Heinrich Göseken




Heinrich Göseken (13./3. IV 1612 – 4. XII / 24. XI 1681) was the author of a grammar of North Estonian, an occasional poet in Estonian and a translator of poetry and the Bible.

Göseken was born in Hanover, the son of the chief officer of a merchants’ guild. In 1624 he entered school in Alfeld in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, continuing his studies three years later at Lemgo, and later Lippstadt, Gymnasium (both in North Rhine-Westphalia). He studied theology at the university of Rostock from 1631 to 1634. From 1634 to 1636 he worked as the assistant to Johann Rothlöben, preacher at the Swedish court, and as the tutor to his children. From 1636 to 1637 he studied preaching and debating at the University of Königsberg under its rector, the Polish theologian Celestyn Myślenta. In 1637 he came to Tallinn, having become engaged while living in Sweden to Dorothea Siegel, who was from Tallinn. Having mastered the Estonian language, he worked in western Estonia as pastor of Kirbla (1638), Risti and Harju-Madise (1639-1641) and Kullamaa (1641-1681). In 1647 he became Dean of Maa-Lääne deanery, and in 1659 assessor of the Consistory of Tallinn. From three marriages he had ten children, of whom eight died during Göseken’s lifetime. After his death he was buried in Kullamaa church, where the wood-carver Christian Ackermann and the painter Lorenz Buchaw created an epitaph with a triumphal crucifix and family portrait on a crossbeam in his memory. On the 400th anniversary of Göseken’s birth in 2012, a memorial stone was erected in front of Kullamaa church.
When Göseken arrived in Tallinn in 1637, he found himself in a lively and literary-minded environment. A few years earlier, Tallinn had been the home of the outstanding German poet Paul Fleming, under whose leadership an intellectual circle of practising poets had formed, calling itself ‘The Shepherds’. It consisted mostly of the teachers at the Tallinn Gymnasium, including Reiner Brockmann. Influenced by the circle, Göseken began writing occasional poetry, in addition to those in German and Latin, also one in Estonian in 1641: Heh sel ke Jumlakartus sees (‘He who is in the fear of God’), which is one of the first poems written in Estonian (the very first having been written by Brockmann four years earlier).

Göseken was also active in translating hymns into Estonian. Heinrich Stahl’s voluminous handbook for Estonian clerics (1632-1638) also contained translations of hymns, but they were prose translations, difficult to sing in a church service. Bishop Joachim Jhering initiated a new translation of hymns, with the participation of Göseken, who translated 127 of them in total. Uku Masing has written that many of them should not be regarded as translations but as poems on a given theme. The result of the translators’ work appeared in 1656 as the Neu Ehstnisches Gesangbuch (‘New Estonian Songbook’).

Heinrich Göseken was involved in the translation of the Bible into North Estonian probably some time after 1660. According to some sources he translated the whole Bible; according to others, less than that. The manuscript of his translation of the New Testament has survived to this day, although it was not printed. The New Testament appeared in North Estonian only in 1715, translated by Eberhard Gutsleff.

From the viewpoint of Estonian cultural history, what is regarded as Göseken’s most important work is the grammar of the Estonian language, Manuductio ad Linguam Oesthicam / Anführung zue Öhstnischen Sprache (‘Introduction to the Estonian Language’, 1660). This was the second grammar of North Estonian in existence, based on Heinrich Stahl’s grammar of 1637, but closer to the spoken language. Of value in itself is the glossary appended to the grammar, which is the most extensive Estonian lexicon from the 17th century, containing over twelve thousand Estonian words. The words, proverbs and phrases in the glossary show the conspicuous influence of the Läänemaa dialect.

In 1685 (a little earlier according to some sources) appeared an introduction to Estonian folk beliefs and customs. Der Einfältigen Ehsten Abergläubische Gebräuche, Weisen und Gewonheiten (The Superstitions, Habits and Practices of the Simple Estonians’), whose author is given as Johann Wolfgang Boeckler, Göseken’s son-in-law. The actual author of the work in question was for a long time thought to be Johann Forselius, pastor of Harju-Madise, the father of Bengt Gottfried Forselius, the educational figure and language reformers, but the historian Aivar Põldvee claimed (in 2008) that the real author of the work was Heinrich Göseken.

Göseken’s son, Heinrich Göseken junior (1640 – 1705) was the pastor of Mihkli parish in Läänemaa county and also took part in translating and editing the Bible.

S. V. (Translated by C. M.)

Books in Estonian

Heinrich Gösekeni grammatika ja sõnastik 350. Tõlkinud, koostanud ja kommenteerinud Valve-Liivi Kingisepp, Kristel Ress, Kai Tafenau; toimetanud Külli Habicht ja Külli Prillop; eessõna: Külli Habicht. Tartu: Tartu Ülikool, 2010, 767 lk.