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Title: Ludvig Holberg, The Founder of Norwegian Literature and an Oxford Student
Author: Hammer, Simon Christian
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ludvig Holberg, The Founder of Norwegian Literature and an Oxford Student" ***

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  S. C. HAMMER, M.A.


  _Price Two Shillings net_




  S. C. HAMMER, M.A.


  [Illustration: LUDVIG HOLBERG]


The following lecture was delivered on May 23rd, 1919, at Magdalen
College, Oxford, by invitation of the President, Sir Herbert Warren, and
in the presence, among others, of the Norwegian Minister in London, Mr.
Benjamin Vogt.

In revising the manuscript I have thought it necessary to enlarge it on
a few points where I had to condense the lecture in order to keep it
within the confines of an hour. I have also added a few supplementary
footnotes and a brief reference to the bulky Holberg literature which
may perhaps prove of interest to Holberg students in England.

In paying my respectful thanks to the President of Magdalen College and
the distinguished audience for their kind reception I beg to sum up my
feelings in the words of Holberg himself: _Multis sane nominibus
devinctum Oxoniensibus me fateor teneri_.

                                                             S. C. H.


_December, 1919._






I propose to speak to you about my countryman, Ludvig Holberg, the most
famous Norwegian student whose name was ever entered on the records of
this University. If this had not been the case, I should hardly have
ventured to ascend this platform, for I feel that here, if anywhere, it
must be an indispensable condition that the subject should match the
place. For just as Oxford is not primarily an institution of education,
but through its traditions, its companionships, its achievements, the
very embodiment of British genius, British chivalry and British
aspirations, so Ludvig Holberg is, indeed, no author in the ordinary
sense of the word. He is the founder of modern Norwegian and Danish
literature, the greatest playwright, the first critical historian, the
most human and most broad-minded moralist and philosopher of two
nations; a man whose constant work was one of educating; who
revolutionised the conception of life in two kingdoms and paved the way
for the intellectual and political liberty of the future. For all this,
as I am going to show you, he is, next to his genius, highly indebted to
England and, above all, to Oxford. To this place he made his way when he
quitted Norway 213 years ago, imbued with a deep and early sympathy for
England; from this place he went to Copenhagen, the joint capital at
that time of Denmark and Norway, enriched by assets of the highest
importance to his life-work. I, therefore, want to thank you for the
opportunity you have given me to pay a joint tribute to Oxford and

Ludvig Holberg--_Ludovicus Holbergius_, _Norvegus_, as he signed his
name in the Admission Index of the _Bodleian Library_--was born at
Bergen, the present capital of Western Norway, on December 3rd, 1684.
His father, who was a well-known officer in the Norwegian army, died
when Lewis was an infant; his mother, when he was 10 years old. Lewis
who was the youngest of twelve brothers and sisters, six of whom
attained their majority, therefore very early became acquainted with the
sterner aspects of life and grew up a lonely boy, deprived of the tender
care of a parental home. It was at that time the custom in Norway to
give pay to sons of officers and to initiate them at an early age in
military tactics, the salaries they got being used to defray the
expenses of their education. These petty officers were called corporals,
and Lewis was now promptly appointed corporal in the "Upland Regiment,"
far away from his native town, in one of the midland districts.

This was a rather curious beginning for a man so decidedly
anti-militarist as Holberg was throughout his life. In his
autobiography, published in Latin in 1727,[1] he makes fun of the
episode, describing his transformation from a petty officer into a
professor of philosophy as "a sort of Ovidian metamorphosis which might
expose me to the risk of being sent back from my professorial chair to
the camp, if the authorities were disposed to question my

Notwithstanding this, his appointment as petty officer was to become of
importance to him. As soon as he got his commission he left Bergen for
the midland counties--a remarkable journey at that time, by sea and
land, through a great part of West and Mid Norway--until he finally
arrived at the Fron Vicarage, one of the finest places in the valley of
Gudbrandsdalen and at present one of our most popular tourist districts.
The vicar of Fron, who was his relation on his mother's side, soon
discovered his remarkable abilities, his passion for literature, in
which he had already made some trifling attempts, and last but not
least, his gift for languages.

The two years which Holberg subsequently spent at Fron have, until a
quite recent date, been practically unnoticed by Holberg students, but
it is easy to see that they form an interesting link in the chain of
events connected with his life. His schooldays at Fron were not pleasant
to him, for the assistant master, who had to take care of the boys, was
rather inferior as a teacher. His Latin was bad, his views narrow and
pedantic, his chief instrument of instruction the birch, of which he
made assiduous application. Holberg, who rather early reacted
instinctively and strongly to all strokes of spontaneousness, very soon
conceived a deep dislike and contempt for these pedagogic methods, and
his power of reflection made its combinations and conclusions. Latin and
pedantry became to a certain extent synonymous notions to him, and it
was to be one of his pleasures as a writer to record and hand over to
derision the whole system of travestied learning which was one of the
characteristic features of his age.

This was the negative aspect of his sojourn at the Fron Vicarage. Its
positive aspect was the time he spent in the library of the vicarage,
where, among a number of Greek and Latin classics, he also found several
modern foreign books, including some Bibles in English and French, an
English and a French dictionary, a French grammar, and an English
reader, with colloquial sentences--rather a curious collection of books
for a Norwegian inland county towards the end of the seventeenth
century. These books, as far as we know, were the first specimens of
English and French literature which he ever saw, but he was fascinated
by them. They were to him messages from the great marvellous world
hundreds of miles beyond the mountains by which he was surrounded. Do
you wonder that he was longing and dreaming, silent and solitary as he
was by disposition?

But he was not dreaming only. Being a quick observer of things
surrounding him, we may infer that he was deeply impressed by the
customs and manners of the peasants among whom he lived, their cool,
unobtrusive way of behaving themselves, their sound judgment, their
manual cleverness, their traditions, songs and fairy tales, and last but
not least, their dialect, with its peculiar words and phrases, so
decidedly different from his own Bergen tongue and way of speaking.
Indeed, numerous passages in his works are stamped by obvious
reminiscences from his Fron sojourn.

After an absence which, in more respects than one, ripened him above his
age, Holberg, in 1698, returned to Bergen, where he resumed his studies
under conditions which did not please him at all. During his absence the
grammar school of the city had been subjected to a thorough reform by an
able manager, who was himself an ardent admirer of the classics.
Accordingly, Latin more than ever became the chief subject of
instruction, the command of the language being laboriously aimed at by
means of disputations which were at once linguistic exercises and a
medium of theological and metaphysical fencing.

