Jacob Nicolai Wilse  (1735 - 1801)

The garden that Jacob Nicolai Wilse planted at the Spydeberg rectory in Østfold would be a longstanding expression of his life and work. Today, this laboratory of nature has been restored after many years of neglect.

Jacob Nicolai Wilse was 33 years old and a bachelor when he came to Spydeberg as a pastor in 1768. He found the landscape of Østfold to be intoxicatingly beautiful: it was not flat as in Denmark, but instead open and undulating, with ridges, glens and fertile fields interwoven with deep river valleys and large and small areas of uncultivated land. The rectory was surrounded by hills covered in spruce trees, and on the eastern side, "Storelva" flowed through a deep ravine. In the spring, the spray reached to the sky where the Glomma cascaded over the waterfall at Haltorp. On cold days, the hoar frost formed a white belt stretching from Øyeren in the north to Fredrikstad and Singlefjorden in the south.

Jacob Nicolai Wilse was born in Denmark in 1735. He grew up in Lemvig in South Jutland, where his father, Peder Jacobsen Wilse, was a teacher at the Latin school and a deacon at Lemvig Church. Jacob Nicolai had a sister two years his junior and a brother four years his junior. When he was seven, his father was ordained as pastor, and the family moved to Søndbjerg in Thyholm, further north on the west coast of Jutland.

Jacob Nicolai and his friend, Anders Hvas – the son of his father’s predecessor – were educated by his father in Søndbjerg. Orbis pictus, the world’s first picture book for children, was Jacob Nicolai’s most beloved book. In time, he became more and more interested in his lessons, and from the age of 10, he began writing a small geography textbook among other projects. He drew a city map of Hamburg, and was pleased to be able to locate Thyholm on a map of Denmark. He bought medicines and put together a home medicine chest.

Anders Hvas’ older brother, Christen, returned from Copenhagen and told the boys about the “the aesthetic arts” – music, poetry, theatre and the mechanical arts – and about the works of astronomer Tycho Brahes. The boys were drawn to Copenhagen. Christen would later become the stage manager of the Royal Danish Theatre, while Anders became a provost in Jutland.

At the age of 17, Jacob Nicolai began his studies at the University of Copenhagen, where he completed a degree in theology four years later. In 1753, his sister died at the age of 16. His father wanted Jacob back as deacon in his parish, but he declined. “Lacking any interest, I preferred to stay in Copenhagen to study the sciences instead,” he later wrote.

He was awarded a three-year scholarship and continued his studies of German and French, among other subjects. When Jacob had to choose his career path, his father asked him to choose theology. He gave his first sermon in 1754, at Bartovs Hospital.

While waiting for a position in a parish, he found work as a private tutor. In the winter of 1756–1757, he taught for Isabella von Buchwald at the Gudumlund manor in Ålborg and made many “good connections”. The following winter, he worked as a private tutor for the neighbouring pastor’s son, Lieutenant Benzon, while also teaching his younger brother, Niels.

He spent the summer of 1756 at home in Søndbjerg. It was here that he drew a map of all of Thyholm. Four years later, he started working on Thyholms beskrivelse (A Description of Thyholm), a work that was completed by Niels.

From 1758–1760, Wilse attended lectures in physics, mathematics, chemistry and medicine. He was greatly inspired by Professor Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein, the rector at the University of Copenhagen, who was a medical physician, engineer and physicist, and taught natural history. In one of his personal profiles, Wilse makes a case for the idea that pastors should be required to study more than theology because they should inform the populace of all matters, not only those of a spiritual nature.

In the summer of 1760, Wilse took part in botanical excursions with Dr Holm, one of Carl von Linné’s students. In the autumn, he was invited to Cabinet Member P.A. Lehn’s estate Berritsgård in Lolland, “with a view to obtaining further knowledge of the sciences”. When winter came, he lived under Lehn’s patronage in Copenhagen. Here he studied “the aesthetic sciences” and read Voltaire, Corneille and Racine. He wrote a play for the theatre in French entitled Philinde, and an autobiographical drama in verse, Lucile ou l'étudiant infortuné, which was published in Christiania in 1762. But he was unhappy and did not know what would become of him. He wanted to travel abroad, but had no money, and his application for a travel grant was refused.

On Lehn’s recommendation, he was offered a post as a private tutor and guardian at the home of the Swedish-born ironmaster Peder Mossencrone in Fredrikshald. This was Wilse’s first contact with Norway. One of his uncles on his mother’s side, Laurits Bierregaard, was a pastor in Eidsberg, and another in Lardal in Vestfold. During this stay in the winter of 1763, he preached for his uncle in Eidsberg. He was also engaged in landscape surveying and drawing maps, and he drafted a design of a machine for deforestation.

