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Title: Björnstjerne Björnson, 1832-1910
Author: Payne, William Morton, 1858-1919
Language: English
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Björnstjerne Björnson

1832-1910


by

William Morton Payne, LL.D.


Translator of Björnson's "Sigurd Slembe" and Jaeger's "Ibsen," Author
of "Little Leaders," Etc.



To Mary



INTRODUCTORY NOTE

When the date of Björnson's seventieth birthday drew near at the close
of 1902, the present writer, who had been from boyhood a devoted
admirer of the great Norwegian, wished to make an American contribution
to the world-wide tribute of gratitude and affection which the then
approaching anniversary was sure to evoke.  The outcome of that wish
was an essay, summarizing Björnson's life and work, published in "The
International Quarterly," March, 1903.  The essay then written forms
the substance of the present publication, although several additions
have been made in the way of translation, anecdote, and the
consideration of Björnson's later productions.  So small a book as this
is, of course, hopelessly inadequate to make more than the most
superficial sort of survey of the life work of that masterful
personality whose recent death is so heavy a loss to all mankind.

W. M. P.
  Chicago, May, 1910.



BJÖRNSTJERNE BJÖRNSON

1832-1910

Eight years ago, taking a bird's-eye view of the mountain peaks of
contemporary literature, and writing with particular reference to
Björnson's seventieth birthday, it seemed proper to make the following
remarks about the most famous European authors then numbered among
living men.  If one were asked for the name of the greatest man of
letters still living in the world, the possible claimants to the
distinction would hardly be more than five in number.  If it were a
question of poetry alone, Swinburne would have to be named first, with
Carducci for a fairly close second.  But if we take literature in its
larger sense, as including all the manifestations of creative activity
in language, and if we insist, furthermore, that the man singled out
for this preëminence shall stand in some vital relation to the
intellectual life of his time, and exert a forceful influence upon the
thought of the present day, the choice must rather be made among the
three giants of the north of Europe, falling, as it may be, upon the
great-hearted Russian emotionalist who has given us such deeply moving
portrayals of the life of the modern world; or upon the passionate
Norwegian idealist whose finger has so unerringly pointed out the
diseased spots in the social organism, earning by his moral surgery the
name of pessimist, despite his declared faith in the redemption of
mankind through truth and freedom and love; or, perchance, upon that
other great Norwegian, equally fervent in his devotion to the same
ideals, and far more sympathetic in his manner of inculcating them upon
his readers, who has just rounded out his scriptural tale of three
score years and ten, and, in commemoration of the anniversary, is now
made the recipient of such a tribute of grateful and whole-souled
admiration as few men have ever won, and none have better deserved. It
would be certainly invidious, and probably futile, to attempt a nice,
comparative estimate of the services of these three men to the common
cause of humanity; let us be content with the admission that
Björnstjerne Björnson is _primus inter pares_, and make no attempt to
exalt him at the expense of his great contemporaries.  Writing now
eight years later, at the time when Björnson's death has plunged his
country and the world in mourning, it is impressive to note that of the
five men constituting the group above designated, Tolstoy alone
survives to carry on the great literary tradition of the nineteenth
century.

It will be well, however, to make certain distinctions between the life
work of Björnson and that of the two men whom a common age and common
aims bring into inevitable association with him. These distinctions are
chiefly two,--one of them is that while Tolstoy and Ibsen grew to be
largely cosmopolitan in their outlook, Björnson has much more closely
maintained throughout his career the national, or, at any rate, the
racial standpoint.  The other is that while Tolstoy and Ibsen presently
became, the one indifferent to artistic expression, and the other
baldly prosaic where he was once deeply poetical, Björnson preserved
the poetic impulse of his youth, and continued to give it play even in
his envisagement of the most practical modern problems.  Let us enlarge
a little upon these two themes.  Ernest Renan, speaking at the funeral
of Tourguénieff, described the deceased novelist as "the incarnation of
a whole people."  Even more fittingly might the phrase be applied to
Björnson, for it would be difficult to find anywhere else in modern
literature a figure so completely and profoundly representative of his
race.  In the frequently quoted words of Dr. Brandes, to speak the name
of Björnson in any assembly of his countrymen is like "hoisting the
Norwegian flag."  It has been maliciously added that mention of his
name is also like flaunting a red flag in the sight of a considerable
proportion of the assembly, for Björnson has always been a fighter as
well as an artist, and it has been his self-imposed mission to arouse
his fellow countrymen from their mental sluggishness no less than to
give creative embodiment to their types of character and their ideal
aspirations.  But whatever the opposition aroused by his political and
social radicalism, even his opponents have been constrained to feel
that he was the mouthpiece of their race as no other Norwegian before
him had been, and that he has voiced whatever is deepest and most
enduring in the Norwegian temper.  Powerful as has been his appeal to
the intellect and conscience of the modern world at large, it has
always had a special note of admonition or of cheer for his own people.
With reference to the second of our two themes, it is sufficient to say
that, although the form of verse was almost wholly abandoned by him
during the latter half of his life, the breath of poetry never ceased
to exhale from his work, and the lyric exuberance of his later prose
still recalls to us the singer of the sixties.

Few productions of modern literature have proved as epoch-making as the
modest little volume called "Synnöve Solbakken," which appeared in the
book shops of Christiania and Copenhagen in 1857.  It was a simple tale
of peasant life, an idyl of the love of a boy and a girl, but it was
absolutely new in its style, and in its intimate revelation of the
Norwegian character. It must be remembered that until the year 1814,
Norway had for centuries been politically united with Denmark, and that
Copenhagen had been the common literary centre of the two countries.
To that city Norwegian writers had gravitated as naturally as French
writers gravitate to Paris.  There had resulted from this condition of
things a literature which, although it owed much to men of Norwegian
birth, was essentially a Danish literature, and must properly be so
styled.  That literature could boast, at the beginning of the
nineteenth century, an interesting history comparable in its antiquity
with the greater literatures of Europe, and a brilliant history for at
least a hundred years past.  But old literatures are sure to become
more or less sophisticated and trammelled by tradition, and to this
rule Danish literature was no exception. When the constitution of
Eidsvold, in 1814, separated Norway from Denmark, and made it into an
independent kingdom (save for the forced Swedish partnership), the
country had practically no literary tradition save that which centred
about the Danish capital.  She might claim to have been the native
country of many Danish writers, even of Ludvig Holberg, the greatest
writer that the Scandinavian peoples have yet produced, but she could
point to nothing that might fairly be called a Norwegian literature.
The young men of the rising generation were naturally much concerned
about this, and a sharp divergence of opinion arose as to the means
whereby the interests of Norwegian literature might be furthered, and
the aims which it should have in view.  One party urged that the
literature should break loose from its traditional past, and aim at the
cultivation of an exclusively national spirit.  The other party
declared such a course to be folly, contending that literature must be
a product of gradual development rather than of set volition, and that,
despite the shifting of the political kaleidoscope, the national
literature was so firmly rooted in its Danish past that its natural
evolution must be an outgrowth from all that had gone before.

Each of these parties found a vigorous leader, the cause of
ultra-Norwegianism being championed by Wergeland, an erratic person in
whom the spark of genius burned, but who never found himself,
artistically speaking.  The champion of the conservatives was Welhaven,
a polished writer of singular charm and much force, philosophical in
temper, whose graceful verse and acute criticism upheld by both precept
and practice the traditional standards of culture.  Each of these men
had his followers, who proved in many cases more zealous than their
leaders.  The period of the thirties and forties was dominated by this
Wergeland-Welhaven controversy, which engendered much bitterness of
feeling, and which constitutes the capital fact in Norwegian literary
history before the appearance of Ibsen and Björnson upon the scene.  A
sort of parallel might be drawn for American readers by taking two such
men as Whitman and Longfellow, opposing them to one another in the most
outspoken fashion, assuming for both a sharply polemic manner, and
ranging among their respective followers all the other writers of their
time.  Then imagine the issue between them to be drawn not only in the
field of letters, but also in the pulpit, the theatre, and the
political arena, and some slight notion may be obtained of the
condition of affairs which preceded the advent of Björnson and the true
birth of Norwegian literature with "Synnöve Solbakken."

The work which was thus destined to mark the opening of a new era in
Norwegian letters was written in the twenty-fifth year of its author's
life.  The son of a country pastor, Björnstjerne Björnson was born at
Kvikne, December 8, 1832.  At the age of six, his father was
transferred to a new parish in the Romsdal, one of the most picturesque
regions in Norway.  The impression made upon his sensitive nature by
these surroundings was deep and enduring.  Looking back upon his
boyhood he speaks with strong emotion of the evenings when "I stood and
watched the sunlight play upon mountain and fiord, until I wept, as if
I had done something wrong, and when, borne down upon my ski into one
valley or another I could stand as if spellbound by a beauty, by a
longing that I could not explain, but that was so great that along with
the highest joy I had, also, the deepest sense of imprisonment and
sorrow."  This is the mood which was to be given utterance in that
wonderful lyric, "Over the Lofty Mountains," in which all the ardor and
the longings of passionate and impatient youth find the most appealing
expression. The song is found in "Arne," and may be thus reproduced,
after a fashion, in the English language.