Holberg, who always felt himself alien to subtleties of this kind, was
therefore quite agreeable when very soon after the heavy fire at Bergen
in 1702, which stands out as one of the most remarkable events in the
annals of the city, he was sent to the University of Copenhagen, where
he passed his B.A. examination. He does not seem to have been favourably
impressed in any particular degree either by the capital itself or by
the conditions ruling at the University. Otherwise, in his reminiscences
he would hardly have passed by his life as a student in absolute
silence; on the other hand, Bergen, as she presented herself to him
towards the end of 1702 after he had been away for some seven or eight
months, was certainly no cheery place, being still under the gloom of
the devastations of the fire. He therefore quite naturally availed
himself of the earliest opportunity of getting away.

The two following years of his life, but for a short stay at Copenhagen,
where he completed his theological studies and attained a high degree,
he spent chiefly "in flogging his pupils and converting Norwegian
boors." This is a humorous expression of his for the way in which he
performed his duties as a tutor to the children of the vicar at
Voss--now one of the best-known districts on the Bergen-Christiania
Railway--and occasionally replaced him in the pulpit. By his own saying
he succeeded decidedly better as a preacher than as a tutor which, by
the way, does not say very much, as he never excelled in either of these
functions. The chief interest connected with his stay at Voss is the
fact that it strengthened his early Fron recollections of the peasants.

We are entitled to infer from his famous _Description of Bergen_, which
appeared thirty-five years later, that he has taken a special interest
in Voss, and that he has studied the history and the topography of the
district, and we hardly jump at conclusions in assuming that his
popularity with the peasants was due, not to his sermons, but to the
straightforward, unpretending way in which he approached them. He
carried with him from Voss, as he had carried with him from Fron,
favourable impressions of the Norwegian peasantry to the manly qualities
of whom he often returns in his writings.

In 1704 Holberg set out on the first of the five famous journeys which
he was to undertake to various parts of Europe within the next
twenty-two years. I shall not spend many words on this particular
journey beyond the fact that he visited West Germany and Holland, which
at that time were under the spell of the operations on the Western
Front, for, as you remember, we find ourselves at that time at the
commencement of the Spanish War of Succession. It is sufficient to state
that the journey lasted about a year, and that Holberg, in the meantime,
had many chequered experiences; by way of example, that it is impossible
for a man with literary talents to get on at Amsterdam, where, to use
his own expression, "trade occupies every man's thoughts, where
philosophy is at a discount, and where even men like Grotius and
Salmasius have to give way to shipowners and merchants." He therefore
ultimately had to return to Norway, arriving in an exhausted condition
at Christianssand, where he was assisted by a friend, Mr. Brix, whom he
happened to meet there. This friend kindly recommended Holberg to
several of the principal inhabitants, and he very soon got a reputation
as a teacher, especially in French, although--as he learnt on a later
occasion in Paris--his French was not so perfect as the natives of
Christianssand seemed to think.

Unfortunately he very soon happened to raise the feminine world of the
town against himself. Full of irony as he was, and "delighted with
everything which had an air of novelty"--as he describes himself--he was
greatly amused one day by coming across an anonymous pamphlet in which
the author endeavoured to prove, by sixty-four arguments, that women
have no soul. He promptly learned the chief arguments by heart, and took
every opportunity "of broaching the paradox and of defending it with an
earnestness proportioned to the zeal or indignation with which it was
opposed." Finally, of course, he had to submit and to renounce his
heresy, after which peace was restored. Holberg, who was very musical,
and played excellently on the flute, was subsequently introduced to some
of the most respected families in the town, where he seems to have been
very much appreciated. It will always be a matter of conjecture whether
he contracted at Christianssand, however temporarily, what has been
styled a "heart rheumatism"; but if so, the ladies of Christianssand
have had their revenge; their descendants may still be proud of the
tribute which Holberg in his auto-biography pays to the accomplishments
of their great-great grandmothers.

In the spring of 1706 Holberg left Christianssand, embarking for England
at Arendal, the well-known neighbouring town, conspicuous even in those
days for its sea-faring reputation. I may, perhaps, in this connection,
take leave to observe that I am a native of that town, and often, when a
boy, sailing out in my boat to the mouth of the harbour, where it opens
towards the horizon far away, or resting on one of the many islets
during the wonderful nights of the Norwegian summer, waiting for the
early fishing hours at sunrise, I would remind myself that these rocks
and skerries outside of my native town were the last part of Norway on
which Holberg looked back when, under the press of a fair wind, his
swift barque carried him away to England, the fairyland of his westward

  Adieu, adieu! my native shore
    Fades o'er the water blue;
  The night-winds sigh, the breakers roar,
    And shrieks the wild sea mew.

It was Norway's "Childe Harold"--the most solitary figure in our
cultural history--who was taking leave of his country, never to see her
rugged shores and her magnificent inland sceneries again. There was,
indeed, nothing poetical about him, for--as you know--the age was a
decidedly prosaic one, and Holberg, later in life, confessed that up to
the age of 30 "he would yawn when he heard the finest piece of poetry
read to him." Yet, as we can see him from our present vantage ground, he
was at that moment the embodiment of the genius of the Norwegian nation,
which once more, as in the saga period, hoisted its sails for Western
Europe, bold, eager of adventures, fascinated at the very thought of
getting away.


I want to lay stress on the Norwegian origin and education of Holberg,
on his stay among our peasantry in two characteristic parts of the
country, and also on the fact that he was over 21 when he left Norway
for ever. If these things were not indispensable for a fair conception
of his lifework, I should certainly not have dwelt on them. Yet a few
particulars are still wanted to give a finishing touch to his portrait.

He set out in life with a delicate figure and an extremely youthful
appearance, but in return he was possessed of some solid, staunch
qualities which moulded him into a first-rate character. From his
mother, whose family is still numerously represented in Norway, he had
inherited a sound realism which made him firmly resolved to get a
position in life and to settle down comfortably on a fixed salary. From
his father, of whose family no trace is left among us, he had inherited
what has been called the itinerary element of his nature--his passion
for travelling, initiated by his early Fron journey, his eagerness to
see foreign countries, to stroll about in the big cities, to pass along
the high roads from one country into another, covering extraordinary
distances--an energetic student, a haunter of libraries, always on the
look-out for new books, but above anything else, always and everywhere,
a keen observer of men and things, enriching himself with knowledge from
the fresh, inexhaustible sources of life.

Besides this, he was a true son of Bergen, the most heterogeneous town
of Norway--a sort of "Noah's Ark," according to his own expression--with
a development of its own which, in the course of centuries, has made the
natives of Bergen differ considerably in views and manners from the rest
of their countrymen. Even in our days these differences still make
themselves felt in some degree. All this you must bear in mind when you
speak about Holberg. The remarkable influence exercised upon him by
Bergen gives the clue to his personality--to his genius as a playwright,
to his liberal views as an historian, to his clear, realistic reasoning
as a philosopher. It is always Bergen, never Copenhagen, which is
uppermost in his mind.

