Bird Droppings from Estonia: Happy Birthday University of Tartu! (1)
Archived Articles 11 Oct 2007 Hilary BirdEWR
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It’s 375 years since Gustav II Adolf (1594-1632) of the House of Vasa, king of Sweden, the Goths and the Wends, Grand Prince of Finland, Duke of Estonia and Karelia, Lord of Ingria, aka 'the Lion of the North' and idol of Napoleon Bonaparte, put the royal paw to a decree that there should be a university in Dorpat, Livonia, an eastern province of Sweden, in what was then one of the largest cities in the empire along with Stockholm, Riga and Tallinn.

The university was part of a network of imperial higher education, the hub of which was the university at Uppsala, near Stockholm, founded in 1477. There were four imperial universities when Sweden was a Great Power during the 17c. Tartu was the first 'new' university that opened its doors as the Academia Gustaviana in 1632. It was followed by the Royal Academy of Åbo (Turku), in Finland in 1640, the university of Griefswald in Germany, taken over on captured German territory in 1648 and the Academia Carolina, Lund, Sweden, in 1666. There were two primary reasons for the foundation of the universities and both addressed the needs of expansionist Sweden. The spiritual reason was the maintenance of Lutheran orthodoxy for a staunchly protestant power (the more cynical might say for keeping the population docile with the aid of a strong faith). The temporal reason was a need to train administrators. The authorities had an interest in seeing that the universities were not exclusively dedicated to the study of theology and practical subjects such as rhetoric, language and sciences, subjects useful to colonial administration, were encouraged from the highest quarter.

The official 2007 ceremonies - salutations from the great and the good, unveiling of monuments, a visit from Queen Silvia of Sweden, took place on October 4-6, 2007. More than 200 events will take place throughout the year including conferences, exhibitions, concerts and sports competitions. The entire city is done up to the nines. On 4th October there was a play about GA II in Jaani kirik (St John's) complete with a simulation of the conquest of Dorpat (Tartu) in 1629. Then the student associations, carrying firebrands, gathered in force outside the floodlit portico of the beautiful main building. There was much pomp and ceremony with speeches, bands, flags and singing as the procession wended its way up the hill under the Angel's Bridge with it's portrait in fire of the University portico to the cathedral ruins where there were some mighty fireworks and a mystery play.

HM Silv flew to Tartu from Stockholm on Friday. She had a busy day. In the morning she unveiled a monument to Johan Skytte (1577-1645), the Swedish scholar and a diplomat (in 1610 he was sent to London on seek - unsuccessfully - the hand of the daughter of James I) closely associated with the early university. Skytte was chancellor of Uppsala University, governor of Livonia, Ingria and Karelia and, in 1632, was made the first chancellor of Tartu University. After whipping the tarpaulin off Skytte the Queen went walk about. The afternoon was spent with the great and the good. A lecture entitled 'Universitas Tartuensis 400' was given, presumably not in Latin. Then, after a quick freshen up Silvy attended 'King Gustavus' Gala' in the Vanemuine Concert Hall. The gala was in two parts, classical and folksy. Part I was performed by the University ensembles and by soloists, including Russian soprano Svetlana Trifonova, who is still in Tartu. In the second part, the University singers, folk bands, brass band and the folk/jazz musicians of the Viljandi Academy of Culture performed traditional Estonian songs and dances linked together by snatches of runo-song. I watched on ETV, as the hoi polloi were not allowed in. The security, I noted as I trotted past the theatre on the night was worthy of Barbra Streisand! The classical concert was the usual high standard but the folk part was best. All the more touching for being redolent of the story of how Bengt Gottfried Forselius (1660? - 1688), pioneering pedagogue, Provincial Inspector of Schools and 'Bird Droppings' hero, took two Estonian children to meet the king of Sweden.

Forselius, a graduate of Wittenberg University, Saxony, espoused the principles of the Czech renaissance humanist Jan Amos Komensky (Comenius, 1592-1670). Komensky advocated that a child should be taught something easily understood, not by a dry scholastic method; that teaching should take into consideration a child's natural development; that education should be a science taught in a national context and that all children should be educated regardless of their social standing. Following these fine principles Bengt Gottfried founded a teacher training college under the aegis of the University to teach Estonian peasant boys to teach. In order to make the Estonian language accessible (a hero indeed!) he invented both a new orthography (including the use of the letter ä) and used it in an Estonian A-B-C primer. The Baltic German landlords complained bitterly that pupils were taken by the army or that they did not need education to work in the fields. Forselius countered this by taking two of his best pupils, Ignati Jaak and Pakri Hansu, to Stockholm. In a story that is the stuff of legend, the boys impressed King Charles XI (1655-97), who gave them a gold ducat each. Charles seems to have been rather a decent sort. He tried to end serfdom in the Baltic provinces (Sweden itself had never espoused feudalism) but German opposition proved too strong.

