Elitist education and high culture

Elitist education and high culture fared better than education of peasants. Gymnasia (upper secondary schools) were opened in Tallinn and Tartu. In 1632, a few months before his death in battle at Lützen in the Thirty Years’ War, King Gustavus II Adolphus signed a document which granted the Tartu gymnasium university status under the name of Academia Gustaviana. In 1656–1661, when the Russian-Swedish war spread through Latvia, Lithuania, East Prussia, Poland and north-west Russia, East Estonia and Tartu were occupied by the Russians, and the university was transferred to Tallinn where its activities stopped in 1665. In 1690 the university was reopened under the name of Academia Gustavo Carolina, but in view of the new threat was again transferred to Pärnu in 1699, where it functioned until the city was captured by Russian troops in 1710. Before the Tartu Academia was founded there was only one university in Sweden — the University of Uppsala, from the 15th century.

Tartu was chosen because of its central location, but the determining factor could have been the functioning of a higher Catholic educational establishment — the Jesuits’ gymnasium under the Polish reign. By opening the gymnasia and the university, the Swedish aimed to strengthen state authority: apart from ministers, the war-ravaged country lacked civil servants, doctors and teachers, and the traditional trips of Old Livonian nobles to go and study in German universities were interrupted by the Thirty Years’ War. Although the humanist Tartu University was open to all classes, including Estonian peasants, it is most likely that the latter did not go to university.

The structure of the Academia was similar to other European institutions of higher education, with four faculties (theology, law, medicine and philosophy) and an emphasis on languages (both classical and modern). Standards comparable to those of western Europe promoted the introduction of western European thought in Estonia; the theory of Isaac Newton became known quite early and there were discussions over the theoretical principles proposed by René Descartes. The majority of scholars who taught in Tartu were not widely known, although some of them were internationally renowned (e.g. Georg Stiernhelm, a Swedish scholar of diverse interests). The student body was first dominated by Swedes and Finns, as the Baltic Germans still preferred German universities. Towards the end of the century the Swedish authorities introduced a requirement that all civil servants should attend the local university for at least two years.

In North Estonia the centre of intellectual life was Tallinn, dominated by literature and music professors of the Tallinn gymnasium. The local atmosphere was invigorated in the 1630s by the visits of German scholars and men of letters, including the renowned Baroque poet Paul Fleming (1609–1640). Numerous notebooks filled with nuptial poetry (friends’ congratulations on marriage), including 6 Estonian-language poems, are reminiscent of this period. The Estonian nuptial poems preceded the rhymed and rhythmical Estonian hymns. Influenced by the Germans, the first Estonian newspaper, printed in the local printing shop, was published in the 1670s (the oldest surviving issue dates from 1675). In other fields the Swedish reign did not change the Estonian orientation to German culture; especially given Sweden’s close links with Germany during and after the Thirty Years’ War: as a result of the war a number of predominantly German lands were incorporated.

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