How excellently this young, highly-gifted Norwegian was prepared for a
thorough appreciation of contemporary England!

During the forty-six years which had passed since the Restoration of
1660, England--as you will remember--had witnessed a period full of
political and literary activity, but above all, remarkable for its
prodigious advance in the field of science. This progress was, it is
true, a matter of European rather than of English concern, but the
inquiring spirit and the rationalist desire to get to the bottom of
things which were the hallmarks of the age were in no country developed
more strikingly than in England. Latin was still the language in which
scientific works were written, but the Royal Society had already
unfolded its national programme "of bringing all things as near the
mathematical plainness as possible, and of preferring the language of
artisans, countrymen and merchants to that of wits and scholars."

The extraordinary events of the time also highly appealed to the
receptive mind of Holberg. When he arrived at Oxford in the spring of
1706, in the company of his friend, Mr. Brix, England was in the midst
of the Spanish War of Succession, of which--as we remember--he had got
some experiences on his Dutch journey. During a sojourn of nearly two
years, Holberg was a close observer of everything connected with the
great war. It was not so easy at that time as during the recent
Armageddon to get hold of the historical thread leading up to events and
to explain the facts by way of arguments; but he was impressed by the
dogged determination of the English in their heavy struggle against
Louis XIV., and their unswerving belief in a victorious issue. He
himself never doubted that they would win the war, thanks to their
splendid resources no less than to the very principles for which they
fought. In short, it is the prototype of the world's war by which we are
confronted--the Spirit of the West, the representative of the political
and intellectual liberty of the future struggling against absolutism and
all the reactionary powers of the past.

As a matter of course, Holberg was a staunch pro-ally, and besides this,
he was also highly interested in the political events of the day. The
Union between England and Scotland which took place during his stay at
Oxford, strikes him as one of the most important acts of statesmanship
in any age--an event of far-reaching consequences--and he never gets
tired of commenting upon it and of subjecting it to new investigations.

I do not presume to think that I can tell you anything new concerning
the conditions ruling at this University at the commencement of the
eighteenth century, but some brief particulars in connection with
Holberg's stay are of interest and importance for a fair understanding
of the moulding influence of Oxford upon his character and genius.

Throughout the seventeenth century an increasing number of students from
Denmark and Norway had found their way to Oxford, "the most noble
theatre and emporium to all good sciences," to quote a contemporary
writer. From 1602 to 1683 the famous _Liber Peregrinorum_, or Admission
Index, shows a total of 112 names of Danish and Norwegian origin; during
the next twenty years, up to 1708, their number was 60, of which 46 were
Danes and 14 were Norwegians. These figures are interesting as an
unmistakable proof of the growing intercourse between the Dano-Norwegian
monarchy and England, which by this time had commenced to make itself
decidedly felt in the field of commerce.

From the commencement of the eighteenth century, London, the famous fire
of which in 1666 had given a great impetus to the small timber ports of
South-Eastern Norway, became a city of growing importance to our
country. During their holidays the Norwegian Oxford students used to
spend their time in London, where there was a numerous colony of Danes
and Norwegians and a constant influx of seamen and merchants, especially
from South Norway. It was not, therefore, altogether by chance that
Holberg arrived in England. He sailed, in fact on the westward current
of the time.

On their arrival at this University, April 18th, 1706, having covered
their way from Gravesend to London, and from London to Oxford on foot,
Holberg and his friend soon found out that their finances were at so low
an ebb that before they could proceed with their studies they had to
provide for their domestic necessities. Fortunately Oxford was no
particularly expensive place at that time, £40 a year being sufficient
to pull a man through, and Holberg was always very economical, and
understood remarkably well the difficult art of making both ends meet.
Yet their first months at Oxford were passed under very strained
conditions until Mr. Brix succeeded in getting a supply of money from a
banker in London. In the meantime, they had raised the necessary funds
themselves by giving lessons in music and languages, and it is a
characteristic evidence of Holberg's cleverness that, after the
departure of his friend, which took place comparatively soon, he managed
to study at Magdalen College for more than eighteen months, with no
other money than that obtained through his lessons as master of
languages and of the flute.

The more you try to sound the marvellous authorship of Holberg the more
you feel convinced of the importance of his stay at Oxford. It would
require several lectures to trace the way in which his impressions and
his experiences of Oxford have moulded him as an historian, as a
playwright, as a philosopher and moralist. I can only tell you that he
took with him from this place to Copenhagen and to the Dano-Norwegian
community not only the conviction of his future mission, but practically
the very seeds of what should ripen into one of the richest crops in the
field of literature. If Macaulay had known Holberg he would have had to
give a somewhat different turn to his famous sentence: "France has been
the intermediary between England and Mankind." Holberg visited England
twenty-five years before Voltaire and twenty-four years before
Montesquieu, and brought back first hand views and impressions, sifted
only through the medium of his unbiassed mind.

To put it briefly, Holberg has been the intermediary between England and
the North.

At Oxford Holberg planned the work by which he started in literature in
1711: _Introduction to the History of the European Kingdoms_,[2]
containing a remarkable chapter on England and the English from the time
of the Romans down to 1702, with quotations from various authors, among
them Milton, William Camden, and Lord Clarendon. This work, against
which many objections have been raised and, to a certain extent, not
unjustly, nevertheless is stamped by the characteristic features of his
genius, so familiar to all Holberg students--his original way of
thinking, his contempt for all sorts of ostentatious learning blocking
the way by irrelevant facts, his plain language--vigorous, manly, with a
turn of its own--his sound judgment, and perhaps, above all, the
generally fair way in which he arraigns his persons before the tribunal
of history.

Summing up his impressions and reminiscences twenty years later, Holberg
says in his autobiography: "_I confess that I have many reasons for
considering myself under great obligations to the Oxonians._"

This is no phrase of politeness. It is the opinion of a man whose
correct and blameless demeanour, no less than his sincerity, his
loyalty, and his intellectual abilities, had won him the appreciation of
his professors and the friendship of his fellow-students. His English
was excellent, and he does not conceal the fact that he is a bit proud
of it. Indeed, it is somewhat of a sacrifice not to indulge in
quotations from Holberg's autobiography--particularly so at the point at
which we find ourselves now--for his description of his stay at Oxford
is highly attractive, not only from a literary but a human point of
view. Altogether his autobiography is a curiously fascinating work, of
which no one will repent making the acquaintance. It ought to reappear
in a modern English translation.


After an interesting decade the importance of which to the development
of Holberg's genius cannot be over-rated we meet him in 1718 as
Professor of Metaphysics in Copenhagen University. After having left
Oxford in 1708 he had--to sum up the period as briefly as
possible--spent his time in studies at home and in travels abroad. He
never revisited England, but he lived and rooted in the English world of
thought, and whether in Germany, in Paris, in Rome, or at Copenhagen, he
studied and reasoned on the basis of his Oxford experiences. His
principal work from this period, _Introduction to the Law of Nature and
of Nations_, although little more than an abridgement of Pufendorf's
great work on the same subject, is interesting as a proof of his
independent views and his patriotic ambitions as an historian.