  "Often I wonder what there may be
    Over the lofty mountains.
  Here the snow is all I see,
  Spread at the foot of the dark green tree;
    Sadly I often ponder,
    Would I were over yonder.

  "Strong of wing soars the eagle high
    Over the lofty mountains,
  Glad of the new day soars to the sky,
  Wild in pursuit of his prey doth fly;
    Pauses, and, fearless of danger,
    Scans the far coasts of the stranger.

  "The apple-tree, whose thoughts ne'er fly
    Over the lofty mountains,
  Leaves, when the summer days draw nigh,
  Patiently waits for the time when high
    The birds in its boughs shall be swinging,
    Yet will know not what they are singing.

  "He who has yearned so long to go
    Over the lofty mountains--
  He whose visions and fond hopes grow
  Dim, with the years that so restless flow--
    Knows what the birds are singing,
    Glad in the tree-tops swinging.

  "Why, oh bird, dost thou hither fare
    Over the lofty mountains?
  Surely it must be better there,
  Broader the view and freer the air;
    Com'st thou these longings to bring me;
    These only, and nothing to wing me?

  "Oh, shall I never, never go
    Over the lofty mountains!
  Must all my thoughts and wishes so
  Held in these walls of ice and snow
    Here be imprisoned forever?
    Till death shall I flee them never?

  "Hence!  I will hence!  Oh, so far from here,
    Over the lofty mountains!
  Here 't is so dull, so unspeakably drear;
  Young is my heart and free from fear--
    Better the walls to be scaling
    Than here in my prison lie wailing.

  "One day, I know, shall my soul free roam
    Over the lofty mountains.
  Oh, my God, fair is thy home,
  Ajar is the door for all who come;
    Guard it for me yet longer,
    Till my soul through striving grows stronger."

At the age of eleven Björnson's school days began at Molde, and were
continued at Christiania in a famous preparatory school, where he had
Ibsen for a comrade.  He entered the university in his twentieth year,
but his career was not brilliant from a scholastic point of view, and
he was too much occupied with his own intellectual concerns to be a
model student. From his matriculation in 1852, to the appearance of his
first book in 1857, he was occupied with many sorts of literary
experiments, and became actively engaged in journalism.  The theatre,
in particular, attracted him, for the theatre was one of the chief foci
of the intellectual life of his country (as it should be in every
country), and he plunged into dramatic criticism as the avowed partisan
of Norwegian ideals, holding himself, in some sort, the successor of
Wergeland, Who had died about ten years earlier.  Before becoming a
dramatic critic, he had essayed dramatic authorship, and the acceptance
by the theatre of his juvenile play, "Valborg," had led to a somewhat
unusual result.  He was given a free ticket of admission, and a few
weeks of theatre-going opened his eyes to the defects of his own
accepted work, which he withdrew before it had been inflicted upon the
public.  The full consciousness of his poetical calling came to him
upon his return from a student gathering at the university town of
Upsala, whither he had gone as a special correspondent.  "When I came
home from the journey," 'he says, "I slept three whole days with a few
brief intervals for eating and conversation. Then I wrote down my
impressions of the journey, but just because I had first lived and then
written, the account got style and color; it attracted attention, and
made me all the more certain that the hour had come. I packed up, went
home, thought it all over, wrote and rewrote `Between the Battles' in a
fortnight, and travelled to Copenhagen with the completed piece in my
trunk; I would be a poet."  He then set to writing "Synnöve Solbakken,"
published it in part as a newspaper serial, and then in book form, in
the autumn of 1857.  He had "commenced author" in good earnest.

The next fifteen years of Björnson's life were richly productive.
Within a single year he had published "Arne," the second of his peasant
idyls and perhaps the most remarkable of them all, and had also
published two brief dramas, "Halte-Hulda" and the one already mentioned
as the achievement of fourteen feverish days.  The remaining product of
the fifteen years includes two more prose idyls, "A Happy Boy" and "The
Fisher Maiden" (with a considerable number of small pieces similar in
character); three more plays drawn from the treasury of old Norse
history, "King Sverre," "Sigurd Slembe," and "Sigurd Jorsalfar"; a
dramatic setting of the story of "Mary Stuart in Scotland"; a little
social comedy, "The Newly Married Couple," which offers a foretaste of
his later exclusive preoccupation with modern life; "Arnljot Gelline,"
his only long poem, a wild narrative of the clash between heathendom
and the Christian faith in the days of Olaf the Holy; and, last but by
no means least, the collection of his "Poems and Songs." Thus at the
age of forty, Björnson found himself with a dozen books to his credit
books which had stirred his fellow countrymen as no other books had
ever stirred them, arousing them to the full consciousness of their own
nature and of its roots in their own heroic past.  He had become the
voice of his people as no one had been before him, the singer of all
that was noble in Norwegian aspiration, the sympathetic delineator of
all that was essential in Norwegian Character.  He had, in short,
created a national literature where none had before existed, and he was
still in his early prime.

The collected edition of Björnson's "Tales," published in 1872,
together with "The Bridal March," separately published in the following
year, gives us a complete representation of that phase of his genius
which is best known to the world at large.  Here are five stories of
considerable length, and a number of slighter sketches, in which the
Norwegian peasant is portrayed with intimate and loving knowledge.  The
peasant tale was no new thing in European literature, for the names of
Auerbach and George Sand, to say nothing of many others, at once come
to the mind.  In Scandinavian literature, its chief representative had
been the Danish novelist, Blicher, who had written with insight and
charm of the peasantry of Jutland.  But in the treatment of peasant
life by most of Björnson's predecessors there had been too much of the
_de haut en bas_ attitude; the peasant had been drawn from the outside,
viewed philosophically, and invested with artificial sentiment.
Björnson was too near to his own country folk to commit such faults as
these; he was himself of peasant stock, and all his boyhood life had
been spent in close association with men who wrested a scanty living
from an ungrateful soil.  Although a poet by instinct, he was not
afraid of realism, and did not shrink from giving the brutal aspects of
peasant life a place upon his canvas.  In emphasizing the
characteristics of reticence and _naïveté_ he really discovered the
Norwegian peasant for literary purposes. Beneath the words spoken by
his characters we are constantly made to realize that there are depths
of feeling that remain unexpressed; whether from native pride or from a
sense of the inadequacy of mere words to set forth a critical moment of
life, his men and women are distinguished by the most laconic
utterance, yet their speech always has dramatic fitness and bears the
stamp of sincerity.  Jaeger speaks of the manifold possibilities of
this laconic method in the following words:--

"It is as if the author purposely set in motion the reader's fancy and
feeling that they might do their own work.  The greatest poet is he who
understands how to awaken fancy and feeling to their highest degree of
self-activity.  And this is Björnson's greatness in his peasant novels,
that he has poured from his horn of plenty a wealth of situations and
motives that hold the reader's mind and burn themselves into it, that
become his personal possession just because the author has known how to
suggest so much in so few words."

In some respects, the little sketch called "The Father" is the supreme
example of Björnson's artistry in this kind.  There are only a few
pages in all, but they embody the tragedy of a lifetime.  The little
work is a literary gem of the purest water, and it reveals the whole
secret of the author's genius, as displayed in his early tales.  It is
by these tales of peasant life that Björnson is best known outside of
his own country; one may almost say that it is by them alone that he is
really familiar to English readers.  A free translation of "Synnöve
Solbakken" was made as early as 1858, by Mary Howitt, and published
under the title of "Trust and Trial."  Translations of the other tales
were made soon after their original appearance, and in some instances
have been multiplied.  It is thus a noteworthy fact that Björnson,
although four years the junior of Ibsen, enjoyed a vogue among English
readers for a score of years during which the name of Ibsen was
absolutely unknown to them.  The whirligig of time has brought in its
revenges of late years, and the long neglected older author has had
more than the proportional share of our attention than is fairly his
due.

In his delineation of the Norwegian peasant character, Björnson was
greatly aided by the study of the sagas, which he had read with
enthusiasm from his earliest boyhood.  Upon them his style was largely
formed, and their vivid dramatic representation of the life of the
early Norsemen impressed him profoundly, shaping both his ideals and
the form of their expression.  The modern Scandinavian may well be
envied for his literary inheritance from the heroic past.  No other
European has anything to compare with it for clean-cut vigor and wealth
of romantic material.  The literature which blossomed in Iceland and
flourished for two or three centuries wherever Norsemen made homes for
themselves offers a unique intellectual phenomenon, for nothing like
their record remains to us from any other primitive people. This

     "Tale of the Northland of old
   And the undying glory of dreams,"

proved a lasting stimulus to Björnson's genius, and, during the early
period of his career, which is now under review, it made its influence
felt alike in his tales, his dramas, and his songs.  "To see the
peasant in the light of the sagas and the sagas in the light of the
peasant" he declared to be the fundamental principle of his literary
method.