One of the boys that Forselius took to Sweden, Ignati Jaak (c1670-1741) became schoolmaster in his native village of Kambja, just outside Tartu, where, in 1686, he established the first school with Estonian as the language of tuition. He worked in the village for 40 years, where he was also the sexton. A large stone stands near a beautiful lakeside church in Kambja dedicated to 'The People's School, 1686' (Eesti Rahvakool). An ensemble of smaller stones in the churchyard is dedicated to the founders of Estonian education and literature. Forselius has a stone here. He was given the power to establish elementary school teaching in Estonian wherever he thought necessary in 1688 but was drowned as he returned from Stockholm. He was 28 years old. The training college closed, but the dynamic, energetic, Forselius, in four years, had trained, single-handedly, 160 schoolmasters in 46 schools with 1,000 pupils. The survival of the Estonian language owes a massive debt to Forselius and 'the good old Swedish times.' From this time Latin and German began, albeit painfully slowly, to give place to Estonian, books were no longer used exclusively by the clergy and Forselius' elementary school system, although it faltered and nearly died in the hard century that followed, had enabled basic skills and made possible a custom of reading and learning in the peasant home.

The atmosphere in the 17c Swedish domains was generally progressive. Queen Christina (1626 - 1689) invited some of Europe's most distinguished scholars to Stockholm. The Dutch Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), jurist, theologian, philosopher, playwright and poet, who laid the foundations for international law, represented Sweden at the French court from 1635 to 1645 and René Descartes, (1596-1650) died in Stockholm while serving as tutor to the queen. Descartes ('I think therefore I am') changed the relationship between philosophy and theology and is thus one of the most important Western philosophers of the modern age.

Alumni of the Swedish universities of Tartu include Sven Dimberg, (1660(?) - 1731), professor of mathematics, one of the first academics to teach Isaac Newton's revolutionary 'Principia' (1687) that more or less created physics as we know it. Urban Hiärne, (1641 - 1724), was a mix of old and the new. He was director of the first chemistry laboratory in Sweden whose main task was to make medicines for the army. But he was also a medieval alchemist who attempted to create gold and silver and the Board of Mines supervised his lab. All rounder Hiärne also introduced French classical tragedy into Sweden. Lars Micrander (? -1706) was professor of physiology, physics and chemistry who discovered mineral springs in Estonia and treated patients by drinking and bathing. Olof Verelius (1618-1682) translated Icelandic sagas. Finally, although he did not work at the university, Georg Stiernhielm (1598-1672), pioneer of linguistics and 'the father of Swedish poetry', came to Tartu with Johann Skytte. Stiernhielm contended that Old Norse (the Germanic language once spoken by Scandinavians) was the origin of all languages, and that the Nordic countries were the birthplace of the human race. His manor house near Tartu burnt down in a war in 1656 and Georg returned to Sweden; the estate remained the property of the Stiernhielm family until 1919 when it was expropriated and became an agricultural polytechnic.

After the student processions I waited around Toomemägi (Cathedral Hill) until most people had gone. Then I walked the fire-lit, tree-lined paths past the statues of the great poet, and the great scientist in their torchlight circles to the ancient sacrificial stone of Tarbatu, old when the crusaders came in 1224, surrounded by a semi-circle of bonfires, the path covered in fallen leaves and the air full of fragrant burnt wood... Aaaah, ancient voices. Later, on Sunday, I watched (from my bedroom window) the unveiling of the new monument to Yuri Lotman. Essentially the ensemble is the old Soviet fountain. It has three shallow rectangular basins that drain into one another. The water is fed from a tall tree-like sculpture that pipes water into the first basin. All the basins have a row of skinny jets of water that rise and fall and the whole ensemble is wonderful, especially at night because the basins are lined with lights that change from red to green to blue to white. Stunning! I went out at 23.00 last night to try and get some good pics. Then I decided to photo the illuminated theatre and a farcical scene ensued when I was nearly mowed down by a municipal leaf hoover that seemed to dog my footsteps as I searched for a good angle. What price art! ?
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