It would be an exaggeration unworthy of the reserved way in which
Holberg used to express himself, to say that he owed everything to
England. He was certainly also highly indebted to France. Setting apart
what he owes to Holland, Germany and Italy, I think we may square the
debt by saying that while England moulded his character and gave the
first impetus to his genius as an historian, France chiefly contributed
to the unfolding of his genius as a humorous writer. He is the Molière
of the North and, no doubt, one of the greatest dramatic authors ever

In 1719 Holberg's genius, which, until then, had kept strictly within
the rules prescribed by his professorship, apparently cool and
indifferent to the outside world, suddenly burst into a fit of laughter
which resounded through the North. This was his immortal heroic poem,
_Peder Paars_, which appeared in the autumn of 1719, and which marks
nothing less than a new era in Norwegian and Danish literature.

_Peder Paars_, like Ibsen's _Peer Gynt_, the only parallel in our
literature, is written in verse. Ibsen's rhymes are stamped by his
mastership of form, and move in shifting stanzas according to the
requirements of the situation and the emotion they are intended to
create. Holberg walks throughout his poem on the high-heeled
Alexandrines of the age. _Peer Gynt_ is the embodiment of the Norwegian
soul--Norway, as seen from within. _Peder Paars_ is the central gallery
of contemporary Denmark, with all its queer figures--Denmark, as seen
from without. That is why Holberg could never have written _Peder Paars_
if he had been born and bred a Dane. He had to be an outsider to get the
right perspective.

The gist of the poem is quickly told. Peder Paars, a plain Danish
citizen of a provincial town, wants to visit his sweetheart at some
other provincial town a few miles off. He has to go by sea, of course,
for Denmark, as you know, is pre-eminently a country composed of isles,
and, like Odysseus and Aeneas, he has some mighty enemies among the
immortal gods who will not allow him to complete his very reasonable
journey. He is shipwrecked and washed ashore with his followers on
Anholt, the very smallest of all Danish isles. His experiences in this
place form the chief part of the poem, for in this little,
out-of-the-way island Holberg gives us, as it were, contemporary Denmark
in a nutshell. Finally, the goddess of love pities him; he succeeds in
making his escape from Anholt, and arrives subsequently at Jutland,
where he has another series of remarkable experiences. Like Peer Gynt,
he is put into a mad-house, but some time afterwards he is released and
is escorted in triumph out of town. The last glimpse we get of him is
where he is made a soldier and has to strip himself of all he is
possessed of in order to be set free and become a civilian again. Here
the poem ends abruptly, unfinished, as if the author has got tired; but
the torso stands out as the work of a genius, and for two centuries it
has stood the test of time and towers still as one of the most imposing
works of fiction in Northern literature.

Holberg had a double purpose with _Peder Paars_. By the form he chose he
intended to aim a decisive blow at the learned apparatus of classic
poetry as we meet it, especially in Homer and Virgil. There was at that
time a lively discussion going on in England and France as to whether
classic or modern poetry ought to be preferred, and both views had their
eager advocates and opponents. Holberg, as you may easily imagine, sided
with the defenders of modern literature, partly because, being a true
son of the age to which he belonged, he was as indifferent to the fresh
originality of Homer as he was untouched by the high-sounding imitation
of Virgil, and in his poem he mixes them up in a most disrespectful way.

What is considerably more important to us than the form of his poem is,
however, the substance of it. The former belongs to the taste of an age
which has disappeared long ago; the latter is--as I have already
suggested--a cultural portrait of contemporary Denmark, and at the same
time a marvellous gallery full of human characters, stamped by the
eternal mark of life itself. Holberg, like Hamlet, was of opinion that
there was "something rotten in the state of Denmark," and he made up his
mind to set her right by the sound cure of irony. He could have chosen
no better remedy; for, in fact, the community in which he found himself
was not disgraced by vices which preyed on the very pith of the nation
and endangered its future. The chief fault with it was that owing to a
development which forms a highly-interesting chapter in the cultural
history of the country--but which it would take too long to
detail--Denmark, as Holberg found her two centuries ago, was about to be
stifled by an atmosphere of pedantry, humbug, hypocrisy and unsound
ambition. Surrounded by laws and orders in council which interfered with
their daily life in the most foolish way and increased the number of
misdemeanants, the Danish people was about to lose its self-respect and
absorb itself in an indiscriminate imitation of foreign nations.
Holberg's keen glance pierced through all this foolery into the very
depth of the national character. He saw that the Danish people was sound
at the core, and he therefore merrily divested it of one piece of these
masquerade garments after the other. He wanted to show the people among
which he lived that life is truth, not humbug, and that instead of the
comfortable advice: Disguise! hide! there is the more noble appeal: Be
thyself, and fear not!

There is a whole literature on _Peder Paars_ in Norwegian and Danish,
and it is only fair to say that opinions of the critics vary as to the
intrinsic value of the different parts of the poem from a literary point
of view. On the other hand, full credit is given to the poem from a
cultural standpoint. Generally speaking, _Peder Paars_ is not only the
first dazzling display of Holberg's genius as a humorous and satirical
writer; it also reveals him as the future playwright, who within a few
years was to send pit, boxes and galleries into fits of laughter.

Indeed, we may ask the question: Was there ever in any country a
professor of metaphysics with so adequate a store of humour and with a
more irresistible fancy to display it?


Holberg as a dramatic author is certainly one of the most interesting
chapters in the history of Norwegian and Danish literature, and none has
been subjected to a more searching examination.

It is admitted by all critics that he is indebted to the famous
playwrights of ancient Rome--Plautus and Terentius--and he certainly
also owes something to the Italian comedy with which he had become
acquainted both in Italy and in Paris. His relation to Molière whom he
admired very much has been a matter of discussion, even in France, and
there are in some of his plays characters and scenes which remind one of
the English dramatists of the Restoration. But he never stooped to mere
imitation. The comedies which have established his fame all bear the
indelible stamp of his originality and of his genius.

Let us take a short review of some of the most famous of his comedies.

First you make the acquaintance of the _Tinker Politician_--a typical
representative of the time, so occupied with speculations and
discussions on public affairs that he has no time to look after his own
trade. It consequently goes from bad to worse. He is the central figure
in a self-appointed board of Blue-Apron Politicians--a saddler, a
cutler, a wig-maker, and so on. They are over head and ears in politics,
discussing the events of the Spanish War of Succession, giving advice to
Prince Eugène and the Duke of Marlborough or denouncing their
dispositions, while expounding the most startling historical theories
and making the most absurd geographical assertions. They are also
eagerly taking down their own authorities.