During this winter, Wilse wrote that “the time had come to earn his daily bread”. He wanted to become a chaplain, but found no opportunities. He hoped for a post at the Kongsberg silver works and was invited there to discuss the possibilities, but no solution was forthcoming. Instead, he moved to Christiania, where he studied English. He wrote a drama about the immortality of the soul and drafted a plan for a secondary school system in Norway. He also translated Christian Braunmann Tullin’s poem “Majdagen” (“May Day”), an ode to the bucolic life and Wilse’s favourite poem, into French.

After an arduous sea journey, Wilse returned to Copenhagen and travelled home to his parents in the summer of 1764. In Thyholm, he made the acquaintance of 15-year old Anna Cecilia Thorup. She had moved to the rectory after her grandmother, by whom she had been raised, passed away. Anna Cecilia was an “illegitimate” child; her father was said to have been the wealthy nobleman of Vestervig.

During his stay at Thyholm, Wilse was hired by Mayor Richter in Fredericia to tutor his children. During this time, he also preached at the churches of the diocese, including the German church. He was encouraged to write Fredericias beskrivelse (A Description of Fredericia). He took the manuscript with him to Copenhagen, but in his disappointment of not receiving a travel grant, he sold it for a paltry fee. The work was published in 1767 and is considered an important topographical work in Denmark, containing 300 detailed pages about this region of East Jutland.

He was not offered a post as a pastor, despite applying for several vacancies. In 1768, he therefore completed a Master’s degree in philosophy. He then worked as a private tutor in the home of the Copenhagen’s Russian ambassador, Caspar von Saldern, where he taught mathematics and physics to four young Russian noblemen who were living at the embassy. The language of instruction was French, with tutorials in German. Wilse had hoped that von Saldern would find him a post as a pastor in Russia. He also applied for a professorship in mathematics at the University of Kiel. The ambassador asked him to apply in Norway instead, and it was thanks to a recommendation from von Saldern that Wilse, in the summer of 1768, received the post of pastor in Spydeberg. He had planned a trip to Germany, but in the letter from the bishop of the Aggershus diocese, he was asked to start immediately.

After arriving at the rectory on 17 June, Wilse wrote an ode to Spydeberg. The first line reads: “I came to Spydeberg, as if arriving at a manor …”

One of the first things that he did was to draw a detailed map of the rectory and the surrounding landscape. He then set about cultivating the rectory garden. In 1769, he wrote a letter to Carl von Linné in which he informed him of the project and requested that seeds be sent to him by post. The letter can be found in Linnés’ large collection at the Linnean Society in London.

The following summer, Wilse travelled to Copenhagen to marry Anna Cecilia. The date of the wedding was 23 June 1770 at Our Saviour’s Church (Vor Frelsers Kirke). The newlyweds made their way to Spydeberg, travelling by land across Sweden. Wilse worked on the manuscript Haandbog for Landmænd (A Handbook for Farmers) and on developing methods for describing different types of weather.

Their first child, Maria Christiane, was born in 1771. She died a few months later. The next year, Bjørn Peter was born, and in 1773, Maren Sophia. Wilse wrote about painful years of destitution, of starvation and bread made of tree bark flour. He was called out to visit the ill, he wrote, probably because people wanted the counsel of a man who had studied medicine in Copenhagen and who had a medicine chest full of healing herbs.

During this period, Wilse worked on plans for a botanical garden and a national park in Norway – a parc academique and museum universalis. For Wilse, science, art and culture were parts of an integral whole. The human being in his or her environment and context was the focus of his interest and respect. In his works, he demonstrates that this humanistic project is about finding an answer to the question “what is a human being?”. The Spydeberg rectory became not only a natural laboratory, but also a “laboratory of humanism”. Wilse’s goal was to make his own garden into a parc academique and museum universalis.

Although it cannot be said that he planted a full-scale English landscape garden outside of the formal garden, the remains of the garden grounds are without a doubt inspired by the new English customs of the 18th century. In the area outside of the formal garden, he dug several ponds, hence the name Damhagen – “The Pond Garden”. He had the large pond, Langdammen, which covers an area of 2,000 m2 (20x100 m), dug first. It was here that he started farming carp. He developed this practice to such a degree that he was able to sell fish in the weight class 0.5–2.0 kg for consumption in Christiania. During this period, carp was considered a gentleman’s fish, and although it is no longer popular in Norway, it is still considered a delicacy in other parts of Europe. Wilse’s fish farming is thus one of the earliest documented cases of aquaculture in Norway.

