Latvia Literature in the Early Age
The various events of Latvian literature are closely connected with the history of the Latvian people. Just as the Latvian language is, together with Lithuanian, the most archaic of the European languages, so too the popular literature of the Latvians contains elements that date back to prehistoric times. But the fact that the collections of Latvian folk songs do not predate the second half of the century XIX requires a very careful and prudent critique for the understanding and study of this rich poetic heritage. To this is added another fact that profoundly characterizes the past and the mentality of the ancient Latvians: the Latvian folk songs, the dainas (see below: folklore), are exclusively lyrical: myological songs, of family life, songs of even more or less pagan festivals, of daily life, of love, etc.; – no name and no historical fact, no reference, neither generic nor particular, to the many centuries of freedom and subsequent political submission, in which the aesthetic conception of the life and nature of this people developed, under certainly unfavorable conditions. The dainas reveal a pure conception, full of love and nobility, of family life, and an ancient and essentially artistic interpretation of nature. Moreover, the Latvians lack any trace of an ancient dramatic literature and there are no sure indications to admit the existence of an epic literature.
The beginnings of written literature date back to the century. XVI, and are connected with the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and also with the humanistic movement which in Livonia, compared to the other states around the Baltic (the ancient Hanseatic cities, Sweden, etc.), had a flourishing development. The first news about the adaptation or version of church texts or songs belong to the beginning or the middle of the century (for example, the Pater Noster in the Cosmography of S. Münster, edition of 1550). The Catechismus Catholicorum dates from 1585, the Enchiridion from 1586Lutheran. Note, in the beginnings of Latvian literature, the efforts of the Jesuits for the creation of a religious literature (Tolgsdorf, Elger and others): efforts that represent the survival of the great projects of A. Possevino and of the Polish king Stephen Bátory, master in those times of Latvia, to establish a polyglot university in Livonia.
The true development of Latvian literature, however, dates back only to the 10th century. XVII, from the time that the northern part of ancient Livonia belonged to the Swedes. It was then that G. Mancelius, rector of the new university of Dorpat (Tartu) and eminent humanist, composed the famous Lang – gewünschte Lettische Postill (1654) in Latvian, a collection of sermons that soon became popular. Earlier he had demonstrated his attachment to the Latvian language with his Lettus, das ist Wortbuch sampt angehengtem täglichen Gebrauch der lettischen sprache (1638). After him Chr. Fürecker, German by origin, but Latvian by family ties and by election, composed (1685) a large number of Lutheran hymns with a powerful and truly profound expression. Finally E. Glück, adoptive father of Catherine I, gave the Latvians the first complete version of the Bible: classic version for precision and expressive force. The end of the seventeenth century is also rich in research on language (dictionaries by G. Elger and Lange, grammar by Adolphy, poetics by Wischmann and others).
Less important are the contributions to the Latvian literature of the century. XVIII. Some Protestant pastors, including GF Stender (Stender the Elder, 1714-1796), have provided examples of narrative and didactic literature. At the same time, although hampered by the taste of the time, interest in popular traditions began to arise.
At the time of the Sturm und Drang this interest took on new vigor under the influence of Herder and J.-J. -Rousseau. Above all, the latter greatly influenced the literary career of the Riga historian and journalist Garlieb Merkel (1769-1850) who, despite having written his works in German, belongs to Latvian literature for his patriotic fervor and the impetus of revolutionary ideas that brought a new current of pure air into the unhealthy and suffocating atmosphere of ancient Livonia (see especially Die Letten, 1796 and Lieflands Vorzeit, ein Denkmal desRitter – und Pfaffenthums, 1797-99). Not only in the sphere of social reforms, but also in the intellectual field and even more in the development of national consciousness, the great events of the beginning of the 19th century have profound repercussions in Livonia. The beginning of Latvian journalism belongs to this period: Latweeschu Awizes (The Latvian newspaper), founded in 1822 in Jelgava (Mitau) by the Protestant pastor Watson. Furthermore, the literature of the time, now represented by writers of purely Latvian origin (Leitāns, Līventāls, Dūnsbergis and others), while partly reflecting outdated motifs of the century. XVIII, becomes more and more spokesperson for new social and political conceptions.