It has been seen that during the fifteen years which made Björnson in
so peculiar a sense the spokesman of his race, he wrote no less than
five saga dramas.  The first two of these works, "Between the Battles"
and "Halte-Hulda," are rather slight performances, and the third, "King
Sverre," although a more extended work, is not particularly noteworthy.
The grimness of the Viking life is softened by romantic coloring, and
the poet has not freed himself from the influence of Oehlenschlaeger.
But in "Sigurd Slembe" he found a subject entirely worthy of his
genius, and produced one of the noblest masterpieces of all modern
literature.  This largely planned and magnificently executed dramatic
trilogy was written in Munich, and published in 1862.  The material is
found in the "Heimskringla," but the author has used the prerogative of
the artist to simplify the historical outline thus offered into a
superb imaginative creation, rich in human interest, and powerful in
dramatic presentation.  The story is concerned with the efforts of
Sigurd, nicknamed "Slembe," to obtain the succession to the throne of
Norway during the first half of the twelfth century.  He was a son of
King Magnus Barfod, and, although of illegitimate birth, might legally
make this claim.  The secret of his birth has been kept from him until
he has come to manhood, and the revelation of this secret by his mother
is made in the first section of the trilogy, which is a single act,
written in blank verse.  Recognizing the futility of urging his
birthright at this time, he starts off to win fame as a crusader, the
sort of fame that haloed Sigurd Jorsalfar, then king of Norway.  The
remainder of the work is in prose, and was, in fact, written before
this poetical prologue. The second section, in three acts, deals with
an episode in the Orkneys, five years later.  Sigurd has not even then
journeyed to the Holy Land, but he has wandered elsewhere afar,
thwarted ambition and the sense of injustice ever gnawing at his heart.
He becomes entangled in a feudal quarrel concerning the rule of the
islands.  Both parties seek to use him for their purposes, but in the
end, although leadership is in his grasp, he tears himself away,
appalled by the revelation of crime and treachery in his surroundings.
In this section of the work we have the subtly conceived and
Hamlet-like figure of Earl Harald, in whose interest Frakark, a Norse
Lady Macbeth, plots the murder of Earl Paul, only to bring upon Harald
himself the terrible death that she has planned for his brother.  Here,
also, we have the gracious maiden figure of Audhild, perhaps the
loveliest of all Björnson's delineations of womanhood, a figure worthy
to be ranked with the heroines of Shakespeare and Goethe, who remains
sweet and fragrant in our memory forever after. With the mutual love of
Sigurd and Audhild comes the one hour of sunshine in both their lives,
but the love is destined to end in a noble renunciation and to leave
only a hallowed memory in token of its brief existence.

Ten more years as a crusader and a wanderer over the face of the earth
pass by before we meet with Sigurd again in the third section of the
trilogy.  But his resolution is taken. He has returned to his native
land, and will claim his own. The land is now ruled by Harald Gille,
who is, like Sigurd Slembe, an illegitimate son of Magnus Barfod, and
who, during the last senile years of Sigurd Jorsalfar's life, had won
the recognition that Sigurd Slembe might have won had he not missed the
chance, and been acknowledged as the king's brother.  When the king
died, he left a son named Magnus, who should have been his successor,
but whom Harald Gille seized, blinded, and imprisoned that he might
himself occupy the throne.  The five acts of this third section of the
trilogy cover the last two years of Sigurd Slembe's life, years during
which he seeks to gain his end, first by conciliation, and afterwards,
maddened by the base treachery of the king and his followers, by
assassination and violence.  He has become a hard man, but, however
wild his schemes of revenge, and however desperate his measures, he
retains our sympathy to the end because we feel that circumstances have
made him the ravager of his country, and that his underlying motive all
along has not been a merely personal ambition, but an immense longing
to serve his people, and to rule them with justice and wisdom.  The
final scene of all has a strange and solemn beauty.  It is on the eve
of the battle in which Sigurd is to be captured and put to death by his
enemies.  The actual manner of his death was too horrible even for the
purposes of tragedy; and the poet has chosen the better part in ending
the play with a foreshadowing of the outcome. Sigurd has made his last
stand, his Danish allies have deserted him, and he well knows what will
be the next day's issue. And here we have one of the noblest
illustrations in all literature of that _Versöhnung_ which is the last
word of tragic art.  For in this supreme hour the peace of mind which
he has sought for so many years comes to him when least expected, and
all the tempests of life are stilled.  That reconciliation which the
hour of approaching death brings to men whose lives have been set at
tragic pitch, has come to him also; he now sees that this was the
inevitable end, and the recognition of the fitness with which events
have shaped themselves brings with it an exaltation of soul in which
life is seen revealed in its true aspect.  No longer veiled in the
mists which have hitherto hidden it from his passionate gaze, he takes
note of what it really is, and casts it from him.  In this hour of
passionless contemplation such a renunciation is not a thing torn from
the reluctant soul, but the clear solution, so long sought, of the
problem so long blindly attempted.  That which his passion enslaved
self has so struggled to avert, his higher self, at last set free,
calmly and gladly accepts.

"What miracle is this? for in the hour I prayed, the prayer was
granted!  Peace, perfect peace!  Then I will go to-morrow to my last
battle as to the altar; peace shall at last be mine for all my longings.

"How this autumn evening brings reconciliation to my soul! Sun and wave
and shore and sea flow all together, as in the thought of God all
others; never yet has it seemed so fair to me.  But it is not mine to
rule over this lovely land.  How greatly I have done it ill!  But how
has it all so come to pass? for in my wanderings I saw thy mountains in
every sky, I yearned for home as a child longs for Christmas, yet I
came no sooner, and when at last I came, I gave thee wound upon wound.

"But now, in contemplative mood, thou gazest upon me, and givest me at
parting this fairest autumn night of thine; I will ascend yonder rock
and take a long farewell."

The action of "Sigurd Slembe," is interspersed with several lyrics, the
most striking of which is herd translated in exact reproduction of the
original form:

  "Sin and Death, at break of day,
  Day, day,
  Spoke together with bated breath;
  'Marry thee, sister, that I may stay,
  Stay, stay,
  In thy house,' quoth Death.
  "Death laughed aloud when Sin was wed,
  Wed, wed,
  And danced on the bridal day:
  But bore that night from the bridal bed,
  Bed, bed,
  The groom in a shroud away.
  "Death came to her sister at break of day,
  Day, day,
  And Sin drew a weary breath;
  'He whom thou lovest is mine for aye,
  Aye, aye,
  Mine he is,' quoth Death."

One more saga drama was to be written by Björnson, but "Sigurd Slembe"
remains his greatest achievement in this field of activity.  Its single
successor, "Sigurd Jorsalfar," was not published until ten years later,
and may not be compared with it for either strength or poetic
inspiration. The author called it a "folkplay," and announced the
intention, which was never fulfilled, of making several similar
experiments with scenes from the sagas, "which should appeal to every
eye and every stage of culture, to each in its own way, and at the
performance of which all, for the time being, would experience the joy
of fellow feeling."  The experiment proves interesting, and is carried
out without didacticism or straining after sensational effects; the
play is vigorous and well planned, but for the reader it has little of
the dramatic impressiveness of its predecessor, although as an acting
drama it is better fitted for the requirements of the stage.

The two volumes which contain the greater part of Björnson's poetry not
dramatic in form were both published in 1870.  One of them was the
collection of his "Poems and Songs," the other was the epic cycle,
"Arnljot Gelline," the only long poem that he has written.  The volume
of lyrics includes many pieces of imperfect quality and slight
value,--personal tributes and occasional productions,--but it includes
also those national songs that every Norwegian knows by heart, that are
sung upon all national occasions by the author's friends and foes
alike, and that have made him the greatest of Norway's lyric poets. No
translation can ever quite reproduce their cadence or their feeling;
they illustrate the one aspect of Björnson's many-sided genius that
must be taken on trust by those who cannot read his language.  A friend
once asked him upon what occasion he had felt most fully the joy of
being a poet. His reply was as follows:--

"It was when a party from the Right in Christiania came to my house and
smashed all my windows.  For when they had finished their assault, and
were starting home again, they felt that they had to sing something,
and so they began to sing, 'Yes, we love this land of ours'--they
couldn't help it. They had to sing
 the song of the man they had attacked."

Into this collection were gathered the lyrics scattered through the
peasant tales and the saga dramas, thus making it completely
representative of his quality as a singer.  A revised and somewhat
extended edition of this volume was published about ten years later.
Björnson has had the rare fortune of having his lyrics set to music by
three composers--Nordraak, Kjerulf, and Grieg--as intensely national in
spirit as himself, and no festal occasion among Norwegians is
celebrated without singing the national hymn, "Yes, We Love This Land
of Ours," or the noble choral setting of "Olaf Trygvason."  The best
folk-singer is he who stands in the whirling round of life, says the
poet, and he reveals the very secret of his power when he tells us that
life was ever more to him than song, and that existence, where it was
worth while, in the thick of the human fray, always had for him a
deeper meaning than anything he had written. The longest poem in
Björnson's collection is called "Bergliot," and is a dramatic monologue
in which the foul slaying of her husband Ejnar Tambarskelve and their
son Ejndride is mourned by the bereaved wife and mother.  The story is
from the saga of Harald Haardraada, and is treated with the deepest
tragic impressiveness.