The obelisk, or pyramid as he called it, was a remarkable sight in the garden even in Wilse’s day. It is a symbol of neo-classicism, a style that today is sometimes considered ponderous and old fashioned, but that in Wilse’s time was actually considered radical and in many ways constituted a rebellion against the church’s oppression of the literature and art of Antiquity.

Two schools of thought existed simultaneously in the German and Nordic regions: that of the knowledge-seeking Enlightenment period and that of strict pietism. Wilse appears to have gleaned the best from both, and he did not consider there to be any unwieldy contradiction between the two philosophies. On the walls of the rectory, he had portraits of both radical rationalists and strict pietists. In his autobiography, Wilse describes himself as “sincere and without prejudice, with imagination and a type of innate cheerfulness”. This is in keeping with one of his most important admonitions, which can be found at the base of the recently erected obelisk. On one side, the following words have been painted: Fornøy dig i din Tiids Herlighed (Find Happiness in the Splendour of Your Time). This radiates exuberance and optimism. One of Wilse’s favourite sayings has been painted on the opposite side: Licet omnibus esse beatis. He claims in other words that each and every one of us is permitted to seek happiness. This statement represents something new from the mouth of a pastor. The message Fornøy dig i din Tiids Herlighed is also engraved in the new farm bell from 2014. This positive message sounds across the garden landscape when the bell is rung.

In July 1775, Maren Sophia and Jens Caspar died, two days apart. At the neighbouring farm of Giltvedt, three children fell victim to the same epidemic and died at the beginning of August. Anna Christina came into the world a few months later.

The year after that, Wilse left on a much yearned for journey to Hamburg and Berlin. He was there for five months, from May to October. Anna Cecilia was supposed to accompany him, but was not well enough. The trip would be of great significance to Wilse’s further activities. He visited the prestigious academy of science in Berlin, and the academy’s secretary Samuel Formey. Formey became Wilse’s mentor and contributed to his continued success in German academia. He also met Director Begulain, who had read the articles that Wilse had sent to Berlin over the years at the science society’s meetings. In the archive left by Samuel Formey, there are some 40,000 letters. The archive contains an extensive correspondence with Jean Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot and other important philosophers from the Enlightenment. Wilse found himself, in short, at the hub of the European Enlightenment. He looked up to “the philosopher king” Frederick the Great, and visited the Sanssouci Palace and the park in Potsdam.

His impressions from the journey were printed in the travel memoires that were later published in Danish and in German in Johann Bernoulli’s work Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen.

Up until 1778, Wilse gathered materials for his book Spydebergs beskrivelse (A Description of Spydeberg), which he completed the same year, with publication the year after. During the same period, he also published a monthly journal, Maanedlige Afhandlinger i Hensigt paa det sande, nyttige og behagelige (Monthly Articles about Truth, Utility and Pleasure), in which he wrote about pleasure gardens in the countryside, public libraries and Norway’s need for its own university. The journal ran for a year.

When Anna Cecilia fell ill because of the draughty house at the rectory, Wilse had a new residential wing built. He has described the building process in detail. Two sitting rooms and two smaller rooms were constructed on the second floor and a huge study with a library and cabinet of natural artefacts in the other, with views facing east, north and west. In the library in Spydeberg, he had 1,500 books, of which 200 could be taken out on loan. He used his views to draw important motifs using a camera obscura. Some of these have been preserved.

The local farmer’s almanacs were popular in the 1700s because they were essential for growing food and survival. We have accounts of frequent famines and widespread starvation in Southern Norway. To assist the farmer in improved planning with regard to the workings of nature and enabling a timely response, Wilse wrote a farmer’s almanac for the villages of inner Østfold. It makes for exciting reading even today, and shows us how vulnerable all food production is. Wilse sent Meteorologisk Natur- og Landhuusholdningskalender for Norge søndenfields (The Meteorological Nature and Farmer’s Almanac for Southern Norway) to the science societies in Berlin and Stockholm in 1775. He received praise from both for his work.

