Dag Hedman, Some Misapprehensions Concerning Pehr Henrik Ling.
The essay deals with "the Father of Swedish Gymnastics", Pehr Henrik Ling (1776–1839), who was also a prolific author of epics, plays and poems. Its aim is to rectify certain misconceptions about his life and letters, partly originating in Ling's own time, and thus representing a tradition of almost 200 years.
There is a consensus, that Ling was an Herculean giant of enormous strength. Since physical strength plays an important role in his epics Gylfe (three versions: 1810, 1812 and 1814), Asarne (1816–1833), and Tirfing eller Dödssvärdet (Tirfing or the Sword of Death; written in 1820, printed in 1836), and Ling was the founder of Swedish Gymnastics, having written several theoretical works on gymnastics, health and fitness, it is easy to imagine how this myth has arisen. Contemporaneous sources show that Ling was small, thin and ailing all his life. The preeminence of athletic heroes must be explained in another fashion, i. e. in the light of the "moral-medical philosophy", according to which physical and moral strength are connected, health and virtue being eachother's companions as well as illness and vice.
Analogous to the myth of Ling's gigantic physical appearance, one finds exaggerated images of the size of his literary output. Generally one speaks of enormous quantities, with the bulky epics as the peak. Since the appreciation of Ling has been low amongst later generations of literary historians, the sheer mass of his literary production has been used as another sign of his weakness as an author. Speaking in quantitative terms, however, Ling comes in as number 3 in his generation of Swedish authors of belles lettres (2 655 pages) after Frans Michael Franzén (1772–1847; 2 782 pages) and Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793–1866; exceeding 10 700 pages). Since neither Franzén nor Almqvist have been criticised for their proficiency, it seems irrelevant to chastise Ling for the same reason.
Actually, it is peculiar that critics have not pursued the idea of Ling as an author of 'masses of literature' and thought of him in terms of an author of 'mass literature'. His æuvre is so clearly oriented towards the techniques and motifs of popular literature. Without doubt, his amalgamation of high and low, so typical for the Romantic movement, was too strong for Swedish critics of the time, being more Classical-oriented in their taste, and thus shunning Ling's juicy mixture of metaphysical speculations, eroticism, and violence.
The rumor of Ling being a gothomaniac is also refuted in the essay. Only slightly more than half of his plays deal with Gothic (i. e. Old Norse) themes (six of ten plays). In all of them – as well as in the epic Asarne – the victory of Christianity over the Old Norse religion is treated. In his preface to Eddornas SinnebildsLära (The Emblems of the Eddas; 1819–1820) Ling expressly wrote that one ought to use the Old Norse myths with caution.
The handbooks have generally denied Ling and his Old Norse themes any influence on Swedish art in the 19th century. Contrary to this established view, the present essay shows that he indeed was influential, not only during his life-time, but well through the century.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2002. Vol. 123, 5-49 p.