Otto Wilhelm Masing

Poems Otto Wilhelm Masing


Otto Wilhelm Masing (8. XI / 28. X 1763 – 15./3. III 1832) was a writer of the national enlightenment, a linguist and journalist – one of the most important figures in Estonian culture before the national awakening.

Masing was born in northern Tartumaa, the son of the sacristan of Lohusuu chapel. His father was Estonian, his mother of Swedish noble origin. Masing acquired his education at Narva from 1777 to 1779 and at Torgau in Germany, and his higher education in the faculty of theology at the University of Halle from 1783 to 1786. He worked as a tutor in North Estonia and travelled in western Europe with P. A. F. von Mannteuffel. From 1788 he was pastor of Lüganuse, from 1795 of Viru-Nigula and from 1815 of Äksi, and also became Dean of Tartumaa. Masing’s literary activity developed mainly at Äksi, where he died.

Masing wrote for Estonians (also for children) textbooks of the Estonian language and arithmetic, as well as popular scientific materials about nature and people in foreign lands. The Ehstnische Originalblätter für Deutsche (Tartu, 1816), which were primarily intended as Estonian language textbooks, were written by Masing for Germans. From 1824 to 1826 Masing compiled the newspaper Tallorahwa Kulutaja (‘The Farmers’ Clarion’) and issued the Marahwa Kalender (‘Calendar of the Land Folk’, 1823-1826). An important place in the history of the Estonian press is occupied by the Marahwa Näddala-Leht (‘Land Folk’s Weekly’ 1821-1823, 1825), edited by Masing. Masing wrote articles for J. H. Rosenplänter’s journal devoted to the study of Estonian, Beiträge zur genaueren Kenntniss der esthnischen Sprache, and he also contributed to German papers in Tartu and Riga. Also important are Masing’s letters to J. H. Rosenplänter, 1814-1832 (I-IV, published 1995-1997) and to K. G. Sonntag, Superintendent-General of Livonia, since they provide plenty of material about conditions and cultural life in his time. At the end of his life Masing was working on compiling an Estonian-German dictionary; this work was curtailed by his death, and the manuscript of the work has been lost.

In his outlook Masing has been called a rationalist who saw the significant advantage of social progress in the masses being liberated from ignorance. Regarding the Estonian peasant as a person capable of development, he struggled for the improvement of educational conditions. Having begun his most intensive activity at the time of social rejuvenation arising from the agrarian reforms of 1816 to 1819, Masing called for the adoption of the Estonian language for use in official business. He called for the creation of an original literature, in the first place reading matter for the enlightenment of the people. Masing enriched the Estonian literary language with popular elements, adopted the use of the letter õ and tried to compensate for the shortcomings in the old orthography. The most remarkable achievement of Masing’s efforts at popular enlightenment was the newspaper Marahwa Näddala-Leht, which contained, apart from information, numerous longer articles about nature, health care, technology, history, and living conditions in places in the homeland and abroad. Particularly close to Masing’s heart were folk education and the struggle against ignorance and religious extremism. There were also fables, parables and poetry in the newspaper. Because of the low standard of living and education among the common people, the paper’s circulation was low (less than 200 subscribers).

Striking among Masing’s verses, which otherwise have the flavour of humorous occasional poems, is the parable of the Loaf, which is known even today. In his colloquial language, style and temperament, Masing is distinguished from the men of letters of his time. Masing’s efforts to raise the Estonian literary language to a new level did not gain the attention they needed; a significant obstacle was the opposition of the Herrnhuter (The Moravian Church) and ruling Pietistic circles. Yet Masing was one of the most significant figures in the early history of Estonian literature in providing a periodical press, reading matter in popular science, literary criticism and the development of the written language, and exercised an important influence on national literature and on the founders of the emerging journalism.

Otto Wilhelm Masing is buried in the Jaani cemetery in Tartu. He has offered literary inspiration to August Sang (the poem Laul O. W. Masingust, mehest, kes andis eesti keelele õ-tähe – ‘The Song of O. W. Masing, the Man Who Gave to Estonian Language the Letter ‘Õ” – 1962), Jaan Kross (the novella Taevakivi  – ‘The Rock from the Sky’ – 1975) and Leo Anvelt (the story Kohtumine võimatuga – ‘Meeting with the Impossible’ – 1983).

I. M. (Translated by C. M.)

Selected bibliography

Otto Wilhelm Masingu toimetatud väljaanded Marahwa Näddala-Leht ja Tallorahwa Kulutaja on leitavad andmebaasist DEA (Digiteeritud eesti ajalehed):
Marahwa Kalender ehk Täht-ramat 1823 aasta peäle….  Toimetanud Otto Wilhelm Masing. Perno: O. W. Masing, 1822, 27+45 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Marahwa Kalender ehk Täht-ramat 1824 aasta peäle…. Toimetanud Otto Wilhelm Masing. Perno: O. W. Masing, 1823, 27+45 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Marahwa Kalender ehk Täht-ramat 1825 aasta peäle…. Toimetanud Otto Wilhelm Masing. Tartu: O. W. Masing, 1824, 14+20 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Marahwa Kalender ehk Täht-ramat 1826 aasta peäle…. Toimetanud Otto Wilhelm Masing. Tartu: O. W. Masing, 1825, 48 lk. [Kättesaadav:]

ABD ehk Luggemise-Ramat Lastele kes tahawad luggema öppida. Tarto: [Otto Wilhelm Masing], 1795, 34 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Pühhapäwa Wahhe-luggemissed. Essimenne jaggu / mis Otto Wilhelm Masing kirjutand ja wäljaandnud. Tartu: 1818, 168 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Wanna-seädusse-aja sündinud asjad / mis Wannas-Testamentist ja nore rahwa öppetusseks trükki pannud Otto Willem Masing. Tartu: 1819, 92 lk.
Täieline ABD-Ramat kust makele luggemist õiete õppida / mis Otto Willem Masing wäljaandnud. Tartu: 1823, 40 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Arwamise-ramat. 1 Tük / mis Otto Willem Masing koolmeistrite ja kolilaste kassuks wäljaandnud. Tartu: [s.n.], 1823, 83 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Beitrag zur Ehstnischen Orthographie. Dorpat: [s. n.], 1824, 39 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Wiiskümmend kaks luggemist Uest Testamendist wäljawallitsetud, kuhhu küssimisi, mis mõtlemist tahtwad, häid õppetusi, ja pühha kirja salmisi jurepandud, / mis Otto Willem Masing nore rahwa ja kolilaste heaks, wäljaandnud. Perno: 1824, 237 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Täieline Ristiusso õppetus mis targema rahwa ja koolmeistrite kassuks / wäljaandnud Otto Willem Masing. Perno: 1825, 120 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Beleuchtung der, über O. W. Masing’s Beitrag zur ehstnischen Orthographie, erschienenen Bemerkungen vom Verfasser des Beitrages zur ehstnischen Orthographie. Pernau: s. n., 1827, 56 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
O. W. Masingi kirjad. 1. – 4. anne. Koostanud M. J. Eisen. Tartu: Schnakenburg, 1883-1886, 95+83+118+89 lk. [Valik Marahwa Näddala-Lehes ilmunud kirjutisi.]

Otto Wilhelm Masingu kirjad Johann Heinrich Rosenplänterile 1814-1832. Die Briefe von Otto Wilhelm Masing an Johann Heinrich Rosenplänter 1814-1832. 1.-4 köide, personaalia ning registrid. Koostanud Leo Anvelt jt. Tartu: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, 1995-1997, 301+326+332+247+47+76 lk.