The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Johan Olof Wallen

Engraving of Johan Olof WallenJohan Olof Wallin is probably the best known of Swedish hymnists. Wallin was born at Stora Tuna, Dalarna on October 15, 1779, at Stora Tuna, Dalarna, Swedenthe, the son of a poor sergeant major, who overcame his poverty and ill health enough to earn a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Uppsala at the age of 24. He was ordained in 1806 and soon attracted attention for his fine preaching.

He was appointed dean of Västerås in 1816 and became archbishop of Sweden in 1837. He eventually rose to become the Archbishop of Uppsala from 1837-1839, and primate of Sweden. He had not moved to his residence in Uppsala before he died on June 30, 1839, at Uppsala, Sweden.

Wallin received prizes and awards for his poetry throughout his life. From the first he was attracted to the classical rhetorical styles and classical literary forms. Attacked by the literary Romanticists of the day for being too rhetorical and classical, he heard their criticisms, especially concerning the Romantic idea that the Bible had its own kind of poetry. His change also helped him to value, as he had not before, the old Swedish language and hymn texts from older times. This made his editorial hand on the old Swedish hymns lighter as he grew in his understanding of the value of the older Swedish language and forms. This new understanding changed significantly the way he prepared the new Swedish hymnal of 1819, moderating the affects of the Enlightenment on his revisions, and saving the hymnal from being what would have been thought too "rationalistic."

In 1809 he was asked by the Swedish Parliament to be on the hymnal commission to prepare a new book. When the deadline came near, Wallin asked for at least a year extension, and personally headed the revision effort. The end result was the 1819 Svenska Psalm-Boken which displays Wallin's high standards for hymntexts. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most influencial American poets of the day, quoted Esias Tegnér appellation of Wallin as "David's Harp in the North" when he translated Tegnér's poem "Children of the Lord's Supper." ("Nattvardsbarnen"). E. E. Ryden quotes Wallin as saying "A new hymn, aside from the spiritual considerations, which must never be compromised in any way, should be so correct, simple and lyrical in form, and so free from inversions and other imperfections in style, that after the lapse of a hundred years a father may be able to say to his son, 'Read the Psalmbook, my boy, and you will learn your mother tongue!'" Wallin's hymnal of 1819 was used well into the 20th Century.

Of 500 hymns, 128 were written by him, 23 were his translations, and 178 were his revisions. This hymnbook remained in use for over a hundred years and the 1937 hymnal contained many of Wallin's hymns. The newest Swedish hymnal still contains many Wallin hymns, along with some of his revisions which still stand. The Swedish Augustana clergy in America, most importantly, Tufve Hasselquist and Erling Carlsson, however, did not recommend Wallin's hymnal because of its so-called Rationalism, suggesting rather that the emigrants take with them the Henrik Thomander revision of Wallin, prepared in 1850s.




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