Holberg has been so cautious as to make Hamburg the scene of his comedy,
for it would certainly not have been tolerated if the action had been
made to take place at Copenhagen. Some of the remarks made by the
characters of the play have, therefore, retained a wonderful actuality.
By way of example: "Indeed, those people don't see what is to the true
benefit of Germany." Replacing the word Germany by the word Denmark we
see, however, the homely, eighteenth-century address quite clearly.

In the third act the _Tinker Politician_ is most unexpectedly appointed
Burgomaster of Hamburg--a sham appointment, of course, arranged by some
persons who wish to play a practical joke on him in order to put his
remarkable political qualities and his much-boasted administrative
faculties to the test. It need hardly be said that his burgomastership
which, by the way, only lasts twenty-four hours, filled up with constant
embarrassments, disillusionments and mortifications, finally turns out a
complete failure. He is just about to hang himself in a fit of despair
when he is informed of the joke which has been played upon him. He
rejoices in his good luck, denounces his political vanity in a verse
which has become classic, and the moral of which may be expressed in the
old proverb: "The shoemaker should stick to his last."

In another play we meet _Jean de France_, a Copenhagen cousin of _The
Gentleman Dancing Master_, as Wycherly presents him in one of his
wittiest plays. His name is Hans Frandsen, a Danish family name--plain
and unpretentious. But Hans has been ten weeks in Paris and has returned
with his name translated. He mixes his Danish with French words and
phrases in the most ridiculous way, trespassing against all the rules of
French Grammar. He quite impresses his father and mother by his
high-sounding name, his Parisian manners, and his _air de grand
seigneur_, but his would-be father-in-law informs him very plainly that
he is an old-fashioned Danish citizen who means to stand no nonsense,
and who will never give his daughter to a fool. Through a practical joke
played upon Jean de France by means of the clever maid servant, who
pretends to have left Paris for Copenhagen with the sole purpose of
seeing him and enjoying his company, his ridiculousness is so amply
proved that he ultimately resolves to shake off the dust of Denmark from
his feet and return to fair France. The moral of the play may be
expressed in the old saying: All is not gold that glitters--and the
substance of it is to serve as a warning against the bad custom of the
time of sending young people abroad before they have developed the
necessary amount of self-knowledge and commonsense to profit by their

In _Jacob von Thyboc_ or _The Bragging Soldier_, we meet a
highly-developed specimen of "the military fool." I think this comedy
stands out as one of the most daring attacks in any literature on the
military profession. It is a picture of early eighteenth-century
militarism in its worst form, redeemed by no sympathetic feature, the
Danish army being at that time practically flooded by German officers,
bragging and swearing, mixing German and Danish in the most horrible
way, scolding and flogging their soldiers, but at the emergency cowards,
eager to save their skins.

As a matter of course, Holberg also introduces to us what we may call
"the Latin fool." His name is _Erasmus Montanus_--an unsurpassable
translation of the plain Danish name, Rasmus Berg. He exhibits his
learning as a constant display of paradoxes and gives only one evidence
of sound judgment and insight. Erasmus is capable of proving that his
mother is a stone, because a stone cannot fly, nor can his mother; but
as the poor peasant woman gets afraid of this astounding metamorphosis
and already thinks her legs are turning cold, he graciously comforts her
by the assurance that she can think and speak, which a stone cannot.
"Consequently you are no stone, mother!" He can also prove by several
arguments that children are entitled to thrash their old parents, one of
the arguments being that you have to restore what has been bestowed upon
you. It serves him right when the whole parish finally rises against
him, not because of all these foolish assertions, but because of the
only theory in which he is perfectly right, and which he proves by fair
arguments, that of the earth being round. On this point he has to give
in and admit that the earth is flat like a pancake--the only condition
on which the father of his sweetheart will give his consent to the

In the _Lying-in Room_, a most curious portrait of contemporary customs
and manners in connection with such a daily event as the birth of a
child--we find ourselves in a female gallery, unsurpassed in any
literature for variety, liveliness and realism. It might be worthy of a
whole lecture on what would certainly prove a highly interesting
subject: Holberg and the Fair Sex.

May I finally mention as perhaps the most deeply human of all his
comedies, _Jeppe on the Hill_ or _The Transformed Peasant_. It is a
representation of a practical joke played on a poor peasant who is found
in a field near the high road, senselessly intoxicated. He is
subsequently brought to the mansion, put into his lordship's bed and
garbed with his lordship's finest nightshirt. He awakes and believes
himself in Paradise, is treated as a Lord by the real owner of the
mansion whose sham servility makes him behave himself insolently, and is
once more intoxicated and replaced where he was found in his old dirty
clothes. He is then accused of intrusion and violent behaviour at the
mansion, sentenced formally to death, and subjected, when asleep, under
the influence of a drug, to a sham execution, the rope being fastened
under his arms instead of round his neck. He is finally lowered from the
gallows, and brought back to life by the same authorities who have
sentenced him to death, after which he is dismissed with a few
shillings--and the bitter conviction that he has been treated as a
plaything by the Lord of the mansion.

The low social level of the Danish peasantry in Holberg's days which
contrasted so unfavourably with the social standing of the Norwegian
peasants; the state of drunkenness to which they stooped in consequence
of the physical and moral humiliations to which they were subjected, and
which they wished to forget; the commonsense and keen power of
reflection of which they nevertheless were possessed and to which
Holberg has paid the famous tribute: "I never speak with peasants
without learning something from them"--all this has combined to make
Jeppe perhaps the most famous person in the Holberg gallery, conquering
generation after generation by his inexhaustible flow of life.

It has justly been said by the famous Danish poet, Oehlenschlaeger
(1779-1850) that if we might imagine that every document and record
bearing upon Denmark at the commencement of the eighteenth century
suddenly vanished from the earth with the sole exception of Holberg's
comedies, it would yet be possible to reconstruct the Danish community
of the time on the basis of them. This assertion is no exaggeration, but
nevertheless it only contains a half truth.

In their outward appearance Holberg's comedies are Danish--customs and
manners, names and scenery being contemporary Danish portraits hailing
from Copenhagen or from the province--but from within they are
unmistakably Norwegian. In fact, the typical characters of the Holberg
gallery are not only his compatriots; they are natives of Bergen like
himself. The old-fashioned gentleman, Jeronimus, narrow-minded, but
possessed of a solid stock of commonsense which will stand no nonsense
from the younger generation; his wife Magdelone, who has some
recollections of a merry youth and is not altogether proof against
relapses into former extravagances; Henrik, the clever servant with the
ever-inventive brain, the champion of the rights of youth; Pernille, the
witty chamber-maid, alternately impertinent and obsequious, but always
beaming with mirth, sure of a safe, however narrow, escape--every one of
them, as well as a number of less important characters, are stamped by
their own dear, queer town. You may even meet them in the streets of
Bergen to-day. It was not therefore by chance that the national stage of
Norway was founded at Bergen in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The city in which Holberg was born and in which his persons moved about
in life, quite naturally became the birthplace of the Norwegian scenic
art, and it is the lasting honour of the actors and actresses of the
_Bergen National Stage_--still the official name of the theatre of the
city--to have contributed to build up a Holberg tradition, which has
been further developed by actors and actresses from other parts of the
country, chiefly at the Christiania Theatre and its artistic heir the
National Theatre at Christiania.