  "Odin in Valhal I dare not seek
  For him I forsook in my childhood.
  And the new God in Gimle?
  He took all that I had!
    Revenge:--Who says revenge?--
  Can revenge awaken my dead
  Or shelter me from the cold?
  Has it comfort for a widow's home
  Or for a childless mother?
    Away with your revenge: Let be!
  Lay him on the litter, him and the son.
  Come, we will follow them home.
  The new God in Gimle, the terrible, who took all,
  Let him also take revenge, for he understands it!
  Drive slowly: Thus drove Ejnar ever;
    --Soon enough shall we reach home."

It was also to the "Heimskringla" that Björnson turned for the subject
of his epic cycle, "Arnljot Gelline."  Here we read in various rhythms
of Arnljot the outlaw, how the hands of all men are against him; how he
offers to stay his wrath and end the blood feud if the fair Ingigerd,
Trand's daughter, may be bestowed upon him; how, being refused, he sets
fire to Trand's house and bears Ingigerd away captive; how her tears
prevail upon him to release her, and how she seeks refuge in a southern
cloister; how Arnljot wanders restless over sea and land until he comes
to King Olaf, on the eve of the great battle, receives the Christian
faith, fights fiercely in the vanguard against the hosts of the
heathen, and, smiling, falls with his king on the field of Stiklestad.
One song from this cycle, "The Cloister in the South" is here
reproduced in an exact copy of the original metre, in the hope that
even this imperfect representation of the poem may be better than none
at all.

  "Who would enter so late the cloister in?"
    "A maid forlorn from the land of snow."
  "What sorrow is thine, and what thy sin?"
    "The deepest sorrow the heart can know.
     I have nothing done
       Yet must still endeavor,
     Though my strength be none,
       To wander ever.
  Let me in, to seek for my pain surcease,
       I can find no peace."

  "From what far-off land hast thou taken flight?"
    "From the land of the North, a weary way."
  "What stayed thy feet at our gate this night?"
    "The chant of the nuns, for I heard them pray,
     And the song gave peace
       To my soul, and blessed me;
     It offered release
       From the grief that oppressed me.
     Let me in, so if peace to give be thine,
       I may make it mine."

  "Name me the grief that thy life hath crossed."
    "Rest may I never, never know."
  "Thy father, thy lover, thou hast then lost?"
    "I lost them both at a single blow,
     And all I held dear
       In my deepest affection;
     Aye, all that was near
       To my heart's recollection.
     Let me in, I am failing, I beg, I implore,
       I can bear no more."

  "How was it that thou thy father lost?"
    "He was slain, and I saw the deed."
  "How was it that thou thy lover lost?"
    "My father he slew, and I saw the deed.
     I wept so bitterly
       When he roughly would woo me,
     He at last set me free,
       And forbore to pursue me.
     Let me in, for the horror my soul doth fill.
       That I love him still."

  _Chorus of nuns within the Church._

        "Come child, come bride,
        To God's own side,
        From grief find rest
        On Jesus' breast.
        Rest thy burden of sorrow.
            On Horeb's height;
        Like the lark, with to-morrow
            Shall thy soul take flight.

        Here stilled is all yearning,
        No passion returning;
        No terror come near thee
        When the Saviour can hear thee.
        For He, if in need be
            Thy storm-beaten soul,
        Though it bruised as a reed be,
            Shall raise it up whole."

Despite the power and beauty of an occasional manifestation of his
genius during the late sixties and early seventies, the poetic impulse
that had made Björnson the most famous of Norwegian authors seemed,
toward the close of the fifteen-year period just now under review, to
be well nigh exhausted.  Even among those who had followed his career
most closely there were few who could anticipate the splendid new
outburst of activity for which he was preparing.  These years seemed to
be a dead time, not only in Björnson's life, but also in the general
intellectual life of the Scandinavian countries.  Dr. Brandes thus
describes the feelings of a thoughtful observer during that period of
stagnation.  "In the North one had the feeling of being shut off from
the intellectual life of the time. We were sitting with closed doors, a
few brains struggling fruitlessly with the problem of how to get them
opened... With whole schools of foreign literature the cultivated Dane
had almost no acquaintance; and when, finally, as a consequence of
political animosity, intellectual intercourse with Germany was broken
off, the main channel was closed through which the intellectual
developments of the day had been communicated to Norway as well as
Denmark.  French influence was dreaded as immoral, and there was but
little understanding of either the English language or spirit."  But an
intellectual renaissance was at hand, an intellectual reawakening with
a cosmopolitan outlook, and, Björnson was destined to become its
leader, much as he had been the leader of the national movement of an
earlier decade.  During these years of seeming inactivity,
comparatively speaking, he had read and thought much, and the new
thought of the age had fecundated his mind.  Historical and religious
criticism, educational and social problems, had taken possession of his
thought, and the philosophy of evolution had transformed the whole
tenor of his ideas, shaping them to, deeper issues and more practical
purposes than had hitherto engaged them.  He had read widely and
variously in Darwin, Spencer, Mill, Müller, and Taine; he had, in
short, scaled the "lofty mountains" that had so hemmed in his early
view, and made his way into the intellectual kingdoms of the modern
world that lay beyond.  The _Weltgeist_ had appealed to him with its
irresistible behest, just as it appealed at about the same time to
Ibsen and Tolstoy and Ruskin, and had made him a man of new interests
and ideals.

One might have found foreshadowings of this transformation in certain
of his earlier works,--in "The Newly Married Couple," for example, with
its delicate analysis, of a common domestic relation, or in "The Fisher
Maiden," with its touch of modernity,--but from these suggestions one
could hardly have prophesied the enthusiasm and the genial force with
which Björnson was to project his personality into the controversial
arena of modern life. The series of works which have come from his pen
during the past thirty-five years have dealt with most of the graver
problems which concern society as a whole,--politics, religion,
education, the status of women, the license of the press, the demand of
the socialist for a reconstruction of the old order.  They have also
dealt with many of the delicate questions of individual ethics,--the
relations of husband and wife, of parent and child, the responsibility
of the merchant to his creditors and of the employer to his dependants,
the double standard of morality for men and women, and the duty
devolving upon both to transmit a vigorous strain to their offspring.
These are some of the themes that have engaged the novelist and
dramatist; they have also engaged the public speaker and lay preacher
of enlightenment, as well as themes of a more strictly political
character, such as the separation of Norway from the Dual Monarchy, the
renewal of the ancient bond between Norway and Iceland, the free
development of parliamentary government, the cause of Pangermanism, and
the furtherance of peace between the nations.  An extensive programme,
surely, even in this summary enumeration of its more salient features,
but one to which his capacity has not proved unequal, and which he has
carried out by the force of his immense energy and superabundant
vitality.  The burden of all this tendencious matter has caused his art
to suffer at times, no doubt, but his inspiration has retained throughout
much of the marvellous freshness of the earlier years, and the genius of
the poet still flashes upon us from a prosaic environment, sometimes in a
lovely lyric, more frequently, however, in the turn of a phrase or the
psychological envisagement of some supreme moment in the action of the
story or the drama.

The great transformation in Björnson's literary manner and choice of
subjects was marked by his sending home from abroad, in the season of
1874-75, two plays, "The Editor" and "A Bankruptcy."  It was two years
later that Ibsen sent home from abroad "The Pillars of Society," which
marked a similar turning point in his artistic career.  It is a curious
coincidence that the plays of modern life produced during this second
period by these two men are the same in number, an even dozen in each
case. Besides the two above named, these modern plays of Björnson are,
with their dates, the following: "The King" (1877), "Leonarda" (1879),
"The New System" (1879), "A Glove" (1883), "Beyond the Strength I."
(1883), "Geography and Love" (1885), "Beyond the Strength II." (1895),
"Paul Lange and Tora Parsberg" (1898), "Laboremus" (1901), and "At
Storhove" (1902).  Since the cessation of Ibsen's activity, Björnson
has outrun him in the race, adding "Daglannet" (1904), and "When the
New Wine Blooms" (1909) to the list above given.  Besides these
fourteen plays, however, he has published seven important volumes of
prose fiction during the last thirty-five years. The titles and dates
are as follows: "Magnhild" (1877), "Captain Mansana" (1879), "Dust"
(1882), "Flags Are Flying in City and Harbor" (1884), "In God's Ways,"
(1889), "New Tales" (1894), (of which collection "Absalom's Hair" is
the longest and most important), and "Mary" (1906).  The achievement
represented by this list is all the more extraordinary when we consider
the fact that for the greater part of the thirty-five years which these
plays and novels cover, their author has been, both as a public speaker
and as a writer for the periodical press, an active participant in the
political and social life of his country.

