A M Allchin
Allchin is the first person, outside of Scandinavia, to make an extended presentation of Grundtvig's life and work. With the help of several Danish and Scandinavian sources, Grundtvig's writings have passed through the language barrier and transcribed itself, still as powerful and poignant as they were in mid-nineteenth century Denmark.
To fully understand Grundtvig and his teachings, one must understand the politics of Denmark during his life time. It is also important to remember that although themes throughout Grundtvig's writings are relative to his faith during this period, they also have universal human significance. But it is this concept of understanding Grundtvig and 'his Denmark', his connection to his people and land that may be the most difficult to grasp. As from the text: 'To be a member of a small nation- Denmark, Estonian, Ireland, Greece- is very different from being a member of a nation whose population is ten, twenty, fifty times larger. In the small nation there is a necessary awareness of national identity , an awareness which becomes particularly acute when that identity is threatened by pressures from outside.' It was through being part of a small nation that Grundvig was able to share his work , reaching out to a large majority of the country.
Grundvig grew up in an important period of development within Denmark and the world. The news of the revolution in Paris reached the young Grundvig's village Udby, at the age of six. A revolution of the people, the dawning of modern history. Although this was a hot topic of conversation, it was what was happening within his own country that interested Grundvig particularly. A 'revolution without violence' is how one modern commentator chose to put it.
Up until the eighteenth century the ownership and organisation of Danish agriculture remained in the hands of a small group of wealthy landowners. But it was Tenant farmers that lived and worked on the land, who were not only obliged to pay rent but had to render labour services to their landlords. The tenant farmers werenÕt regarded as serfs although the landlords often exercised their rights in highly oppressive manners. The farmers grew more and more discontent with the largely feudal system, which eventually resulted with a series of land reforms. Between 1786 and 1788, land reforms were developed to establish the legal situation of the tenant farmers. These reforms also allowed farmers to buy their land as free-share. Over two generation the entire Danish agricultural situation had been transformed and by the mid-nineteenth century most farmers owned their own land. We are to assume that Grundvig, being the perceptive individual that he was, was able to pick up the change that was stirring in the nation, moulding his acceptance of change and new ideas that he wrote about years later.
Throughout his life, Grundvig left his home country only four times. he took three trips to London, England in 1829, 1830 and 1831, which consequently, altered his view of humanity, and one trip to Norway. On a visit to England, especially London, Grundvig began to take notice of what was happening now, on the street, in an office block, he became conscious of himself as modern man. When before a large majority of time was spent on historical events of man, he moved deeper into philosophical lines of research. His critics sometimes spoke of him as fanatical and bigoted, his teachings were still read and respected by his contemporise. Although when applying for a position at the University of Copenhagen, his report was less than appreciated:
as well as revealing an ignorance of and indifference to every art of history and genuine scientific treatment, it contains so many warped judgments and ignoble expressions that it must be regarded fortunate for the fatherland that the person from whose hand such products come from is not allowed to present himself as a public teacher at any scientific institute.
His need to be imprinted in the public's mind was established earlier ion life and he can be remembered as a figure in history forging ahead for the need for people to better educated. The growth of social ideas and movements. The Folk High Schools, the centre of adult education, that are still operating today are a sign of the influence Grundvig had on Danish life. Grundvig was a man whose life was involved with the lives of his people in a variety of ways. His work with not only education, but also the industrial and agricultural is still identifiable in all that is Danish today. A man only really interested in the lives of his people, his views both democratic and catholic, Lutheran and humanist and pessimistic in his views of human limitation and the reality of death, but optimistic in its openness to the possibilities of change and new developments. Allchin's book is a comprehensive account of Grundvig's life and teaching, and his spiritual connection with his country.