The real national awakening in Latvia, however, is due to the generation that, born around 1830, carried out its activity especially in the last decades of the century. XIX. The movement began first in Moscow and Petersburg, where circles of Latvian intellectuals had already formed. The Moscow club headed by the political agitator, organizer and writer Kr. Waldemārs (1825-1891) was the most prominent. Among those who, following his directives, were constructing the new edifice of national consciousness, the poet J. Alunans (1832-1864), the fervent patriot Atis Kronvalds (1837-1875), the classic collector of Latvian dainas Kr. Barons should be noted. (1835-1923)
Alongside these radical representatives of the new movement (also called “jaunlatvieši”, young Latvians), there was also a more moderate current, inclined to compromise with the ancient religious and pedagogical tradition. The noble figure of Juris Neikens (1826-1868) emerges.
After the first polemical struggles (especially against the uncompromising representatives of the Balto-German aristocracy), Latvian writers, adhering to a belated romanticism, chose, for their poetic compositions, heroic and tragic themes of the Latvian past, in the first place. of the fatal arrival of the Teutonic Order in Livonia. Patriotic sentiment is deep and sincere there; good and sometimes even perfect the artistic form. The ballads of Auseklis (pseudonym of Krogzemju Mikus, 1850-1879), have almost risen to hymns of the Latvian people, to whom the epic L āč pl ē sis (Bear hunter) by Andrējs Pumpurs (1841-1902) gave heroic figures that perpetuate the centuries-old struggle between two peoples in art. The richness of folklore was exploited by J. Lautenbachs (1847-1928), who also attempted to blend ancient legends into a new epic unity.
At the same time, the Kaudzites brothers (especially Matiss, 1848-1926) created the costume novel based on the life of Latvian peasants, describing an era full of changes.
In the meantime, materialist currents were becoming increasingly pressing in Latvia as well. A talented poet, a scholar of Horace, foretold and sang its advent: Eduards Veidenbaums (1867-1892). The “new movement” (jaun ā str ā va) naturally resulted in the great revolt of 1905 and its most eminent representative was one of the greatest Latvian poets in general: Rainis (pseudonym of Jānis Pliekšans, 1865-1929) in whose works the ideals of patriotism and socialism appear fused, while their poetic form (especially that of dramas) shows a predilection for symbolism and even for mysticism. Alongside him we must remember Aspazija (pseudonym of Elza Rozenberge, wife of Rainis, born in 1868) known as a lyric poet and even more as a proponent of female emancipation.
The last 25 years of the century. XIX and the beginning of the century. XX are well represented even in the purely national and bourgeois field. Andrievs Niedra (born 1871) introduces a lively exposition and an eventful psychology into the novel; Rudolf Blaumanis (1862-1908) creates a cycle of dramas and comedies which reflect, with gracefulness of movements, the Latvian life before 1914; Jānis Poruks (1871-1911), delicate and melancholy pensive poet, perceives characteristic traits of the Latvian soul glimpsed “through the mists of the end of the century”; Vilis Plūdonis (born in 1874) and Anna Brigadere (born in 1861) enrich the literature with good patriotic, historical and contemporary poems; Finally, Eglīts (born in 1877), together with companions who gathered around him, introduced the
All three addresses of Latvian literature had more or less the same aims: 1. to free the aspirations of the reborn people from the tradition that was too local and too tied to the unsteady equilibrium of the ancient “Baltic governorates”; 2. to extend the horizon even beyond the barriers – Germanic and Slavic – which limited the possibilities for the development of Latvian thought. World war and emigration did the rest. The Latvian literature of the last 15 years, relying on the good authors of the last century, turns above all to the traditions of the Latvian past, or tries to interpret the complex and interesting conditions of the present life. Among the most original and vigorous writers of this period we mention: Eduards Virza (pseudonym of Lieknis, born in 1883), creator of the new Latvian epic, critic and journalist; Kārlis Skalbe, lyricist who with fine intuition reveals the intimate qualities of the heart of his people; Jānis Sudrabkams (pseudonym of Arvids Peine, born in 1894), sensitive, delicate, exquisitely modern poet; Aleksandrs Grīns (born 1895), author of compelling historical novels about the Livonian Renaissance. Among the poetesses they have secured a sure fame: E. Sterste-Virza, B. Skujeniece and A. Dale.