Most of these books must be dismissed with a few words in order that
our remaining space may be given to the four or five that are of the
greatest power and significance. "The Editor," the first of the modern
plays, offers a fierce satire upon modern journalism, its dishonesty,
its corrupt and malicious power, its personal and partisan prejudice.
The character of the editor in this play was unmistakeably drawn, in
its leading characteristics, from the figure of a well known
conservative journalist in Christiania, although Björnson vigorously
maintained that the protraiture was typical rather than personal.

"In various other countries than my own, I have observed the type of
journalist who is here depicted.  It is characterized by acting upon a
basis of sheer egotism, passionate and boundless, and by terrorism in
such fashion that it frightens honest people away from every liberal
movement, and visits upon the individual an unscrupulous persecution."

This play was not particularly successful upon the stage, but the book
was widely read, and occasioned much excited personal controversy.  "A
Bankruptcy," on the other hand, proved a brilliant stage success.  Its
matter was less contentious, and its technical execution was effective
and brilliant.  It was not in vain that Björnson had at different times
been the director of three theatres.  This play has for its theme the
ethics of business life, and more especially the question of the extent
to which a man whose finances are embarrassed is justified in continued
speculation for the ultimate protection of himself and his creditors.
Despite its treatment of this serious problem, the play is lighter and
more genial in vein than the author's plays are wont to be, and the
element of humor is unusually conspicuous.  Jaeger remarks that "A
Bankruptcy" did two new things for Norwegian dramatic literature. It
made money affairs a legitimate subject for literary treatment, and it
raised the curtain upon the Norwegian home. "It was with 'A Bankruptcy'
that the home made its first appearance upon the stage, the home with
its joys and sorrows, with its conflicts and its tenderness."

Two years later appeared "The King, which is in many respects
Björnson's greatest modern masterpiece in dramatic form.  He had by
this time become a convinced republican, but he was also an
evolutionist, and he knew that republics are not created by fiat.  He
believed the tendency toward republicanism to be irresistible, but he
believed also that there must be intermediate stages in the transition
from monarchy.  Absolutism is succeeded by constitutionalism, and that
by parliamentarism, and that in the end must be succeeded by a
republicanism that will free itself from all the traditional forms of
symbol and ceremonial.  He had also a special belief that the smaller
peoples were better fitted for development in this direction than the
larger and more complex societies, although, on the other hand, he
thought that the process of growth into full self-government was likely
to be slower among the Germanic than among the Latin races. In the
deeply moving play now to be considered, we have, in the character of
the titular king, an extraordinary piece of psychological analysis.
The king, is young, physically delicate, and of highly sensitive
organization.  When he comes to the throne he realizes the hollowness
and the hypocrisy of the existence that prescription has marked out for
him; he realizes also that the very ideal of monarchy, under the
conditions of modern European civilization, is a gigantic falsehood.
For a time after his accession, he leads a life of pleasure seeking and
revelry, hoping that he may dull his sense of the sharp contrast that
exists between his station and his ideals.  But his conscience will
give him no peace, and he turns to deliberate contemplation of the
thought, not indeed of abdicating his, false position, but of
transforming it into something more consonant with truth and the
demands of the age.  He will become a citizen king, and take for wife a
daughter of the people; he will do away with the pomp and circumstance
of his court, and attempt to lead a simple and natural life, in which
the interests of the people shall be paramount in his attention.  But
in this attempt he is thwarted at every step.  All the forces of
selfishness and prejudice and ignorance combine against him; even the
people whom he seeks to benefit are so wedded to their idols that their
attitude is one of suspicion rather than of sympathy.  He loves a young
woman of strong and noble character, and wins her love in return, but
she dies on the very eve of their union.  His oldest and most
confidential friend, the wealthiest man in the kingdom, but a
republican, is murdered by a radical associate of the _intransigeant_
type, and the king is left utterly bereaved by his twofold loss. This
brings us to the closing scene of the drama, in which the king, his
nerves strained to the breaking point, confronts the group of officials
and others who bring to him the empty phrases of a conventional
condolence:--

The King.  Hush!  Have a little respect for the truth that should
follow death!  Understand me rightly: I do not mean that any of you
would lie.  But the very air about a king is infected.  It was of
that-a word or two.  My time is short. But a testament. ...

The Priest.  Testament.

The King.  Neither the Old nor the New!  Greet what is called
Christianity here in this land-greet it from me! I have thought much
about Christian folk of late.

The Priest.  That rejoices me.

The King.  How your tone cuts me!  Greet it from me, what is called
Christianity here in this land.  Nay, do not crane your necks and bend
your backs as if the wisdom of the ages were now forthcoming. (_aside_)
Can there be any use in saying something seriously? (_aloud_) You are
Christians?

The General.  God forbid the doubt!  Faith is exceedingly useful. ...

The King.  For discipline. (_to the Sheriff_)  And you?

The Sheriff.  From my blessed ancestors I received the faith.

The King.  So _they_ are blessed also.  Why not?'

The Sheriff.  They brought me strictly up to fear God, to honor the
king.

The King.  And love your fellowmen.  You are a State individual,
sheriff.  And such are Christians nowadays. (_to the Merchant_)  And
you?

The Merchant.  I have not been able to go to church very much of late
because of my cough.  And in the foul air. ...

The King.  You go to sleep.  But are you a Christian?

The. Merchant.  That goes without saying.

The King. (_to the Priest._)  And you are naturally one?

The Priest.  By the grace of Jesus I hope that I am.

The King.  That is the formula, boys, that is the accepted thing to
say.  Therefore, you are a Christian community, and it is no fault of
mine if such a community will not deal seriously with what concerns
Christianity. Greet it from me, and say that it must have an eye to the
institution of monarchy.

The Priest.  Christianity has nothing to do with such matters.  It
searches _the inner man_.

The King.  That tone!  I know it--it does not search the air in which
the patient lives, but the lungs.  There you have it!  Nevertheless,
Christianity must have an eye to the monarchy--must pluck the lie from
it--must not follow it to its coronation in the church, as an ape
follows a peacock.  I know what I felt in that situation.  I had gone
through with a rehearsal the day before--ho, ho!  Ask the Christianity
in this land, if it be not time to concern itself with the monarchy.
It should hardly any longer, it seems to me, let the monarchy play the
part of the seductive wanton who turns the thoughts of all citizens to
war--which is much against the message of Christianity--and to class
distinctions, to luxury, to show and vanity. The monarchy is now so
great a lie that it compels the most upright man to share in its
falsehood."

The conversation that follows is in a vein of bitterness on the one
side, and of obtuse smugness on the other; the tragic irony of the
action grows deeper and deeper, until in the end the king, completely
disheartened and despairing, goes into an adjoining room, and dies by
his own hand, to the consternation of the men from whom he has just
parted.  They give utterance to a few polite phrases, charitably
accounting for the deed by the easy attribution of insanity to the
king, and the curtain falls.

It may well be imagined that "The King" made a stir in literary and
social circles, and quite noticeably fluttered the dovecotes of
conventionality and conservatism.  Such plain speaking and such deadly
earnestness of conviction were indeed far removed from the idyllic
simplicity of the peasant tales and from the poetical reconstructions
of the legendary past. Eight years later, Björnson prefaced a new
edition of this work with a series of reflections upon "Intellectual
Freedom" that constitute one of the most vigorous and remarkable
examples of his serious prose. The central ideas of his political faith
are embodied in the following sentences from this preface:--

"Intellectual Freedom. Why is not attention called over and over again
to the fact that for the great peoples, who have so many compensating
interests, the free commerce of ideas is one condition of life among
many others; while for us, the small peoples, it is absolutely
indispensable.  A people numerically large may attain to ways of
thought and enterprise that no political censure can reduce to a
minimum; but under narrower conditions it may easily come about that
the whole people will fall asleep.  A powerful propaganda of
enlightenment under the conditions of free speech is for us of the
first and the last importance.  When I wrote this piece it was my chief
aim to enlarge the bounds of free thought.  I have later made the same
attempt in matters of religion and morals.  When my opponents seek to
sum up my character in a few words, they are apt to say: 'He attacks
the throne and the altar.'  It seems to me that I have served the
freedom of the spirit, and in the interests of that cause I now beg
leave to reply. (1) _Concerning the attack on Christianity._  It may be
worth while in a country with a state church to recall now and then the
meaning of Christianity.  It is not an institution, still less a book,
and least of all it is a house or a seminary. It is the godly life
according to the precepts and example of Jesus.  There may be men who
think they are attacking Christianity when they investigate the
historical origin or the morality of some dogma; I do not think so.
Honest investigation can result only in growth.  Christianity, with or
without its whole apparatus of dogma, will endure in its essence for
thousands of years after us; there will always be spiritually-minded
people who will be ennobled by it, and some made great.  I honor all
the noble.  I have friends among the Christians, whom I love, and never
for a moment have I thought of attacking their Christianity.  I have no
higher wish than to see them by its help transform certain aspects of
our society into seriousness.  (2)  _Concerning the attack on
monarchy._  Monarchy is, on the other hand, an institution, here the
circumstances are naturally different.  I have attacked monarchy, and I
will attack it.  But--and to this 'but' I call the closest attention.
Shortly before the July Revolution, when its first signs were declared,
Chateaubriand was talking with the King, who asked what it all meant.
'It is monarchy that is done with,' replied the royalist, for he was
also a seer.  Certainly there have been in France both kingdom and
empire since that day.  If there should be no more hereafter, they
still exist in other lands, and will endure for generations after us.
But 'done with' are they none the less; notice was given them by the
French Revolution.  It does not concern them all simultaneously; it
fixes terms, different for the different kingdoms, and far removed for
the kingdoms based upon conquest.  But the face of civilization is now
turned toward the republic, and every people has reached the first,
second, or third stage of the way. "If a work of the mind is born of
Norse conditions and stands before the ethical judgment seat--let it
have its full action; otherwise it will not produce its full reaction.
If the faith that gave shape to the piece is not the strongest force in
the society that gave it birth, it will evoke an opposing force of
greater strength.  Thereby all will gain.  But to ignore it, or seek to
crush it--that in a large society may not greatly matter, so rich are
the possibilities of other work taking its place; but in a small
society it may be equivalent to destroying the sight of its only eye."