In 1728 Copenhagen was devastated by a fire, the extent of which,
comparatively speaking, can only be likened to the famous fire of London
sixty-two years earlier, to which I have already made a reference. In
its consequences, it was even more far-reaching. It closes a chapter of
high political and cultural interest in the history of the
Dano-Norwegian monarchy, and opens a new one, imbued with an entirely
different spirit, the characteristic features of which were Pietism and
Germanism. Denmark, and more especially Copenhagen, became an
intellectual province of Germany, customs and manners being stamped by
the new religious movement, and ordinary life surrounded by a serenity
which closed the door on all pleasures and enjoyments. It goes without
saying that theatrical performances were considered most sinful, and
that, even if the national stage had not had to go into bankruptcy some
years before the fire, playgoing would have been promptly forbidden
along with balls, masquerades, and other public and private

Under these circumstances Holberg who, not long ago had published his
autobiography as a sort of apology--a literary event which, for various
reasons, has been very much discussed by Holberg students--had to give
up his activity as a playwright and turn to a work more in conformity
with his position as a professor in the University of Copenhagen. But
before he did so, he felt it his duty to inform the public that he was
the author of the comedies which had hitherto appeared under the
fictitious name of a citizen of a provincial town. He certainly did not
tell the public anything new by this information, but he impressed it
favourably and, what is more important still, he has profited by it in
the eyes of posterity. We are pleased to learn, through the authority of
Holberg himself on the eve of his long silence as a playwright, that he
admits the authorship of his immortal comedies in face of enemies whose
machinations might have overthrown him from behind, if he had not turned
round to meet them and confronted them with an open visage.

In 1730 Holberg was appointed Professor of History, and for the next
sixteen years, covering the whole of the reign of Christian VI., he
displays the activity of an historian, an essayist, and a philosophical
writer--another proof of the remarkable versatility of his genius.
Within recent years this phase of Holberg's authorship has been
subjected to a close and interesting examination, especially by
Norwegian Holberg students, and many valuable features, adding to the
correctness of Holberg's portrait as an author and as a man, have been
established beyond doubt. His historical works, obsolete though they are
and superseded by modern contributions, are imbued with the same spirit
as _Peder Paars_ and the _Comedies_. In his _History of Denmark_
(I.-III.) his greatest and most mature work; in his _Description of
Denmark and Norway_; in his _Description of Bergen_; in his _General
History of the Church_; in his _History of Heroes_ and in his _History
of Heroines_, to mention only the most important historical works of
this part of his life, in all of them we discover the same qualities
which struck us as characteristic features in his first work, deepened
by his experiences and sharpened by his superior faculty of observation.
In particular, we notice the light thread of irony running through the
whole tissue of his reflection and composition, stamping argument and
style alike by the irresistible humour of his genius. It is as if the
playwright is constantly casting a glance on the manuscript over the
shoulder of the historian, and as if merry Thalia always takes a fancy
to tease her serene sister Kalliope.

In the midst of his learned studies Holberg, in a relapse, as it were,
to his former satirical humour, surprised the public by a work which
very soon got international reputation. It appeared at Leipzig in 1741,
in Latin, under the title of _Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum_, and was
promptly translated into a number of European languages, among them
English. The first English translation of _Niels Klim_ dates from 1742;
the next from 1828.[3] It ought to reappear in a new translation, and be
included among the World's Classics, for next to _Gulliver's Travels_
there is hardly a work in any literature to which it can be adequately

Niels Klim is a Norwegian student--from Bergen, course--who, after
having taken his degrees at the University of Copenhagen, both in
theology and philosophy, has "returned penniless from the temple of the
Muses, like all other Norwegian students." Strolling about one day among
the hills which surround the city, he comes across a big cavern,
remarkable "from time immemorial" for a continual groaning caused by the
circulation of the air which is being drawn into the hole and again
expelled. He makes up his mind to investigate the phenomenon and a few
days later, assisted by four labourers, with rope and boat-hooks he
makes his descent, being lowered gently down the centre of the hole.
Unfortunately the rope suddenly snaps when he is only 12 feet down, and
in the midst of a thick darkness Mr. Klim, with tremendous rapidity,
falls straight through the globe until he ultimately finds himself
perfectly unhurt on another planet. He is startled at discovering that
the inhabitants of the country, the name of which is _Potu_, are walking
trees, moving about with an extreme slowness and gravity. He afterwards
finds out that the mental qualities of the Potuites are in every respect
in conformity with their outward appearance.

Potu is England, as Holberg saw it--and wished to see it--and in the
local description of it we quickly discover scenes of an unmistakable
English kind. The Potuites are possessed of a highly conservative
temper, but at the same time they are imbued with a true liberal spirit,
which makes their institutions, customs and manners--in short, their
community as a whole--contrast favourably with the communities of
contemporary Europe.

In Potu there are no religious quarrels, because the whole creed of the
population is contained in a few, easily intelligible, and very concise
sentences. There are no "suffragettes" either, to use a modern term, for
the women enjoy all the rights which among the European nations, are
bestowed upon men alone. A highly esteemed widow holds the office of
Minister of Finance; an elderly unmarried lady is Chief Justice--both to
the perfect satisfaction of their compatriots. The sciences taught at
the academies of Potu are History, Economy, Mathematics and
Jurisprudence. Medicine is considered superfluous, as an academic
science, owing to the temperate and regular habits of the Potuites,
while Metaphysics is strictly prohibited, those inclined to such studies
being promptly banished to the interior of the firmament. The government
of Potu is based upon the principles of absolutism, but as the Princes
always rule strictly in accordance with the principle of justice and
there is a perfect equality among the citizens--all ranks and titles
having been abolished centuries ago--the Potuites are very pleased with
the state of public affairs and do not want any change. It is not
absolutely prohibited to make proposals tending to change the existing
conditions, but reformers had better take care before launching their
proposals, for if they are deemed futile by the commission appointed to
consider them, the schemer is sure to be hanged.

