*Dalin, Olof von
Dalin, Olof von
Olof von Dalin’s name is preserved in Swedish history with something of a halo above it. He was not only the first author of weekly and monthly periodicals in Sweden, but was the founder of the important moral weekly in Sweden, Then Swänska Argus (The Swedish Argus), which enjoyed an overwhelming success and great popularity during the two years it appeared. Credit for issuing the first moral weekly goes to the brothers Carl and Edvard Carleson with their important journal Sedolärande Mercurius (Didactic Mercury), which appeared between June 1730 and October 1731. Begun anonymously in December 1732, Argus may have been founded to fill the gap left when the widely-read Carleson brothers’ journal ceased publishing. The public may have been surprised by the change, but they took to the Argus enthusiastically.
The Argus was actually an offspring—even an imitation—of the British weeklies the Tatler and Spectator of Addison and Steele, and sometimes published translated material from the British periodicals. The original material appears to have been written by one person, though many found it hard to believe that an unknown young man like Dalin could be the author of such a sophisticated and enlightened periodical. According to Greek mythology, the name Argus signifies a vigilant observer. Dalin not only proved to have a sharp eye, he also wielded his pen with flair and wrote on many subjects satirically—yet cautiously too, as befitted the times. He did not allow himself seriously to satirize the church or the monarchy; nonetheless, his writings about the character of Swedish clergymen managed to be both negatively critical and positively descriptive.
Like the British periodicals, the Swedish Argus was a champion of the Enlightenment and aimed to raise the level of culture in Sweden. Several subjects of concern to Addison and Steele—such as literary standards and social behavior—were also considered in the Argus. While Dalin’s essays were hardly original or unusual in style, nonetheless, as Ingemar Algulin explains in A History of Swedish Literature (1989), “their significance lies in Dalin’s ability to transfer the ideas to Swedish conditions and to fit the Swedish language to the demands of the genre: a realistic depiction of society, a nimble and satirical analysis of customs and societal conditions, an enlightening, effective discussion of ideas. Then Swänska Argus marks the beginning of a new period in the development of the Swedish language through its realism, its clear form and its effective means of expression.”
After its demise in December 1734, the Argus was sorely missed. Although the journal was of lasting importance and influence in Sweden, it did not evoke imitations. Nor did Dalin attempt to resurrect it or replace it with other journals; instead he turned to poetry and drama, and later produced the allegorical tale Sagan om hästen (1740; The tale of the horse), in which he relates the history of Sweden through the eyes of a horse. His popularity, begun with the Argus, accelerated; he was a favorite at court and in 1751 he was ennobled. However, his position vis-à-vis the Swedish court was not secure and he eventually lost his favored status.
Although Dalin was a champion of modern Swedish, he was not without connections to classical literature. He often cited classical sources: Plautus, Hesiod, Horace, Boileau, and numerous others. Thoroughly grounded in the classics, he was of the old school of the 18th century, which made use of antiquity’s literary models. La Bruyère had the greatest influence of any foreign writer besides the British on Dalin. Dalin said of La Bruyère that despite occasionally “losing himself,” his lively character sketches were invaluable.
While Dalin did occasionally write satiric essays on historical subjects, none was as sophisticated and widely read as his Argus.
Born 29 August 1708 in Vinberg. Studied at the University of Lund, 1721. Visited Stockholm, 1723, and moved there, 1727, where he was a tutor to various families.
Founder and principal contributor, Then Swänska Argus, 1732–34. Tutor to the crown prince (later Gustaf III), 1750. Ennobled, 1751. Associated with the salon of Queen Lovisa Ulrika. Tried for political intrigue: acquitted, but banned from the court, 1756–59.
Died in Stockholm, 12 August 1763.
Essays and Related Prose
Then Swänska Argus, 104 nos., December 1732–December 1734; edited by Bengt Hesselman and M.Lamm, 3 vols., 1910–19; selections translated by W.H.Carpenter, in Warner’s Library of the World’s Best Literature, vol. 10, 1917:4278–84
Other writings: two plays, the historical allegory Sagan om hästen (1740), the epic poem Svenska Friherten (1742), and a four-volume history of Sweden.
Hillman, Rolf, Svensk prosastil under 1700-talet: Dalin, Linné, gustaviansk talekonst, Stockholm: Läromedelsförlaget (Svenska Bokförlaget), 1970
Warburg, Karl Johan, Olof Dalin: Hans life och gerning: Litterturhistorisk Avhandling, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1884
Wikander, Ruth, Studier över stil och språk i Dalins Argus, Uppsala: Appelberg, 1924
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