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Barnim Hjorth (The Kalmar Union)

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Barnim Hjorth
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Barnim Hjorth (The Kalmar Union)
Portrait of Barnim Hjorth

Born: 25th July, 1709
Barth, Pomerania, Denmark
Died: 8th March, 1782
Damchore, Pomerania, Denmark
Profession: Writer

Barnim Hjorth was an Dano-Pomersk writer much admired for his satirical writings as well as his championing of Pomersk rights. Born in 1709 in Barth, Pomerania, to a Danish merchant and Pomersk mother. Well regarded by his tutors he was secured a coveted position in the Danish naval administration in Stralsund.

However the young Barnim wanted more out of life than a desk job and joined the Pomeranian corps of the Danish army on the eve of the Danish Civil War. He served briefly as a captain in Duke Christopher of Holstein's army. He later wrote that he saw no action save 'a murderous brawl between Danes and German soldiers which caused much damage to our beloved Boße's beerhall.'

Toward the end of the war, thanks to his literacy and fluency in Pomersk and knowledge of how to run an office, Barnim had been charged with running the army's printworks, aiding the war effort with recruitment pamphlets and general correspondence. After the war this was folding into the governors' office essentially making Barnim the mouthpiece for government in Pomerania. Here his satirical streak began to show. Bored of translating the starchy and formal decrees emanating from Copenhagen and the variously disinterested or feeble governors Barnim began inserting more lyrical prose and even sly jokes into texts, confident that his Danish superiors would be none the wiser. This endeared him to many influential Pomersk and he was soon a fixture in the salon life of Pomerania.

His Quarrel of Vineta, published in Pomersk in 1740 was an extension of the myth of the sunken Baltic city of Vineta, primarily concerning the struggle between two brothers to rule the place even as it sinks, which in itself was a scathing attack on the petty quarrels going on between the Mayor and Bishop of Stralsund. The parallels were obvious and led to complaints against him in the Danish Riksdag. To properly debate it however the Danish politicians needed to read it and as only a couple could actually read or understand Pomersk Hjorth's book was quickly translated and published in Danish, and swiftly afterwards into German. Whilst many were appalled by his attack on two respected and well-connected men Hjorth was exonerated, however he was 'asked' to retire from his government post.

Thanks to the translations and several reprints Barnim had made a sum small from the book however and, winning more friends with his public speaking, was appointed the governor of the small but prestigious Damchore school. From here he published a bewildering array of pamphlets and short stories, mostly supporting various Pomersk causes, such as reinstating Pomersk as taught language or advocating that the Danish commission in Pomerania to be extended into a proper electable council. In general Danish politicians were concerned but not entirely engaged with the problems of Pomerania. It still had not really recovered from the devastation of the Fifty Years War. Before the war most Pomersk had been free-hold farmers however during its course much of the land had been enclosed and carved up into huge estates for mostly absent Danish lords. Rugian Pomerania, especially Stralsund, and Lubeck, absorbed an ever-growing exodus from the rural communities creating slums which teemed with disease, crime, drunkenness and poverty. By 1700 it was reported that only 115,000 Pomersk lived in the entire province. It was in this spirit that he wrote and published his most notorious work, Notes on a Solution to Pomerania.

Written anonymously in 1750 Hjorth advocated that the simplest way to solve the Pomeranian problem would be for the Pomersk to eat their own children, solving their hunger and absolving politicians of guilt over their own shortcomings as well as saving the absentee lords the trouble of evicting the farmers. While it would only be in 1756 that he publicly admitted he wrote it his style was quite evident. Once again he was a topic of discussion in the Riksdag. Queen Charlotte, famously dour anyway, called for his head whilst the future King, Christian I, was reportedly beaten by his tutor for reading it.

This backlash led him to lower his sights for potential targets in the future, only publishing mild satires against governing bodies anonymously. It was soon a well-established for any philosopher or scientist's treatise to be answered by a deftly aimed mock-denunciation, a game which amused the literary set in Denmark greatly.

In 1770 he published his undisputed masterpiece, Travellers. The book concerns a lowly Bornholm farm labourer, Oluf, who is visited by the Norse god Odin, taking the appearance of an old man. Explaining 'he has been away for a while' the old man hires Oluf to show him around Denmark, Scandinavia and eventually Leifia too. The pair have various (mis)adventures as they travel around, the tales becoming ever-more outlandish the further they get from Denmark. Oluf's eagerness to please his well-paying patron and Odin's misunderstanding of modern etiquette and manners has the party bouncing from one disaster to the next. Eventually they are conscripted into the Svealandic army during the Great Baltic War and the pair die on the battlefield of Saldus (1766). Revealing his true identity, Odin then takes Oluf to the realm of the gods, who prove just as corrupt and inconsistent as their earth-bound counterparts. Oluf is eventually allowed to return to the mortal realm, retiring back to his Bornholm homestead, still as poor as he began with but happy in the knowledge his lot could be so much worse.

The book is full of thinly veiled attacks on Danish society; especially its insular nature, the church and also the Empire (three hundred dwarven brothers all arguing over the treasure chest of their ancestor - which Odin reveals only to be full of dusty bones). It is still regarded as one of the finest comic novels in Europe.

The book was immediately successful and following the praise it received Hjorth was re-admitted to polite Danish society. However his health was failing and from 1775 until his death in March 1782 he was largely bed-ridden.

He was married three times and had nine children. Half of his considerable wealth was left to his family, the other half for the 'establishment of Pomersk schooling'. His statues in Barth and Szczycin, are frequently garlanded with the unofficial flag of Pomerania, and red and blue flowers (Szcyzcin's colours), much to the annoyance of the Danish authorities.

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