In addition to agriculture, Wilse had an avid interest in forestry. With a basis in scientific forestry, he was concerned about the widespread deforestation that was taking place not only in Mørkskogen and the regions around Spydeberg Varde, but also in forests elsewhere. On a copperplate depicting the rectory pond in Spydeberg, one can see the smoke rising from a large number of coal kilns in the area towards Vardåsen. The iron works in Moss required large amounts of charcoal, and this was good business for the forest owners. However, it was the large-scale clearfelling activity in the cold climate of the time that concerned Wilse. In terms of climate, we speak of this period as “the Little Ice Age”. There were many successive years of crop failures, which the pastor in Hobøl, Lars Rasch, described in detail. Governor Balthazar S. Fleischer (1703–1767) of Moss wrote to the king in the 1760s and asked for permission to construct Norway’s first granary, which he proposed should be located near Hobøl church. The granary was built, and it ensured that the seed was not eaten in the course of the winter. Nonetheless, many people starved to death in Østfold during these years. The learned pastors therefore had good reason to dedicate themselves to the study of “food and medicines”. It is hard to imagine a better way of practising the word of God than by taking care of people.

In 1778, the monograph Meteorographia compendiosa was published, in which Wilse developed a method and system of symbols for recording meteorological observations. This work brought Wilse into contact with the prince-elector of Pfalz and Bayern, Karl Theodor (1724–1799), who was a sworn physiocrat. The word physiocratic can be defined as “a form of government based on what originates in nature”. The physiocrats were a learned circle who believed that there was no other true wealth than that produced by the earth. For them, the earth, along with those who worked on it and with it, was the most important and valuable resource of all useful life and enterprise. Agriculture, horticulture and beekeeping were industries that merited investment. It was these fields that gave people food and medicines.

Not only did the prince-elector have a scientific interest in improvements in agriculture, but he also saw the value of climate studies and better meteorological measuring techniques for both agriculture and shipping. He therefore established a network of measuring stations that stretched from Ural in the east to North America in the west, from Greenland in the north to the Mediterranean in the south. A total of 37 measuring stations were established. Wilse succeeded in becoming a member of this network and, as with the other observers, the prince-elector sent him calibrated instruments. These included thermometers, barometers, a hygrometer and a declinometer, an instrument for measuring magnetic declination. Previously, climate reports had been unreliable due to uncalibrated measuring instruments. The Spydeberg rectory, and eventually Eidsberg, became weather observatories in this pioneering network that was to enable subsequent geographers, primarily Alexander von Humboldt and his colleagues, to continue developing climate research.

The weather observations that were sent to Mannheim were printed in the publication Efemerides on a regular basis. More than one hundred years would pass before there would be an achievement of equal value as that represented by this endeavour on the part of these pioneering meteorologists. In historical science communities, such as the Einstein Papers Project, the work of Wilse and his colleagues is well known and the observatories in Spydeberg and Eidsberg well documented. One can say that through these observations, Wilse was a part of the world’s first climate panel.

Wilse’s most important work is Spydebergs beskrivelse. It was published in Christiania in 1779, with the following subtitle:

Physical, economical and statistical



Spydeberg Rectory

and Area

in the Aggershuus Diocese

of Norway,

and on the Occasion thereof

diverse Reports and Commentaries,

in Part about Norway in general, in Part about

its Eastern Region in particular,

with the requisite

Copperplates and Appendices,

after 10 Years of personal Research

written by

J.N. Wilse Mag. Phil.

Pastor in the same Region.

Spydebergs beskrivelse is divided into three main sections. “Part I. Natural description of the Area”, “Part II. About the Agriculture”, “Part III. About the People themselves, the Public Sector and the Times”.

Wilse’s dreams for Norway and Europe are expressed in the chapter “The Future of Norway”. The fictional character Philoneus is found, on the cusp of the new millennium in the year 2000, at the top of Mjærskaukollen (300 mamsl) just north of the Østfold border, beholding a view overlooking Østfold and all of Europe. Wilse expresses his own visions for the future through Philoneus: of times of peace, of knowledge-based collaboration, of sustainable value creation for healthy and equally distributed prosperity. No less.

The story tells of a stroll through a subterranean library in a temple-like construction in Mjærskaukollen. “The Old Wise Man” acts as Philoneus’ guide and shows him books, sculptures, art collections, commemorative coins and many other artefacts with messages of the virtues and good advice that give people a good life. Here there was political dynamite of the best kind that in many ways did not fit in with the reactionary forces of the day. As such, it is all the more interesting for us today to consider an abundant collection of common truths that may be significant to the paths we choose. The story “The Future of Norway” remains relevant.