Mr. Klim, who is considered too versatile to hold any office of
importance in the Principality of Potu, is vexed to see himself
entrusted with the office of a royal courier, for which the Potuites
find him excellently fitted owing to his fast legs. In this capacity he
travels all over the principality, having a number of remarkable
experiences, visiting, among other places, the famous site of learning
of Keba, the subterraneous Oxford. Unfortunately, Mr. Klim cannot
control his European ambition as a reformer, but owing to his foreign
origin and his inexperience, he escapes the gallows and is expelled
instead. He subsequently arrives in the Republic of Martinia, the
inhabitants of which form the most complete contrast to the Potuites.
The Martinians are apes, and in their country, which, as can easily be
seen, is meant to be a sort of underground France, everything goes with
a tremendous speed. Proposals and schemes of every kind are flying
about; the number of schemers is unlimited; innovations are hailed with
rapture, their popularity being always in proportion to their
foolishness. Mr. Klim becomes the hero of Martinia and is considered a
true benefactor of the nation when he invents the wig, which is promptly
adopted by the Martinians. Unfortunately a Martinian lady, the wife of
one of the most prominent men of the Republic, falls in love with him,
and as he declines her advances, her love is changed into hatred and she
gets him banished from the country.

After a series of remarkable adventures Mr. Klim ultimately lands in
Quama, the inhabitants of which are human beings at a very low level of
civilisation, among whom he appears in the quality of a reformer. In
Quama he discovers a highly interesting manuscript, the work of a
Quamite, describing his experiences in a European journey. It is a
first-rate eighteenth century satire on European conditions and the
customs and manners of the principal countries of Europe. Even here
Holberg's predilection for England does not fail. The English, I think
you will be pleased to learn, are let off most easily. Like his
countryman, Peer Gynt, a century later, though under somewhat different
conditions, Mr. Klim ultimately is chosen Emperor by the Quamites, but
this proves to be too much for him. His ambition very soon passes all
reasonable limits and his reign only knows the two alternatives:
World-power or Downfall. It need hardly be said that the latter becomes
the natural issue, and as a dethroned monarch he has to hide himself in
a deep cavern to escape the rage of his embittered subjects, whom he has
utterly duped and destroyed. Suddenly he loses his footing and falls
with a tremendous rapidity through the earth the opposite way to that by
which he arrived on the underground planet. He naturally lands again
outside of Bergen and ends his days as a modest parish clerk, although
never forgetting that once upon a time he used to be an Underground

Niels Klim is, no doubt, the highest revelation of Holberg's genius. We
find in it all the humour of _Peder Paars_ and the _Comedies_; his sound
judgment and his keenness of observation as an historian; his
broad-mindedness as a philosopher; his tolerance as a moralist. As a
work of fiction, it yields to none in exuberant phantasy, and the
imperturbable calmness of the argument and of the style only adds to its

In 1746 the reign of Pietism came to an end on the death of Christian
VI. The accession to the throne of his frivolous, intemperate son,
Frederick V., whose first wife was a daughter of George II., inaugurated
a new era. All gates of enjoyment were at once thrown open. Hymn-books
and Bibles were flung away, and people crowded to theatres, masquerades,
dancing halls and other entertainments. Holberg's dramatic vein began to
flow again after a twenty years' ebb, but the comedies of his closing
years can in no way be compared to those which he produced in the
hey-day of his life. More valuable to us than these comedies is the
series of smaller essays in the form of _Epistles_ (five volumes), and
_Moral Thoughts_ (two volumes), which he wrote in these years along with
a number of minor, and we may also say, inferior works. These volumes
are still a rich source of information to Holberg students. In none of
his works do we get a more intimate personal acquaintance with him. We
learn to know him in his modest, lonely, every-day life; his sympathies
and his antipathies; "the anfractuosities of his mind and of his
temper," which were certainly no less obvious than Samuel Johnson's; his
corporal frailties; his mental recreations. He is, in a certain way, his
own Boswell--less obtrusive, however, and, as a consequence, more
concise. There is no subject so insignificant that he thinks it below
his dignity to discuss it; there is none so exalted that he refrains
from expressing his opinion upon it. He tells us as willingly why he
prefers a cat to a dog, and what a real shoemaker ought to know--as he
tells us his opinion on God and eternity; the destination of man and the
supposed greatness of the popular heroes of history whom, by the way, he
is more inclined to consider as the mischief makers of mankind and the
squanderers of its economic wealth. Through the whole of this wonderful
collection of essays we breathe what Hamlet would call "the eager and
the nipping air" of originality, invigorating by its draught of
commonsense and moral responsibility. We easily forgive him that some
of his views are obsolete, for in other respects he is far ahead of his
time, and by his unbiassed attitude leaves even the most advanced
spirits of his age behind him.

How splendidly--only to mention one example--he is able to grasp a
character like that of Cromwell! At a time when Cromwell was generally
considered one of the most abominable personalities in history and a
disgrace to his nation; when Hume and Voltaire vied with each other in
misunderstanding him, both being of opinion that Cromwell's character
was broadly that of a shrewd and daring hypocrite,[4] Holberg was no
less convinced of the true genius of the Protector than of his personal
good faith and of his patriotic ambition.

"The greatest gifts of nature," he says, "every one of which would make
a man prominent in comparison with others were, to an equal degree,
concentrated in Cromwell. He seems to have received something from all
nations, for one saw in him Italian shrewdness and cunning, French
swiftness, English courage and Spanish firmness. He founded his fabric
with cunning; he puts his machine in action with rapidity; by his
courage he was victorious everywhere.... It may be said that his
wonderful deeds and his great name were sufficient to keep his internal
and external enemies in subjection, for as he was hated by all, so he
was also admired by all.... Cromwell ranks with those few men whom
nature seems to have exhausted herself in moulding."[5]

I think you will admit that this is an extraordinary tribute to the
memory of the Protector, considering that it was written in 1749 by a
loyal subject of an absolute monarch, who had to weigh his words
carefully when speaking about a regicide. Anyhow, Holberg's essay is the
first scientific rehabilitation of Cromwell before Carlyle.

Five years later--energetic and active as ever and, above all,
remarkably receptive to the new ideas of the time, and eager to subject
them to a close examination--Holberg quietly breathed his last. He died
on January 28th, 1754, at the age of 69, in his city residence at
Copenhagen. Lonely as he had been in life, his death was barely noticed,
and a few years later one of his more intelligent contemporaries remarks
with regret, that he seems to be almost entirely forgotten. Holberg
certainly did not expect anything in the way of public mourning and
official obsequies on the part of the community in which he felt himself
an alien, and upon the mind of which the greatness of his lifework had
not yet dawned; but even what may be called the decorum of indifference
was absent on this occasion.