In the clean-cut phrases and moral earnestness of this _apologia pro
vita sua_, which deserves to be reproduced at greater length, we have
the modern Björnson, no longer poet alone, but poet and prophet at
once, the champion of sincere thinking and worthy living, the Sigurd
Slembe of our own day, happier than his prototype in the consciousness
that the ambition to serve his people has not been; altogether
thwarted, and that his beneficent activity is not made sterile even by
the bitterest opposition.

Only a rapid glance may be taken at the books of the five years
following upon the publication of "The King."  The story of "Magnhild,"
planned several years earlier, represents Björnson's return to fiction
after a long dramatic interlude. There are still peasants in this
story, but they are different from the figures of the early tales, and
the atmosphere of the work is modern.  It turns upon the question of
the mutual duties of husband and wife, when love no longer unites them.
The solution seems to lie in separation when union has thus become
essentially immoral.  "Captain Mansana" is a story of Italian life,
based, so the author assures us, on actual characters and happenings
that had come within the range of his observation during his stay
abroad.  Its interest does not lie in any particular problem, but
rather in the delineation of the titular figure, a strong and impetuous
person whose character suggests that of Ferdinand Lassalle, as the
author himself points out to us in a prefatory note.  "Dust" is a
pathetic little story having for its central idea what seems like a
pale reflection of the idea of Ibsen's "Ghosts," which had appeared a
few months before. It is the dust of the past that settles upon our
souls, and clogs their free action. The special application of this
thought is to the religious training of children:--

"When you teach children that the life here below is nothing to the
life above, that to be visible is nothing in comparison with being
invisible, that to be a human being is nothing in comparison with being
dead, that is not the way to teach them to view life properly, or to
love life, to gain courage, strength for work, and love of country."

In the play, "Leonarda," and again in the play, "A Glove," the author
recurs to the woman question; in the one case, his theme is the
attitude of society toward the woman of blemished reputation; in the
other, its attitude toward the man who in his relation with women has
violated the moral law.  "Leonarda" is a somewhat inconclusive work,
because the issue is not clearly defined, but in "A Glove" (at least in
the acting version of the play, which differs from the book in its
ending) there is no lack of definiteness.  This play inexorably demands
the enforcement of the same standard of morality for both sexes, and
declares the unchaste man to be as unfit for honorable marriage as the
unchaste woman.  Upon the theme thus presented a long and violent
discussion raged; but if there be such a thing as an immutable moral
law in this matter, it must be that upon which Björnson has so squarely
and uncompromisingly planted his feet.  The other remaining work of
this five-year period is the play called "The New System."  The new
system in question is a system of railway management, and it is a
wasteful one.  But the young engineer who demonstrates this fact has a
hard time in opening the eyes of the public.  He succeeds eventually,
but not until he has encountered every sort of contemptible opposition
and hypocritical evasion of the plain truth. The social satire of the
piece is subtle and sharp; what the author really aims at is to
illustrate, by a specific example, the repressive forces that dominate
the life of a small people, and make it almost impossible for any sort
of truth to triumph over prejudice.

Since the production of "A Glove," twenty years ago, eight more plays
have come from Björnson's prolific pen.  Of these by far the most
important are the two that are linked by the common title, "Beyond the
Strength."  The translation of this title is hopelessly inadequate,
because the original word means much more than strength; it means
talent, faculty, capability, the sum total of a man's endowment for
some particular purpose.  The two pieces bearing this name are quite
different in theme, but certain characters appear in both, and both
express the same thought,--the thought that it is vain for men to
strive after the unattainable, for in so doing they lose sight of the
actual possibilities of human life; the thought that much of the best
human energy goes to waste because it is devoted to the pursuit of
ideals that are indeed beyond the strength of man to realize. In the
first of the two plays, this superhuman ideal is religious, it is that
of the enthusiast who accepts literally the teaching that to faith all
things are possible; in the second, the ideal is social, it is that of
the reformer who is deluded to believe that one resounding deed of
terror and self-immolation for the cause of the people will suffice to
overthrow the selfish existing order, and create for the toiling masses
a new heaven upon earth.  No deeper tragedies have been conceived by
Björnson than these two, the tragedy of the saintlike Pastor Sang, who
believes that the miracle of his wife's restoration to health has at
last in very truth been wrought by his fervent prayer, and finds only
that the ardor of his faith and hers has brought death instead of life
to them both,--the tragedy of his son Elias, who dies like Samson with
his foes for an equally impossible faith, and by the very violence of
his fanaticism removes the goal of socialist endeavor farther than ever
into the dim future.  Björnson has written nothing more profoundly
moving than these plays, with their twofold treatment of essentially
the same theme, nor has he written anything which offers a clearer
revelation of his own rich personality, with its unfailing poetic
vision, its deep tenderness, and its boundless love for all humankind.
The play, "Geography and Love," which came between the two just
described, is an amusing piece, in the vein of light and graceful
comedy, which satirizes the man with a hobby, showing how he
unconsciously comes to neglect his wife and family through absorption
in his work.  The author was, in a way, taking genial aim at himself in
this piece, a fact which his son Bjorn, who played the principal part,
did not hesitate to emphasize. "Paul Lange and Tora Parsberg," the next
play, deals with the passions engendered by political controversy, and
made much unpleasant stir in Norwegian society because certain of the
characters and situations were unmistakeably taken from real life.
After these plays came "Laboremus" and "At Storhove," both concerned
with substantially the same theme, which is that of the malign
influence exerted by an evil-minded and reckless woman upon the lives
of others. From a different point of view, we may say that the subject
of these plays is the consecration of the home. This has always been a
favorite theme with Björnson, and he has no clearer title to our
gratitude than that which he has earned by his unfailing insistence
upon the sanctity of family life, its mutual confidences, and its
common joys.  Completing the list, we have "Daglannet," another
domestic drama of simple structure, and "When the New Wine Blooms," a
study of modernity as exemplified in the young woman of to-day, of the
estrangement that too often creeps into married life, and of the
stirrings that prompt men of middle age to seek to renew the joys of
youth.

During the years that have passed since the publication of "Dust,"
Björnson has produced four volumes of fiction,--his two great novels, a
third novel of less didactic mission, and a second collection of short
stories.  The first of the novels, "Flags Are Flying in City and
Harbor," saw the light during the year following the publication of "A
Glove," and the teaching of that play is again enforced with
uncompromising logic in the development of the story.  The work has two
other main themes, and these are heredity and education.  So much
didactic matter as this is a heavy burden for any novel to carry, and a
lesser man than Björnson would have found the task a hopeless one.
That he should have succeeded even in making a fairly readable book out
of this material would have been remarkable, and it is a pronounced
artistic triumph that the book should prove of such absorbing interest.
For absorbingly interesting it is, to any reader who is willing that a
novel should provide something more than entertainment; and who is not
afraid of a work of fiction that compels him to think as he reads.  The
principal character is a man descended from a line of ancestors whose
lives have been wild and lawless, and who have wallowed in almost every
form of brutality and vice. The four preceding generations of the race
are depicted for us in a series of brief but masterly
characterizations, in which every stroke tells, and we witness the
gradual weakening of the family stock.  But with the generation just
preceding the main action of the novel, there has been introduced a
vigorous strain of peasant blood, and the process of regeneration has
begun. It is this process that goes on before our eyes.  It does not
become a completed process, but the prospect is bright for the future,
and the flags that fly over town and harbor in the closing chapter have
a symbolical significance, for they announce a victory of spirit over
sense, not only in the cases of certain among the individual
participants in the action, but also in the case of the whole community
to which they belong.  So much for the book as a study in heredity.  As
an educational tract, it has the conspicuous virtue of remaining in
close touch with life while embodying the spirit of modern scientific
pedagogy.  The hero of the book,--the last descendant of a race
struggling for moral and physical rehabilitation,--throws himself into
the work of education with an energy equal to that which his forbears
had turned into various perverse channels.  He organizes a school, more
than half of the book, in fact, is about this school and its work,--and
seeks to introduce a system of training which shall shape the whole
character of the child, a school in which truth and clean living shall
be inculcated with thoroughness and absolute sincerity, a school which
shall be the microcosm of the world outside, or rather of what that
world ought to be.  Björnson's interest in education has been
life-long; for many years it had gone astray in a sort of Grundtvigian
fog, but at the time when this book came to be written, it had worked
its way out into the clear light of reason.  If the future should cease
to care for this work as a piece of literature, it will still look back
to it as to a sort of nineteenth century "Emile," and take renewed
heart from its inspiring message.

