Petursson, Hallgrimur

Petursson, Hallgrimur a noted psalmist, was born in Iceland in 1614. While Hallgrimur was yet a boy, his father was appointed chorister at the cathedral in Hole (the old northern episcopal residence in Iceland), having been called thither by bishop Gudbrand Thorlaksson, who is known as the first translator of the Bible into Icelandic, and as the real founder of Protestantism in Iceland. Hallgrimur got his elementary education in the school at Hole; but for some unknown reason he was expelled from this school, whereupon he, aided by some of his friends, went abroad, first to Gluckstad, in Sleswick, and later to Copenhagen. In Copenhagen he worked for a blacksmith until Brynjolf Sveinsson (afterwards bishop of Skalholt, in Iceland), about the year 1632, got him a place in the school of Our Virgin. Here Hallgrimur made rapid progress, and in 1636 we find him studying the so-called "master's lesson." In the year 1627 Iceland was visited by Mohammedan pirates from Algeria, in the northern part of Africa, who at that time extended their tyrannical rule of the sea from the shores of the Mediterranean to the most western and northern islands of the Atlantic. A number of Icelanders were slain by them, while others were carrie'd away as slaves. By the interference of the Danish kinig, Christian IV, some of the prisoners who had not already perished in the land of the barbarians were ransomed, and in 1636 thirty-eight Icelanders were broughit from Algeria to Copenhagen, where they had to remain a few months until merchant- ships in the spring of 1637 could take them back to Iceland. While prisoners in Algeria they had imbibed various Mohammedan ideas, and hence it was thought necessary during their stay in Copenhagen to instruct them in the principles of Christianity; but, not understanding Danish, an Icelandic teacher had to be found for them. Hallgrimur Petursson was selected. Among those set free was a woman by name Gudrid, who had formerly been the wife of an Icelander in the Westmann Isles. Hallgrimur fell in love with this woman so much that when the people were sent back to Iceland in the spring, he left the school and returned home with his beloved. The ship which carried them landed at Keflavik, in the southern part of Iceland, and here Hallgrimur remained through the summer, doing the work of a common laborer for the Danes. Gudrid got a place to work on the farm Njardvik, not far from Keflavik, and here she gave birth to a son, whose father was Hallgrimur. Soon afterwards he married Gudrid, and lived for some time in the most abject poverty in a lonely cottage at Suderness, until the above-mentioned Brynjolf Sveinsson, who meanwhile had become bishop of Skalholt, persuaded him to enter the service of the Church, ordained him for the ministry, and gave him the poor parish of Hvalness, in Guldbringe Syssel. He entered the ministry in 1644, and remained in Hvalness until 1651, when he was removed to Saurbaer, in Borgarfjord. At Saurbaer he found some relief from his poverty until Aug. 15, 1662, when the parsonage and al its contents were consumed by fire. The people were all saved, however, excepting an old stranger, who had found his lodgings there for the night. Though Hallgrimur heretofore had suffered much abuse and ridicule, he now found that he also had some friends, who assisted him in rebuilding the parsonage and furnishing him with the necessaries of life. A few years later (1665) Hallgrimur first noticed the symptoms of the disease (leprosy) which finally laid him on his death-bed. He performed his ministerial duties alone until 1667, when his illness made it. necessary to get an assistant. He was compelled to resign his position in 1669, moved to a neighboring farm, Kalastad, where he remained two years, and then moved to another farm close by, Ferstikla, where, amid constantly increasing sufferings, he at last found a welcome death, October 27, 1674, not having left his bed the last year of his life. He was buried near the entrance of the church at Saurbser. In 1821 a small monument was raised on the spot beneath which his bones rest. By his wife, who died in 1679, he had several children, but the most of them died very young. We have given this detailed account of this man's life because of the prominent position he holds in the religious history of Iceland. He was an eloquent preacher, a thoroughly classical writer, and one of the most gifted psalmists that ever lived. His religious poems give evidence of a Christian courage that reminds one of the martyrs during the first century after Christ. Hallgrimur Petursson's works are the following: (a) in prose1. Diarium Christianum, consisting of religious meditations for every day in the week: — 2. A Christian's Soliloquy every Morning and Evening: — 3. A Collection of Prayers: 4. Commentaries on some of the Songs in the Sagas, especially in Olaf Tryggveson's Saga. (b) In poetry — l. Psalterium Passionale, fifty psalms on the sufferings of Christ for singing at family devotions during lent, an unsurpassed masterpiece, whether we regard it from a poetical or Christian standpoint. This work has passed through twenty-seven large editions in Iceland, nnd is found in every Icelander's house. The funeral psalm found in this collection, and beginning "Allt einsog blomstrid eing," has found its way into many of the Continental languages, and the whole collection has twice been translated into Latin: — 2. A poetical treatment of the first and second books of Samuel, which he left unfinished, but which was completed by the ministers Sigurd Gislesson and Jon Eyulfsson: — 3. Some epicromantic poems (the so-called rimur), of which all ages of Icelandic literature have furnished a large number: — 4. Finally, we have from Hallgrimur Petursson a collection of all his psalms and poems that are not found in the above- named works, and of which the majority were not published until long after his death. This last collection is almost as great a favorite with the Icelandic people as the Psalterium Passionale. In it is found a cycle of Bible poems, morning and evening hymns, and other songs, but the best portion of it is a number of psalms, in which the poet has expressed his thoughts upon death and eternity. Some of them were composed on his death-bed. They bear testimony to the fervent love of the Saviour wherein he lived and died. His beautiful funeral hymn, which he closes by greeting the angel of death welcome, cheerful in the consciousness that his Savior lives, has its heathen prototype in Ragnar Lodbrok's dying words: "The hours of life have glided by; I fall, but smiling shall I die." In Petursson's religious poetry the old heathen courage is regenerated into Christian life, and the pagan coldness has yielded to the genial warmth of a celestial faith. No man has exercised a greater influence upon the Christian character of the Icelandic people than Hallgrimur Petursson. — Jon Bjarnason, Husbibliothek, 2:98-103. (R.B.A.)

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