workman, with their families, women in gay summer dress, men in their Sunday turn-out,—these are all moving towards the park, bent on an evening's amusement, for it is the celebration of a national high-day.

It is "Bellman's day"; a day the true Stockholmer never forgets. Hence the crowds which are gathering round the poet's monument in the centre of the park to celebrate the anniversary of his birth a century and a half ago.

Bellman, the national poet, is dear to the heart of the Swede, and doubly so to the heart of the Stockholmer. His songs are as household words throughout the land. To the Stockholm-born, they speak of their daily life and surroundings, of the green isles and the shady banks of the Malar, the flowery woods of Haga, the smiling park of Djurgarden. Burlesque scenes of the life of the people, street tragedies, drinking bouts, and country-junketings; broad humour and nature's philosophy; lively fancies and exquisite landscape painting, such are the themes of his song, which from one generation to another has held the heart of the people spellbound.

Carl Michael Bellman, portrayed by Per Krafft 1779.jpg

Every man, woman, and child knows his favourite ditties by heart, has sung or hummed them in moments of joy or of sorrow. For his song is both joyful and sad. His joy is the joy of the simple-hearted, his gladness a Dionysian gladness, the very enjoyment of existence; his sadness, that of sympathy with suffering humanity, of anguish at the evanescence of life and happiness. His fancy oscillates between constant extremes and ever-recurring contrasts. It makes of his song, as Tegnér has so aptly defined it, "a sorrow decked in roses."

Bright, gay, enraptured, full of sunshine and glamour, like the summer day around Stockholm, it is traversed by a strain of melancholy like a smile through tears, the laugh which conceals a sob. There is symbolism and there is parody in his rustic figures, but they are so living, so real, they appeal so strongly to the innermost feelings, that they seem the embodiment of one's thoughts. His pictures are like those of the old Dutch painters: every trait in the rustic scene tells the life-story of some humble existence.

It is this characteristic which has made the poet appeal so powerfully to the minds of the people.

He seems to see with their eyes and feel with their hearts, and to have experienced all the vicissitudes of their own life. And yet he eminently reflects his own time, the gay, the light-hearted Gustavian era, with its classical fancies and rococo taste.

Bellmansbysten Bellmansro, Djurgården.jpg

Venus and Bacchus, the Nymphs and the Dryads, Hebe and Amor are mixed up incongruously with the homely scenes of Scandinavian life. His Dutch pictures assume then a Watteau-like colouring of extraordinary effect, as fancy and contrast enhance the sharp outlines of his figures and give their vitality still greater relief. They are so lifelike and so various that the whole of the everyday life of Sweden, and more especially of Stockholm, of the eighteenth century is unrolled before our eyes. As a writer has remarked, if every other book descriptive of the period were to fail, his verses would suffice to inform us how the middle classes then lived, thought, and felt.

Around the poet's monument his bust in bronze on a white marble column at Bellmansro (Bellman's Peace) in the park are now gathered, as they have gathered on this day of the year since the monument was raised in the early days of the dynasty, the crowds who love him and love his song. Every heart beats as the Bellman choirs burst forth in turn into the well-known melodies, composed or adapted by the poet himself to his words, and sung by him to the accompaniment of his lute. And song alternates with enthusiastic orations, addressed to the crowd by improvised orators, teeming with quotations of well-known lines. It is an orgy of Bellman's verse, such as the Stockholmer specially delights in. Bellman's songs generally form a sequence, a continuous chain of lyrical romance.

His Fredman’s Epistles are a sort of epic cycle of lyrics. This is a form often adopted by Swedish poets. We find it in Tegnér's Frithiof's Saga, in Runeberg's Sayings of Sergeant Stål (Fanrik Ståls Sagner); in a certain sense also in Snoilsky's Swedish Portraits (Svenska Bilder), although there it is the Swedish people whose adventures, in a sort of Légende des Sïècles, go through the whole cycle. It is a question, however, whether even by these master singers, in their more elaborate conceptions and genial flights of poetry, Bellman has ever been surpassed. In lyric power and vivid realism, his popular ditties are unrivalled.

Heidenstam, Oscar Gustaf von. Swedish Life in Town and Country. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1911.

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