"In God's Ways," the second of the two great novels, is a work of which
it is difficult to speak in terms of measured praise.  With its
delicate and vital delineations of character, its rich sympathy and
depth of tragic pathos, its plea for the sacredness of human life, and
its protest against the religious and social prejudice by which life is
so often misshapen, this book is an epitome of all the ideas and
feelings that have gone to the making of the author's personality, and
have received such manifold expression in his works.  It is a simple
story, concerned mainly with four people, in no way outwardly
conspicuous, yet here united by the poet's art into a relationship from
which issue some of the deepest of social questions, and which enforces
in the most appealing terms the fundamental teaching of all the work of
his mature years.  First of all, we have the boyhood of the two friends
who are afterwards to grow apart in their sympathies; the one alert of
mind, imaginative, open to every intellectual influence, also impetuous
and hot-blooded; the other shy and intellectually stolid, but good to
the very core, and moved by the strongest of altruistic impulses.  In
accordance with their respective characters, the first of these youths
becomes a physician, and the other a clergyman.  Then we have the
sister of the physician, who becomes the wife of the clergyman, a
noble, proud, self-centred nature, finely strung to the inmost fibre of
her being.  Then we have a woman of the other sort, clinging,
abnormally sensitive, a child when the years of childhood are over, and
made the victim of a shocking child-marriage to a crippled old man. She
it is whom the physician loves, and persuades to a legal dissolution of
her immoral union.  After some years, he makes her his wife, and their
happiness would be complete were it not for the social and religious
prejudice aroused. The clergyman, whom years of service in the state
church have hardened into bigotry, is officially, as it were, compelled
to condemn the friend of his boyhood, and even the sister, for a time
grown untrue to her own generous nature, shares in the estrangement.
In vain does the physician seek to shelter his wife from the chill of
her environment.  She droops, pines away, and finally dies, gracious,
lovable, and even forgiving to the last.  Then the death angel comes
close to the clergyman and his wife, hovering over their only child,
and at last the barrier of formalism and prejudice and religious
bigotry is swept away from their minds.  Their natural sympathies, long
repressed, resume full sway, and they realize how deeply they, have
sinned toward the dead woman. The sister seeks a reconciliation with
her brother, but he repulses her, and gives her his wife's private
diary to read. In this _journal intime_ she finds the full revelation
of the gentle spirit that has been done to death, and she feels that
the very salvation of her life and soul depend upon winning her
brother's forgiveness.  The closing chapter, in which the final
reconciliation occurs, is one of the most wonderful in all fiction; its
pathos is of the deepest and the most moving, and he must be callous of
soul, indeed, who can read it with dry eyes.

If we were to search the whole of Björnson's writings for the single
passage which should most completely typify his message to his
fellowmen,--not Norwegians alone, but all mankind,--the choice would
have to rest upon the words spoken from the pulpit by the clergyman of
this novel, on the Sunday following the certainty of his child's
recovery.

"To-day a man spoke from the pulpit of the church about what he had
learned.

"Namely, about what first concerns us all.

"One forgets it in his strenuous endeavor, a second in his zeal for
conflict, a third in his backward vision, a fourth in the conceit of
his own wisdom, a fifth in his daily routine, and we have all learned
it more or less ill.  For should I ask you who hear me now, you would
all reply thoughtlessly, and just because I ask you from this place,
'Faith is first.'

"No, in very truth, it is not.  Watch over your child, as it struggles
for breath on the outermost verge of life, or see your wife follow the
child to that outermost verge, beside herself for anxiety and
sleeplessness,--then love will teach you that _life comes first_.  And
never from this day on will I seek God or God's will in any form of
words, in any sacrament, or in any book or any place, as if He were
first and foremost to be found there; no, life is first and
foremost--life as we win it from the depths of despair, in the victory
of the light, in the grace of self-devotion, in our intercourse with
living human kind.  God's supreme word to us is life, our highest
worship of Him is love for the living.  This lesson, self-evident as it
is, was needed by me more than by most others.  This it is that in
various ways and upon many grounds I have hitherto rejected,--and of
late most of all.  But never more shall words be the highest for me,
nor symbols, but the eternal revelation of life.  Never more will I
freeze fast in doctrine, but let the warmth of life melt my will.
Never will I condemn men by the dogmas of old time justice, unless they
fit with our own time's gospel of love.  Never, for God's sake!  And
this because I believe in Him, the God of Life, and His never ending
revelation in life itself."

Here is a gospel, indeed, one that needs no church for its
promulgation, and no ceremonial for the enhancement of its
impressiveness.  It is a gospel, moreover, that is based upon no
foundation of precarious logic, but finds its premises in the healthy
instincts of the natural man.  It is no small thing to have thus found
the way, and to have helped others likewise to find the way, out of the
mists of superstition, through the valleys of doubt and despondency,
athwart the thickets of prejudice and bigotry with all their furtive
foemen, up to these sunlit heights of serenity.

"Mary" is less explicit in its teaching than the two great novels just
summarized, but what it misses in didacticism it more than gains in
art. The radiant creature who gives her name to the book is one of
Björnson's most exquisite figures. She is the very embodiment of
youthful womanhood, filled with the joy of life, and bringing sunshine
wherever she goes.  Yet this temperament leads to her undoing, or what
would be the undoing of any woman less splendid in character.  But the
strength that impels her to the misstep that comes so near to having
tragic consequences is also the strength that saves her when chastened
by suffering.  In her the author "gives us the common stuff of life,"
says an English critic, "gives it us simple and direct.  There is
nothing here of Ibsen's pathology. We are in the sun.  Her most hideous
blunder cannot undo a woman's soul.  Björnson knows that the deed is
nothing at all. It is the soul behind the deed that he sees.  Not
everything that cometh out of a man defileth a man.  At all events, so
it is here: triumph and joy built upon an act that--as the Philistines
would say--has defiled forever."  As a triumph of sheer creation, this
figure is hardly overmatched anywhere in the author's portrait gallery
of women.

If Björnson's essential teaching may be found in a single page, as has
above been suggested, his personality evades all such summarizing.  In
the present essay, he has been considered as a writer merely,--poet,
dramatist, novelist,--but the man is vastly more than that.  His other
activities have been hinted at, indeed, but nothing adequate has been
said about them.  The director of three theatres, the editor of three
newspapers and the contributor to many others, the promoter of schools
and patriotic organizations, the participant in many political
campaigns, the lay preacher of private and public morals, the chosen
orator of his nation for all great occasions,--these are some of the
characters in which we must view him to form anything like a complete
conception of his many-sided individuality.  Take the matter of oratory
alone, and it is perhaps true that he has influenced as many people by
the living word as he has by the printed page.  He has addressed
hundreds of audiences in the three Scandinavian countries and in
Finland, he has spoken to more than twenty thousand at a time, and his
winged speech has gone straight home to his hearers.  All who ever
heard him will agree that his oratory was of the most persuasive and
vital impressiveness. Jaeger attempts to describe it in the following
words:--

"It is eloquence of a very distinctive type; its most characteristic
quality is its wealth of color; it finds expression for every mood,
from the lightest to the most serious, from the most vigorous to the
most delicate and tender.  Now his words ring like the voice of doom,
filled with thunder and lightning, now they become soft and persuasive
with smiling mien. With a single cadence, or a play of the facial
muscles, or a slight gesture, he can portray a person, a situation, or
an object, so that it appears living in the sight of his hearers. And
what the word alone cannot do, is accomplished in the most brilliant
manner by the virtuosity of his delivery.  He does not speak his words,
he presents them; they take bodily form and seem alive."

In his more intimate relationships, on the other hand, in face to face
conversation or in the home circle, the man takes on a quite different
aspect; the prophet has become the friend, the impassioned preacher has
become the genial story teller, and shares the gladsome or mirthful
mood of the hour.  Such a personality as this may be analyzed; it
defies any concise synthesis.  One resorts to figures of speech, and
they were abundantly resorted to by those who paid him the tribute of
their admiration and love upon the occasion of his seventieth
anniversary.  Let us take an instance at random from one of these
tributes.

"The cataract that roars down to the free foaming sea. The mountain
with its snowclad peaks towering up into the immensity of the starry
heavens.  The rustling of the woodland above the blossom-spangled and
smiling meadows, the steep uptowering, the widely growing, and the
joyously smiling.  At once the soft melody that stirs the heart and the
strong wind that sweeps over the Northern lands."