The visions for Norway and Europe were viewed as being so dangerous by the reactionary chancery in Copenhagen that the entire edition was banned. Wilse explains that it was “precisely this addition to Spydebergs Beskrivelse that attracted a high-ranking person’s attention to the extent that he ordered its confiscation”. He did not learn what it was that was intolerable and thus edited the manuscript in virtual blindness.

Stud. philol. Harald Bakke writes in 1912 in his book J.N. Wilse, en kulturhelt (J.N. Wilse, A cultural hero):

“It is not difficult to guess what it is that this ‘high-ranking person’ disliked about ‘The Future of Norway’ or who he was. The book is permeated through and through with the spirit of true affection for Norway that is typical of a number of Danish-born men of that time, and who find in Wilse one of their best representatives. Guldberg had held power in Denmark-Norway since 1772, and he did not tolerate hearing the word ‘Norwegian’ mentioned. ‘There is no such thing as a Norwegian. We are all citizens of the Danish state. Do not write for the contemptible Christiania savants,’ he wrote to Suhm. But Wilse belonged to precisely this contemptible race, and there are many signs that Wilse did not in any sense enjoy his patronage. It was probably Guldberg who intervened, but thought better of it, finding that the book was not worth making such a fuss about. And he was right, it is not revolutionary.”

It is well known that when Wilse in August of 1794 was visiting Melbostad in Hadeland, he showed his friend Court Justice Hammer two letters from County Governor Levetzow. The first letter ordered that all copies of the book be confiscated, and the second contained the message that “the revised Philoneus must be printed anew”.

Wilse looked up to the Norwegian, his deeds and office, his life and works – and not least, his language. In Spydebergs Beskrivelse, he included an abundant glossary that he called “Norwegian Dictionary or a Collection of Norwegian Words that are used in particular in the District of Spydeberg and also in the Eastern Part of Norway, with a Foreword about the Dialect, and an Appendix with some of the District’s Idioms and Proper Nouns”. He had spent several years compiling the glossary, and it was also available as a separate publication. Linguistic scholars have referred to it as “the largest glossary for Eastern Norway in print”. Ivar Aasen (1813–1896) based his work on it when compiling his Norwegian dictionary, Norsk Ordbog, which was published in 1873. He who sees the value of the language of the common people simultaneously sees the value of the common people. As did Wilse.

In 1781, Wilse and his family had lived for four years in the new and modern wing of the rectory. But Anna Cecilia was still not well. In August, she gave birth to their son Christian, who died the following year at the age of 13 months. After this, Anna Cecilia’s health continued to deteriorate, and on 3 May 1783, she died at the age of 33. Jacob Nicolai was left alone with three children, two boys and a girl. He mourned the loss of Anna Cecilia for the remainder of his life. In order to alleviate some of his workload, he looked for a post in a parish with only one church. In Spydeberg, he was responsible for three churches.

In 1780, Wilse had already appealed to the bishop for a post in Copenhagen. In 1782, he applied for the post of assistant librarian at the Danish Royal Library while waiting for a post as a pastor in Copenhagen. It was a post he was never offered, but in 1783, he was accepted as a member of the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters in Trondheim.

Wilse was made Professor Titular in 1784. The same year, he married 24-year old Gurine Marie Morland, daughter of Procurator Morland in Rakkestad. Together and in the course of ten years, they would have five children: four boys and a girl.

In 1786, Wilse was assigned a new diocese in Eidsberg, where he would have a chaplain in his employ so that he was not alone in the parish. He then moved into the Eidsberg rectory, located near the church. In his opening sermon in Eidsberg, he addressed the congregation: “Beloved parishioners! Oh, beloved souls!” These are not empty phrases but deeply felt and meant; it is evident in the entirety of Wilse’s work that he was a true philanthropist. There are those who have maintained that his religious calling must have faded into the background in his lifetime. So far, there are no grounds to substantiate such a claim. The opening sermon in Eidsberg represents his creed as a mature man. In contrast to many other clergymen, he had no need to instil fear in his parishioners. On the contrary, he spoke of how clergymen should not behave if they are to reach their parishioners with God’s word. We must assume that this man, who expressed admiration for the Norwegian common man, was also dedicated to his calling as a pastor. No grievances against him have been found.

In the years leading up to 1791, Wilse worked with the publication of Reise-Iagttagelser (Travel Observations). In 1791, he contributed to establishing The Topographic Society in Christiania. There he was one of eight scholars. He took part in the publication of the Norwegian Topographic Journal, in which he published excerpts from Eidsbergs Beskrivelse (A Description of Eidsberg) on a regular basis, along with other articles.

