Lyche Sophia Friis was a Danish-Swedish poet. She was known as one of the “learned ladies” of her era, and for her ability to compose poetry in a variety of languages.
Her exact date of birth is unknown. Her year of birth is variously given as 1692, 1699, and 1700, and of these possibilities 1699 seems the most likely. Lyche Sophia Friis grew up in Odense in a family which belonged to the “alderman aristocracy” within that town’s citizenry. Little is known about her childhood but one of her poems recounts how she, “et Pige-Barn i schole nyelig gick” (recently attended school as a young girl). Whether this is meant to imply that she had actually formally attended a school or had received private tuition at home remains undetermined. However, it is known that at least one of her sisters, Karen, also had linguistic aptitude which was considered unusual at that time. Based on this, one can assume that the girls’ parents took great pains over their daughters’ educations.
Lyche Sophia Friis released her first poem in 1717. It commemorated the bicentennial of the Reformation and was written in both Danish and Latin. The poem was printed by the royal printing house in Copenhagen, and gained international attention through its inclusion in a major German collection on the Reformation’s anniversary. Her next effort, only published posthumously, was a New Year’s poem in honour of Fredrick IV, in 1719. In addition to celebrating the king in general, and his recent victory over the Swedes in particular, the bilingual poem also contained a personal plea. Lyche Sophia Friis’ father had been appointed town mayor of Odense in 1717 but had rapidly ended up in court after being charged with lèse-majesté and subsequently suspended from his mayoral role. Lyche Sophia Friis asks the king in her poem to understand that her father’s crime had been committed with “good intentions” and requests that his suspension be revoked. The third poem written by Lyche Sophia Friis that is known to us was also written in celebration of a monarch, namely the Crown Prince, whose marriage occurred in 1721. This poem is primarily a showpiece for Lyche Sophia Friis’ extensive linguistic talents and thus includes verses not just in Danish and Latin but also in French, German, and Ancient Greek. Although this poem does not directly make pleas on behalf of her father it can still be seen as an attempt at placing her family in a more favourable light. If that was the intention it came to nought: her father was permanently removed from his position, resulting in his ruin.
Little is known of Lyche Sophia Friis’ activities in the ensuing period. However, by 1723 — at the latest —she appears in Sweden at Näs (Trollenäs) castle in Scania, serving as governess to castle-owner Fredrik Trolle’s daughters. Fredrik Trolle was also a nobleman of Danish heritage and newly widowed. Lyche Sophia Friis composed a “Testament Moral” in French for her three young students. It gained attention from her peers but, despite encouragement, she never succeeded in publishing the piece.
Lyche Sophia Friis met the man she went on to marry, Gustaf Ernst von Bildstein, at Näs. He was a docent in theology, belles-lettres, and European languages at Lund University and had been appointed tutor to Fredrik Trolle’s son Arvid. Lyche Sophia Friis and von Bildstein, who shared linguistic abilities and an interest in belles-lettres, began a relationship and then married in 1736. As newlyweds they undertook a long trip to Denmark in 1737 during which, in addition to meeting Lyche Sophia Friis’ relatives, they also socialised in Copenhagen’s learned milieu. This had major implications for Lyche Sophia Friis’ reputation. Two prominent intellectuals, Jacob Langebek and Ludvig Harboe, were apparently so impressed by Lyche Sophia Friis that they published an article about her in their newly established, international journal called Dänische Bibliothec. This resulted in information about her being disseminated in various works on the Continent.
Around 1740 Lyche Sophia Friis and her husband spent some time in Stockholm. They then returned to Lund where von Bildstein, who had been ordained in 1736, combined academic employment with his role as a pastor in Hardeberga and Södra Sandby. The couple had two children, although their son Gustaf died whilst still young. Their daughter, Lycka Christina, survived into adulthood and, according to a letter written by her mother, also began to “Latinise” when young.
There are no surviving poems which date from Lyche Sophia Friis’ time in Sweden, nor are there any mentioned elsewhere. However, during the last year of her life Lyche Sophia Friis published her correspondence with the Copenhagen academic Friedrich Christian Eilschov. These letters are composed in high-register, new ‘classic style’ Latin typical of that era and shows continued interest not only in learned and erudite literature but also in linguistic matters. The personal meeting with her Danish correspondent, which Lyche Sophia Friis expressed her hopes for, never came to pass.
In Jöns Stenbäck’s memorial, composed at the time of Lyche Sophia Friis’ burial, she was already compared to Sophia Elisabeth Brenner, the well-known Swedish poet who was a distant relative of her husband. Although Sophia Elisabeth Brenner’s output was far more extensive, there are nonetheless parallels between the two women, not just in their poetry but also in their correspondence with learned men of their time. Lyche Sophia Friis surpassed Brenner in at least one way: the latter never wrote in Ancient Greek. Apparently Lyche Sophia Friis had also, as an adult, learned Hebrew from her husband.
Lyche Sophia Friis died in 1747.