This concourse of metaphors gives some slight idea of the way in which
Björnson's personality affected those who came into contact with it.
The description may be supplemented by a few bits of anecdote and
reminiscence.  The composer Grieg contributes the following incident of
the old days in Norway:--

"It was Christmas eve of 1868 at the Björnsons in Christiania. They
lived then in the Rosenkrantzgade.  My wife and I were, as far as I can
remember, the only guests.  The children were very boisterous in their
glee.  In the middle of the floor an immense Christmas tree was
enthroned and brightly lighted. All the servant-folk came in, and
Björnson spoke, beautifully and warmly, as he well knows how to do.
'Now you shall play a hymn, Grieg,' he said, and although I did not
quite like the notion of doing organist's work, I naturally complied
without a murmur. It was one of Grundtvig's hymns in 32--thirty-two
verses.  I resigned myself to my fate with stoicism.  At the beginning
I kept myself awake, but the endless repetitions had a soporific
effect.  Little by little I became as stupid as a medium.  When we had
at last got through with all the verses, Björnson said: 'Isn't that
fine.  Now I will read it for you!'  And so we got all thirty-two
verses once more.  I was completely overawed."

When the poet purchased his country estate which was his home from the
late seventies to the end of his life, his coming was looked forward to
with mingled feelings by the good country folk of the neighborhood.
Kristofer Janson thus tells the story of his arrival:

"His coming was anticipated with a certain anxiety and apprehension,
for was he not a 'horrid radical'?  The dean in particular thought that
he might be a menace to the safe spiritual slumber of the village.  As
the dean one day was driving through the village in his carriole, just
where the road turns sharply by the bridge below Aulestad, he met
another carriole which was rapidly driving that way and in it a man
who, without respect for the clerical vehicle, shouted with all the
strength of his lungs: 'Half the road!'  The dean turned aside, saying
with a sigh: 'Has Björnson come to the Gausdal at last?' "It was indeed
so, and he showed his colors at the start. The same dean and Björnson
became the best of friends afterwards, and found much sport in
interchanging genial jests whenever they met."

Frits Thaulow, the painter, thus wrote to Björnson reminding him of a
festive gathering of students:

"The manager came in and announced with a loud voice that it was past
twelve.  Then you sprang up.

"'Bring champagne!  Now I will speak of what comes after twelve
o'clock! of all that lies beyond the respectable hour for retiring!
For the hour when fancy awakens and fills us with longings for the
world of wonderland; then the painter sees only the dim outline in the
moonlight, then the musician hears the silence, then the poet after his
thoughtful day feels sprouting the first shoots of the next.  After
twelve freedom begins.  The day's tumult is stilled, and the voice
within becomes audible.'

"Thus you spoke, and 'after twelve' became a watchword with us.

"Many a spark has been kindled in your soul by the quiet evening time.
But later in life, when you become a chieftain in the battle, broad
daylight also made its demands upon you.  Like the sun you shone upon
us and made the best that was in us to grow, but I shall always keep a
deep artistic affection for what comes 'after twelve.'"

Henrik Cavling tells the following story of the poet in Paris:

"It was one of Björnson's peculiarities to go out as a rule without any
money in his pocket.  He neither owned a purse nor knew the French
coins.  His personal expenditures were restricted to the books he
bought, and now and then a theatre ticket.  One day he carne excitedly
into the sitting-room, and asked:

"'Who took my five franc piece?'  It was a five franc piece that he had
got somewhere or other and had stuck in his pocket to buy a theatre
ticket with.  It turned out that the maid had found it and given it to
Fru Björnson.  For it seemed quite unthinkable to her that the master
should have any money to take out with him.

"This complete indifference of Björnson to small matters sometimes
proved annoying.  In this connection I may tell of a little trip he
once took with Jonas Lie.

"The two poets, who did not live far apart, had long counted with
pleasure upon a trip to Père Lachaise, where they wished to visit
Alfred de Musset's grave.  At last the day came, and with big soft hats
on their heads, and engaged earnestly in conversation, they drove away
through Paris.

"When they came to Père Lachaise, and wanted to enter the cemetery, the
driver stopped them and asked for his pay. Then it appeared that
neither had any money, which they smilingly explained, and asked him in
bad French to wait and drive them home again.  But the two gentlemen
with the big soft hats had not inspired the driver with any marked
degree of confidence.  He made a scene, and attracted a great crowd of
the boys, loafers, and well-dressed Frenchmen who always collect on
critical occasions.  The end of the affair was that the poets had to
get into their cab again and drive all the long way back without having
had a glimpse of the grave.  When they reached Lie's lodgings, Lie went
in to get some money, while Björnson sat in the cab as a hostage.
Nevertheless, both poets maintained that they had had a pleasant
expedition.  A Norwegian question, which had accidentally come up
between them, had made them forget all about Alfred de Musset."

Finally, a story may be given that is told by Björnson himself.

"I had a pair of old boots that I wanted to give to a beggar. But just
as I was going to give them to him, I began to wonder whether Karoline
had not some use for them, since she usually gave such things to
beggars.  So I took the boots in my hand, and went downstairs to ask
her, but on the way I got a little worked up because I did not quite
dare to give them to the beggar myself.  And the further I went down
the steps, the more wrathful I got, until I stood over her.  And then I
was so angry that I had to bluster at her as if she had done me a
grievous wrong.  But she could not understand a word of what I said,
and looked at me with such amazement, that I could not keep from
bursting into laughter."

From his early years, Björnson kept in touch with the modern
intellectual movement by mingling with the people of other lands than
his own.  Besides his visits to Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, he made
many lengthy sojourns in the chief continental centres of civilization,
in Munich, Rome, and Paris.  The longest of his foreign journeys was
that which brought him to the United States in the winter of 1880-81,
for the purpose of addressing his fellow countrymen in the Northwest.
His home for the last thirty years and more has been his estate of
Aulestad in the Gausdal, a region of Southern Norway.  Here he has been
a model farmer, and here, surrounded by his family,--wife, children,
and grandchildren,--his patriarchal presence has given dignity to the
household, and united its members in a common bond of love.  Hither
have come streams of guests, friends old and new, to enjoy his generous
hospitality.  There has been provision for all, both bed and board, and
the heartiest of welcomes from the host.  And the stranger from abroad
has been greeted, as like as not, by the sight of his own country's
flag streaming from a staff before the house, and foreshadowing the
personal greeting that awaited him upon the threshold.

Björnson died in Paris (where he had been spending the winter, as was
his custom for many years past), April 26, 1910. He had been ill for
several months, and only an extraordinarily robust constitution enabled
him to make a partial recovery from the crisis of the preceding
February, when his death had been hourly expected.  The news of his
death occasioned demonstrations of grief not only in his own country,
but also throughout the civilized world.  Every honor that a nation can
bestow upon its illustrious dead was decreed him by King and Storthing;
a warship was despatched to bear his remains to Christiania, and the
pomp and circumstance of a state funeral acclaimed the sense of the
nation's loss.



LIST OF WORKS.

  SYNNÖVE SOLBAKKEN.  Fortaelling, 1857
  MELLEM SLAGENE.  Drama, 1858
  ARNE.  Fortaelling, 1858
  HALTE-HULDA.  Drama, 1858
  EN GLAD GUT.  Fortaelling, 1860
  KONG SVERRE.  1861
  SIGURD SLEMBE.  1862
  MARIA STUART I SKOTLAND.  Skuespil, 1864
  DE NYGIFTE.  Komedie, 1865
  FISKERJENTEN.  Fortaelling, 1868
  DIGTE OG SANGE.  1870
  ARNLJOT GELLINE.  1870
  SIGURD JORSALFAR.  Skuespil, 1872
  FORTAELLINGER I-II,  1872
  BRUDE-SLAATTEN.  Fortaelling, 1873
  REDAKTÖREN.  Skuespil, 1874
  EN FALLIT.  Skuespil, 1874
  KONGEN.  1877
  MAGNHILD.  Fortaelling, 1877
  KAPTEJN MANSANA.  Fortaelling fra Italien, 1879
  LEONARDA.  Skuespil, 1879
  DET NY SYSTEM.  Skuespil, 1879
  EN HANDSKE.  Skuespil, 1883
  OVER AEVNE.  Förste Stykke, 1883
  DET FLAGER I BYEN OG PAA HAVNEN,  1884
  GEOGRAFI OG KJAERLIGHED.  1885
  PAA GUDS VEJE.  1889
  NYE FORTAELLINGER.  1894
  LYSET.  En Universitetskantate, 1895
  OVER AEVNE.  Andet Stykke, 1895
  PAUL LANGE OG TORA PARSBERG.  1898
  LABOREMUS.  1901
  TO FORTAELLINGER.  1901
  PAA STORHOVE.  Drama, 1904
  DAGLANNET.  1904
  TO TALER.  1906.
  MARY.  Fortaelling, 1906
  VORT SPROG.  1907
  NAAR DEN NY VIN BLOMSTRER.  1909





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