Ljubica Miočević, Bilder från Boo. Karl August Nicander – En Magus i Spådomskonsten (Images from Boo. Karl August Nicander – A Magus in Soothsaying)
The essay describes a deck of playing cards with a short handwritten inscription by the Swedish poet Karl August Nicander (1799–1839). The deck is dated 1 October 1834 at the Boo estate, where Nicander was staying in the home of his friend Hugo Hamilton. It is dedicated to a female acquaintance, one of Hugo's stepsisters, upon the occasion of her leaving Boo and returning home. Since there are no indications of any particularly warm feelings between Nicander and the woman, the versified deck should be considered as an unusual instance of occasional poetry functioning as a prestigious gift. The poet refers to himself as “A Magus in Soothsaying," and the inscriptions on the cards were meant to be used during fortune-telling games. The tone is playful and light, as the games were more a pastime than serious divination.
Interior scenes of the life at Boo are described, with particular attention given to games, interest in the supernatural (such as divination and ghost stories), and the occasional poetry; the different types of games mentioned include card games, patience, card tricks, and chess. Nicander's position as a destitute poet living in an aristocratic household is touched upon. His letters and almanacs give interesting examples of occasions when he was expected to deliver verse during birthday celebrations for members of the household at Boo. The epithet ‘society poet' that has sometimes been used to describe Nicander's strategies in the literary field is thus actualized.
Thematically, the inscriptions on the cards are discussed against the background of the rich flora of playing instructions and soothsaying games that flooded the Swedish market in the early nineteenth century. The popularity of card motifs in Romantic literature is discussed.
A deck of cards is also a material object in which the pictorial element dominates. The interplay of the text and images on Nicander's deck is analysed; the poet's persistent interest in printing techniques and the materiality of manuscripts are contextualized. A deck of cards with playful, semi-serious occult inscriptions by the hand of a Romantic poet is indeed an unusual object, but at the same time it embodies themes and ideologies typical of its time.
Key words: Karl August Nicander, playing cards, pastime, soothsaying, occasional poetry, Romanticism.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2012. Vol. 133, 166-222 p.
Karl August Nicander, playing cards, pastime, soothsaying, occasional poetry, Romanticism