Yet time has brought its revenge. Before the expiration of the
eighteenth century Holberg's work was in a fair way to being
acknowledged. From the 'thirties of last century it rose rapidly in
esteem. The bi-centenary jubilee of his birth, which was celebrated all
over Norway and Denmark on December 3rd, 1884, gave a lasting impetus to
his fame. His commanding position in literature was established for all

In his article on Holberg in the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_ (Vol.
XIII.), Mr. Edmund Gosse justly says: "Holberg was, with the exception
of Voltaire, the first writer in Europe in two generations. Neither Pope
nor Swift, who perhaps exceeded him in particular branches of
literature, approached him in range of genius or in encyclopaedic
versatility. Holberg found Denmark"--Mr. Gosse might have added _and
Norway_--"without books. He wrote a library for her" (_i.e._,
_them_) ... "He filled the shelves of the citizens with works in their
own tongue ... all written in a true and manly style and representing
the extreme attainment of European culture at the moment."

In this appreciation we all heartily agree. Therefore, wherever you go
in Denmark and Norway Holberg's name is familiar. Words and sayings of
his live on the lips of both nations as colloquial terms. He sits in
bronze in an arm-chair outside the main entrance of the Royal Theatre at
Copenhagen; his noble sepulchre is at Soroe, a dreaming little site of
learning in Zeeland. He looks down from his pedestal upon the busy life
of the Bergen fishmarket, leaning upon his walking stick as if he was
about to make a remark. Over the portico of the National Theatre at
Christiania, facing the square, his name is inscribed in golden letters
between those of Ibsen and Björnson. It is the ambition of all comic
actors in Norway and Denmark to appear in one of the chief characters of
his immortal gallery. He is in high favour with the public, who applaud
him with mirth and laughter; he is the pride of his townsmen, who
cherish his memory in a special _Holberg Club_. And in the silent
libraries students carefully turn over the leaves of his works to find
out new aspects of his genius and of his personality. In fact, the
Holberg literature is increasing year by year.

Yet there is one thing wanting. He must be better known abroad,
especially in this country. He must become one of the world's classics
and find his way to the book-shelves of British homes.

More than seventy years ago _Welhaven_, one of the greatest Norwegian
poets of the nineteenth century, in a noble poem summed up the position
of Holberg and our obligation to him in a verse which may be rendered
thus in English:

  _And therefore, like a gem with precious gleam,
  His name shall live in high and old esteem,
  And Northern men with tender care shall save
  His noble image from oblivion's grave._

I have only a few words to add to these stanzas. Just as we Norwegians
have learnt to look upon Ludvig Holberg--in no other light we want you
English to see him. He is one of the highest revelations of the Spirit
of the West and, at the same time, the most precious link in the ancient
chain of sympathy between England and Norway.



Notwithstanding the many highly interesting works both in Norwegian and
Danish bearing upon the importance and the position of Holberg, no
complete _Life of Holberg_ has as yet been written in either language.
We are entitled to ask the question: Will there ever be an adequate one?

As far as Norway is concerned, the most important Holberg students of
the nineteenth century are: Olaf Skavlan (1838-1891); Ludvig Daae
(1834-1910), and J. E. Sars (1835-1917), all of whom were professors in
the University of Christiania. In the same connection may be mentioned
Henrik Jæger (1854-1895), the author of the well-known _Illustreret
Norsk Literaturhistoric_, in the first volume of which there is a
valuable outline of Holberg's life and works along with a short
reference to the Holberg literature (down to 1896), not only in the
Norwegian, Danish and Swedish languages, but also in German.

Among the Norwegian Holberg students of to-day, Mr. Viljam Olsvig, M.A.,
holds the most conspicuous place. In a number of works published within
the last twenty odd years, largely bearing upon the connection between
Holberg and England, he may fairly be said to have given a new impetus,
and even a new turn, to the study of Holberg. Messrs. Francis Bull,
Ph.D., and Sigurd Höst, M.A., have, within the last few years, thrown
new light on Holberg as an historian; at the same time, the Rev. Ludvig
Selmer has subjected Holberg's moral and religious conception of life to
a close and interesting examination. Messrs. Just Bing, Ph.D., and
Nordahl Olsen, a Bergen editor, have added valuable information to our
former knowledge of Holberg in connection with his native town.

The contributions of Denmark to the Holberg literature are entitled to a
fair acknowledgment on the part of Norway, and we certainly are greatly
indebted both to the Danish Holberg students of the middle of last
century (above all, E. C. Werlauff, 1781-1871) and the Holberg students
of to-day (including Professor Georg Brandes and Professor Vilhelm
Andersen) for the excellent way in which they have explained Holberg to
us from a Danish point of view.

A complete list of Holberg's works (original and translations) is
contained in the British Museum's _Catalogue of Printed Books_ (Vol.
XXIX.), 1889.



[1] _Epistola ad virum per illustrem._ An English translation of this
work under the title of _Memoirs of Lewis Holberg, written by Himself in
Latin, and now first translated into English_, was published in London
(Hunt & Clarke), 1827.

[2] In 1733 Holberg published a brief "Synopsis" in Latin, partly based
on this work. In 1755 the Synopsis was translated into English by
Gregory Sharp, LL.D., Fellow of the Royal Society, the translation being
dedicated to the then Prince of Wales, afterwards George III. (A second
edition, "corrected and enlarged," appeared in 1758.) In 1787 a new
revised English edition of the Synopsis was published by William
Radcliffe, A.B., of Oriel College, Oxford. Both translators are
unanimous in their praise of the original, Radcliffe describing it as _a
work which by its disposition and arrangement in the matter of history
has been eminently useful to young students and is approved by the
highest Orders of literature_.

[3] The complete title of the later translation is: _Journey to the
World Underground, Being the subterraneous Travel of Niels Klim_.
Translated from the Latin of Lewis Holberg, London. Published by Thomas
North, 66 Paternoster Row, 1828.

[4] Voltaire, in his _Siècle de Louis XIV._, Chap. II (1752), says:
"Cromwell ... portant l'Evangile dans une main; l'épée dans l'autre, le
masque de religion sur le visage ... couvrit des qualités d'un grand roi
tous les crimes d'un ursurpateur." In his _Essai sur les Moeurs_, Chap.
clxxxi. (1757), Voltaire speaks of Cromwell as a man who "parvint a se
faire roi sous un autre nom par sa valeur, secondée de son hypocrisie."
Hume, in his _History of England_, Chap. lx. (1754) describes Cromwell
as a man who, "transported to a degree of madness with religious
ecstasies, never forgot the purposes to which they might serve ...
secretly paving the way by artifice and courage to his own unlimited

[5] The essay, from which the above is a quotation, was published for
the first time in English in the _English Historical Review_, vol.
xxxii., page 412-415 (1917), with an introduction by Mr. R. Laache,
M.A., Christiania.


  Text in italics is enclosed with underscores: _italics_.

  Inconsistencies in spelling and hyphenation have been retained from
    the original.

  Punctuation has been corrected without note.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected as follows:
    Page 34: duplicate word "a" removed.

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