In 1793, the university debate began to gain significant momentum. Wilse printed in the Topographic Journal an “Invitation to my Norwegian fellow citizens and countrymen to join me in a humble petition for an Academy in Norway”. The meeting was held in the home of Councilman Moestue in Christiania. After three years of debate, Copenhagen rejected the idea of a university in Norway. The debate fell silent, something that deeply irritated Wilse, and in connection with this, he published the monograph Den nationale Døsighed og Uvirksomhed, særdeles i de langt fra Hovedstaden beliggende Egne […] (The national lethargy and inactivity, in particular in districts located far from the capital) in 1797.

Wilse was without urban and academic arrogance. He did indeed wish to return to Copenhagen in order to work more closely with the university community there, but on the title page of the publication of the plans for a future oriented university, Die Norwegische Akademie (1796), he nonetheless wrote the following aphorism: Inter Sylvas Academi(a) quaerere verum (“It is between the forests the truth can be grasped”). In other words, it is only in the countryside and in nature that one can reach an understanding of the full and unadulterated truth.

Wilse proposed that the university should be located “out in the countryside in proximity to a big city”. He had a copperplate illustrating a design for a modern campus with buildings, gardens, a sporting facility and “a little lake”. The latter was for sailing and swimming, but was not to be more than one cubit deep so as to ensure that the students would not drown.

For Wilse, ornamentation and utility, aesthetics and the natural sciences were two sides of the same coin. He shared this view with Carl von Linné, who in the masterwork Systema naturae reformed botany by introducing the binary nomenclature and giving all organisms a family name and a first name in Latin. The first edition was published in 1735, the year of Wilse’s birth. Wilse owned the seventh edition from 1748 and used it when he was a student. Linné created a classification system for plants based on form and pollination, and Wilse was one of the first to organise the plants according to habitat. The observations he made about biotopes make it possible to name Wilse among the first ecologists in the world.

It would appear as though Wilse worked for many years on “the revised Systema naturae”. Wilse’s interleaved edition made it possible for him to add copious footnotes, as it was only printed on every other page. Throughout the entire work, he has written revisions of Linnés original. This valuable edition of the book is stored in the Norwegian National Library in Oslo.

In May of 1796, the year after their fifth child was born, Gurine died at the age of 36. Wilse was now alone with eight children. He remarried three years later, to the Norwegian clergyman’s daughter Johanne Marie Grøgaard, who lived in Kalundborg in the northwestern part of Zealand and travelled from Denmark by ship. His son Nicolai helped by teaching his siblings until the turn of the century, at which time he travelled to Copenhagen to pursue his studies.

Wilse died on 23 May 1801 from “typhoid fever”, perhaps a type of gangrene or a rampant skin infection at the age of 66. He continued to perform his duties as a pastor up until the beginning of May. Four months later, Johanne Marie gave birth to a boy who was christened Jacob Nicolai.

Wilse was buried in Eidsberg cemetery.

Wilse’s patriotic statements are so clear and his work for education and equality between the sexes so evident that Henrik Wergeland esteemed him as an important forerunner to and a necessary condition for the liberal Norwegian constitution that was signed in 1814. Henrik Wergeland writes this in his work Norges Konstitutions Historie (The History of the Norwegian Constitution), which was published in 1841. No finer bridge can be built between Wilse’s humanism project and the drafting of the constitution that took place in his former rectory during the council of ministers known as Spydebergstatsrådet (The Cabinet of Spydeberg) in August 1814, when Christian Frederik had his headquarters there. The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage considered this context fundamental to the restoration work carried out in the centennial year of 2014. Jacob Nicolai Wilse must be considered one of our national strategists. He combined a holistic view of science and a practical application of knowledge with social development objectives. It foreshadowed, as Wergeland says, the constitution that was written in Eidsvoll.

Wilse ensured that people in the local communities were seen, admired and described. This represented something wholly innovative in the civil state they had known until then. Wilse saw that the people’s customs and traditions, language and cultural affiliations were essential for a good and rich life. Now that the garden at the Spydeberg rectory has been restored, it is as an expression of the nature and humanism laboratory that all of Wilse’s life and works may be said to represent:

“You must find happiness in the splendour of your time and not be discontented because much remains to be done … Fill your time and circle with all of the good that you have the ability and opportunity to muster, follow and cultivate genius, raise yourself above every age’s prejudices and mistakes, love your time and your fatherland and rejoice in them.”